Bratislava, Slovakia – The Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish leaders will convene to Jerusalem in February for the next Visegrad Group summit with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen their alliance with Israel. This will be the first time a Visegrad Group summit is held outside of Europe.
The four leaders – Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis – will meet on February 18 and 19 in Jerusalem. According to reports, Benjamin Netanyahu first suggested to host the Visegrad Group summit back in 2017, and discussed the issue with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in early January when both leaders met in Brazil on the sidelines of the inauguration of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
M. Netanyahu already attended the Visegrad Group summit in Budapest in 2017, an event especially remembered for a “hot mic” moment in which he slammed the EU’s policy toward Israel. He has also forged close ties with Central European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who visited Israel last July and whom he called “a true friend of Israel”.
Many however have criticized their rapprochement, pointing to the growing antisemitic rhetoric used by the Hungarian Premier, exemplified by his vilification of Hungarian-born American financier George Soros. He has also faced strong criticism for his attempt to rehabilitate war-time leader Miklos Horthy, responsible for the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid criticized the Israeli PM for hosting the summit, saying that “this is a loss of national pride and causes us damage in the international arena. The Prime Minister must overcome his craving for campaign photos and cancel (the summit)”, he wrote on Twitter.
He was also referring to Poland’s so-called “Holocaust law”, which criminalized the attribution of Nazi crimes to Poland during World War II and could have imposed jail sentences to people claiming Poland was complicit in the crimes of the Third Reich. The bill, which was eventually watered down in face of international pressure, strained the bilateral relations between Poland and Israel.
This announcement comes only days after a new study, released to mark the Holocaust Remembrance Day, highlighted growing Holocaust revisionism in both Poland and Hungary and the attempt of both states to minimize their guilt in the mass killing of Jews during World War II.
As The Jerusalem Post reminds, Netanyahu has tried to foster closer ties with Visegrad Group countries to defend pro-Israel issues at the EU level: “the Visegrad Group is one of the sub-alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is developing in the EU to neutralize what he views as an anti-Israel bias from Brussels”. Both the Czech Republic and Hungary took part to the events surrounding the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem last year and blocked any EU resolution to condemn the controversial move decided by U.S. President Donald Trump.
In November last year, Czech President Milos Zeman officially inaugurated the opening of a Czech House in Jerusalem, described as the “first step” before relocating the Czech embassy from Tel-Aviv to the capital city of Israel. Milos Zeman has long advocated for the Czech Republic to follow the example of the U.S. and move its embassy to Jerusalem.