Orbán’s Election Victory Highlights Change Among Hungarian Jews | JNS

In an unusual Hungarian election, in which ideologically disparate opposition parties united to try to prevent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán from serving his fourth consecutive term (and fifth overall), the people of Hungary entrusted with the mandate to continue to lead the nation at a time of scrutiny of its approach to the Russo-Ukrainian war. Orbán and his Fidesz party won the vote by around 20 points, even winning two parliamentary seats.

Overshadowed by war in neighboring Ukraine, the elections served as a referendum for Orbán’s national-conservative approach. While the 58-year-old has been a polarizing figure in Europe for, in part, defying EU mandates to accept Muslim migrants at the height of the immigration crisis in 2015, the election confirms that it reflects a generally patriotic and traditional Christian Hungarian population. .

The Jewish community was divided on Orbán largely along political-religious lines. Organizations affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement generally take a friendlier position towards the self-proclaimed pro-Israel and pro-Jewish leader, while Jewish liberals, unofficially represented by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, generally side with his potential ousting. Around 100,000 Jews live in Hungary, mostly concentrated in and around Budapest.

Yet this election had gray areas that made it difficult even for a center-left electorate, especially Jews, to wholeheartedly embrace an anti-Orbán coalition. The six ‘United for Hungary’ parties included the right-wing Jobbik party, whose leaders have made anti-Semitic statements to the Hungarian parliament in the past, including a call for a list of Hungarian Jews who may pose a security threat national.

Jobbik rebranded itself as a moderate and claimed to have purged its ranks of extremists; however, some of its openly racist members simply split off to form “Our Fatherland,” which, to Jewish dismay, just won seven seats.

“The collateral damage has been done”

Rabbi Shlomó Köves, the chief rabbi of the Orthodox EMIH – Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities, was a vocal opponent of legitimizing Jobbik. His past anti-Semitic statements in good faith, he said, are far more disturbing than complaints from liberals that Orbán downplays Hungary’s role in the Holocaust in an effort to inspire national pride.

Köves judges first by the Prime Minister’s record.

“If I look at Hungary today, and only from a Jewish point of view, I see that [it] is one of the safest places for Jews in Europe,” he said.

The rabbi remembers being afraid to wear a kippa in Budapest as a teenager, saying Jews no longer had to fear doing so, unlike other European capitals. “If you look at the number of anti-Semitic attacks, Hungary has one of the lowest in Europe anywhere there is a large Jewish community. I see that the Hungarian policy within the government has become very pro-Israel.

While he sees a rising trend in conservative Jewish voters, especially among the younger generation, the current state of Jewish security in Hungary was not enough to sway liberal Jews in the past. The late Hungarian-Jewish philosopher and Holocaust survivor Ágnes Heller told Hungarian media that cooperation with Jobbik would be justified to defeat Orbán, shocking even some centre-left Jews.

“She was explaining how it was one of those collateral damages that you have to suffer to fight the Orbán regime,” Köves said. “The problem is that the collateral damage was done now even though the fight itself wasn’t even successful.”

“Anti-Semitism is party-independent,” said Tomáş Wagner, a Jewish journalist from Budapest. “There are only parties where it is important to show anti-Semitism openly. This is a small party called “Our Fatherland”. The other parties officially defend the Jews, but nevertheless, many of them are anti-Semitic. In my opinion, the majority of Jews in Hungary are more left-wing, especially the older ones.

Some parallels with Israeli politics

Hungary’s election has some parallels with Israel’s political constellation, particularly between the reigns of Orbán and Benjamin Netanyahu. Orbán and Netanyahu have both been longtime prime ministers with a break between their first two terms. Fidesz is most closely aligned with Israel’s Likud (as long as the party’s leadership respects its national-conservative principles). Their aspiring ousters created a coalition of left-right parties, led by conservative leaders – with Israel’s ad hoc coalition succeeding.

The two iconic leaders met in Israel in 2017. As part of the Hungarian delegation to Israel, Köves noted how perceptions of Orbán in Israel were divided along political lines, just as they are in Europe. The left called Orbán a ‘fascist’ while the right hailed him as the leader of pro-Israel sentiment in the EU

In their most recent elections, prime ministers’ personalities, tenure and perceived corruption, rather than specific policies, were the main targets of attack.

“The oppositional issues weren’t primarily on the content side; instead, they focused on Fidesz and Orbán’s alleged corruption, anti-EU policies and complaints that he is damaging Hungary’s international reputation, instead of boosting it,” said Martin Böhm, researcher on Jewish issues at the conservative Foundation Mathis Corvinus Collegium. .

Böhm said Orbán’s “Hungary first” stance on immigration has largely become consensus, leaving Orbán’s relationship with Putin as the opposition’s most promising argument of last resort. Social media sites were awash with photos of Orbán and Putin’s handshake in 2017 and “pro-Putin” epithets. While Hungary has accepted around half a million Ukrainian refugees and supports NATO’s role in the fight against Russia, it has opposed an EU-wide energy embargo as well as a potentially confrontational arms transport via Hungary, angering its European neighbours, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. .

Orbán said the sudden cut in Russian energy, on which it has long depended, would have disastrous effects on the Hungarian economy.

“I think people feel what Orbán said,” Köves noted. “To help refugees but not to be dragged into war. And also, they want to have heating in their houses, which would not be possible without the energy of Russia.

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Laura T. Thrasher