Making Goulash of Viktor Orban

By Sara Lehmann

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, last month. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

My mother, a native Hungarian, has had two Hungarian aides for the past few years. Through them I have been fed a steady dose of Hungarian politics. One is ethnic Hungarian and the other one is Roma (the people pejoratively called “Gypsies”). Between the two of them, I am up-to-date on a wide array of political, social and cultural Hungarian perspectives.

But suddenly, it seems that one doesn’t have to have access to the man on the street from Hungary to get the inside scoop on Hungary’s leader. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the Fidesz Party has all at once become almost as ubiquitous on the right as former President Donald Trump.

Orban’s appearance a few weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), confirmed him as the new darling of the American right. And his brash in-your-face style of conservatism, especially when facing down the EU, showcases a Trump knockoff with a sing-song Hungarian accent.

Like Trump, Orban is relentlessly vilified by the left-wing media both in Europe and America. He is called an authoritarian by his opponents, even though he won reelection in the spring by a landslide of 75%. And he’s called out for being a proud champion of traditional family morals and for being an outspoken critic of progressive multi-cultural values. Orban has even put his money where his political mouth is by launching government programs encouraging marriage.

He’s also called a xenophobe for erecting a border fence in 2015 to stave off the illegal migrants from Arab and African countries flooding other European countries. In the process, he also staved off Islamic terrorism and the crime and antisemitism that plague European cities with large Muslim populations.

Orban recently came under attack for cautioning Hungarians against becoming “peoples of mixed race,” a comment he clarified shortly afterward as referring to culture. But not before he was roundly censured as a racist. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) accused Orban of invoking Nazi imagery and referenced the “concerns of the Jewish communities in Hungary,” as voiced by Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Jewish communities, which is predominantly Neolog (similar to the non-Orthodox Conservative denomination).

This is not the first time Orban was called an antisemite. In 2017, he dared to criticize George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish billionaire known for his funding progressive political and social causes through his Open Society Foundations. (Those suffering under current crime waves in American Democratic-controlled cities can thank him for funding the elections of progressive district attorneys.) 

In a clever piece of PR work, Orban posted billboards around Hungary depicting a smiling Soros, with the caption, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” Apparently, this was no laughing matter for progressives who denounced Orban as an antisemite. Leftist organizations and the ADL (again) slammed the posters for invoking antisemitic tropes, harping on Soros’ Jewish descent rather than the damage Soros causes to Jews by providing millions of dollars to organizations that support BDS and seek to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel.

At the time, Israel’s foreign ministry stated that Soros is a legitimate target for criticism, since organizations that he funded “defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.” Soros’ foundation regards Israel as a rogue state, and Soros has even publicly compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Just last week, it was reported that the liberal lobby group J Street received $1 million from a Soros-controlled PAC. This will undoubtedly help J Street’s current campaign opposing Israel’s efforts to shut down organizations acting as front groups for the terror group PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).

It seems that Orban has been called everything but what he truly is. Under his leadership, Hungary is recognized as Israel’s staunchest supporter in Europe, sharing similar values and substantial cooperation in economics and military development. Hungary has vetoed many resolutions targeting the Jewish state in both the U.N. and EU, opposes BDS, rejects a ban on shechitah, and maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward antisemitism, resulting in a thriving Jewish community.

Under Orban, Hungary earned the distinction of being the safest country in Europe for Jews according to an independent 2017 study. And a report written this past June for the European Jewish Association ranks Hungary as the second European country in their survey with the highest index “of respect and tolerance towards Jews.”

But none of this seems to matter to the growing segment of Orban detractors. Those who attack Orban’s “racist rhetoric” were nowhere to be found during the last election, when left-wing parties joined forces with the notoriously antisemitic and racist Jobbik Party. This is especially ironic since critics uniformly fail to mention the inconvenient fact of Orban’s own origins of victimhood, according to the standards of leftist identity politics.

Viktor Orban is Roma. As such, he is no stranger to discrimination or racism. During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered around 500,000 of Europe’s Roma. And while the traditional-minded Roma have incrementally gained social status, as Orban’s success demonstrates, intolerance ingrained over many centuries is difficult to shake.

It would be disingenuous at best for critics to label Orban a racist or an antisemite. In all fairness, if Orban’s opponents are allowed to call Orban an antisemite for opposing Soros’ policies, then those same opponents should be called racists for opposing Orban’s policies.

But mention of Orban’s Roma background is practically nonexistent. It was certainly not mentioned by Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, now U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism. She should have known better. She said his “mixed race” comment used rhetoric that “clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology.” The same ideology responsible for the murder of Roma.

Follow your attackers and you will identify your target. Or conversely, follow your supporters. It is interesting to note that it was the non-Orthodox Mazsihisz that publicly criticized Orban. Not the Orthodox Hungarian Jews, who oppose intermarriage. And who welcome Orban’s pro-Jewish and pro-Israel policies. It is clear that the American left hates Orban almost as an extension of Trump. And the American Jewish left is no different. For them, ignoring the reality of Orban’s origins and achievements is a reflexive, yet counterproductive act. And it is one that Jews particularly can ill afford.

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