Tamir Wertzberger is a member of Likud’s foreign affairs group, an Israeli of Hungarian descent, who bravely represents his country’s interests on the international stage and in the media. He also occasionally serves as an interpreter for the MIMC Organization. Wertzberger was interviewed by the Jewish news portal Neokohn about his background, what he does in Hungary and how he sees the current situation in Hungary. The original interview was published on 13th May 2021.
You are mentioned a lot in the Hungarian media as a well-known – and perhaps only known – representative of Likud in Hungary. What do we need to know about Tamir Wertzberger?
First and foremost, I’m an Israeli guy. I was born in northern Israel in a small village called Liman. Liman was founded in 1948 near the Lebanese border, mainly by Hungarian Jews. My family also consists of Hungarian Jews: my mother was born in Arad, Transylvania, and she made aliyah with her family in 1962, when she was 7 years old. My father was already born in Israel, but his mother was born in Tolcsva, Tokaj, and his father was in Felsővisó, Maramures. Hungarian food and culture were important factors in the formation of my identity. My parents spoke Hungarian, and so did my grandparents, and this language went even better for them. Hungarian culture was always around me. I served as an intelligence officer in the Israeli army. Regarding my professional life: I obtained a BA degree in political science from Bar Ilan University and then an MA degree in international relations. I also started my PhD, which now I interrupted.
I first visited Hungary in 2012, for one of the seminars of the Jewish Agency. I have come back many times since then, I have been living here for four years now. I fell in love with Hungary and its people at first sight, I really found my second home here.
How did you become a member of Likud?
I joined Likud in 2010 and have been a member ever since. I have been a member of the International Affairs Department led by Eli Vered Hazan for six years. It is a great honor to build Likud’s international relationships with him. I represented Likud in the European Democratic Student Union and among the European Young Conservatives, and I was also the Vice-President of the latter group. I did this for 5-6 years.
For the last one year, I have been working for the European League for Action and Defense (Tett és Védelem Liga). Unfortunately, covid has now limited our options. So I live here, I am very happy, I love the country and I try to do as much as possible for the relations between Likud and its Hungarian allies, Fidesz and KDNP.
How do you see the situation of Hungarian Jewry as a young Israeli? Have you ever felt anti-Semitism here? How open are people to Israel?
The Jewish community is really living its golden age in Hungary today. I think that the good relations between the two countries, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu and Viktor Orbán, have made Hungary a particularly good place not only for the Israelis, but also for the Jews. In many places we can see that the Hungarian government has invested a lot in reviving Jewish life and culture in Hungary, but also abroad. Synagogues and other buildings are being renovated and preserved. Such is the rabbi house in Mád in northern Hungary, but a synagogue is also being renovated in Serbia. The Hungarian government is very friendly with Judaism.
Many thousands of Orthodox Jews come to Hungary for the pilgrimage to Bodrogkeresztúr, externally obviously religious Jews, and I spoke to many of them, none of whom complained of anti-Semitism. Of course, I know there is anti-Semitism, but apparently this does not lead to attacks. I think this is largely the merit of the Hungarian government.
In November 2019, you uploaded a photo where you are showing PM Viktor Orbán a WWII portrait of your great-grandfather, Ignác Klein. What is the history of the picture and how did the photo reach Viktor Orbán?
I printed the picture a year earlier, I wanted to give it to the Prime Minister in Tusványos, because I was invited there to talk about Israel. But there were a lot of people there and I wasn’t successful. Next time there was a conference in November 2019 where Orbán also spoke. After his presentation, I saw him in the lobby, he talked to someone, and I waited until he was done. I went there, introduced myself – and the rest is history! I’m always looking for more meaning behind things, I’m a sentimental person. I represent Israel, but in the meantime I have a certain family history. Ultimately, the whole thing comes together.
The news mostly talk about Likud regarding the fact that Netanyahu could not build a coalition. Either way one counts, the opposition needs external Arab support. (The interview was conducted on May 11 – Ed.). How realistic do you see it now to have a left-wing government in Israel with Arab support?
