Hungarian PM Orban: Israel’s friend or foe?

Despite the question marks regarding Orban’s Fidesz Party, there is no clear cut reason for Netanyahu to reject Orban’s extended hand.

Netanyahu and Orban (photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)
Netanyahu and Orban
(photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating Hungarian election winner Viktor Orban uncovers the hidden paradox raging through Europe and world politics in general.
The Hungarian election results came as no surprise to most Europeans. It is widely known that Orban’s Fidesz Party was able to conquer the public’s hearts and minds as the only party that promised to save them and their identity from the EU quota, which is supposed to spread refugees among the nations of Europe, and from figures like multi-billionaire George Soros who undermine the government’s efforts to counter the quota.
The Jewish community in Hungary was vocal about Fidesz’ campaigns, which they claim contained antisemitic undertones, and subsequently tried to make it clear to the Israeli government that Orban and his party are no friends of the Jews.
Yet Netanyahu rushed to congratulate the newly elected Hungarian prime minister, who is set to serve his third term.
Awkwardly, an Israeli prime minister that never put aside any opportunity to cry “antisemitism” whenever the policies of the State of Israel were criticized, suddenly missed an opportunity to acknowledge a questionable campaign that many consider to have been antisemitic.
At first glance, this phenomenon is easy to explain. Israel is looking out for its own interests and maintains good relations with states that support it. Indeed, Hungary has supported Israel in the international arena. Just recently, Hungary abstained on the UN anti-Trump resolution, indirectly supporting US President Donald Trump for declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Moreover, Hungary among other Eastern European countries stood up for Israel at the EU when discussions around labeling of settlements occurred.
The Romanian government’s announcement of its desire to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and the Czech Republic’s strong support to Israel are equally examples of a different EU narrative on Israel and its policies. All in all, it is only natural for Israel to stand with states that support its policies.
By further analysis, Orban’s Fidesz members of European Parliament (MEPs) are part of the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP). This political group comprises Christian Democrats from every European member state, making this group the largest and also one of the most moderate political groups in Parliament.
If one inquires into Fidesz’ voting behavior on EU level, one finds very legitimate and moderate behavior. As a matter of fact, when the antisemitism resolution was submitted at the European Parliament, Fidesz’ MEPs voted according to group’s line in support of the resolution, while members of the socialist and liberal groups rejected the resolution, depicting it as an attempt to curb freedom of speech.
Moreover, if we examine it further, we realize that Netanyahu hasn’t given Hungary better treatment than France or Germany. Although these countries’ stances on Israel’s current policies are disappointing, Netanyahu congratulated French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the exact same way. And in spite of the constant criticism and lack of support at the UN, Netanyahu maintains excellent relations with these countries, also expressed on a daily basis through the Association Agreement.
Lastly, while Hungarian Jews pulled the alarm bell, it is France and Belgium and other Western European countries that experienced antisemitic killings, not Hungary. France among other Western European states vowed to protect the Jews and supposedly introduced special government teams to fight antisemitism. However, these governmental committees are not assigned to fight antisemitism alone, but also Islamophobia, clearly in an effort to equate both issues. Whether it’s ignorance (at best) or a calculated move (at worst), these committees add to the problems rather than solve them.
Afraid to seem biased, racist and yes, Islamophobic, these governments fail to send a strong signal to the one minority that bullies the Jews. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly these fears contributed to the murder of Parisian Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll.
Overall, the Jewish communities of Europe have a difficult task in defining where antisemitism starts and ends. Protesting against campaigns with antisemitic undertones is of course undeniably imperative, but should be weighed carefully. In the case of Fidesz’ campaign against Soros, one should seek answers as to whether this campaign was motivated by a desire to reach the antisemitic voters from far-right Jobbik Party or whether, as Fidesz claims, Soros, as a politically engaged individual, was the sole target. In the same way one should ask if France, Holland and Belgium’s efforts to equate antisemitism with Islamophobia are due to ignorance or ill intent.
Despite the question marks regarding Orban’s Fidesz Party, there is no clear cut reason for Netanyahu to reject Orban’s extended hand.
Hungary is a EU member state and as far as Israel is concerned it shouldn’t interfere with internal European politics, and second, the campaign wasn’t bluntly antisemitic and thus deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The author is a director at Golden Gate public affairs and consultancy, and works at European Parliament in Brussels.