The American Deal With a Hungarian Devil
Antisemitism is a perennial topic in American discourse, and in recent months has been of increasing concern to individuals across the political spectrum. After a spate of high-profile incidents, business leaders, NGOs, and government agencies leapt to institute programs to combat feelings of insecurity among Jewish communities. For example, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, launched an “End Jew-hatred” advertising campaign; Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Counter Antisemitism launched a “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” blitz; and the White House announced an inter-agency group to counter antisemitism.
On the international front, American officials roundly condemn antisemitism in a host of allied and non-allied nations and seek to build narratives aligned with broader American policy. For example, the Biden Administration dispatched Deborah Lipstadt, a special envoy to combat antisemitism, to a range of Arab nations in an effort to combat antisemitic sentiment in advance of a Biden trip to the Middle East.
The Biden Administration takes particular pleasure in singling out Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, casting aspersions and making explicit claims that he harbors and advances antisemitic sentiment. However, the facts simply do not exist to support this assertion and, more concerning still, American government officials’ actions indicate a willingness to conspire with acknowledged antisemites to further a broader anti-Orbán agenda.
Orbán was subjected to withering criticism for a 2022 speech that he made in Romania, addressing a Hungarian community in Transylvania separated from its mother country in the wake of World War I by the Treaty of Trianon. Lipstadt accused Orbán of making “inexcusable” remarks and stated that she was “deeply alarmed” by his words, which she indicated had a “Nazi” sentiment. In reality, consideration of Orbán’s full remarks makes clear that they lack any antisemitic sentiment; Hungarian is a challenging language, and translations of intangible concepts inherently lend themselves to confusion. Orbán and his team have no doubt learned that lesson from this incident.
The Hungarians have learned another lesson, too: while the Americans will seek every opportunity to read translations of Orbán’s words closely — imputing, promulgating, and denouncing the most heinous concepts they can infer — Washington’s lackeys hold themselves to no similar standard. David Pressman, the United States Ambassador to Hungary, calls out Orbán and his administration multiple times per week for perceived faults. For example, he took to Twitter to issue a disingenuous condemnation of “those who valorize Nazis [and] march in Budapest” in reference to a set of events banned by Hungarian officials. On the day cited by Pressman, only Antifa, not any far-right extremists, incited violence.
Now, with Hungary in the spotlight as it holds out on rubber-stamping Sweden’s accession to NATO, Pressman has upped the game. Pressman, in his typically self-laudatory style, posted photographs of a “fascinating” Passover Seder with a collection of “Hungarians from different perspectives, disciplines, and backgrounds.” But just who were these people, and did he really invite them for the stated purpose of “reflect[ing] on the meaning of freedom”?
Márton Gyöngyösi, president of the Hungarian political party Jobbik and a Member of the European Parliament, was one attendee at the seder. Jobbik emerged as a political force in the late 2000s by leveraging social media to deploy communications in a way never before done in Hungary. They used this network to vilify the Roma people, introducing the term “Gypsy crime” into common discourse, and to attract a new generation of supporters.
Gyöngyösi was principally responsible for transforming Jobbik into a more acceptable mainstream party in the face of continued electoral dominance by Orbán’s party, Fidesz. However, it is clear that Pressman has chosen to overlook the disturbing statements made by Gyöngyösi in the past that American officials would have seized on to criticize Orbán if given the opportunity.
Gyöngyösi, for example, once called on the Hungarian government “to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.” Gyöngyösi has also called for an end to the existence of Israel, stating that the world has had “[e]nough of the indigenous Palestinian people being driven out of their own country by the Israeli aggressor and the Israeli terror state.”
But times change! Gyöngyösi staunchly opposes Russia in the European Parliament, while Orbán and his administration maintain a consistent call for Ukraine and Russia to achieve peace as swiftly as possible. Jobbik, under Gyöngyösi’s direction, joined last year’s failed “United for Hungary” opposition to Fidesz.
Pressman has made it clear that he has no interest in productive collaboration with Orbán. Now, he uses Passover as an opportunity to invite an anti-Orbán protagonist with a record of antisemitism, far worse than what Orbán has even been accused of, into his home. Pressman’s goals are clear, but those Americans with legitimate concerns about antisemitism ought to ask: do his efforts help or hurt the cause of defeating antisemitism? After all, everyone knows who wins in a Faustian bargain.