Hungary denies prematurely ending anti-Soros campaign

Hungarian official says anti-Soros poster campaign accused of fostering anti-Semitism was always supposed to end now.

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Jews in Hungary
Jews in Hungary
Yoni Kempinski

Hungary’s government denied reports that it prematurely ended its media campaign against billionaire George Soros amid pressure by leaders of Hungarian Jewry and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The report appeared Wednesday on the news website of the ATV television station, which is highly critical of the policies of Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban.

The decision to take down the posters of Soros, a left-leaning Jewish philanthropist who is funding organizations devoted to helping immigrants from the Middle East in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, was made in connection with the visit next week by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Budapest, ATV reported.

“As part of the preparations, it was decided it was better if Netanyahu does not see any posters that violate the sensitivity of the Hungarian Jewish community,” the report said.

But a government spokesman on Wednesday told JTA that the six-week campaign, which began in May, is ending as scheduled, not being stopped ahead of time for Netanyahu’s visit or any other reason.

The campaign was “a success because it broke participation records and provided a very clear result: The Hungarians will not allow decisions that affect them to be made without them,” the spokesman wrote in an email. “We expect drawn out disputes on the issue.”

Mazsihisz, an umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, has urged the government to stop its campaign against Soros, which featured posters of him laughing and a call to “not have Soros have the last laugh” in the context of Arab immigration into Hungary. Citing Soros’ Jewish ethnicity, Mazsihisz warned in statements that the campaign risks encouraging anti-Semitism.

But EMIH, an influential Jewish group affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, disputed the assertion about the campaign, which does not contain anti-Semitic rhetoric, and criticized Mazsihisz for “injecting themselves into the debate about Soros.”

“They are in a sense appropriating his politics and associating them with the Jewish community,” EMIH’s leader, Rabbi Slomo Koves, told JTA.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, published a statement last week that repeated the Mazsihisz criticism of the campaign, but Israel’s Foreign Ministry subsequently published what its spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, called a “clarification.”

It said that while Amrani’s statement was meant to reflect Israel’s rejection of anti-Semitism and support for Jewish communities in “any country,” in no way “was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Despite the government’s denial regarding the ETV publication, Rabbi Zoltán Radnóti, the chairman of the rabbinical council of Mazsihisz, attributed the termination of the campaign to “the clear voice of the Hungarian Jewish community as well as many decent Hungarian citizens and others worldwide” who “made this happen,” he wrote on Facebook.