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Mon Jul 10, 2017 | 2:16 PM EDT
By Luke Baker | JERUSALEM
Israel’s foreign ministry has issued a statement denouncing U.S. billionaire George Soros, a move that appeared designed to align Israel more closely with Hungary ahead of a visit to Budapest next week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew who has spent a large part of his fortune funding pro-democracy and human rights groups, has repeatedly been targeted by Hungary’s right-wing government, in particular over his support for more open immigration.
In the latest case, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has backed a campaign in which Soros is singled out as an enemy of the state. “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh” say billboards next to a picture of the 86-year-old investor, a campaign that Jewish groups and others say foments anti-Semitism.
… Israel’s ambassador to Hungary issued a statement denouncing the campaign, saying it “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear”, an apparent reference to Hungary’s part in the deportation of 500,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
But hours after the ambassador made his comments over the weekend, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a “clarification” saying that Soros was a legitimate target for criticism.
“In no way was the statement (by the ambassador) meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments,” said foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, adding that Soros funded organizations “that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself”. …
Like Hungary, Israel has passed legislation that seeks to limit the influence of non-governmental organizations that receive a large portion of their funding from abroad. …
The strong ties between Netanyahu and Orban have raised eyebrows in the European Union, where Orban is regarded as an illiberal maverick. His party has curtailed press freedom and stymied EU efforts to tackle the migrant crisis.
Hungary has held discussions with Israel about purchasing security fences to keep migrants out, while Israel has sought better ties with countries that it hopes will take its side in any EU discussions where Israel is criticized.
(Additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest; Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Ralph Boulton)