Hungary’s Justice Minister is absolutely clear: whatever issues his country has with philanthropist George Soros, it has nothing to do with antisemitism.
The Hungarian government, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been criticised for using what many critics see as antisemitic tropes when it criticises its foreign and domestic detractors.
The national conservative Fidesz Party-led government’s chief target has been the Hungarian-born Soros, who has become almost a pantomime villain in the eyes of many in the far-right in the US, Israel and even the UK.
The antisemitic imagery and rhetoric have caused many Hungarian Jews to express concerns about the direction the country was taking, with a poll in June suggesting that two-thirds of the community believe antisemitism is a serious problem in their country.
However, in an exclusive interview with Jewish News, Minister László Trócsányi made it clear that he had “a lot of Jewish friends”, adding that he had “never ever heard them express any fear about anything in Hungary. The Jewish community can feel safe, they are safe in Hungary.”
The issue with Soros was completely different, said Trócsányi. “I do not see antisemitism when it comes to Soros. What I see is an ideological debate on current affairs. Today, in the 21st century, everybody is seeking their identity, Jews and Hungarians and Hungarian Jews alike.
“Identity has become an issue of great importance especially in this contemporary ever-changing world where we are facing migration and a myriad of other questions. Hungary is also confronted with these issues.”
He added: “For my part, I have read the statements made by George Soros in which he said Europe should allow these migrants to come in and that Europe should be able to absorb a million migrants a year.”
Hungarians, Trócsányi said, are a “very homogeneous people. We have also seen the difficulties of integration in some Western European countries. I myself spent four years serving in Brussels and four years in Paris. So, there are difficulties there.”
Trócsányi’s statement about Jews seems also to be at odds with some of those made by Orbán, who said in March: “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.”
He added that in Israel – which he described as a “beautiful country” having visited several times where he struck up a friendship with his counterpart Ayelet Shaked of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home party – too, Soros was a “controversial” figure.
“It’s only natural if someone is rich and decides to participate in politics that he will face criticism,” the minister added.
Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Soros of financing the campaign in Israel against his plan to deport 30,000 African asylum-seekers and refugees.
And Netanyahu’s son, Yair, sparked anger in Israel and elsewhere when he posted on his Facebook account a cartoon of Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature, as well as a figure highly reminiscent of the antisemitic “happy merchant” image.
The cartoon was seized upon, reposted and praised by some neo-Nazi groups in the US.
Meanwhile, Hungary is considered to be Israel’s best friend in the Visegrád Group of Central European EU states – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – which are themselves all considered to be pro-Israel.
Trócsányi said: “Visegrád countries have a different approach to migration than Western European states… Israel, when it comes to migration issues, is pretty much of the same opinion as Hungary. There is an understanding between us. The things that binds us are that we do see a bureaucratic solution to migration such as the quota system as suggested by Brussels.
“Instead we are examining this whole issue in a broader, more global context. And this is one of the reasons that links our region, the Visegrád countries, with Israel.”
Then there’s the issue of Miklós Horthy, who was Hungary’s de facto wartime leader under the Nazis and Miklós Horthy whom Orbán once described as a “great statesman”.
Trócsányi said: “There are things we should be proud of, and other things that we are not proud of. We are proud of the 1848 and 1956 revolutions when we fought for our freedom and many Jews took part.
“Horthy was a controversial person, much like [Marsha; Philippe] Pétain in France. However, after the Versailles Treaty [which led to the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire], we were in dire straits, in chaos, and Horthy began a programme of stabilisation.”
He noted that Hungary did its best to curb racism. “Our government, with me as justice minister, has banned paramilitaries from marching in the streets and we have forbidden any form of discrimination against any community, irrespective of race, gender or ethnicity.
“And, within the boundaries of freedom of expression, there is an absolute need to fight against hate speech.”
Listen to this week’s episode of The Jewish Views podcast! SPECIAL EDITION – Chanukah in the Square!