The Israeli Prime Minister visited Hungary for the first time in three decades. During his visit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who condemns anti-Semitism with a policy of zero tolerance, becomes the first head of government of Hungary to confess to the sins the country committed in failing to protect the lives of Jewish citizens during the Second World War. In the land where Zionism was born, Hungary, PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the daily threats to his country’s existence and Europe’s relationship with Israel, quoting French President Macron on anti-Zionism being the new anti-Semitism. He thanked PM Orbán for opposing this anti-Semitism by standing up for Israel in international forums.
You’d think some of this would have generated big media coverage, or at least made a few headlines in the regional sections. Not so much.
During the historic visit – although my office made sure all major media outlets had access to events and information – the mainstream European media was busy with other matters. If you looked specifically at Hungarian news items, you’d barely find mention of the visit.
POLITICO Europe ran a story based largely on anonymous sources by Lili Bayer, a staunch critic of the government, on how NATO member states won’t talk to Hungary because of a supposed Russian influence, despite Hungary being a committed NATO ally contributing to missions and participating regularly in exercises. Anything about the prime minister of Israel visiting a NATO capital? Nothing. What about Netanyahu’s meeting with the prime ministers of the Visegrád countries, following the bilateral discussions, in which the five “underlined the need to promote an improved relationship between the State of Israel and the European Union”? Nothing.
Others, like AFP, covered the visit, but used it to accuse the government of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism with anti-Semitism, enforcing a narrative according to which criticizing the mass migration plan of George Soros is anti-Semitism. It is not. A week later, AFP was busy covering the personal story of Mardini, a migrant who traveled to Europe via the Western Balkans route and was in Budapest this week as a representative of the refugee swimming team. Quite a scoop.
The apparent media silence cannot be dismissed with the explanation that the meeting was insignificant. More likely, it was because it didn’t fit the prevailing narrative.
Prior to the visit, the international media tried very hard to make anti-Semitism in Hungary the main story, despite the fact that the Orbán Governments have done more than any predecessors to combat ant-Semitism. This time the attempt failed, neither the local Jewish community nor the visiting prime minister were interested feeding that story line, quite the opposite.
If you wanted detailed coverage, the European mainstream media offered little. Instead, Israel Hayom’s interview with Prime Minister Orbán is one of the best sources out there.
"Netanyahu…was touched by the fact that he was visiting the city where [the founder of political Zionism] Theodor Herzl was born,” PM Orbán told the Israeli journalist. “He was moved every time he mentioned Herzl. This wasn't just an official visit, it was an emotional visit.”
“We can say that the leadership of Hungary and Israel enjoy not just a political bond, but also have a connection that is based on mutual trust,” the prime minister said, adding that the personal and political relationship between the leaders has existed for some time. The two nations have several connections: Hungary has the second largest Jewish community in Europe and Israel has many Hungarian Jewish citizens. The two countries face very similar challenges and opportunities. Both nations are “world nations” with a global diaspora community. Additionally, both nations contribute proudly to the protection of Europe.
The journalist asked the prime minister whether he meant it to be a sin or crime when he denounced the actions of the Hungarian government during the Holocaust. “Crime is a legal interpretation of sins,” Prime Minister Orbán said. “I think saying sin is a stronger expression than a crime.”
The journalist also asked him about the accusations of anti-Semitism against the Hungarian government because of its communications about George Soros. “Is this a paper where I can be honest on that issue?” the PM asked. And then he does just that:
“[T]he relationship between the political Right, center-right, Christian democratic, patriotic political camp I belong to and the Jewish community is very difficult. First of all because of history. We in our political community have to understand that the Jewish community suffered the biggest ever loss throughout the Holocaust, here in Hungary when a Christian democratic political party was in power. So therefore, when a political community like ours is declaring itself Christian, patriotic, and so on, it is automatically a red light in the minds of the Jewish community in Hungary, which is unavoidable because of history. So we have to invest energy to dissolve that kind of contradiction...Second, you know, anti-Semitism here in Hungary does exist sometimes...and I have to be very clear on that: We will never tolerate any kind of anti-Semitic approach to issues; zero tolerance as we call it...So the Jewish community has sometimes a legitimate reason to feel that not everything is going in the proper way in Hungarian politics. The third one, which makes the relationship very complicated, is that at the same time the communists and the Left regularly use accusations of anti-Semitism against those who are not anti-Semitic. Even sometimes me...It's unfair...So all those issues make the cooperation between the Jewish community and the political Right – patriotic Right or Christian democratic Right -- very complicated here in Hungary."
Indeed, this visit was significant not just for its historic relevance or for the agreements struck between the two nations and those with the other V4 countries. The visit was important on a deeper, emotional level as well. The issues discussed go far beyond the interest of the nations involved in the discussion. Perhaps some media coverage would have been appreciated by the readers of serious news.
Disclaimer: A former version of this text was unclear about the problem with AFP's coverage of the visit. It has been corrected for clarity. Apologies for the misunderstanding it may have caused.