The Hungarian government has a problem with Hungarian-born American financier George Soros’s vision for Hungary and Europe, not with his Jewish religion, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“When we have a debate with George Soros, it has nothing to do with his religion,” Szijjarto said. “We don’t care about his religion. We care about his visions – and he has totally different visions about the future of Europe and the future of Hungary than we do.”
When Soros “went open with his debate” with the Hungarian government, “we had to react,” Szijjarto asserted.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of using antisemitic imagery and themes in his campaign against Soros, an accusation Szijjarto adamantly denies.
“Yes, we are in open conflict [with Soros], but it has nothing to do with the religion of any of us, it has to do with that vision. And whoever includes religion in this debate is representing an antisemitic approach, because we don’t care about his religion,” he said.
The Hungarian foreign minister was in Israel Tuesday to attend a summit of the Visegrad Group – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. When Poland backed out over Israeli comments regarding Polish complicity in the Holocaust and Polish antisemitism, the formal summit was canceled, but the prime ministers of the other three countries came and held a joint meeting as well as bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Hungarian government, Szijjarto said, “can be really proud of our track record when it comes to the fight against antisemitism. We have announced a policy of zero tolerance against antisemitism. And in Hungary we are really proud of the fact that the biggest Jewish community in Central Europe lives in Hungary... if you will come to Budapest, you will see the vivid cultural life, you will see there is no need for guards with weapons standing around synagogues, or guards with weapons at Jewish cultural events.”
Regarding the disagreement with Israel about the narrative that will be presented at a Holocaust museum in Budapest under construction – and concern in Israel that it will try to equate horrors of Nazism to those of Communism – Szijjarto said that the prime ministers of both countries have set up teams to address the issue.
“For us, it is important to address the issue properly, to the satisfaction of all stakeholders,” he said. “It is being addressed.”
The Hungarian foreign minister said his country was not trying to equate Nazism with Communism, a type of “Holocaust distortion” that some observers say is taking place in parts of Eastern Europe.
“No, they were not the same,” he said. “Nazism was Nazism, and Communism was Communism. Both of them are terrible, and both of them caused suffering for millions and tens of millions. We need to address them one by one.”
As to criticism from some in Israel, such as Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg, that Jerusalem should not be forging such close ties with “illiberal” democracies in Europe, Szijjarto took issue with the term “illiberal democracy.”
He quoted Orban as saying that “there is a very unfair and biased approach in Europe in this regard, because if the liberals do not win an election, then it is the whole country that is considered nondemocratic. In this sense it is illiberal, because it is not the liberals who will govern.”
Szijjarto termed it “unfair” that “when a conservative, Christian-Democratic, Center-Right party wins the elections, then all the liberal media jumps on it and says it is not a democracy, because the liberals did not win. But this is the decision of the people, and democracy is about respecting the decisions and the will of the people. And if the people voted in favor of us in two previous elections by a two-thirds majority, then this must be respected by everyone, even liberals.”
On diplomatic issues, Szijjarto said that Hungary views Israel “as a friend and a strategic ally,” and that in the EU and in the UN, Budapest is “pushing for a fair and balanced approach toward Israel.” He said that inside both forums, Hungary tries to block resolutions, documents and decisions “hostile and unfair towards Israel.”
The diplomat stepped around the issue of Poland deciding not to attend the Visegrad summit in Jerusalem, saying that “it would have been better if they were here,” adding that his country is friendly with both Poland and Israel.
“It is really bad when two friends enter into such a situation, and we really hope that the two of you will be able to resolve this conflict,” he said. He added that neither Hungary, the Czech Republic nor Slovakia tried to get Warsaw to change its decision and participate in the summit.
“We are not like that. It is their decision. We are fed up with the approach that countries try to put leverage on each other, to do this or not to do that,” he said. “We are not like that; we accept the decision of the Poles and act accordingly.”