If a geopolitical observer had predicted a decade ago that Israel and Saudi Arabia would one day join forces against Iran, he would have been laughed off the stage. Yet here we are. It is a surreal turn of events, but one whose inner logic is easy to discern. After six decades of unremitting hostility, the Arabs have learned that a Jewish state nestled beside the Mediterranean isn’t the source of their troubles—and might even be a solution.
Something similar can be said for emerging ties between Israel and the conservative-nationalist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. Despite a vexed history, the two camps are warming to each other, in large part because they find themselves in the same diplomatic corner, facing a common ideological threat—namely, an imperious transnational liberalism that has nothing but contempt for nationhood and borders and particularity.
The latest sign of that warmth came this week, with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban’s visit to the Jewish state. To say that Israel rolled out the red carpet for Orban would be a gross understatement. Orban’s Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, showered him with praise and called him a “true friend of Israel.” Orban, for his part, stressed the importance of Jewish security in Europe and Israel; he wished he could have stayed longer.
The friendship has already paid dividends for both sides.
In May, Hungary, along with Romania and the Czech Republic, barred a joint European Union statement condemning the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For Europe’s insurgent East Bloc, there was a principle at stake: sovereignty, and a nation-state’s sovereign decision over the location of its embassy. This was not the first time Budapest had come to Israel’s rescue in European forums that normally tilt against the Jewish state.
The Israelis, meanwhile, have pressed the White House to embrace Orban. As Axios recently reported, Netanyahu “worked behind the scenes last year to ‘open doors’ in the Trump administration for Viktor Orban.” Following the Israeli lobbying, Hungarian diplomats and security advisers sat down with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton—the first such meetings in many years.
As with the nascent Arab concord, here, too, Netanyahu is taking a political gamble. Long before Orban’s aircraft touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, liberals in Israel and beyond railed against the invitation. Surely the Jewish state can’t honor this avatar of immigration restrictionism and “illiberal democracy,” this political Neanderthal, who has been teleported from a dark past into our enlightened age!
Leading the charge was Daniel Shapiro, President Obama’s ambassador to Israel, who wondered on Twitter whether the Jewish state should align itself with the likes of Hungary—rich, coming from an alumnus of an administration that tried to align U.S. Middle East policy with the Holocaust-denying and Holocaust-threatening ayatollahs. The writers and editors of Haaretz published no fewer than six denunciatory op-eds and stories in the leadup. Al Jazeera, the organ of the Qatari slave state, added its voice to the anti-Bibi-Orban chorus.
Media hysteria aside, Jews have legitimate reason to be wary of some of the developments in the former “blood lands,” where within living memory the Nazis exterminated a third of European Jewry, sometimes with the enthusiastic assistance of their neighbors.
The historical concerns are especially acute in Hungary, where the overtly fascistic Jobbik party and, to a lesser extent, Orban’s ruling Fidesz have sought to revise the country’s historical role in the Holocaust. (Hungary was an ally of the Axis powers, facilitated the deportation and murder of more than half a million Jews, and agreed willingly to German occupation by war’s end.) Orban himself has on occasion hailed Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s wartime regent, raising Jerusalem’s justified ire.
It is also true, however, that Hungary has a far better record of protecting its Jewish citizens today than do the countries that constantly rap Budapest across the knuckles. As Evelyn Gordon noted on the Commentary blog, 37 anti-Semitic incidents were reported to the Hungarian Jewish community watchdog last year—and none was violent. Britain, with a Jewish community a little more than double the size of Hungary’s, had 145 assaults on Jews. Austria, which has only one-tenth as many Jews as Hungary, had five assaults and more than 500 incidents.
The same transnational liberalism that would force Hungary to accept Muslim migrants far beyond its ability to assimilate expects the Jewish state to behave like Norway when it is encircled by Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State, and Bashar Assad. Can you blame Israeli conservatives for recalibrating how they conduct diplomacy in Europe?
Sohrab Ahmari is senior writer at Commentary magazine. His spiritual memoir is forthcoming from Ignatius Press.
Image via @netanyahu.