The Hungarian people love Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not on account of their linguistic and cultural isolation or xenophobia, but due to the support provided for culture and Hungarian families, and the pride they take in their traditions, Minister of State for International Communication and Relations Zoltán Kovács wrote in an opinion published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Thursday in response to an article published in the same outlet two days earlier.

Mr Kovács described Yehuda Lukács’s Monday editorial as “exceptionally condescending and exhibiting […] prejudice” which, in his view, condemned an entire nation as xenophobes and anti-Semites. Refuting the journalist’s claims, the Minister of State highlighted that the Orbán Governments have done more than any other Hungarian government to address anti-Semitism and support our Jewish community.

The first Orbán Government established, in 2001, the Memorial Day for the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust and the Holocaust Museum. During the second Orbán Government, in 2012, the Fundamental Law entered into force, recognising Hungarian Jewry as an integral part of the Hungarian nation, and also, during that period, Parliament passed cardinal laws that increased the punishment for hate speech and displaying hate symbols, he wrote.

Mr Kovács informed Israeli readers that the Orbán Government declared a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and effectively banned paramilitary groups intimidating Jewish and Roma citizens.

Additionally, Mr Orbán was the first prime minister to apologise for the sin that Hungary committed in failing to protect Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, he continued.

The same government reached an agreement with the Claims Conference and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. It was also the Orbán government that devoted resources to the reconstruction of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. It also raised the pensions of Holocaust survivors, and Jews living in Budapest have talked of a ‘Jewish renaissance’ now under way, the Minister of State highlighted.

The real reason for any anti-Muslim sentiment is that in 2015, nearly half a million migrants crossed illegally into Hungary, the vast majority of them from predominantly Muslim countries. This Mr Orbán called an “invasion”, and that is indeed what it felt like, Mr Kovács wrote in response to a claim of Mr Lukács’s based on a 2016 opinion poll, asserting that the Orbán Government has provoked anti-Muslim sentiment by a massive anti-migrant campaign.

According to the leader by Mr Lukács published in the Israeli newspaper, Hungarians are at the mercy of pro-government media, unable to verify its accuracy or to access alternative information disseminated in other languages.

By contrast, Hungary’s press is a lively one, and government-critical media enjoy a greater audience share, including the largest television news outlet, the largest weekly, and the largest online news website, Mr Kovács stated.

Mr Lukács wrote about a serious negative migration; however, the brain drain observed in the years following the financial crisis has now reversed in Hungary, the Minister of State wrote, underlining his claim also with data: In 2018, only 18,150 Hungarians left the country, while nearly 20,000 returned.

That is because, the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, there were more jobs and increasing wages here at home, he highlighted.

Mr Lukács also finds fault with the Orbán Government offering citizenship to Hungarians living outside of Hungary, regardless of where they live, simply because they are members of the nation. In this regard, Mr Kovács pointed out that tens of thousands of Israelis with Hungarian roots have taken Hungarian citizenship.

In the context of the uniqueness of the Hungarian language and the peculiarity of Hungarian history, Mr Lukács writes about deep scars left on the Hungarian psyche and society which, in his view, have turned them into one of the most inward-looking societies in Europe. However, according to Mr Kovács, it is the unique Hungarian language – declared a priority by the Orbán Government – that has helped to preserve our culture and national identity.

“There’s a difference between xenophobia and taking pride in one’s own culture and traditions. We won’t apologize for doing everything we can to preserve and strengthen ours, and I suspect that is why so many Hungarians love our prime minister,” the Minister of State for International Communication and Relations wrote in conclusion in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)