Viktor Orbán, the Visegrád Group and Israel

For the first time in the Visegrád Group’s history, the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia will hold a summit outside of Europe, notably in Jerusalem. It is known that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán maintains a close working relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that Fidesz has borrowed some elements of its political strategy from the Likud party. Israel’s leader suggested two years ago, when he attended a meeting of the V4, that the Central European political and cultural alliance of nations should hold a future meeting in the Jewish state. The summit is scheduled for 18-19 February 2019 and in attendance will be Mr. Orbán, alongside Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis and Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini.

Recently, Mr. Netanyahu praised Mr. Orbán for his “strong support [of Israel] in international forums in Europe.” And at one point, according to The Times of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu complained to V4 leaders about the European Union’s “crazy” support of Palestinian human rights. Unaware that the mics were on and reporters could hear his words, Mr. Netanyahu told his V4 counterparts: “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy towards Israel.”

It is evident that Mr. Netanyahu sees the V4 and Mr. Orbán particular, as offering an opening to effect changes to the European Union’s policies from the inside. What Mr. Netanyahu does not appear prepared to acknowledge is the doublespeak of the Orbán government vis-à-vis Hungarian Jews, the regime’s dog whistle antisemitism and the unwillingness to take real responsibility for tragic episodes in the county’s  twentieth century history, notably Hungary’s culpability in the murder of 600,000 Jews.

That Mr. Netanyahu seems prepared to ignore these concerns and has struck something of an opportunistic deal with Mr. Orbán does not mean that other Israeli leaders also fail to see through the smokescreen. Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, responded to news of the V4 summit in Jerusalem. He said that as prime minister, he would demand that Mr. Orbán issue a formal apology for the Fidesz’s government’s “anti-Semitic campaign” against George Soros.

Specifically, Mr. Lapid said: “I would demand an apology from Prime Minister Orbán and that Poland rescind the disgraceful Holocaust law. That is what any prime minister who cares about Jewish history and has any sense of national pride would do.”

Mr. Lapid has a family connection to Hungary. Though born in Tel Aviv and raised for part of his childhood in London, his father and paternal grandfather came from Novi Sad, today Serbia, but historically a town in the Kingdom of Hungary known as Újvidék. The Israeli politician’s grandfather was deported from his home and killed in Auschwitz.

Mr. Lapid is a force to be reckoned with in Israeli politics–he was once seen as a kingmaker. Today he is trying to unify centrist and centre-left forces in the country ahead of legislative Knesset elections scheduled for 9 April 2019.

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