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Hungary's Orban admits Nazi collaboration was 'mistake'

After welcoming Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country had "committed a sin" by siding with Nazi Germany. Orban recently faced accusations of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Orban met with Netanyahu on Tuesday, in the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to Hungary in 30 years. After the meeting, Orban restated his rejection of anti-Semitism and decried Hungary's collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War as a "mistake" and "a sin."

Such collaboration can never happen again, Orban said, additionally pledging that the modern Hungary would "protect all its citizens."

Netanyahu also said that Orban "reassured" him of Budapest's support for Hungarian Jews.

The visit came at a sensitive time as Orban's right-wing government just ended a nationwide campaign against George Soros, whom they accuse of financing mass migration to Europe. In it, Orban's Fidesz party financed posters and billboards showing smiling photo of the 86-year-old billionaire, with the caption: "Let's not let Soros have the last laugh."

Many decried the move as anti-Semitic. Some of the posters were reportedly glued to the floors of Hungarian public transport vehicles for citizens to step on, and many of the Soros images were later sprayed with graffiti decrying him as a "stinking Jew." Previously, the Budapest government tried to shut down a Soros-funded university in the city. 

The government denies that the campaign had anything to do with Soros's ethnicity, in line with Viktor Orban's earlier rejections of anti-Semitism. However, Orban also sparked criticism by praising Hungary's wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy as a "an exceptional statesman."

Billboard targeting Soros (AFP/Getty Images)

Even with the campaign over on Saturday, many of anti-Soros billboards were still visible in Budapest

Soros, who was born into a Jewish family in Budapest and witnessed the Nazi takeover of Hungary in 1944, said the campaign was "reminiscent of Europe's darkest hours." His spokesman, Michael Vachon, told DW that "the government has spent $12.9 million (3.4 billion HUF, 11.2 million euro) on the campaign so far."

Israel's ambassador to Hungary initially decried the campaign as anti-Semitic, saying it "sows hatred and fear."  But Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly issued a clarification of the statement, saying that Israel's diplomats had no intention to "delegitimize" criticism of Soros. Moreover, the Israeli government slammed the US-Hungarian billionaire for "undermining" Netanyahu's by government "by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself."

The correction triggered an emotionally charged debate in Israel, with some Israelis accusing Netanyahu of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism because of his political closeness with fellow right-winger Orban. Others approved of the ministry's stance, as the left-leaning Soros remains deeply unpopular among Israeli hardliners.

Watch video 02:44

Hungary: a university’s future at stake

Netanyahu is due to attend an event in Budapest's Great Synagogue with Jewish community leaders on Wednesday. He is also scheduled to meet with representatives of the so-called Visegrad group, which includes Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, a meeting he hopes will help secure their support in the diplomatic war with the Palestinians.

dj/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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