Yes, they need at least one Arab party. We’re talking now on Tuesday, if you asked yesterday, I would have said they’ll do the coalition. Now I’d rather say it won’t go. Sure, there may be a new Israeli government by Thursday, but I don’t think there will be one. In a democracy, change is important and a good thing. We know and understand this, our only fear is what will the current opposition do if it comes to power? They can ruin everything we worked on. Ultimately, they are not interested in ideology and values, they just want to defeat Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s legacy has both good and less good sides. He has been in politics for thirty years and has not built a successor, although that is not his business, political heirs tend to build up on their own. The first lesson in political science is that everyone wants to win an election. If you win, you want to keep your chair. Netanyahu cannot be blamed for not allowing another candidate to grow next to him. He gained many enemies, especially on the right.
Today, in the Knesset, the right has 80 seats, yet the government does not come together because too many right-wing politicians personally hate Netanyahu.
Does Avigdor Liberman count here? Can you imagine Liberman sitting in a coalition with Eagle or Jahadut Hatora? Is there just an ideology here?
Liberman is a very cynical man, always picking one group in society that he then attacks. These used to be Arabs, now the religious folks. Yet he used to co-govern with the Orthodox. What he is doing now is just a campaign. An ugly campaign I think, but it works. Liberman, Gideon Saar, and Naftali Bennett have personal vendettas against Netanyahu. Therefore, Netanyahu is partly responsible for the situation. For personal reasons, they don’t sit in a government with him. I think their behavior is childish and they do it mainly because they also want to be prime ministers. Both Bennett and Saar, but Liberman also once talked about it.
And why wouldn’t the coalition come together now? Because of the events in Jerusalem and Gaza?
That’s right, exactly.
For whom is it more unacceptable to build a coalition together? For the Jewish left and anti-Netanyahu camp to accept Arab support, or for an Arab party to support Jewish parties?
It is more unacceptable for Arabs to support a party that supports military action against the Palestinians at any level. Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, said this himself. He should have just met Lapid and Bennet to finish the negotiations, but now the whole thing seems to be gone.
He cannot support the war against his brothers, and he is still a moderate man. You can guess what the other Arabs think then.
Let’s talk about the current situation. In the mainstream Hungarian media, the story goes like this: the Israelis evicted Arab families in Jerusalem, so there were demonstrations. Israeli police brutally cracked down on peaceful protesters, and Hamas responded with missiles. In return, Israel bombs children in Gaza. What is the truth?
It is always pouring out of the media everywhere that evil Jews take away good Arabs at night… Let’s clarify the situation! What we can see is made up of several elements. It is important to understand every element. The first element is Palestinian domestic policy. In January, President Mahmoud Abbas announced that there would be elections that had not taken place since 2005-’06. There would now have been a parliamentary and presidential elections. Abbas, however, postponed these because he learned that Hamas was more popular than him.
Now the two sides are fighting for attention, with assassinations and violence to demonstrate who is stronger. There was a deadly terrorist attack at Tapuach a week ago, and now Hamas would set the country on fire.
What about the evictions from the Sheikh Jarra district?
You need to know about evictions that the story goes a long way, but everyone knows it only superficially. The Sheikh Jarra quarter is an ancient Jewish quarter that was once named Simon Hatsadik. These areas were inhabited by Jews. After the war of 1948, the families then had to flee, as the area was occupied by Jordan. In 1967, Israel re-occupied the quarter, and in 1982, a court ruling ruled that Israeli families were legitimate owners. This was also accepted by the Arabs at the time. Then they changed their minds under political pressure, and now the case of some Arab families facing eviction is being used for the protests. This has been the case so far, with violent movements on the pretext of a few people. The picture that the international media is showing is a gross distortion and full of lies! Jewish owners often even have the title deeds from Ottoman times. People don’t know what they’re talking about, they just hear reports that Israel is evicting Arabs.
What other elements might have contributed?
There was another element, namely Ramadan, which now coincided with the Jerusalem Day celebrations. The two have now coincided, and together with the above elements have led to the present tensions. It should be noted about the riots that the Arabs piled up stones in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, throwing them at Jewish prayers and police.
The police did their thing, they protected people, if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be the police. The point is to know every detail so that we do not eat up the lies of the media against Israel.
Picture: Tamir Wertzberger, back when he was an officer in the IDF. Credit: courtesy.
See the original, Hungarian-language interview here. The interview was conducted by MIMC Organisation founding member László Bernát Veszprémy.