Opinion |

From Hungary to Israel, Racism Doesn’t Stop With the Far Right

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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The Knesset in Jerusalem, last month.
The Knesset in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race and we don’t want to become a mixed race,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said in a speech last weekend at a Romanian University in the Transylvania province which has a large ethnic Hungarian population. “Migration has split Europe in two – or I could say that it has split the West in two. One half is a world where European and non-European peoples live together. These countries are no longer nations: They are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples,” said the leader who has ruled his country for the past 12 years and who attended Oxford University for a year.

For a fleeting moment, it seemed that it wasn’t Orban who set out his race theory with such chilling simplicity, rather that it was a plagiarism of Israeli politicians for whom racism is their creed. This doesn’t apply just to the “pure nation” and “save the race” parties. Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir don’t have a monopoly on the racism brand, but their direct, explicit racism, of which they are so proud, provides an umbrella of liberal nobility to everyone who is not them. When Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid speak of the “extremists” with whom they will refuse to sit in a future government coalition, they imply that in comparison to Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, the ranks of Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan, New Hope and of course Yamina, along with other “legit” parties, are free from the stain of racism. But this comparison is warped and mendacious. Racism is not relative. A “little racism” is racism.

After all, the same untainted coalition in which they are members eagerly raised their hands to vote for the discriminatory nation-state law. Its ministers hunt down asylum seekers and did not oppose the decisions of its Minister of the Interior, Ayelet Shaked.

It is Shaked, not Smotrich or Ben-Gvir, who brought the term “Pale of Settlement” back to life when she determined that asylum seekers from Ukraine will only be allowed to work in a restricted number of jobs in 17 towns in Israel. This regulation will apply to all other asylum seekers starting in October. Under its terms, those who violate the rule by daring to employ foreign workers in jobs that do not scrape the bottom of the barrel will face heavy sanctions. And what is the next stage? Perhaps marking of businesses that employ foreign workers in violation of the law, or reestablishment of the Holot detention facility?

The quiet with which this distorted “procedure” was received – it was presented by Shaked to fool the High Court of Justice – proves just how far the metastasis of racism has spread. Not one single Knesset member was scared of being infected with Smotrichism. After all, it was Shaked – one of our ranks – who conceived and gave birth to the monster. And she is not alone.

The citizenship law put forward by Shaked and MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism), which prevents the reunion of 1,680 Palestinian and Israeli families, was supported by 45 MKs – that’s more than seven times the number of seats won by Yamina in the last elections.

Incidentally, in the eyes of her ideological partner, Shaked isn’t worthy of a racism medal. In an interview with the religious Zionist website Srugim some three weeks ago, Rothman clarified that “whoever voted for a party headed by someone who has done business with Mansour Abbas and which at a later stage will do business with the Joint Arab List is in already in the left-wing bloc. I don’t think any self-respecting right-wing person will vote for Ayelet Shaked.” Religious Zionism knows how to track down those racist imposters and issue warnings against them. After all, racism is an electoral asset and it and soft-hearted rightists or left-center liberals cannot be allowed to steal the brand.

When Viktor Orban was voted president of his party, Fidesz, in 1993, it was a classic liberal party that positioned itself right of center. Within a few years under his leadership, it had become a radical, racist right-wing party that opposes LGBTQ rights and the “gender trend”, as well as foreign workers and residents. This process didn’t happen in the shadows or require deep research to unveil. Everything was out in the open.

Orban’s impressive political victories proved that racism is a powerful political lever. In Israel, the process has been even more rapid. The left-wing parties have to rub shoulders with the center to survive. The center parties have to wear a rightist veil, and the rightist parties are already competing with the “pure nation” parties for the racism trophy. Extremists? Not among us.

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