Hungary’s top diplomat launched an “astonishing” attack on the Board of Deputies’ president this week, accusing her of “whitewashing” Labour’s antisemitism problems and having “not the slightest respect” for his country.
The unheard-of and illogical accusations were revealed today in correspondence made public by the Board following President Marie van der Zyl’s meeting with Hungarian Secretary of State Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky Vince on Friday.
The pair met to discuss concerns, including recent magazine front covers portraying Hungary’s Jewish community leader showering in cash. Van der Zyl raised “a number of longstanding concerns” including the use of antisemitic tropes in relation to the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros, whose democracy foundation has been a staunch critic of right-wing Hungarian premier Viktor Orban.
However, in a fiery and less-than-diplomatic response to the Board’s subsequent press release, the envoy accused the Board president of “not having the slightest respect for Hungary” and of pushing “a simple lie”.
The Board had initially said its meeting with the senior Hungarian official was “respectful and honest,” two weeks after registering the British Jewish community’s “profound disquiet” at the situation in the country.
Van der Zyl challenged the Hungarian government’s remarks about Muslims and migrants, its “moves to downplay the role of historical Hungarian leaders in supporting the Holocaust,” the threatened closure of the Aurora Jewish community centre, and relations between the Government and the Jewish community.
Szalay-Bobrovniczky Vince hit back in a letter, published by the Board on Wednesday, in which he said: “I harshly reject your allegations of antisemitism against us, and especially against Prime Minister Orban.”
In March last year, Orban said of Soros: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”
Van der Zyl said “some of the language used against Mr Soros by Prime Minister Orban and others, whether intentionally or not, represent the oldest antisemitic tropes and this has to stop,” but the Hungarian envoy flatly rejected this.
“Your definition of antisemitic language is different from ours,” he said. “It would have been correct from you to state that my opinion was a different one. We have asked for it via our Embassy, but you denied our request which is a message that means you do not have the slightest respect for Hungary.”
He continued: “I harshly reject again your allegations of antisemitism against us, and especially against PM Orbán. It is a shame for you and a shame for the whole cause: a simple lie. The Jewish communities in UK and in Hungary would deserve more than your obviously politically motivated words.”
The diplomat’s fiery broadside continued, saying: “I again explicitly reject every charges [sic] of yours concerning our declarations regarding Soros. Soros organises illegal migration to Europe and thus is undermining European security and the security of Jewish life on our continent. That is our problem. I am extremely sorry for the Jews that you pretend to represent then they would need support and not letting them alone with their growing worries like you do.”
Orban’s Government is set to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, built strong bilateral relations with Israel and invested in the forthcoming Maccabi Games in Budapest, but the remarkable correspondence may now have set relations back.
Continuing his attack, Szalay-Bobrovniczky Vince wrote: “It is, and remains, our responsibility to decide upon organisational structures regarding our national institutions. With due respect, please mind your own business and we will equally not interfere with yours.
“But, if you had the intention to be at least a bit correct with me, you could have mentioned (what I told you 1000 times) that The House of Fates project is a positive idea for our Jewish compatriots and it has an open end.”
He added: “It is misleading from you to say that we had a respectful and honest conversation. You were everything but respectful and honest neither than the relativisation of the obviously antisemitic tendencies in the Labour Party… is clearly dishonest and an unacceptable whitewashing of these politicians there.
The envoy further alleged that he had spoken to the UK Government’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Lord Pickles, and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Ahmad and that they thought differently.
“Neither think – in contradiction to you – that we would speak or act in an antisemitic way,” said the secretary of state. “That is decisive for us – your politically motivated, your own Labour political side whitewashing opinion remains a single one in the UK.”
Van der Zyl responded with her own letter, telling him his letter was “astonishing,” with his accusation that the Board has whitewashed the issue of Labour antisemitism “particularly bizarre”.
She said: “We came to raise some difficult but important issues with you in a constructive spirit… We stand by our representation of the meeting, but, in the interests of fairness, we will publish your account below, un-amended, to accurately convey your response to the concerns we raised.”
- OPINION – Hungarian envoy to the UK, Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky: Your report was a betrayal of Hungary’s good work
- OPINION – Sorry ambassador, Hungary should be judged on what it does not what it says
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.