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

May 31, 2019 | Christopher Caldwell
About the author: Christopher Caldwell, a contributing editor at the Claremont Review, is the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West  (2009).

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].

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