Opinion

Orban, Take the Holocaust Off Our Hands, the Murdered Are Already Dead

The deep common values that unite you and Netanyahu ought to legitimize any form of cooperation, even a joint statement for the benefit of the present and future at the expense of the past

Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, July, 5, 2018.
Eric Vidal/Reuters

Dear Viktor Orban,

In the run-up to your visit to Israel, you’ve surely noticed the new role Israel’s prime minister has taken upon himself. With a few changes, it’s the role played by the popes in the Middle Ages, until the Reformation – the right to grant indulgences, or absolution from guilt, to sinners in exchange for filthy lucre. 

The pardon that should be of interest to you personally is a collective one. It can’t be a full pardon (despite everything, there are still some limits), and the quid pro quo isn’t quite as vulgar. It’s likely to involve moving the Hungarian Embassy to Jerusalem, a major arms deal or some other economic deal – the standard quid pro quos, which are legitimate in themselves.

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You should keep the Polish example in mind, because it will allow you to demand similar treatment. You should know that in Israel’s political culture, the principle that bad precedents are binding is sacred. Once a crooked or mistaken step has been taken, it serves as the basis for similar steps, even when there are substantive differences in the situations, because what has been done once can be done again. 

Despite the differences between Hungary and Poland, which cannot be ignored (unlike in Poland, Hungary’s anti-Semitic government collaborated with Nazi Germany even before the country was occupied, and the Hungarian governments appointed by the Nazis after the occupation participated directly in exterminating the Jews), there are also similarities. 

There were Righteous Among the Nations in Hungary, too, so their role can be magnified, while the role of the murderers themselves and those who collaborated in exterminating the Jews can be downplayed. The description of human evil as being found in every nation is also suitable for Hungary; therefore, it will be possible to ignore or downplay the role that Hungarian anti-Semitism played in exterminating the Jews.

The importance of such a partial absolution for Hungry and Hungarians needs no elaboration. You know it’s worth its weight in gold. In your next speech in memory of Admiral Miklos Horthy, you’ll be able to quote your joint statement with Israel’s prime minister. 

Netanyahu presumably won’t want to finalize a deal during your current visit, given the criticism he suffered over his deal with Poland. But you can use the visit to prepare the ground for Hungary to receive a pardon in the near future. You can point out to Netanyahu that the channel he opened through his joint statement with Poland’s prime minister presents a golden opportunity for Israel to accrue diplomatic and economic assets. 

From this standpoint, the second step – an indulgence for Hungary – is the key. That is what will turn an isolated move into a systematic process. Many countries will stand in line for Netanyahu, and he’ll be able to tell the people of Israel about his great achievements, achievements that none of his predecessors ever even dreamed of.

The quid pro quo he’ll have to give, in the name of the State of Israel, isn’t a large one. After all, those who were murdered are already dead. Even the Holocaust victims who survived will soon no longer be among us. The statement won’t directly kill a single additional person.

We’re already used to using the memory of the Holocaust for political, educational and public relations purposes. Why not go for the jackpot of benefits obtainable by distorting what happened? After all, neither of you have any commitment to the truth.

You’ll be able to reassure Netanyahu that alongside the critics, there will always be people who will support him, whether a priori or after the fact – his foolish disciples, people for whom fear of or respect for the prime minister outweighs every other consideration, adherents of pure utilitarianism, moral relativists, people who see so many shades of gray that they’re incapable of perceiving black, people who are experts in whitewashing every evil. He’ll never be alone.

More importantly, he can rely on his proven virtuosity in accusing his critics of irrelevant political considerations or personal hatred. Experience shows that this works. The second time, with a statement that’s worded a bit more sophisticatedly, a process of acclimation will already set in, which works wonders in neutralizing moral sensibilities. A few dogs will bark, but the caravan will move on.

You can offer a quid pro quo that will serve you both well – including a mention in the joint statement of the Muslim’ role in the Holocaust as the root of all evil. After all, as Netanyahu taught us, it was the mufti who convinced Hitler, who only wanted to deport the Jews, to exterminate them instead.

To inflame the atmosphere, you can also mention your common enemy, that enemy of radical nationalism, George Soros. He’s Jewish and universalist. You can exchange anti-Semitic remarks about him. On the flip side, you can trade praises of the U.S. president – a role model for you both. 

Above all, you can exchange notes and lessons about ways to empty liberal democracy of content and create a populist, authoritarian, radical nationalist regime. Each of you has a lot to learn from the other about how to fortify your anti-humanist, anti-liberal worldview, the antithesis of the modern human rights tradition, which was developed after World War II and the Holocaust and served as the basis of the European Union. 

The deep common values that unite you ought to legitimize any form of cooperation, even a joint statement for the benefit of the present and future at the expense of the past.