Meeting of minds as Netanyahu visits Hungary’s Orban

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Hungarian Pime Minister Viktor Orban. (Combo image from AFP and Reuters file photos)
Updated 17 July 2017
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Meeting of minds as Netanyahu visits Hungary’s Orban

BUDAPEST: Hungary welcomes Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday on a landmark visit that Prime Minister Viktor Orban hopes will bolster him in his battle with George Soros and deflect charges of stoking anti-Semitism.
It brings together two right-wingers enamored of US President Donald Trump and with a disdain for the left-leaning liberal global order bankrolled, as they see it, by the likes of Soros, the US financier and philanthropist.
Netanyahu, fresh from a contentious visit to France, will on Wednesday meet premiers of the Visegrad Group — Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic plus Hungary — that has been increasingly at odds with the rest of the EU.
“All these states are very pro-Israel,” Raphael Vago, an expert on eastern Europe at Tel Aviv university, told AFP. “They vote in our favor at the European Union and the United Nations.”
Netanyahu’s trip to Hungary, the first by an Israeli prime minister since the end of communism in 1989, comes with tempers flaring over Orban’s campaign vilifying the Hungarian-born billionaire Soros.
Posters attacking him for his alleged support of mass immigration — some daubed with “Stinking Jew” graffiti — have further upset Hungary’s over 100,000-strong Jewish community, one of Europe’s largest.
They have often accused Orban, in power since 2010, of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism or even encouraging it with nationalist rhetoric that analysts say is aimed at staving off a rise in for the far-right, a charge the 54-year-old denies.

Praise for murderous Hitler ally
Recently Orban also praised Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally until 1944, as an “exceptional statesman” for rebuilding Hungary after World War I.
Critics have long suspected Orban of trying to rehabilitate Horthy, who oversaw the sending of over a half million Jews to the Nazi death camps, by tacitly encouraging new memorials of Horthy and other interwar figures.
In 2014, Hungary’s biggest Jewish organization Mazsihisz boycotted state commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the 1944 deportations over concerns the government was “whitewashing” the state’s complicity.
But Orban is at pains to stress his “zero tolerance” of anti-Semitism, his supporters pointing to a new law outlawing Holocaust denial and state funding for Jewish-themed films like Oscar-winner “Son of Saul.”
“No government has done more to fight anti-Semitism in Hungary,” his spokesman said in a blog post on Thursday.

'Reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours'
Soros, who hid from the Nazis in Budapest as a boy, said that the posters, plastered nationwide, used “anti-Semitic imagery.”
His spokesman said they were “reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours.” The head of Mazsihisz called the campaign “poisonous.”
Orban insisted they were not about the 86-year-old’s Jewishness but the “national security risk” posed by his wish to “settle a million migrants” in the European Union.
Orban’s government is also making life difficult for the prestigious Central European University in Budapest, created by Soros, and for civil organizations he funds — prompting EU legal action.
Netanyahu, 67, whose relations with the EU are strained too, is also scornful about Soros because of his support for both Israeli and Palestinian rights groups critical of Israel’s government and the occupation.
Some in Israel called for Netanyahu to cancel his Hungary trip because of the posters — which will be down by the time he arrives — with Israel’s ambassador saying it “evokes sad memories (and) sows hatred and fear.”
But hours later, a foreign ministry statement backtracked — reportedly at Netanyahu’s behest.
While Israel “deplores” anti-Semitism, Soros “continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself,” it said.
“Connecting Soros to the migration issue is the (Hungarian) government’s aim, but it is a problem for Orban if the campaign is seen as anti-Semitic,” political analyst Csaba Toth told AFP.
“So the Netanyahu visit helps him as it bolsters his claims that the Soros campaign is not.”


Rohingya refugees rescued after drifting at sea for 9 days

Updated 21 April 2018
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Rohingya refugees rescued after drifting at sea for 9 days

BIREUEN, Indonesia: A Rohingya Muslim man among the group of 76 rescued in Indonesian waters in a wooden boat says they were at sea for nine days after leaving Myanmar, where the minority group faces intense persecution, and were hoping to reach Malaysia.
The eight children, 25 women and 43 men were brought ashore on Friday afternoon at Bireuen in Aceh province on the island of Sumatra, the third known attempt by members of the ethnic minority to escape Myanmar by sea this month. Several required medical attention for dehydration and exhaustion, local authorities said.
Fariq Muhammad said he paid the equivalent of about $150 for a place on the boat that left from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a violent military crackdown on the minority group has sparked an exodus of some 700,000 refugees over land into neighboring Bangladesh since August.
The refugee vessel was intercepted by a Thai navy frigate and later escorted by a Thai patrol vessel until sighting land, said Fariq. The group believed the Thais understood they wanted to reach Malaysia and were dismayed when they realized they were in Indonesia, said Fariq, who gave the identification numbers of the Thai vessels.
“We were forced to leave because we could not stay, could not work so our lives became difficult in Myanmar. Our identity card was not given so we were forced to go,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Local officials and a charitable group are providing shelter and food for the refugees. The International Organization for Migration said it has sent a team from its Medan office in Sumatra, including Rohingya interpreters, to help local officials with humanitarian assistance.
Rohingya, treated as undesirables in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and denied citizenship, used to flee by sea by the thousands each year until security in Myanmar was tightened after a surge of refugees in 2015 caused regional alarm.
In April, there has been an apparent increase in Rohingya attempts to leave the country by sea. An Indonesian fishing boat rescued a group of five Rohingya in weak condition off westernmost Aceh province on April 6, after a 20-day voyage in which five other people died.
Just days before, Malaysian authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 56 people believed to be Rohingya refugees and brought the vessel and its passengers to shore.
Mohammad Saleem, part of the group that landed Friday in Aceh, said they left from Sittwe in Rakhine state, the location of displacement camps for Rohingya set up following attacks in 2012 by Buddhist mobs.
“We’re not allowed to do anything. We don’t have a livelihood,” the 25-year-old said. “We can only live in the camps with not enough food to eat there. We have no rights there.”