Tomorrow, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban will arrive in Israel and meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There and elsewhere, critics have deplored the meeting, arguing that Jerusalem should not dignify an allegedly anti-Semitic leader and his anti-democratic tendencies by hosting an official visit. Evelyn Gordon responds:
[M]ost countries in the world today are authoritarian, and even a growing number of Western democracies have authoritarian leaders. Thus, any country that wants to maintain relationships with more than a handful of other countries will end up hosting a lot of authoritarian leaders, which is why every other Western democracy also does so.
In fact, other Western democracies often host leaders considerably more objectionable than Orban, and with less justification. I can understand hosting Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping despite their aggressive foreign policies; Russia and China are too important to be ignored. But just this month, Switzerland and Austria welcomed the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, as did France and Italy in 2016, even though Rouhani’s government is actively abetting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Yemen and brutally crushing dissent at home. That’s far worse than hosting Orban, whose government isn’t killing anyone.
Moreover, Hungary is genuinely important to Israel’s core foreign-policy interests, since it has repeatedly helped quash anti-Israel decisions by Israel’s largest trading partner, the European Union. What vital contributions does Iran make to Europe’s core interests that justify overlooking its complicity in mass murder? . . .
Now let’s consider the serious objection, which is that Orban foments anti-Semitism in Hungary. Most Israelis would agree that their government shouldn’t whitewash anti-Semitism; that’s why Netanyahu’s recent statement downplaying Poland’s role in the Holocaust sparked outrage far beyond the ranks of his usual opponents. If true, this charge would be a valid reason to oppose Orban’s visit. The problem is that the evidence doesn’t support it. That isn’t because Hungary has no anti-Semitism problem; indeed, . . . Orban [himself] has undeniably made some problematic statements.
Nevertheless, [a recent major] study found an objective and significant improvement [in attitudes toward Jews in Hungary] over the past eighteen years, almost half of which were under Orban’s rule. For instance, the number of Jews who reported hearing anti-Semitic remarks in the street dropped from an astronomical 75 percent in 1999 to 48 percent (still outrageously high) last year, while the number who reported experiencing three or more anti-Semitic incidents fell from 16 to 6 percent.