BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - A call by the Israeli ambassador to Hungary for an end to the billboard campaign against George Soros wasn't meant to "delegitimize" criticism of the Hungarian-American billionaire, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
The ministry's statement was in response to a Facebook post by Ambassador Yossi Amrani, who said the Hungarian government's billboards not only evoke "sad memories, but also sow hatred and fear."
The ministry said the "sole purpose" of the ambassador's statement was to express Israel's rejections of anti-Semitism and support "Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred."
"In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel's democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself," the ministry said.
Soros, a liberal philanthropist who survived the Holocaust, supports groups that Israel's hawkish government views as unfairly harsh toward the Jewish state or favoring Palestinian viewpoints.
The ads, part of a campaign underscoring the government's anti-migration policies, show a smiling Soros, who is a supporter of migrants, along with the caption "Let's not let Soros have the last laugh."
They have been criticized for playing into anti-Semitic stereotypes, which has been denied by the Hungarian government.
Soros has become an increasing target of government criticism before the April 2018 election in Hungary.
Parliament recently passed legal amendments which could force the Budapest-based Central European University, founded by Soros in 1991, to leave the country or close. Stricter rules also have been adopted for civic groups, which get more than around $26,600 from abroad. Some of them, including advocates of asylum-seekers, are supported by Soros' Open Society Foundations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Hungary next week.