Meszár Tárik
Eurasia Center of John von Neumann University; MCC PhD Program

The Development of Hungarian-Israeli Relations

Israeli-Hungarian relations have developed impressively in recent decades. Although relations between Hungary and Israel have not always been unclouded, significant progress has been made in recent decades, and relations between the two countries have grown stronger and deeper. This article examines the historical roots of relations between the two countries, the turn of the millennium, and the characteristics of current cooperation, and highlights the factors on the basis of which relations can be described as “excellent”.

It is important to emphasize that Hungarian Jews have long played an important role in Hungarian society and culture. However, the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust changed the fate of the Jewish community in Hungary. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews lost their lives during the Nazi genocide. After the establishment of the State, Israel played an important role in hosting Holocaust survivors and refugees. In the second half of the 20th century, relations between Israel and Hungary were chilly due to the geopolitical realities of the Cold War. Nevertheless, Hungary established contact with the Middle Eastern country very early, immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel. Relations with Israel were severed in 1967 under Soviet pressure, but this did not mean a complete break in relations between the two countries. Thus, on July 1, 1983, the Bank of Israel and the Hungarian National Bank signed an agreement that provided for the development of bilateral trade, the mutual granting of loans, and preparations for the establishment of bilateral economic relations. In addition, an official Hungarian delegation visited Tel Aviv at the end of 1984. Another important milestone was that on September 18, 1989, Hungary became the first country in the former Eastern Bloc to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Since the turn of the millennium, relations between the two countries have developed extraordinarily, leading to bilateral cooperation in many areas such as economy, trade and culture in both countries. For example, Israel has become one of Hungary’s most important military and security partners, and numerous joint military exercises are held. On the economic front, trade and investment between the two countries have increased significantly, particularly in the areas of technology and agriculture. Educational and cultural exchange programs also play an important role in relations between the two countries.

There are many factors for the excellent Hungarian-Israeli relations. For one, both countries attach great importance to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This shared value system facilitates mutual understanding and cooperation. Second, both countries have dynamic economies, and there are many common interests and opportunities for business and economic cooperation. Third, both Hungary and Israel are strategically important in their respective regions, and they also face many common security and geopolitical challenges.

As for the present, in 2019 the two states celebrated the 30th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations. Over the years, Hungary and Israel have established a friendly and strategically allied relationship. Nowadays, the State of Israel is an important partner of Hungary. The cooperation is wide-ranging and includes security issues, interactions between the two countries, global action against anti-Semitism, economic, scientific and innovative projects.

Moreover, it is a non-negligible fact that the largest Jewish community in Central Europe lives in Hungary (about 100,000 people), and the number of the Hungarian community in Israel is also considerable (about 300,000 people). The Hungarian government is aware of this and pays special attention to dialog with Jews and the preservation of Jewish culture and identity. This includes Hungary’s rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism, tightening the ban on hate speech and criminalizing Holocaust denial.

Economic relations between the two countries have developed significantly in recent years. A Hungarian foreign trade office opened in Jerusalem in March 2019. Israeli companies develop and use the most advanced technologies, and it is clearly in the interest of Hungarian business and enterprises to cooperate as closely as possible with Israeli companies. The Foreign Trade Mission contributes to achieving this goal. In addition, the Hungarian Foreign Minister recently stated that political and economic relations between Hungary and Israel are stronger than ever, and the parties are also discussing opportunities for cooperation in the energy sector.

A good example of this is the announcement by the Hungarian Ministry of Innovation and Technology that Hungary and Israel launched a joint program to promote the mobility of researchers. The two parties are committed to strengthening ties between industry and innovation, and the partner ministries will set out priority areas of strategic cooperation in a memorandum of understanding in the near future. In addition, the Hungarian prime minister traveled to Israel in March 2021, where he said there is no better proof of the friendship between the two countries than the fact that the Israeli-Hungarian trade balance increased in 2020, while the world trade balance decreased by several percent.

As for security policy, according to the press release of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hungarian minister of state reported at the joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in late May 2023 that cooperation between the two countries has always been characterized by mutual respect and Hungary has always supported the right of the State of Israel to defend itself and ensure security. “We condemn all terrorist threats and attacks that Israel has faced recently, and we also condemn the practice of international political organizations to accept condemnations based on a one-sided, biased and unfair attitude toward Israel,” he said in a statement released by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry.

Overall, Israel and Hungary have formed a close alliance in international politics. The relations between Hungary and Israel have developed remarkably in the last decades. The cooperation between the two countries is becoming more and more intense in economic, military, cultural and strategic terms. The basis of cooperation is a shared value system, economic opportunities and a common response to geopolitical challenges. What is certain is that the past years have laid a solid foundation for future cooperation and partnership from which both countries can benefit.

About the Author
Since September 2020, I have been a PhD student of the Arabic Studies program of the Doctoral School of Linguistics at Eötvös Loránd University. From March 2021 I am a researcher at the Eurasia Center of John von Neumann University, and from September 2021 I am a participant in the Mathias Corvinus Collegium PhD Program and a researcher at the Migration Research Institute, where I study the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, mainly Iraq and Egypt. I also deal with the Arabic language and its dialects, as well as the international relations of the Arab world and its role in the world economy.
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