Opinion |

Get Ready for Netanyahu's Hungary-style Campaign

Just as with the Eastern European regimes that are pulling away from democracy, hurting minorities is merely a tool. Israel's nation-state law is a springboard for an Orbánesque hate campaign

Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 19, 2018
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 19, 2018Credit: Mark Israel Salem
Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz

All signs indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will wage a Hungarian campaign in advance of the next election. In fact, this campaign started a long time ago. Just as with the Eastern European regimes that are pulling away from democracy, hurting minorities is merely a means, a tool, for the assault on the real objective: the "enemies from within.” And those are not necessarily the minority groups.

Netanyahu’s friends in Eastern Europe don’t really have a “minorities problem.” That problem was mainly solved 70 years ago and that’s why my parents didn’t know their grandparents. The enemies from within – the “traitors” – are actually members of the majority, but people who don’t toe the line with the government’s whims.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, sees himself as the savior of Christian culture in his country in the face of Muslim immigration. That is pure demagoguery: There are hardly any Muslims in Hungary – a few thousand out of a population of 10 million. But this is precisely the point: The “Muslim threat” is a tool to be used to strike a blow against the Hungarian opposition.

The face most prominently featured in Orbán’s campaign is not his own, nor is it a burqa-clad immigrant woman. It’s George Soros, the Jewish-American, Hungarian-born billionaire whom the prime minister accuses of plotting to take over Hungary by financing various political organizations. Soros appears on the posters of Orbán’s right-wing party, embracing members of the opposition, under the slogan “Stop the Soros candidates!” – those “threatening” to flood Hungary with foreigners. The posters have been pasted to the floors of subway cars so passengers will step on them.

You don’t need to be a historian to understand that Soros is being presented as the image of the “eternal Jew,” the anti-Semitic myth of the Jew who seeks to control the world by means of his hold on banking and commerce. This campaign shocked the large Jewish community in Hungary, and the Israeli ambassador was asked to protest and denounce it.

Netanyahu was also shocked – but not at the anti-Semitic campaign. He was shocked at the ambassador’s protest. At the prime minister’s instruction, the Foreign Ministry eventually rescinded its protest, one of Israel’s most shameful moments. Its people echoed the message disseminated throughout Budapest: Soros is dangerous, undermines us and compromises security.

We should study the Hungarian campaign so we can prepare for things to come, here as well. At an election rally a few months ago, Orbán said that this was a war against "an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world."

Replace the word “enemy” with “eternal Jew,” “Soros,” "the New Israel Fund," "Breaking the Silence" or “the left” – and you’ve got Netanyahu’s campaign. The nation-state law, which enshrines discrimination and prioritizing of citizens, is a springboard for such a hate campaign. Anybody who opposes it is not “loyal to the state.” And who is leading this opposition, in Netanyahu’s opinion? Who is “inciting the Druze” and fomenting revolt? “The left-wing organizations,” of course. And so the campaign has an almost obvious goal: a demand/promise to outlaw these groups.

They have been laying the groundwork for this for years: imposition of restrictions on “foreign funding” (only for groups from the left, of course); special reporting requirements; a ban on the representatives of such organizations appearing in Israeli schools or other public institutions; and unceasing delegitimization.

This is being made possible thanks to the opposition as well, which is (for the most part) afraid to be identified with those who have been “targeted,” and sometimes signs on enthusiastically to show its patriotism. The opposition must understand that this has nothing to do with patriotism: The opposition is the real target of the move to mark as enemies entire communities and political camps.

Prof. Moshe Halbertal defines the difference between the nationalist and nationalistic thus: The nationalist opposes the external enemy, the nationalistic focuses on the enemy within. History shows all too well what the nationalistic lead to – everywhere. It’s all clear, it’s all known and it’s all coming back as if we’ve learned nothing.

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