Hungary and Israel: the Collision of Past and Present


Josef Olmert

About Josef Olmert

Dr Josef Olmert is a former director of the Government Press Office and advisor to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. In 1999, he was a policy advisor to former Defence Minister Moshe Arens. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics in Middle East Studies, headed the Syria and Lebanon desks at Tel –Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies-where he served on the faculty. He has authored three books on the Middle East, as well as numerous articles in important academic journals. He taught at Cornell University, York University in Toronto, City College in New York and American University in DC.

Soon after the fall of the Soviet Empire, Hungary, alongside other former “Popular Democracies” and the newly-established Russian Federation, set up diplomatic relations with Israel.

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz visited Jerusalem, with a lot of fanfare and high rhetoric about the friendship between the two states and peoples. I, personally, being the Israeli Government spokesman at that time, participated in the state dinner.

But was all really so rosy at that time? Not exactly, and this is to say the very least. There was an elephant in the room — the PAST, or to be specific and blunt, the legacy of the Holocaust, and the role of the Hungarian State and people in it. It could not be otherwise with Israel being a Jewish state, where a large community of Jews from Hungary live and prosper. Hungary was just one of these new states, where issues of the past seemed to have the potential of preventing any new, friendly relations with Israel.

Another notable example was Croatia, with the Holocaust-denier President Franjo Tudgman. The passing of time though is usually a good excuse to push aside old grudges, or at least downgrade their importance, and so it seemed to be as well in the context of the developing relationships between Israel and Hungary. However, in this case, present circumstances have caught up with the legacy of the past. This is because the genie of anti-Semitism is out of the bottle in Hungary, with an overtly anti-Semitic party, Jobbik, polling about one fifth of the popular vote. Israel cannot ignore this, nor can the local Hungarian Jews.

The overall historic context of anti-Semitism in Hungary is out of the scope of this particular article, including the Tisza Aeszlar blood libel of 1882-3, as well as the White Terror following the removal of the short-lived Communist dictatorship led by a Hungarian Jew, Bela Kun, in 1919.

However, what happened in WWII cannot be out of this discussion. The massacre of 20,000 Jews in Kamenets-Podolsk in the autumn of 1941, was committed by the SS and Hungarian forces. There is also the ‘’small’’ pogrom of 1,000 Jews in Backsa in 1942, and above all, the months of March-July 1944, when nearly half a million Jews were sent to their death in Auschwitz by the killing machine of Adolf Eichmann. He did this with the active support and cooperation of the Hungarian State, led by the Regent Admiral Miklos Horthy, who, in July, ordered a halt to the deportations, following an international pressure, but it was too late to save the poor Jewish victims. Among the Jews who were not deported, was the Schwartz family, including their 14 year-old son, Georg, who is better known today as George Soros.

These Horthy and Soros are the stars of the latest chapter in Hungarian-Jewish-Israeli relations. Recently, the current Hungarian PM. Viktor Orban, praised the role of Horty in WWII. There was not a word about his actual participation in the Hungarian holocaust, a statement coming just weeks ahead of an official visit of Israel’s PM Netanyahu in Hungary. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, under Netanyahu, who is his own Foreign Minister, issued a lukewarm protest, and the Hungarians said something by way of clarification, but definitely neither a retraction nor an apology.

Interestingly enough, the reaction of the Hungarian Jewish community [100,000 strong] was also vegetative, and in Israel, it was the Left Wing which raised hell, but not the Nationalist Right Wing. The Left does not like the Orbans of Europe, because of their anti-immigration policies, and the strong sense of Islam-phobia attached to that. Many in the Right in Israel like the Orbans, Wilders and to a small extent even Le Pen, exactly because they identify their anti-immigration positions with being pro-Israel.

On both sides of the map in Israel, the debate really is not so much about the issue of immigration itself, rather it is about images and perceptions. Many on the Left adopt the post-Zionist positions, many on the Right resort to ultra-nationalism, and both sides look for their match in European politics. The bottom line was, that the Hungarian exoneration of Horty, a terrible war criminal, who ended his life pleasurably in Portugal in 1957, aroused just a mild storm in Israel, and Netanyahu could claim success with the Hungarian “clarification.”

