A Brezhnev-era joke asked whether it was a crime to say that the party chairman was an idiot. The answer was yes, because it’s a state secret. For those who miss Soviet-era humor, French President Emmanuel Macron has provided some consolation, by firing the French ambassador to Budapest for observing in a private memorandum that the president of Hungary is not an anti-Semite. Evidently that is a state secret in France.
In a, Eric Fournier, the French ambassador to Hungary, reported that the alleged anti-Semitism of Hungarian President Viktor Orban was “a fantasy of the foreign press.” He added that the allegation diverted attention from the “real modern anti-Semitism,” whose source is “Muslims in France and Germany.” The private memorandum was leaked by the left-wing website Mediapart and reported widely in the French press. Hungary’s “management of illegal immigration” might be a model for France, Fournier added.
The French president denounced the memo as “contrary to the French official position,” saying that if it were shown that Fournier’s views had been made in public, he would be removed. The memo was private, but Macron fired him anyway. Fournier’s memo had struck a raw nerve. On April 18,, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, had denounced the “new anti-Semitism” arising from “Islamic radicalization,” declaring: “We demand that the fight against this democratic failure that is anti-Semitism becomes a national cause before it’s too late. Before France is no longer France.” Nearly a tenth of France’s half-million Jews have emigrated in the past decade in response to Muslim violence against Jews.
Ambassador Fournier was entirely correct: Polling data provide massive evidence of Muslim anti-Semitism in France. Fifty-six percent of believing and practicing Muslims in Francethat there is “a Zionist conspiracy on a global scale,” according to a 2014 Fondapol study. French soldiers guard synagogues and Jewish schools. French Jews are advised by their community leaders not to show themselves on the street with visible signs of Jewish identity, such as a kippah.
By contrast, Hungary’s 100,000 Jews—a larger presence relative to the country’s population of 8 million—walk unmolested to synagogue in traditional Jewish costume and holdwith minimal security presence. During a visit to Budapest in May, I walked from my hotel to synagogue on Friday night and Saturday wearing a kippah, crossing the city four times. No one looked at me twice. I wouldn’t attempt that in France or Germany.
Budapest is safe for Jews because it is home to very few Muslim migrants. Hungary, along with Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, refused to accept European community quotas for Muslim migrants after 2015, when Germany accepted more than a million putative war refugees (three-fifths of whom turned out to be economic migrants). Chancellor Merkel had the support of a majority of Germans at the time, but the Germans now have buyer’s remorse. Opponents of Merkel’s migrant policy nearly brought down her coalition government this month. The migration issue also brought populist parties to power in Italy. Macron is under pressure from his domestic opponents and at risk of losing his main ally in the European Union, namely Mrs. Merkel.
A year ago, the Vizegrad Group of Eastern European nations—Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia—looked like a rancorous minority in a European Community committed to the mass absorption of Muslim migrants. The Eastern Europeans refused to accept a quota of migrants assigned by Brussels and were threatened with sanctions, including a reduction in agricultural aid payments. Now the Merkel-Macron consensus has crumbled, and the European center has shifted towards Orban. Italy’s Interior Minister and leader of the League Party, Matteo Salvini, is now Italy’s most popular politician, after he refused to allow NGO vessels to discharge Muslim migrants. Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, nearly brought down Germany’s governing coalition and compelled Chancellor Merkel to agree to holding camps for migrants on Germany’s borders. Austria’s center-right coalition government is preparing to station troops on the country’s southern border in order to prevent migrants from entering the country from Italy.
Orban is not a radical of any sort; on the contrary, he is a Christian Democrat of the old school. In an hour-long interview at his offices last May, he cited the late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as his model of a European politician (Kohl opposed Merkel’s open-door policy to Muslim migrants). To say that Orban is anti-Semitic is outrageously wrong. Hungary is one of Israel’s few friends in world diplomacy. Along with the Czechs and Austrians, it vetoed a European Community resolution denouncing the United States for moving its embassy to Jerusalem. And the Hungarian president has been a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for twenty years.
Orban’s door is open to Budapest’s Jewish leaders, and some of the city’s most prominent rabbis told me that he is a good friend of the Jewish community. And Budapest is becoming a location of choice for Israeli entrepreneurs, due to its good infrastructure and low costs. I attended a Sabbath evening dinner at a Budapest synagogue with 200 guests, more than half of whom were Israeli.
The charge of anti-Semitism against Orban hangs on the matter of George Soros. This year, Hungarian voters returned Orban to office with a two-thirds majority, after eight continuous years in office. Orban’s popularity probably reflects Hungary’s strong economic growth, low unemployment, and rising asset prices. But Orban also had made a campaign issue of Soros, plastering his picture on billboards. This strategy had nothing to do with Soros’s Jewish origins, and everything to do with his support for open borders and his enormous footprint in Hungarian politics. The Hungarian-born multi-billionaire has spent $600 million in Hungary, the equivalent in relative GDP of spending $60 billion in the United States. If an expatriate billionaire had spent that amount of money in the United States, one would expect politicians to campaign against him.
As Ambassador Fournier said, the claim that Orban is an anti-Semite is a “fantasy” of the English- and French-language press. The Hungarians, like the present majority of Italians and Germans, object to the re-engineering of their societies through mass immigration. The voters have become a disappointment to their politicians, as the English writer Douglas Murray observes. The sacked French ambassador merely stated the obvious in a confidential memo. The fact that this statement became a firing offense underscores the absurdity of Macron’s position.
David P. Goldman is a columnist at Asia Times and a former senior editor of First Things.