A Hungarian television presenter, known for his anti-Semitic and racist remarks, has handed back a prestigious state award after an outcry by local journalists, the Israeli embassy and others.
"The [award] is not worth it if it going to damage the country," Ferenc Szaniszlo said late Wednesday in a special broadcast of his World Panorama program on the pro government Echo TV channel.
On March 14 the 53-year-old Szaniszlo was awarded the Mihaly Tancsics prize, one of the highest distinctions for journalists in the country, as part of a state honors list to mark Hungary's national day.
In 2011, Echo TV was fined 500,000 forints (1,640 euros, $2,150) by the country's media regulator after Szaniszlo compared members of the ethnic Roma community to "monkeys".
In 2009, he said that, “The western world needs to reckon with … emptying Israel… It can be expected that the Jewish population from Israel … will need to be gradually relocated to Europe and the United States.”
"But who would want six million Israelis?" he then asked.
His award prompted several Hungarian journalists who received the Tancsics award in the past to return their own awards in protest.
The US and Israeli ambassadors to Hungary also called for the withdrawal of the award.
The award casts “a shadow” on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts to combat racism and hate speech, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis said in a statement.
Israel's ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, said that the award 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.
Zoltan Balog, minister for human resources in Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government, said he was not aware in advance of Szaniszlo's extremist comments.
Balog originally said he had no means to withdraw the prize but sent a letter Tuesday asking the journalist to hand back the honor awarded "in error".
The presenter denied he was a Nazi or a fascist and said that the US and Israel ambassadors can be happy that they defeated him, according to AFP.
"At least the world now knows there is a little Hungarian channel, a little program prepared to stand up to the global power structure," he said.
There has been a surge in anti-Semitism in Hungary, much of which can be attributed to the rise in power of the racism Jobbik party.
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.
The comments came after another Jobbik parliamentarian released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of 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.