Israeli relations with countries in Western Europe, which often side with the Palestinians, have often been strained, although the Jewish state and Hungary have developed and maintained close ties.
That is due in large part to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, based on the personal relationship they have developed over the years and their similar political philosophies. On Tuesday, just minutes after Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen lambasted U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who appeared to justify Hamas’s brutal attacks on Oct. 7 by saying they didn’t arise in a vacuum, Hungary’s top diplomat talked with JNS exclusively about Budapest’s relationship with Jerusalem.
“Everybody has to speak clearly and in a way that cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. We have to say very clearly that Israel has been under a heinous and brutal terrorist attack, and Israel does have the right to protect itself,” said Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister since 2014. “Israel does have the right to make sure that such a terrorist attack will never ever take place.”
Israeli self-defense isn’t exclusively in the interest of the Jewish state, he added. “This is also the interest of the whole international community.”
‘A review of European resources’
The international community has an obligation to ensure that Israel’s fight against terror won’t spread to a greater conflict in the Middle East, which would have “an absolutely unpredictable conclusion,” according to Szijjártó.
That includes growing terror threats in Africa, coupled with the war in Ukraine. “If these are all added together,” he said, “it becomes very close to something which we might call a third world war. And this definitely must be avoided.”
The Israeli-Hungarian bilateral relationship “has never been as good as it is now,” according to Szijjártó. Budapest and Jerusalem cooperate in fields that include defense and economics. “We make each other more and more successful,” he said.
Earlier this month, Oliver Varhelyi, a Hungarian diplomat and the top official for relations with the European Union’s neighbors, announced that E.U. development aid to the Palestinians—worth some $729 million—was immediately suspended pending a review after Hamas’s rampage.
The European Commission subsequently said that the payments were not suspended, following the disapproval of several countries and some questioning Varhelyi’s authority to make such a unilateral decision.
The commission said simply that it is reviewing Palestinian aid. That aid’s status remains unclear.
Varhelyi “spoke very clearly, and his intentions are very, very clear in this regard,” Szijjártó said. “There must be a review of how and for what European resources have been utilized by the Palestinian organizations.”
“One thing that we definitely would like to avoid is that money of the European taxpayers would be used for terrorist attacks or any actions of any terrorist organization,” he emphasized.
‘Not bound by political correctness’
Despite having smaller diplomatic footprints, countries like Hungary can make a difference in times of crisis, according to Szijjártó.
“We can play a role because we can afford to speak openly, speak directly and speak honestly,” he said. “We are absolutely not bound by any form of political correctness.”
The Jewish state is an important Hungarian friend and ally, and Israel “can definitely count on us,” stated Szijjártó. “We do everything which can help Israel to protect itself and everything which can help this fight against terror to be successful and not end up in a war between countries.”
However close the relationship is—and contrary to an announcement by Cohen in June that Hungary was to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem imminently—Budapest is not intending to do so. It opened a trade office in Jerusalem in 2019, but moving its embassy there would violate European Union policy.
“There was not such a decision,” Szijjártó said. “In case there’s any further decision regarding this, we will definitely inform the public, but such a decision has not been made yet.”