00:09 GMT21 April 2021
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    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is visiting Israel and it is expected to promote bilateral ties between the two states, strengthening European support for Israel. However, some Israeli lawmakers are concerned over the meeting. Radio Sputnik spoke with professor Shmuel Sandler, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University.

    Sputnik: Orban’s trip to Israel has been branded as controversial, what are your thoughts on the visit?

    Prof. Shmuel Sandler: There is a general suspicion now of new regimes in Eastern Europe somehow maybe partially identified as anti-Semitic nuances or support in their countries. This has to do with Poland, and Hungary. That’s why it’s so controversial, especially because Israel has now a right-wing government, so the left, the liberal left, takes advantage of that and tries to criticize Netanyahu. 

    Netanyahu himself, who is a son of a historian, has sensitivity to history, but on the other hand he is also a political person, and in the European Union and the West support comes from both countries – Poland and Hungary. So this I would say was a balance around the visit.

    READ MORE: Netanyahu Welcomes Poland’s Decision to 'Rescind' Parts of Holocaust Bill

    Sputnik: How do you see Israeli relations developing with Hungary in the future?

    Prof. Shmuel Sandler: Well, first of all I would start by saying that there are a lot of roots, Jews with a Hungarian background in Israel and to a certain extent I would say – I’m coming from a Polish origin – they are much less resentful to their past. … Budapest, as I heard, is a beautiful city with a lot of history and a lot of Israelis are visiting. Of course there is a Jewish community, a strong Jewish community still in Hungary, and as I said before, Hungary has shown its support for Israel in international forums.

    Another factor I would say is that Mr. Orban is probably the most eloquent speaker against the Islamic migration and the takeover of Islamic culture, civilization of Europe. Here we are also the victims of Islamic radicalism and so there is another common interest between the two countries, and I think that these were Mr. Netanyahu’s opening remarks when he welcomed Mr. Orban; and I would say that probably the two countries can cooperate. Another element would be the economic [aspect] – we think that the two economies sort of complement each other, they don’t compete against each other.

    READ MORE: Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu Defends Controversial Polish Holocaust Law

    There would be probably another route that the two countries can go along. Hungary is a fast-growing economy especially since its liberalization from the soviet influence, that probably would be a new route to be taken.

    Sputnik: What do you think will be the highlights of this meeting between the two leaders and do you think that they will actually sign agreements today?

    Prof. Shmuel Sandler: Probably, the highlights, of course, will be Mr. Orban visiting a lot of historic sites, including the Yad Vashem. I would say that the big question in the background will be whether Hungary will be ready to move its embassy to Jerusalem and with that also open the route for other countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia and maybe even Poland, who will be ready to take that root if Hungary would be the leader of that movement. So that would be very important. I don’t know if it will come out from this visit or in the future, but definitely it’s in the background.

    I understand that there should soon be a conference here of […] groups … and that should be very interesting.

    READ MORE: Islamism, Anti-Semitism: Orban, Netanyahu Agree on 'Challenges of 21st Century'

    Sputnik: On the other hand, Orban is considered by many to be a non-liberal, extremely conservative and also right wing. Is that something that the Jewish community and Israel widely believes or is that a problem?

    Prof. Shmuel Sandler: Definitely it is a problem because as I said it’s not only Hungary, it’s also Austria which has now a right-wing government. Poland – it’s a takeover by many rightwing governments. It all depends on which side of the fence you are standing. If you are a liberal, of course you see a big problem. If you are on the right side, despite the fact that usually the right was identified as anti-Semitism, today we suffer from left anti-Semitism. Most of the criticism in anti-Semitic events taking place in Europe is from left-wing organizations, so I would say there is a balance here. 

    It’s not a coincidence. I see that many right-wing governments are taking over because many people in Europe, like in the United States also now we see it with Trump, are wary or sick and tired of being political correct, as a lot of issues have come with it.

    READ MORE: Would or Wouldn't? Twitter Mocks Trump's Verbal Backpedaling

    As I said, it’s a Western global debate, which is taking place all over the Western countries – the liberal democracies versus plural democracies, and so on. This is part of the background to this visit, which did not start today and will not finish tomorrow. It will go on for a while.

    Sputnik: Can you tell us about how the Jewish community really has reacted to the increasing ties between Israel and Hungary, both in Hungary and Israel?

    Prof. Shmuel Sandler: Well what I hear is that there are some worries coming from the Jewish community in Hungary because they are not sure who comes together with Orban and his party. In Israel I think it’s more, I would say, balanced: those who support Netanyahu will more than welcome Mr. Orban because they appreciate the fact that Hungary supports Israel in international forums.

    The views and opinions expressed by professor Shmuel Sandler are those of the researcher and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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