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Netanyahu arrives in Hungary as anti-Semitic posters stay up

"Let's not leave Soros the last laugh," says a poster bearing the image of US billionaire George Soros, in this picture taken in Szekesfehervar, Hungary on July 6, 2017
ATTILA KISBENEDEK (AFP)
The posters slam George Soros, a Hungarian-Jewish philanthropist who has given to liberal and pro-refugee NGOs

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Hungary for a state visit, its capital city remained blanketed in swastika-graffitied posters of Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

It is the first visit to Hungary by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of Communism in 1989, reported the Times of Israel.

Preparations for the trip has been affected by the posters, which many in the Hungarian Jewish community see as fostering anti-Semitic animus and vandalism.

Hungary's prime minister, Victor Orban, has made political cause with the far-right and often expresses admiration for the country's wartime fascist leader, Miklos Horthy.

Last week, Hungarian officials announced that the posters would be taken down by the weekend. The billboards heralded a campaign against Soros for his pro-refugee and pro-immigrant stance.

The posters were being removed in order not to embarrass Netanyahu, Hungarian media reported.

Yet according to the Times of Israel, at least half-dozen prominently displayed billboards stayed up in the capital city. Hungarian officials said the advertisements would stay up until the advertising space was purchased by another entity.

Israeli officials had made no public comment addressing the remaining posters as of press time.

Many Hungarian Jews, along with Israeli politicians and diplomats, blasted Netanyahu's accommodation of the billboard campaign. Approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews reside in the country.

Israel's ambassador to Hungary criticized the posters two weeks ago. Then in an abrupt turnaround, Netanyahu ordered Israel's foreign ministry to backtrack and criticize Soros for meddling in Israel.

"We had the Horthy [remark] and then the billboard campaign. The billboard campaign created a certain domino effect reaction in the Jewish community," Israeli ambassador Yossi Amrani told Reuters. "People expressed fears."

Soros has donated to a number of left-leaning and liberal organizations, including to Israeli NGOs critical of government policies in the occupied West Bank.

The Soros posters display a portrait photo of the Jewish businessman with the text affixed: “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh,” implying that he wants to force Hungary to accept refugees.

Soros, 86, survived the Holocaust by hiding from the Nazis in Budapest as a boy. He later made billions in the stock market. He donated many of the profits to NGOs and civic organizations seeking to foster multiculturalism and respect for refugees and immigrants.

Some Israeli opposition politicians have accused Netanyahu of prioritizing Israel’s diplomatic and trade ties ahead of Hungarian Jewish experiences with anti-Semitism.

Yair Lapid, who leads Israel's centrist Yesh Atid opposition party, called on Netanyahu to cancel the visit over the poster campaign, Reuters reported.

Netanyahu and Hungary's Orban have built a close relationship over a common right-wing worldview that is skeptical of immigration and opposed to multicultural liberalism.

Soros' spokesperson said the posters were "reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours." The head of Mazsihisz, Hungary’s biggest Jewish organization, called the campaign "poisonous," reported the Times of Israel.

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