The chief rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), Rabbi Slomó Köves and the general director of Hungary’s Orthodox community, Rabbi Shmuel Oirechman, travelled to Jerusalem on 24 August to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to press reports, the Hungarian Jewish leaders and the Israeli Prime Minister discussed issues of Jewish community life in Hungary and the events that may accompany
the possible relocation of the Hungarian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
With the potential move of the Hungarian embassy to Jerusalem, Hungary would become the first EU country to recognize that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
During the meeting, it was said that the relationship between Hungary and Israel is currently at an all-time high. Rabbi Köves emphasized that the Hungarian Jewish community will continue to do everything in the future to strengthen the relations between the two countries. Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Rabbi Köves for his work for Hungarian Jewry and Israel.
Rabbi Köves also presented the overview of the ‘Ets Haim – The Tree of Life’ exhibition of the House of Fates Museum, and the Ukrainian Jewish refugee camp in Balatonőszöd was also discussed.
To celebrate the historic moment, Netanyahu’s bestselling book, Bibi – My Story, was translated into Hungarian, and the prime minister was presented with the first copy of the translated version during his meeting with the Hungarian rabbis. The translation is set to be published in honour of the embassy being relocated
and Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Budapest.
The community leaders invited Netanyahu to Budapest for a reciprocal visit coinciding with the 2024 celebrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of EMIH and the 35th anniversary of the Chabad movement in Hungary.
Hungary May Be First EU Country to Move Its Embassy to Jerusalem
Hungarian Conservative quoted Neokohn this June as reporting that during Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s visit to Budapest at the end of May, Cohen brought up the topic of Hungary potentially moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, making it the first EU country to do so.
Only a few days after the ministers of foreign affairs of Israel and Hungary apparently reached an agreement on Hungary’s Israeli embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the European Union authorities slammed such a plan as, according to them, it would undermine the long-term goal of the EU of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
However, the decision was not taken overnight as the Hungarian government has been obviously planning to take a step in this direction since as early as 2019, when Hungary relocated the trade department of Hungary’s mission to Israel to Jerusalem. The European Union’s response wasn’t surprising. As Balázs Orbán noted in an interview he gave to Israel Hayom:
‘Hungary is alone in supporting the State of Israel
as it has become controversial to do so for Western European countries.’
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be a significant symbolic gesture, highlighting its geopolitical significance. However, such a move would also bring to the fore the intricate nature of international diplomatic relations. The planned relocation would confirm current diplomatic connections and pave the way for an evolving geopolitical environment.
Hungarian Ambassador to Israel: ‘Israel has Become an Inseparable Part of Us’
After serving as Hungary’s ambassador to Israel for five years, Levente Benkő was recently replaced by Zoltán Szentgyörgyi, who previously served as the ambassador to Brazil. The Hungarian embassy in Tel Aviv announced that Ambassador-designate Zoltán Szentgyörgyi had followed international customs by submitting a copy of his credentials to Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was warmly received as an old acquaintance.
In his farewell letter, Levente Benkő wrote: ‘It was a huge honour to represent Hungary in this amazing state, and hopefully, we were able to add something to the special and friendly relationship that binds the two countries together. We would like to thank our colleagues, local friends and partners for their helpfulness, support and attention. We do not say goodbye because Israel has become an inseparable part of us, so see you soon!’
Hungarian-Israeli Friendship and Cooperation Are Deepening
At the beginning of September, Hungarian Minister of Culture and Innovation, János Csák, also paid a two-day visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Csák’s first meeting was with Minister of Culture Miki Zohár, with whom negotiations on cultural and scientific possibilities were determined based on the centuries of Hungarian-Jewish history. After the meeting, the Hungarian Minister said he ‘received a very friendly welcome, and we managed to agree on several new projects.’
During his visit, the minister went to the Weizmann Institute, a partner institution of the Hungarian Research Network. The Weizmann Institute is recognized as one of the most successful research institute networks globally and has existing relationships with various Hungarian research workshops. János Csák stated that they have discussed expanding these relationships further.
‘Hungarian-Israeli cultural relations are very alive, as
about three hundred thousand Israelis of Hungarian origin live in Israel,
and many Hungarians travel to the Middle Eastern country as tourists, pilgrims or visiting relatives,’ János Csák emphasized.
The Hungarian Minister also highlighted that in Jerusalem, they talked with the leaders of the Franciscan Custody about how the activities of the Hungarian government could be more targeted and effective in helping Christian communities in trouble in the Middle East and around the world. ‘It was very touching that wherever I met the leaders of the Christian communities, they expressed their gratitude for what the Hungarian government is doing for communities in trouble in the Middle East and Africa’–he added.
Hungarian Minister of Agriculture to the Head of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture: ‘We Want to Learn from the Best’
The Hungarian Minister of Agriculture, István Nagy, discussed irrigation development, educational and scientific partnerships, and long-term agricultural cooperation with Avi Dichter, head of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, at the beginning of September.
According to the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture’s announcement, István Nagy drew attention to the fact that Hungary looks to Israel as an example since the achievements it has made in the field of agriculture throughout its history are amazing. Nagy added that ‘a historic drought last year made agriculture difficult, which acted as a warning sign for us, so we are putting even more emphasis on irrigation development. And we want to learn the application of the most modern technologies from the best. Until now, we have seen water as a disaster that must be diverted quickly in the event of floods, but we have implemented a change of attitude. We must conserve and manage water because it is the basis of a safe food supply.’
The Israeli head of the ministry also pointed out that Hungarian agriculture can supply double the country’s population with food, so
Hungary can be a key partner in terms of Israel’s import needs.
István Nagy highlighted that Hungary would like to ‘enter into a strategic partnership with Israel in the fields of agriculture, education and research and development in order to learn more about new technologies because this way domestic agriculture can further develop.’
The Agricultural Ministry also announced that the Israeli minister invited István Nagy for an official working visit as part of the consultation.
Péter Szijjártó: ‘Our Country Will Continue to Support Israel in International Organisations’
After the meeting with the newly appointed leader of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), Andor Grósz, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó assured him that ‘developing cooperation with Israel will continue to play an important role in Hungarian foreign policy, and our country will continue to support Israel in international organisations.’ In his Facebook post, the Hungarian Foreign Minister highlighted that ‘The Jewish community in Hungary can live in safety and peace because the government is determined to maintain zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.’