The real storm erupted over Mr Soros, and the campaign waged against him and his criticism of the Orban Government, over their objections to absorb Muslim immigrants. By all accounts, this is the right of the Hungarian Government to wage a campaign against Soros, though it is somewhat unusual for a government to do it against a particular individual. Here is where the demons of the past came into the heart of the discussion.

Being a Jew is not so simple in Hungary, today, with Jobbik in full force, and with Mr Orban trying to appease them and the other Hungarian nationalists. Soros may be one individual, and important as he may be, or considered to be, for many Hungarians, he may personify the entire Jewish community. This is something which many non-Jews, even those with the best of intentions, fail so often to understand. The burden of anti-Semitism and the holocaust is such that many Jews tend to overreact to what is perceived as anti-Semitism, and no one can blame them for it.

The Orban Government is not anti-Semitic, but many Jews fear anti-Semitism, and they deserved more consideration from their government. So, the Jews raised hell about Soros, but not so much about Horty, and the Israeli Government could not no longer sit on the fence. The Israeli ambassador issued an unprecedented criticism of the Hungarian Government, but was very quickly called to order by his boss, PM and FM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Soros is not a popular figure in Israel, to say the very least, being a Globalist, and funder of anti-Zionist NGO’s in Israel, as well as supporters of the Boycott Israel movement. Netanyahu issued a strong condemnation of Soros. The Hungarian Jews were unhappy and their government withdrew the anti-Soros billboards a few days later, and then hosted Netanyahu with a lot of fanfare, which was also in display when Netanyahu participated in the summit meeting of Orban with the leaders of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Netanyahu could claim another diplomatic success, the Right liked his attack on Soros, the Left is not really that important in Israel, and the Orban Government could be satisfied that the crisis was over.

On the face of it, all of this can be glossed over as a chain of inconsequential events with a happy end. Not so. It is a story which can, and very likely will, repeat itself in the context of the relationships between Israel and other East European states [Ukraine is one such example], a story which has to do with the soul of Israel, but also with that of the new democracies of Eastern Europe and their dealing with their past. An illuminating experience with an unclear outcome.


The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.


After 25 Years of Restructuring, the Romanian Power Sector Is at a Crossroad

Partnership is the Key to CEE-Indian Business

How Will Trump’s Visit Affect Polish Politics?

Donald trump

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

We, the Post-Communist Generation, Have the Skills to Rid of the Past And Create Our Own Future

The EU’s Choice: Fundamental Reform Or Disintegration

Romania Surviving the Waves of Recent Political Tsunamis in Europe

Breaking With Imitations of the Past

Could the West At Least Help Ukraine To Insure FDI Against Political Risks?

Finalising the DCFTA is Expected to Bring Multiple Benefits to Ukraine

Poland: Is it Ready, and is it Time to Adopt the Euro?

The Netherlands’ Objection to the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement could be Costly to Europe

Poland’s Capital Saturation Lower Than the Czech Republic’s

deloitte fdi poland

A New Division Between Eastern And Western Europe?

The GREAT London Food Scene

Bakery in London

When Neutrality Isn’t an Option

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Old Fashioned Skulduggery Overshadows the Elections in Moldova

Albania’s Election Apathy

tirana albania

Polish Tax Laws — Fighting a Winning Battle Against Tax Evaders

Is there any prospect of ‘Polexit’?

poland european union polexit

Czech Own Currency Insures Against Euro Losses

Euro Czech republic emerging europe

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

The Competitive Edge in Central and Eastern Europe

SOFIA BULGARIA - MAY 5: View of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia on May 5 2016. Sofia is the largest city and capital of Bulgaria.

Stuck in Neutral: Georgia’s Constitutional Reforms

Tbilisi Parliament Georgia

Examining How a Strong Swiss Franc Could Single-Handedly Topple Poland’s Economy

Let’s Stop Wasting Time Redefining our Place in Europe

Will a Two-speed European Union Side-line the Visegrad Four?

Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

Can Armenia Keep a Foot in Both Camps?

European union armenia russia emerging europe

EU-CEE Is Still Growing at a Healthy Rate

Prague emerging europe

The Right to Water: Who Can Change Today’s Situation?

