Hungarian Conservative

‘It Is Israel’s Duty to Rescue Its People’ — A Conversation with the Israeli Ambassador to Hungary

Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yacov Hadas-Handelsmann on the Reflections from Budapest podcast on 14 February 2024.
Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yacov Hadas-Handelsmann on the Reflections from Budapest podcast on 14 February 2024.
Danube Institute
According to Ambassador Yacov Hadas-Handelsman the Gaza War is not just against Israel and it is not a political strife anymore, but a cultural and religious conflict.

In 2021 the Danube Institute launched a podcast series titled Reflections from Budapest, in which we have had several thought-provoking discussions about religious conflict, religious violence, and reconciliation. In one of the new episodes of 2024 focusing on the Middle East His Excellency Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, the Ambassador of Israel to Hungary gave an overview of Hungarian–Israeli relations, the War in Gaza, and its impact on EU–Israel relations.

Hungary and Israel Are Deeply Connected

In our conversation Yacov Hadas-Handelsman explained that although European–Jewish relations in the 20th century were marred by pogroms and the Holocaust, today’s links between Europe and Israel, as well as Hungary, are flourishing economically and scientifically.

The Ambassador emphasized that Hungary and Israel are connected in many ways. The Hungarian government has made significant investments to rebuild Jewish cemeteries and synagogues to preserve Jewish culture and as a result, Hungary still has remnants of its Jewish past. Hungary is among Israeli tourists’ most well-liked travel destinations. Furthermore, many Israelis are descended from immigrants from Hungary and many figures in Israeli culture have names derived from Hungarian heroes.

The Gaza War’s Effects on EUIsrael Relations

Even though Israel enjoys great connections with Europe and other nations, the public and governments’ response to the Gaza War have been contradictory. Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman claimed that the governments recognized the gravity of Hamas’ brutal attack and acknowledged that Hamas’ elimination is the solution to the issue. But in a war, it is impossible to fulfil the demand of many governments to do away with Hamas without harming anyone or destroying anything.

Regarding the public’s response to the war, the Israeli Ambassador underlined that it is a huge disappointment for Israel as even after horrifying details, including video recordings made by Hamas terrorists using GoPro cameras were made public, some people in America and Europe began to cheer the terrorist group. Even some reputable figures including university professors have been seen shouting at pro-Palestinian gatherings, claiming they were inspired by Hamas’ attack. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations these days quickly turn into anti-Semitic ones, the Ambassador remarked.

PHOTO: Danube Institute

Yacov Hadas-Handelsman also addressed the widespread criticism of Israel, pointing out that numerous international leaders maintain that the terrible acts committed by Hamas should be understood ‘in a context’. As opposed to that, the Ambassador noted, no situation justifies the savage murder, rape, killing, and kidnapping of nearly 250 civilians, including an 88-year-old woman and a nine-month-old baby.

Yacov Hadas Handelsman also brought up the popular misconception in the West that all of the hostages captured by Hamas were soldiers. He reminded that a nine-month-old baby who is unable to walk is not recognized as a soldier anywhere. As an answer to accusations that Israel has perpetrated genocide, he stated that Hamas was the actual perpetrator of genocide and that the organization’s booklets justify the killing of Jews. By contrast, Israel continues to provide medical care to captured and wounded Hamas terrorists in Israel, as opposed to the barbarism of Hamas.

The Effects of the War Worldwide

During the conversation, Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman explained that considering the booklets containing instructions on how to carry out the horrible acts committed on Israel’s Black Shabbat, Hamas is indeed comparable to ISIS, which perpetrated similar acts in the past, filming mass killings and executions.

The primary objective of Hamas was to generate fear and terror in people, much the same as ISIS does, he added. 

Hamas’ main goal was to demonstrate its power and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab and the rest of the world, rather than to destroy Israel.

The Israeli Ambassador added that 7 October would not have been possible without Iranian help.

The Ambassador also pointed out that in addition to Israelis, Hamas has also massacred Palestinians, their own people. He reminded that the terrorists also killed Tanzanian students who were attending agricultural training in Israel to bring their knowledge back to their country and help it prosper, and they kidnapped foreign labourers who came from the Philippines and Thailand.

He opined that the war is a cultural and religious conflict rather than just a political dispute with Israel. Similarly to anti-Semitism that is first directed at Jews, such hate then spreads to other minority groups or groups that are easily used as scapegoats.

The Israeli Reaction

The Israeli Ambassador recalled the fundamental political measures that have been taken in the past to try to resolve the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the nearly century-long Israeli-Palestinian issue, there was one side that was always open to making compromises and another that always wanted all or nothing. Palestinians have consistently demanded their own state and were repeatedly given this right in 1948, in 1956, and in 1967, and throughout the Oslo process. Every time, however, they rejected the opportunity, attacked Israel, lost, and then got yet another chance. In summary, a compromise can be reached only if both sides are willing, but if only one is, there is a problem, the Ambassador remarked.

Regarding the Palestinian casualties of the war, Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman stressed that Hamas’ reports of civilian deaths are unreliable. He gave the example of the successful mission to free two hostages, in which Hamas claimed that the IDF had killed 100 Palestinians, but within two hours, this number had decreased to 48.

Ambassador Hadas-Hadelsmann with the hosts of the podcast episode, Sáron Sugár (R) and Ibolya Lubiczky (L)

He highlighted that Israel does not intend to harm civilians, but Hamas is a significant element of the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. The terrorist group installs massive rocket launchers and fires them from homes owned by citizens, he explained, adding that Hamas stores large quantities of weapons and ammunition in the houses of Gazans, and when a rocket strikes one of these homes, a massive explosion occurs. The Ambassador pointed out that a single rocket cannot produce the large craters shown in the media; rather, it is the numerous tunnels under the block that create collateral damage.

The Role of the International Community

During the conversation, the Ambassador also dwelled on how Western nations, particularly those in the OECD, had been directly or indirectly funding Hamas for many years, citing UNRWA aid in particular. The OECD, using also the hard-working Hungarian taxpayers’ money, provided aid to Gaza, with Hamas receiving most of the funds. In addition, he recalled that it has been revealed that UNRWA employees were involved in the 7 October massacre and that UNRWA’s main headquarters was located underneath Hamas’s nerve centre.

7 October: A Watershed that Changed the Mood in Israel Completely

To sum up his explanation of potential solutions, he noted that many Israelis want the government to stop the war and start negotiating.  

In conclusion, His Excellency Yacov Hadas-Handelsman expressed that the main problem is that the world has not fully grasped that 7 October has changed everything in Israel. Leaders worldwide talk about returning to a two-state solution, but even Yair Lapid, the leader of the Israeli opposition has stated that while it may be a possibility, it is not timely as in the current situation it would reward the aggressor.

You can listen to the Reflections from Budapest podcast series’ episode with His Excellency Yacov Hadas Handelsman here.

According to Ambassador Yacov Hadas-Handelsman the Gaza War is not just against Israel and it is not a political strife anymore, but a cultural and religious conflict.