Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used the occasion of a visit from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to admit that Hungary’s government had failed to protect Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.
At a joint press conference in Budapest on Tuesday, Orbán (pictured right) assured Netanyahu (pictured left) that the safety of the “significant minority” of Jews living in Hungary is “completely guaranteed by the Hungarian state,” and that the Hungarian government “has promoted [a policy of] zero-tolerance against all forms of anti-Semitism.”
“We are aware of the fact that there is a difficult history behind us, and that in an earlier period the Hungarian government made a mistake, in fact committed a sin when it did not defend its own citizens,” Orbán said.
“It is the obligation of every Hungarian government to protect all its citizens, regardless of their origins. In the time of the Second World War, Hungary did not do enough toward this moral and political requirement. This is a sin, since at that time we chose Nazi collaboration instead of protection of the Jewish community. I made it clear to the Prime Minister that this can never happen again. The Hungarian government will protect all of its citizens in the future.”
Orbán’s statements, while acknowledging the WWII-era government’s failure to protect Hungarian Jews from persecution and ultimate extermination at Nazi death camps, failed to explicitly acknowledge the active role the Hungarian government played in enacting the policies which led to the Holocaust.
Hungarian governments have been criticised before for distorting the history of WWII to portray Hungary as merely a victim of German Nazi occupation, and therefore whitewashing its own role in the genocide.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend
It was not clear from the press conference whether Orbán and Netanyahu had discussed a recent diplomatic fray involving their two countries over a recently concluded Hungarian government billboard campaign that featured thousands of signs plastered all over Hungary featuring the grinning face of Hungarian-born American-Jewish financier George Soros.
The campaign was widely criticized as anti-Semitic by Jews in Hungary and abroad, and Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani called on the government to end the campaign immediately, saying it “sows hatred and fear.”
But Israel’s Foreign Ministry was directed by Netanyahu the following day to revoke this statement, and issued a clarification where it criticized Soros for “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments.”
The mixed message led some to speculate that Netanyahu and his right-wing government had chosen anti-Sorosism over opposition to anti-Semitism, seeming to validate the Hungarian government’s official position that the campaign did not play on anti-Semitic sentiments.
Patriotic governments are successful governments
Orbán praised Netanyahu as a “committed patriot,” and expressed Hungary’s recognition of “Israel’s right to self-defense,” adding that “we expect them to recognize our rights to our own self defense.”
“We are in serious debates with the European Union,” Orbán continued. “Hungary doesn’t want a mixed population, it doesn’t want to change its current ethnic composition. We want to stay as we are, even if I have to admit that we aren’t perfect.”
He praised Israel for “teaching the world and Hungarians that what we don’t fight for, we lose. In the modern world, we have to struggle for everything. I really hope that more and more of our Hungarian patriots will understand this iron law of the modern era.”
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Hungary in nearly 30 years. During his four-day stay he will meet representatives from the other Visegrád Four countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland), and with Hungary’s largest religious Jewish organization Mazsihisz, which called openly this month for an end to the anti-Soros campaign.