Yair Lapid
Yair Lapid
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Mr. Netanyahu, don’t go to Hungary!

Israel's leader shouldn't visit a country whose prime minister praised a man who helped the Nazis murder Jews
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor in Budapest, on July 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor in Budapest, on July 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI)

If Viktor Orban doesn’t personally and fully apologize, Prime Minister Netanyahu should cancel his visit to Hungary.

And now the background: Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is a semi-democratic leader who has long been in the sights of the European Union for his tendency to limit freedom of expression, persecute his opponents and refuse to pay his debts.

In a speech recently Orban heaped praise on one of his predecessors, Miklos Horthy. He called him among other things, “an exceptional statesman.” Horthy the “exceptional” served as Regent of Hungary, which was then a Kingdom, between 1920-1944. He is also one of the founding fathers of modern anti-Semitism. Within his first year he passed the “numerus clausus,” which limited the number of Jews who could enter academia. Long before Hitler or Mussolini, he was one of the twentieth century European leaders who started the trend of anti-Semitic laws that limited the access of Jews to academia, and then later also to government jobs, the business sector and the media.

It got progressively worse. Horthy made anti-Semitism a central tenet of his regime and from 1933 saw Hitler as a natural ally. In 1940 he led Hungary into the ‘axis’ with Hitler and deepened his policy of anti-Semitism. First, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to forced labor camps. Then deportations began to the death camps. Among the victims were many members of my family, all of them loyal Hungarian citizens whose only crime was being Jewish. Between May and July 1944, more than half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered. Miklos Horthy is a war criminal and is no less responsible for those murders than the Nazis.

Israel’s response to Orban’s compliments for this mass murderer didn’t seem to impress the Hungarians. Instead of an apology from Orban, their foreign minister delivered a stuttering statement that “history must be respected, and the historical facts indicate that the activities of Miklós Horthy as governor included both positive and extremely negative periods. However, it is extremely negative and belongs in the category of historical sin that despite his oath he did not protect Hungary’s Jews, who were part of the Hungarian nation.”

This statement adds insult to injury. Horthy didn’t fail to protect Hungary’s Jews; he was part of the organization that murdered them. The prime minister of Israel, son of a historian and a man with a keen sense of history, cannot ignore this attempt to whitewash Hungary’s past. If he has any national pride, the Prime Minister should demand a retraction from Viktor Orban. If this is not forthcoming, he must cancel his visit to Hungary in protest.

About the Author
Yair Lapid is the Founder and Chairperson of Yesh Atid, Israel's centrist party, and the leader of the opposition