Anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture.
Anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture.

The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Budapest - the first visit of an Israeli Prime Minister since the fall of communism - received much international publicity. The media reported on both his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and with the heads of the Visegrad group countries, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet in their reporting, many media outlets did not focus on the most important issues.

Orbán leads the right of center Fidesz party. He declared in a public statement after the meeting with Netanyahu that Hungary had sinned when it cooperated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War and that it had not protected its Jews. He also said that Hungary would protect all its citizens in the future. Yet, in the recent past Orbán praised the longtime Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, a Hitler ally. 

Orbán’s declaration about his country’s Holocaust guilt was important politically both for himself and for his party. Such admission of Hungarian Holocaust guilt is not unprecedented. Several Hungarian prime ministers including Gyula Horn, Péter Medgyessy and Ferenc Gyurcsany  have acknowledged their country’s war crimes or issued apologies. 

In a 2013 study, 91% of Hungarian Jews stated that anti-Semitism had increased in the past five years, a higher percentage than in the seven other countries investigated. Ninety percent of Hungarian Jews saw anti-Semitism as a problem in their country. Anti-Semitism has not abated since. The extreme right and anti-Semitic Jobbik party received 20% of the votes in the 2014 elections. Its leader, Gabor Vona, is now trying to move the party somewhat toward the center to become a serious competitor for Fidesz prior to the next election which will take place in 2018.

Countries do not change their culture easily. Hungary has a long history of anti-Semitism which dates back many years well before its collaboration with the Germans during the Holocaust. The postwar communist regimes suppressed anti-Semitism. However after their fall in 1989, it soon reared its head again. Yet while there is extreme verbal anti-Semitism, for the most part it has not become violent. That may change though. Like in most European countries, Jews living in Hungary have to realize that anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture. Its intensity varies from country to country. While anti-Semitism has to be fought, it is far too embedded to be eliminated.

Some Jews asked Netanyahu to cancel his visit. But an Israeli Prime Minister meets many leaders without this indicating that he is in agreement with all their policies.
The Hungarian government’s poster campaign against American billionaire George Soros has drawn much attention. He promotes the settlement of Middle Eastern refugees in Hungary and other European countries. Soros' policy is seen as hostile by the Hungarian government. The government campaign was also exploited by anti-Semites who drew graffiti on billboards. As a result, Hungarian Jews were worried about anti-Semitism surrounding the campaign. 

Some Jews asked Netanyahu to cancel his visit. But an Israeli Prime Minister meets many leaders without this indicating that he is in agreement with all their policies. For instance, Netanyahu visited the Netherlands. This does not mean that he agrees with the current government’s continuous refusal to admit their predecessors’ major failures toward Jews during the Second World War. Nor does Netanyahu have to approve the massive unvetted immigration there of people from Muslim countries in which anti-Semitism is rife. This immigration is the greatest threat to Dutch Jews and Israel in that country since the Holocaust. 

This is not the only worrying aspect of the Dutch reality concerning Israel.  A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld, found that almost 39% of the Dutch were in agreement with the statement: "Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians." The figure for Hungary was barely different:  41%.

The Israeli ambassador to Hungary came out against the anti-Semitism. The Israeli foreign office explained the Israeli position in a statement that it meant “in no way 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 its right to defend itself.”

Concerning the meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad countries, the main media attention was focused on the scathing remarks Netanyahu made about Europe without realizing that a microphone was open. Part of his remarks were substantially correct even if he would have phrased them differently had he realized that his statements were no longer private.

The level of anti-Semitism in the Visegrad countries differs. In 2014, an ADL study asked 11 basic questions concerning classic anti-Semitic attitudes in a number of countries. It found that 45% of Poles harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. In Hungary the figure is 41%, and in the Czech Republic 13%. No data is available for Slovakia. When asked if Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust, 62% of Poles responded yes, with 61% of Hungarians agreeing. 44% of Czech citizens answered affirmatively to the same question.

In 2004, I interviewed Mark Sofer, then Deputy Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. At that time the Visegrad countries and several others had just joined the EU. He said: "Conventional wisdom tells us that the accession of these countries to the EU is positive for Israel. For once, conventional wisdom may well be correct." He has indeed been proven correct. These and other central European countries often support Israel in a frequently politically hostile EU. They are also important for Israeli investors.

Another reason these countries are important not only for Israel but also for European Jewry is that they oppose immigration. The immigrants are to a large extent Muslims from the Middle East. Brussels and the leaders of European countries know well that most Muslim immigrants have been indoctrinated with extreme anti-Semitic propaganda from childhood. An advisor to the European court wants it to reject the challenge by Hungary and Slovakia against the EU European council decision that EU members must take in hundreds of asylum-seekers.

Yet the EU leaders do not care. The decent thing would have been to vet Muslims immigrating into Europe so that these so-called liberal democracies would not have admitted anti-Semitic immigrants. As this is not the case, the policy of the Visegrad countries not to receive immigrants is preferable. In this way in future at least a few European countries where Muslim anti-Semitic hatemongers will not play a prominent role.