Beware Of Nationalist Leaders
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Editorial

Beware Of Nationalist Leaders

President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. Getty Images
President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. Getty Images

No, it’s not true that Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are twins, separated at birth. It just seems that way at times, like this week on at least two occasions.

One, when President Trump hosted and praised Hungary’s President Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s far-right nationalist leaders. As did Netanyahu last summer, when the Israeli leader welcomed Orban to Jerusalem and called him a “true friend of Israel.”

This is the same Orban who was widely condemned in the Jewish community for employing anti-Semitic tropes, mostly aimed at billionaire George Soros, during the Hungarian prime minister’s re-election campaign. And Orban has praised Miklos Horthy, the World War II ruler of Hungary who collaborated with the Nazis and introduced anti-Jewish laws.

Since his election in 2010, Orban has consolidated power by seeking to control the judiciary and the media, which has become a propaganda machine for his party. Ninety percent of Hungary’s media is now controlled by Orban’s party. And he has been a strong advocate of limiting immigration, championing a Christian, white and nationalist Europe.

Trump acknowledged and praised his guest’s stance. “I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man and he’s done the right thing, according to many people, on immigration,” the president said, adding: “Probably like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK.”

Both Trump and Netanyahu have praised other leading nationalist leaders on the world stage. The Israeli prime minister has found allies in Central Europe, like those in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Hungary, who have pushed back at times against the European Union, which is critical of Israel’s human rights record. And there is another realpolitik motive for Netanyahu’s controversial invitation to Orban. During the Israel visit, Netanyahu said the Hungarian leader “understands that the threat of radical Islam is a real one” to Europe and the rest of the world as well as to Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Both Netanyahu and Trump seem to favor highlighting and calling out anti-Semitism on the left far more readily than anti-Semitism on the right.

The second disturbing Trump-Netanyahu parallel this week was the respective leaders’ apparent attempts to outmaneuver the checks and balances that make their countries democracies.

In Washington, Trump is openly defying the Democratic Congress in its attempt to shed more light on the Mueller Report and alleged offenses that could be impeachable, like obstruction of justice. In Jerusalem, there were newspaper reports that Netanyahu plans to introduce legislation allowing the government to override decisions made by the High Court of Justice and the Knesset. And it is believed a law will be passed that would make the prime minister immune from indictment; the attorney general of Israel has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases.

The prime minister denies all the allegations and said the Haaretz report of the plan to, in effect, promote the executive branch over the judiciary was “misleading” and “distorted.”

Time will tell soon enough. In the meantime, it’s worth reminding President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu that nationalist governments, like those in Central Europe today, have had an awful track record for Jews, with nationalism leading to anti-Semitism.

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