EU Visa-Liberalisation Strengthens Georgia’s Pro-Western Path

georgia emerging europe eu

Europe Needs To Be More Proactive In Embracing Armenia

A Bosnian Referendum Shows Russia’s Influence in the Balkans—As Well As Its Limits

The Morawiecki Plan Promises a Brighter Future for Poland

Fiscal Policy Predictability in CEE — It’s Time for Change

Changing Perspectives and Showing That True Romania is a Vibrant Innovative Country

Poland Needs to Cling to the Eurozone

zloty euro emerging europe

Impact of Brexit on EU-CEE Not Overstated

theresa may brexit

Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Macedonia’s Controversial Coalition Government

SKOPJE MACEDONIA emerging europe

Poland’s Drift Away From Democracy

Why Hungary’s New NGO Law Is Harmful for Business

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

The Voice of European Business Must Be Heard Loud and Clear by Brexit Negotiators

How Will Poland Approach the Brexit Negotiations?

Adam Smith’s Warning for Poland

European Volatility Makes Economic Development Slower for Ukraine

Political Tensions Rise As Croatia Allegedly Breaks the Dublin III Refugee Regulation

croatia migrants

January Kicks Off an Exciting Year for Emerging Europe

CEE-Benefits and Disadvantages of Joining the Eurozone

forint zloty euro

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic


Moldova Falls Victim to Politicising

moldova emerging europe

Ukraine’s Reputation for Cheap Labour May Not Ring True in the Long-term

China: A Giant That Is Hard to Crack

Resignation in Ukraine: War, Revolution, Crisis — Some Things Never Change

PiS Uses Media Control to Bring Poland to Heel

Jaroslaw kaczynski pis emerging europe

Falling into Old Ways in 2017? Ukraine’s Struggle for Functioning Economic Institutions

The Global Outsourcing Industry — the Rise of the Phoenix

LGBT in CEE — A New Acceptance Is Being Born From Migration

Azerbaijan: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing


International Women’s Day — Let’s Take Action And Then Celebrate

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

Eu hungary poland

Europe at Odds over OPAL and Nord Stream 2

Measuring Growth of Societies with GDP Alone Shows an Incomplete Picture

2018 Elections — Vital Decisions for Hungary’s Future

Victor Orban energing europe

After Its Significant Rise the Georgian Economy May Now Fall

Panorama of Tbilisi, Georgia in sunset rays. Vivid, saturated, splittoned image.

A Positive and Modern View of Entrepreneurship

How strong is V4?

Viktor Orban

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

Poland’s Unicorn, Slovakia’s Flying Car and the Future of Europe

The CEE Region Is Making Advances in Prioritising Waste-to-Energy Projects

Central and Eastern European Consumers Are Joining the Global Trends for Change

Prepare for a New Europe

Business Moving Forward with Cautious Optimism — Can Investors Win the Confidence Game?

Belarus 2020: Turning the Vicious Circle Into an Upward Spiral

The Long Tail of Global Expansion

Good Match But Unlikely Marriage

Brexit: Let’s Learn the Lesson and Hope a Better Europe Will Arise

E-lifestyle and Cyber Security: Some Views From Estonia

Cyber Security Protection Firewall Interface Concept

Global Expansion in the Digital Age

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

Ex-Transition Economies’ FDI Recovery

dollar euro fdi

The Sharing Economy Could Bring New Business Models to CEE

History as Destiny? Institutional Erosion in Ukraine and Poland

The Capital Markets Union: a New Beginning in the European Financial Sector?

United or Divided? Europe in the Face of the Challenges of Tomorrow

Swimpassing Dniester Without Prejudice To Democracy

Parliament of the republic of moldova in chisinau, national flag, stefan cel mare street, spring time with blue sky

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Poland’s Confusing GDP Growth

CEE — Do We Need a Launch Pad For Our On-Site Tech Intelligence in the Silicon Valley

Hungary’s Nationalist Assault on Free Enquiry

victor orban ceu

Where’s My Cheese? – The GREAT British Food Tour 2014

Cheese Shop

Are There Differences Between How Tax Regulations in Poland and IAS Treat Intangible Assets?

Will the New Five-day Visa-free Regime Encourage More Visitors to Belarus?

Emphasising the Incongruence Between the V4 Countries

Macron emerging europe

People Power Reminds the Government of the Rule of Law

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *