Hungarian Jewry, Anti-Semitism, and the Paradox of Viktor Orban

In a careful survey of the current state of Hungary, and the unusual career of its prime minister, Viktor Orban, who is now Europe’s leading opponent of what he terms “liberalism,” Christopher Caldwell touches on the question of anti-Semitism. The issue came to the fore in 2015, when the Hungarian-born, Jewish billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros began aiming his considerable financial and organizational resources against Orban, incensed especially by Orban’s refusals to allow mass immigration. By 2017, Orban and his Fidesz party had turned Soros into a bogeyman, placing anti-Soros posters and advertisements wherever they could:

The anti-Soros ad campaign drew accusations of anti-Semitism. Whether those accusations were justified or not is not an easy matter to settle. Reportedly, the ads were dreamed up by the late Arthur Finkelstein, the Reagan-era Republican campaign consultant, long known for personalizing political conflicts. Some were in poor taste. There was one posted on the steps of streetcars so that passengers had to tread on Soros’s face as they climbed aboard. Archetypally, the ads did resemble anti-Semitic campaigns of yore. They showed Soros as a puppet-master, a power behind the scenes. Of course Soros was a power behind the scenes. But Hungary was a country where 565,000 Jews—more than half the Jewish population—had been murdered after the Nazi invasion in May 1944, and a bit more circumspection was expected from its politicians.

The Orban government, in its four terms in power, had not acted in such a way as to give rise to accusations of bigotry. It had passed a law against Holocaust denial. It had established a Holocaust Memorial Day. It had reopened Jewish cultural sites and refused to cooperate with Jobbik, the [far-right] leading opposition party, which had a history of anti-Semitic provocations and sometimes commanded 20 percent of the vote.

The loudest accusations came from Western Europe—the very place where, since the turn of the century, in the wake of heavy Muslim immigration, anti-Semitism had risen more sharply than any place on the planet. France in particular had seen a dozen instances of anti-Semitic murder and terrorist violence, all of them perpetrated by the offspring of migrants. Hungary’s 100,000 or so Jews probably had as much to fear from Soros’s plan of open borders as from Orban’s plan to limit the influence of non-governmental organizations [like Soros’s].

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Claremont Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Hungarian Jewry, Hungary, Immigration, Viktor Orban

Is There a Way Out of Israel’s Political Deadlock?

On Tuesday, leaders of the Jewish state’s largest political parties, Blue and White and Likud, met to negotiate the terms of a coalition agreement—and failed to come to an agreement. If none of the parties in the Knesset succeeds in forming a governing coalition, there will be a third election, with no guarantee that it will be more conclusive than those that preceded it. Identifying six moves by key politicians that have created the deadlock, Shmuel Rosner speculates as to whether they can be circumvented or undone:

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics