Hungary, Where Europe’s Faultlines Meet
As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Maggie and the Jews
Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics, who pulled her country back from 35 years of socialism, led it to victory in the Falklands war and helped guide the United States and the Soviet Union through the cold war’s difficult last years, died Monday. She was 87. (The New York Times)
Margaret Thatcher on the Jewish people:
I have enormous admiration for the Jewish people, inside or outside Israel. There have always been Jewish members of my staff and indeed my Cabinet. In fact I just wanted a Cabinet of clever, energetic people — and frequently that turned out to be the same thing.
Margaret Thatcher on Israel:
The political and economic construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is one of the heroic sagas of our age. They really made the desert bloom. I only wished that Israeli emphasis on the human rights of the Russian refuseniks was matched by proper appreciation of the plight of landless and stateless Palestinians.
Margaret Thatcher on the Holocaust:
I attended the Yad Vashem Memorial to the Holocaust: as on every occasion, I came out numb with shock that human beings could sink to such depravity.
David Ward, with foot still very much in mouth
As if accusing “the Jews” of perpetuating “atrocities” against the Palestinians on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day wasn’t enough for David Ward, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East has given an interview to The Guardian in which he reaches once more for his shovel, making use of some old tropes as he digs.
When the interviewer, Aida Edemariam, asked if he was surprised about the storm which followed his initial comments, Ward replied:
There is a huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who’s seen to criticise the state of Israel. And so I end up looking at what happened to me, whether I should use this word, whether I should use that word – and that is winning, for them. Because what I want to talk about is the fundamental question of how can they do this, and how can they be allowed to do this.
Such remarks are not only in keeping with the intolerance and unintelligence of his first statement – which, among other things, accused Jews of failing to “learn the lessons of the Holocaust” – but his disbelief that he has said or done anything unacceptable, at all. In Ward’s world, it is not that his comments were rude or disgraceful, but that a hidden elite – them – was simply waiting for Ward to say anything about Israel and Palestine. “We would have been having this same conversation if I’d not used those words”, he added. Ward, then, was merely picked on for saying, well, what must be said.
Can we call Mondoweiss anti-Semitic yet?
Earlier this year, a minor tiff broke out in the pages of The Atlantic (a fine publication to which I occasionally contribute), after Armin Rosen published an article which asserted that Mondoweiss“often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise”. Robert Wright found Rosen’s piece “McCarthyite” in character, deeming Mondoweiss to be merely “an edgy website that is highly critical of both Israel and Zionism”.
Wright took umbrage with the idea of guilt by association: the notion that, if someone deems a publication or institution to be anti-Semitic, all those connected to it must be anti-Semitic as well. In Rosen’s article, Alex Kane – then a staff writer, now an assistant editor – was chided for not publically challenging Mondoweiss’ “lunacy”, while acknowledging that he is not responsible for the work of other writers. The latter point here is worth stressing: Kane holds political views that verge on the repugnant, including the idea that Zionism “helped drive 9/11”, but in general he appears to be a perfectly acceptable individual.
The question apposite to the one Wright raises and challenges is the far more interesting and important one, however. It is also one which underscores Rosen’s piece, namely if a publication or institution chooses to lend its imprimatur to an article or series of articles that can be deemed anti-Semitic – and Rosen cites numerous examples of questionable work – can said organisation be characterised as anti-Semitic as a whole?
Rosen and Wright’s particular quarrel is dead, and since I have no desire to reanimate it, I shall refrain from picking a side. Thus, I shall place my loaded gun upon the mantelpiece, and merely note that when all was said and done, Andrew Sullivan came down on the side of Wright and Mondoweiss.
For those not familiar with Mondoweiss, it is (in its own words) a “news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective,” which seeks to publish “a diversity of voices to promote dialogue on these important issues”. Herein lays the first canard, for claims of plurality are negated by its other commitment to “offer alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity”. Whatever diversity there is on Mondoweiss is akin to an argument between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, for I have yet to read one article on said site that has been favourable to Israel.
Then again, this is understandable. The site’s founders, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, are anti-Zionists. It is a political position which influences the way in which Mondoweiss addresses the important questions pertaining to the future of Israel and Palestine. Anti-Zionism informs the articles they select for publication and the commentators they choose to hire. It colours their coverage of the news coming out of the region, suppressing Israel’s achievements or pleasant news regarding the two-state solution, while augmenting the most awful effects of the occupation, and promoting developments which indicate things might be moving in the direction of Isratine and the death of the Jewish state.
Anti-Zionism – or, to put it other way, the belief it was a mistake to have created Israel in the first place; that Israel is not and can never be the answer or even an answer to the Jewish question – is, it goes without saying, a very problematic ideology. It constantly requires one to walk the thin line between disbelief in a Jewish state, and anti-Semitism, since anti-Zionists must constantly be forced to answer the question of why it is that Jews – and only Jews – are the only national group not entitled to a state of their own. One’s answer to that question says a good deal about a person’s character, for good or for ill.