Orbán and Netanyahu

Next week Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, will visit Israel and be greeted effusively by Benjamin Netanyahu.
It will follow the recent visit of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in which both governments agreed an amendment to the Polish law that said Poles as a whole were not responsible for crimes committed by the Nazis.
This was a move that was “bordering on betrayal” and “accepting the mendacious official Polish narrative”, according to Yehuda Bauer, the doyen of Holocaust historians. Three senior academics at Yad Vashem also issued a statement that the declaration contained “grave errors and deceptions”.
This, however, did not prevent the publication of the declaration as a full page advertisement in The Times last Friday, part of an international campaign by the Polish government.
It can of course be argued that Israel has to look to its national interests in a hostile environment and has to deal with both dictators and leaders who uphold the rule of law.
But what happens if such unsavoury regimes embrace a latent dislike of Jews and empower antisemites? Is Mr Netanyahu providing political cover for such leaders?
Viktor Orbán has made the ideological journey from long-haired dissident when Communism fell to populist patriarch of a proud Christian nation. Coming from a rural background there was a clear cultural distance from the urban intellectuals who opposed the Communist regime — many of whom were Jews.
His resurrection of ultra-nationalism has led to a reinterpretation of Hungarian history during the war.
The complicity of the Miklós Horthy regime at the beginning of the war and the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross movement during the 1944 German occupation in the murder of half a million Hungarian Jews is being downplayed. A statue of Horthy now stands in central Budapest.
Sir András Schiff, the acclaimed international pianist whose parents were deported in 1944 yet survived, commented that “antisemitic Jew-baiting has become socially acceptable in Hungary”.
Adam Fischer, the Jewish head of the Hungarian State Opera, resigned in protest at the turn of events. While Jews all over the world laud Raoul Wallenberg for saving tens of thousands of Jews in wartime Hungary, Mr Orbán’s Fidesz party lauds his opponents.
A parallel trend exists in the US, where more than 70 per cent of American Jews are liberal and have consistently voted Democrat since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. Here, the pro-Republican Benjamin Netanyahu seems more at ease with loyal Christian evangelicals than critical American Jews.
It is this ideological identification with illiberalism that allows him to comfortably align himself with authoritarian figures, like Mr Orbán, that have the freedom to act as they wish in their own countries — something denied in Israel.
The Hungarian Prime Minister, like Vladimir Putin, prefers compliant Jewish oligarchs.
He considers George Soros, the Jewish philanthropist of Hungarian origin, to be an ideological threat.
Mr Soros is depicted within Fidesz circles as a wealthy Jew injecting the virus of liberalism into Hungarian society, and has been demonised by the state-controlled media.
His Open Society Foundation, which promotes liberal democracy, social justice and human rights around the world, receives similar treatment.
Veteran Jewish writer Paul Lendvai’s biography of Mr Orbán documents the ongoing attack against NGOs and academia. He notes that in April 2017, the Hungarian leader characterised Mr Soros as “a powerful billionaire of enormous determination…who respects neither God nor man”. There was no need to mention the word “Jew”.
All this has ramifications for relations between Israel and the diaspora. British Jews who live among non-Jews understand that the values of a liberal democracy allow them to be different.
Their communal interests are not the same as that of the Netanyahu government, which tries hard to promote an “ethnocentric illiberalism” within Israel itself.
Mr Netanyahu’s projection of himself as “Orbán lite” will widen the gap between an indifferent Israeli government and a concerned Jewish diaspora.

Jewish Chronicle 13 July 2018

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