(JTA) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed to protect religious freedoms in his country during a talk with foreign rabbis visiting for the opening of a large kosher slaughterhouse for geese.
Orban, whose right-wing government is currently under heavy criticism by the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities for its campaign against the left-leaning Jewish billionaire George Soros, received the rabbis last week in the Hungarian capital, his office’s website said.
The visitors, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association and Rabbi Slomo Koves of Hungary’s Chabad-affiliated EMIH community, heard from Orban that “Hungary’s Jewish community is under the unconditional protection of the Government” and that, “As with the other historic churches, Jewish congregations in Hungary also receive the full amount of available funding,” the website said.
The foreign rabbis attended the opening of the slaughterhouse in Csengele, situated approximately 80 miles southeast of Budapest, Koves said. With a capacity for slaughtering 2,400 animals daily, it is one of the largest slaughterhouses of its kind in Europe and is under the joint rabbinical supervision of EMIH and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
“God willing, there are plans to make halal meat as well” at the same slaughterhouse for consumption by Muslims, Koves added.
Margolin said in a statement that Orban’s gesture and the opening of the slaughterhouse is especially appreciated at a time when parliaments in Belgium’s regions pass motions about “banning kosher slaughter and other countries are undermining freedom of religion all over Europe.”
Separately, Orban – whose government’s billboard campaign against Soros divided the Jewish community of Hungary because some of its leaders believe it encourages anti-Semitism – on Monday hosted Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue for “ a working lunch in the Parliament Building,” as the website of the prime minister described the encounter.
Orban’s conversation with Schneier, a Holocaust survivor and prominent activist for interfaith dialogue with the Vatican, focused on interfaith efforts and tolerance, the news release said.
According to some Hungarian media, the Hungarian government decided to take down its billboard campaign in connection with the visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Budapest next week, though the government denied the claim. In an email to JTA, a government spokesman said the billboards would be taken down Saturday as scheduled at the end of a six-week campaign.
Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, earlier this month echoed the Mazsihisz position — which is disputed by EMIH — that the campaign encourages anti-Semitism. But a clarification issued by the Israeli foreign minister the following day said his statement was not a defense of Soros, who Jerusalem accused of trying to undermine the Jewish state internationally by funding organizations with an anti-Israel agenda.
Hungary’s government said its main point of criticism against Soros, who funds many opposition group in that country, is his support for organizations devoted to fighting the government’s refusal to take in immigrants from the Middle East.