Evil Soros; Invisible Finkelstein-Orban’s Anti-Semitism – The Forward

Good long read on the complex relationships between Orban, Soros and Finkelstein:

At the time, conservatives and liberals from across the spectrum hailed Soros’s work.

In the difficult years of post-communist transition, Soros’s foundations provided humanitarian assistance in the form of school breakfasts and hospital equipment. Today, his foundations still provide some funding to nongovernmental organizations in Central and Eastern Europe — in particular in the human rights field. CEU, in the heart of Budapest, was designed as an English-language magnet school for Central and Eastern Europe’s best and brightest, and has become world-renowned.

 Soros, Konrád observed in his open letter to the prime minister, “devoted a considerable part of his fortune to young students’ needs, allowing the state to direct its resources elsewhere. He established a number of outstanding institutions in Hungary, even though in 1944 this land dealt with him so callously that it nearly cost him his life.”

Yet despite Orbán’s bristling against Soros as a foreign influence, his Fidesz party has been working for nearly a decade with Finkelstein, a New York-born secular Jew who is not afraid of embracing the very stereotype that Orbán deploys against Soros. Asked by Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley early on in their friendship whether he pronounced his last name as “Finkelsteen” or “Finkelstine” (with a long ‘i’), the consultant replied, “If I was a poor Jew, it would be Finkelsteen, but since I am a rich Jew, it’s Finkelstine.”

Finkelstein, moreover, is a gay rich Jew, long married to a male partner. Nevertheless, the self-professed libertarian, who first imbibed his ideology as a Columbia University student directly from libertarian icon Ayn Rand, has been critical to putting in office as prime minister a man with the declared goal of converting Hungary from a liberal democracy into a more authoritarian, government-heavy “illiberal state,” one with restricted rights for gay men and lesbians. In 2014, Orbán praised Russia, Turkey and China as “successful nations…none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” he said.

Over the decades, Finkelstein, who worked early on for Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign, has rarely let his ideology interfere with his choice of clients, as long as those clients were on the right. Some estimate that at one point in the 1980s, half of Republican U.S. senators were Finkelstein clients. But over the past two decades, Finkelstein’s focus shifted abroad, where he did his most high-profile work for Israel’s Netanyahu.

GEB International, a consultancy under the leadership of Finkelstein and fellow strategist George E. Birnbaum, has taken credit for the election of Ariel Sharon and the success of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party in 2009. Finkelstein also reportedly orchestrated the 2012 alliance between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Through GEB International, Finkelstein has been providing consulting services to Fidesz since 2008, helping shape the party’s strategy in both local and national elections, including its control of a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Finkelstein’s successes — in the United States, Israel and Central Europe — can be attributed in large part to his approach to political communication.

“He likes campaigns that have signature issues, where the candidate would be known for one issue or a series of related issues,” Shirley said.

This approach has been evident in Orbán’s campaigns, which often focus on one simple message repeated over and over again — as has been the case with the prime minister’s repeated attacks on Soros.

…Orbán’s relationship with Hungary’s Jewish community, estimated at roughly 120,000 people in a country of 10 million, is complex. According to a recent survey, about 37% of Hungarians hold anti-Semitic views, telling pollsters that they “agree” or “completely agree” that “there’s too much Jewish influence in Hungary.” This was an increase from previous years: In 2013, only 27% gave positive replies to this question.

Growing up outside Budapest, Orbán likely had little exposure to Jews, who reside primarily in Budapest, before he moved to the capital to attend university. When he initially began his political career as a young, liberal anti-Communist in the late 1980s, however, he befriended Jewish Hungarian intellectuals and dissidents. Unusual for a Hungarian not of Jewish origin, Orbán’s eldest daughter, born in 1989, was given the Hebrew name Ráhel.

But very few Hungarian Jews supported Orbán’s nascent political party, and as Orbán began moving more and more to the right and adopting a nationalist stance, he alienated much of the Jewish community.

“During the [2013] World Jewish Congress in Budapest… Orbán spoke about ‘us’ the Hungarians and the ‘Jews,’” Pfeifer recalled. In the United States, he pointed out, it would be unimaginable for a sitting president to refer to “Americans” and “Jews” as separate groups.

For many Hungarian Jews, Orbán crossed a red line in 2014, when his government constructed a memorial to the “victims of German occupation” that many, including the U.S. State Department, saw as rejecting Hungary’s own complicity in the Holocaust. The Jewish community has since set up a permanent informal memorial to the victims of the Holocaust as a protest against what it sees as the government’s distortion of history.

But Orbán’s rhetoric on Soros over the past months has raised new concerns about government-sponsored anti-Semitism.

Konrád told Orbán in his open letter, “The real turning point for me was that, in the interest of the arbitrary extension of your power, you dipped into the hypocritical repository of political anti-Semitism and pulled out its shrill slogans with both hands.”

Not everyone shares this view.

“Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s policies aren’t anti-Semitic at all,” the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, known as MAZSIHISZ, said in a statement to the Forward. “His government supports the large Jewish organizations in achieving their goals, the Jewish community is not a victim of any kind of official discrimination, and there’s no real chance that it will change in the foreseeable future.”

Similarly, Slomó Köves, executive rabbi of EMIH Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, an affiliate of Chabad, told Hungarian state media May 12 that he “does not know of an internationally accepted norm” by which anti-Soros rhetoric is considered anti-Semitism.

Both Köves’s Chabad operation in Hungary and MAZSIHISZ receive significant funding from the government. Köves did not respond to emailed questions from the Forward.

Source: Evil Soros; Invisible Finkelstein-Orban’s Anti-Semitism – The Forward

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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