Benjamin Netanyahu is holding talks with Hungarian leaders on the character of the soon-to-open Hungarian Holocaust (denial) museum. The prime minister of Israel is giving his blessing – once again – to the design of a nationalist narrative that makes a substantive alteration of the story of the Holocaust in general, and the story of the annihilation of Hungarian Jewry specifically.
Against this background, it is worth trying to gain a better understanding of the motives driving the protagonists. Every few years there arises a new generation of similar leaders, local and global, who reflect and echo one another. Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler; Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt; Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Yitzhak Rabin; Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Menachem Begin.
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In our generation, these are the leaders of paranoia and phobia: Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin. There is no conspiracy theory that is alien to them. As far as they are concerned, no external threat, imaginary or harebrained as it may be, does not grow to become a powerful bitter enemy, one that compels the emergency mobilization of forces needed to save the nation. And who, if not they, can be the savior from the demon they have just now created?
In the U.S., they talk about “white supremacy,” in Hungary about “Hungary for Hungarians” and in Israel about “the Jewish state.” It is a global phenomenon that crosses all boundaries, ethnic, racial or religious, gathering into a tribal ghetto that is smaller than the modern state, which is diverse and inclusive of all its citizens. Their fierce antagonism to the foundations of democracy, and the attempt to do detriment to as many accomplishments and benefits of the open society as possible are evidence of inherent weaknesses and real existential fears. Each of them is building a separation wall and is interested in isolating his people and his race from the rest of the world. The highest wall of all encompasses the new Jewish ghetto that has been established in the Land of Israel.
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Netanyahu, Erdogan, Trump and Orban have joined forces against a formidable and strong common enemy who is not at all afraid of them and who fights back using tools against which they are incapable of defending themselves. The unholy coalition of several Christian leaders and one Muslim leader, who are clearly tainted by anti-Semitism, together with a Jew, a prime minister of Israel who is steeped in auto-anti-Semitism, has taken a united stand against another Jew – George Soros – and declared all-out war on him.
What is it about Soros that is so threatening to them? What is it that generates hope among so many people around the world who refuse to accept the yoke of this generation’s leaders? What are they afraid of?
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The state most familiar to us, the nation-state, is a relatively new conception, only a few centuries old. A sociopolitical consensus that succeeded in fostering a delicate equilibrium of rule and government that balances several constituent elements: territory, language, culture, heritage and at times also a shared religion.
The nation-state had a good run, up until two immense forces began the process of weathering and erosion of the state that had grown fatigued. From below it is being eaten away by sub-state forces and organizations. For example, the civil society and the division of the general corpus into sub-sections of discontented sub-identities (genders, skin colors, religious belongings, sexual preferences). And from above, globalization is gobbling up increasingly more authorities and powers that were once the sole province of the nation-state (tax shelters, worker mobility, shipping of goods and transfer of knowledge, migration and mobility of means of manufacture, among others).
The aforementioned heads of state feel hunted, and are digging in behind their lines of defense, reducing to a minimum the democratic and civil arenas. “Illiberal democracy” is how Netanyahu’s anti-Semitic Hungarian friend described it. Anyone who is exactly like us is on our team, and anyone who is different is an adversary and an enemy.
In order to reinforce and isolate the Jewish ghetto in Israel, Netanyahu is prepared to concede everything, including the memory and the lessons of the Holocaust, and will join forces with present-day adherents of the racial doctrine. Words cannot describe the abject shame of it all: An Israeli prime minister associates himself with some of the worst Holocaust deniers of our generation in Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the U.S., and became the leader who places the international seal of approval on the global coalition of ghetto builders. At the cost of declaring open season on Soros the Jew – the “Jewboy” as his opponents would label him – while engaging in total abandonment of the world of values and concepts of historic Judaism, its magnificent conception and its greatest sons and daughters.
True, they have governments and power, armies and efficient mechanisms for the spread of darkness. But nothing can stop the world that has no borders. In part because the coalition standing before them is a coalition of openness, of which Soros is the primary global mainstay. His vision, of an open and equal society and state, is threatening to the conservatives seeking to maintain their freedom to be different, privileged and the keepers of all manner of discrimination. Each of them may possess a solution to his own problems – maybe – but has an utter lack of interest in the fate of the rest of humanity. They are like the man in the boat in the Jewish parable, who is drilling a hole in the floor beneath him. “What are you doing?” shout his friends. “What concern is it of yours?” he counters. “Am I not drilling under my own spot?”
The partners in the coalition of walls and phobias – Jews and Jew-haters who have joined forces – are drilling so many holes in the floor of the human ship that they are threatening to sink it. Soros, conversely, is attempting to plug holes and save the human commonality for the benefit of us all.
He has girded his loins for a war, and has become the greatest of all global builders of the dream of an open human society. He is a worthy and powerful opponent to all of the aforementioned bullies of nationalism. No longer fragments of organizations and abstract utopian ideas, but a courageous individual harboring concrete ideas for a more enlightened world, with capabilities, commitment and resoluteness.
And the battle is being waged. At this juncture, they are the attackers and he the attacked. But at some point in the near future, freedom, as it always does, will win out. Openness will envelop and include even those who seek to deny it. And Soros himself will be the revered alternate symbol to the contemporary world and its miseries.