Netanyahu balances history and business in Hungary

Doing business and making history, Netanyahu will become the first Israeli leader to visit Hungary since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1989.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make history by becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit Hungary since the fall of Communism. During the two-day visit, he will also meet the leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia in an effort to forge stronger ties and international support for Israel.

Netanyahu visits Hungary less than a month after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban heaped praise on the country’s pro-Hitler interwar leader Miklos Horthy. In addition, a Hungarian anti-immigration billboard campaign, featuring US-Hungarian Jewish billionaire George Soros, has been labeled anti-Semitic by critics and has made Hungary’s Jews feel uncomfortable.

Israeli Ambassador Yossi Amrani articulated the Jewish community’s concern to Reuters in Budapest.

“We had the Horthy (remark) and then the billboard campaign. The billboard campaign created a certain domino effect reaction in the Jewish community,” he said. “People expressed fears.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to cancel the visit due to the controversial posters. The government in Budapest denies that the billboard campaign is anti-Semitic, but reportedly agreed to end it prior to Netanyahu’s visit.

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Last week, the Israeli foreign ministry accused Soros of undermining democratically elected conservative governments through his financial support of NGOs working against the best interests of the Jewish state.

Working Towards the Future

Hungary and Israel have both expressed interest in establishing stronger bilateral ties, and Netanyahu’s visit is expected to favor business opportunities over history.

Amrani stressed Israel’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism and defending Jewish communities worldwide. He added that Jerusalem is also interested in forging stronger ties with Budapest.

“The PM is visiting because we believe there is common ground and certain strategic interests. We still believe this is possible,”

The Israeli ambassador told Reuters that the scheduled meetings will deal with commercial cooperation with a special emphasis on the global car industry that has many plants in Central Europe.

“There’s quite a bit of economic activity in the region in which Israel shares an interest. Israel has expertise in technology related to the (auto) industry,” a Netanyahu official added. Hungary, which seeks to prevent migrants from entering the country, has expressed interest in potentially buying Israeli security fences.

Netanyahu’s visit  could be aimed at seeking support among regional European Union members for opposition to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

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“For Netanyahu, it would be a great political gain if the Visegrad Group [alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia] rejects BDS while not urging him about peace talks with the Palestinians,” said Gabor Miklos, a former foreign affairs journalist with the daily Nepszabadsag, which closed last year after its purchase by an Orban ally, The Associated Press reported. “It would also be a great gain if these countries recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

By: Daniel Krygier, World Israel News