A Hungarian television journalist said he would return an award he was given last week after he was accused of anti-Semitism and the government said it gave him the award by mistake.
In a clip of one of his programmes from 2010, posted on YouTube, Ferenc Szaniszlo said on a programme on private Echo TV that Israel had been created by the West as a bastion against Arab-Muslim countries, but that it would lose its importance once the region’s oil and gas ran out.
Israel’s Ambassador Ilan Mor accused Szaniszlo of “spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against Israel”. U.S. Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis said rewarding Szaniszlo, “an individual who has publicly engaged in hate speech, is deeply disappointing”.
Hungary’s minister for human resources, Zoltan Balog, asked the journalist to return the award in a letter on Tuesday, saying he had been unaware of Szaniszlo’s remarks which went against the values of the government.
Echo TV aired a programme on Wednesday night that featured a 20-minute speech by Szaniszlo, who criticised hat he said was an international conspiracy before saying he would return the award to relieve pressure on Hungary.
“It is true that I stand beside Palestine, as does President Obama,” Szaniszlo told viewers in a sombre voice. “It’s true I criticise the current Israeli government, as do many Israelis.”
However, he rejected accusations of anti-Semitism and said the powers that had criticised him - including the United States, Israel, Germany and France - did not respect his right to free speech.
“Why is this so important to them? Do they want to discuss my prize in front of the United Nations perhaps? Isn’t this ridiculous? No. This is tragicomic. It is the decaying world order stripping itself naked. Laughable.”
It is not the first anti-Semitism row Hungary has had to deal with over the past months.
Late last year, Prime Minister Viktor Orban condemned a call by a far-right Jobbik lawmaker to draw up lists of Jews as “unworthy” of his country, promising he would protect all citizens from any kind of discrimination.
Marton Gyongyosi’s remarks caused international outrage and he later apologised.