This coming weekend, Hungarians will go to the polls and likely re-elect—since the opposition parties refuse to coalesce—the nation’s demagogic, neo-fascist, anti-Semitic prime minister, Viktor Orbán. In the course of his most recent term, Orbán has curtailed the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press, rewritten Hungary’s history books to extol the nation’s Nazi-allied fascist government of the 1930s and early ‘40s, built a wall on the nation’s border to keep out immigrants, and proclaimed Hungary to be officially Christian. He has justified these policies by depicting Hungary as under threat not just from Muslim immigrants but from notorious Western and specifically Jewish influences—calculating that this was the way to solidify his support among the nation’s older, rural, more poorly educated voters.
Indeed, the central theme of his re-election campaign has been his 24/7 all-media attack on George Soros—the Hungarian-born-and-raised American investor who as a boy had to hide from the Nazis and as a young man flee the Soviet’s invasion in 1956. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, having become a billionaire, Soros funded the rise of civil society institutions behind the Iron Curtain—including in Hungary—with projects including sponsoring a number of talented young Eastern-bloc students, including Orbán himself, to study in the West. (That Soros, long a target of the American Right, did more to undermine communism than virtually any living member of the American Right is one of our more prominent current ironies.) After the Berlin Wall fell, Soros funded NGOs throughout Eastern Europe, and a new university in Budapest.
In recent years, as much of Eastern Europe, and Hungary in particular, have increasingly flouted basic democratic norms, Soros has continued to fund institutions that promote majority rule, minority rights, and the responsibility of nations to open their doors to refugees.
Soros, of course, is Jewish. And the Orbán re-election campaign has been one long anti-Soros screed, whose all but unconcealed message is that international Jews were undermining Hungary’s traditional Christian culture.
Orbán is not alone among world leaders in sounding this xenophobic tocsin (and toxin). The wall, the fear of the Other, the attack on civil society—sound familiar? But I’m not talking about Trump, who hasn’t yet singled out Soros for major vilification.
I’m talking about the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s prime minister has long vilified Soros for funding such groups as J Street, the American Jewish organization that advocates for a two-state solution, and the New Israel Fund, an NGO that supports civil rights and civil liberties in Israel. Recently, the Israeli right has leaned on Bibi to expel the roughly 30,000 African refugees who have come to Israel in recent years, fleeing their countries’ sectarian violence. The New Israel Fund—whose leaders had obviously read that portion of the Passover Haggadah that says Jews should welcome strangers in the land, since they once were strangers in the land of Egypt—supported Israeli groups that rejected the Right’s xenophobic, racist position. This week, as Bibi unveiled a revolving door of four separate and conflicting policies on the disposition of the refugees, none of which welcomed them to the land of Israel, he took to Facebook to excoriate both the New Israel Fund and Soros in particular. Like Orbán, Bibi and the Israeli right have sought to curtail foreign contributions to their NGOs, even though in Israel, those contributions come overwhelmingly from diaspora Jews, chiefly in the United States, who are alarmed by Israel’s self-transformation into an apartheid state increasingly under the sway of fundamentalist loons.
So a specter is haunting both Eastern Europe neo-fascists and the increasingly thuggish Israeli right: George Soros, champion of despised minorities, and the very personification of the international, cosmopolitan, secular, wandering Jew. Maybe the Likudniks will start burning crosses on Soros’s front yard.