Israel has asked Hungary to withdraw a state journalism award given to a TV presenter whose station was fined in 2011 for making derogatory remarks about Roma (Gypsies) and Jews.
Israel's ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, said on Monday that the award to Ferenc Szaniszlo was given "to the wrong person for the very wrong reasons."
"His ideas do not belong in a free and democratic society like the one in Hungary," Mor said in a statement.
"While Israel and Hungary are cooperating in fighting against anti-Semitism, such awards might cause [a] negative impression and lead us to the wrong direction," he added.
In comments made on his show on Echo TV in 2011, Szaniszlo said that Gypsies are monkeys and implied that they, along with Jews, had carried out anti-Hungarian activities.
In another program in 2010, Szaniszlo claimed Israel had been created by the West as a bastion against Arab-Muslim countries, but that it would lose its importance as such once the region’s oil and gas run out.
“The western world needs to reckon with … emptying Israel,” Szaniszlo said. “It can be expected that the Jewish population from Israel … will need to be gradually relocated to Europe and the United States.”
Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, said he was concerned by Hungary’s decision to give an award to Szaniszlo, as well as two other people who he said “have made no secret of their anti-Semitic and racist views.”
“Giving the annual Tancsics prize to a journalist notorious for his positions against Jewish and Roma people, as well as medals to a singer of an extreme right, nationalist music band and to an archaeologist known for his theories clearly tainted by anti-Semitism is an insult to our past and flies in the face of European and democratic values,” Muiznieks said in a statement.
Hungary’s Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, said he was unaware of Szaniszlo's remarks and regretted giving him the Mihály Táncsics award, but said he did not have the power to take it back.
“Had I been aware of these views, I would not have accepted the proposal (for the award). As regulations do not allow to withdraw awards, I can only express my regret over a bad decision,” Balog said in a statement.
There has been a surge in anti-Semitic remarks in Hungary. The neo-Nazi Jobbik recently made headlines for several anti-Semitic statements by its officials. In late November, a far-right deputy from the party called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.
At a press conference, deputy Elod Novak called for the resignation of Katalin Ertsey, of the small opposition party LMP, saying that it was unacceptable that she had kept her dual Hungarian-Israeli citizenship secret.
He later told news portal Index, "Israel has more deputies in the Hungarian parliament than they have in the Israeli Knesset."
The comments came after another member of Jobbik In released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of parliament and government.
In 2012, Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary's highest state honor because of what he called a "whitewashing" of history in the European Union member state.
On Tuesday it was announced that the World Jewish Congress will hold its 2013 annual assembly in Budapest, to show solidarity with Hungarian Jews who are facing "exceptionally strong" anti-Semitism.