Hungarian minister in ‘astonishing’ attack on Board after controversial meeting

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Hungarian minister in ‘astonishing’ attack on Board after controversial meeting

Top diplomat accuses Jewish representatives of having 'not the slightest respect' for his country and 'whitewashing' Labour's antisemitism row

Vince  Szalay-Bobrovniczky
Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky

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.

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies

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.”

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