Since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, Western leaders have been saying the right things—in a sense.
U.S. president Joe Biden described the United States’ “rock-solid and unwavering support” to Israel. “You are not alone,” he asserted on an October 18 trip to the country, soon after a similar trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“This is the time to stand in solidarity with Israel and its people,” said EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during her own visit to the country, “And this is why I am here.” French president Emmanuel Macron decried the “blind murderous hatred” and “absolute cruelty” of Hamas.
Events at home have forced an uncomfortable reckoning from these same public figures. While leaders have professed support for Israel, cities like Washington, DC, London, and Sydney have contended with the political and logistical pressures of pro-Hamas protests. The story has been similar at major universities.
More significantly, anti-Semitic violence has proliferated. France has recorded 1,040 incidents since the October 7 attacks. Unrest in Berlin’s largely immigrant Neukölln and Kreuzberg districts sparked riots. Online posts encouraged “turning Neukölln into Gaza.” One Berlin synagogue was the victim of a Molotov cocktail attack, and buildings spraypainted with the Star of David hark back to ugly events from the last century.
In Belgium, an Islamic fundamentalist murdered two Swedish soccer fans; he had arrived in Europe illegally in 2011, was known to police in several European countries, and was subject to unenforced deportation orders.
“We offer our unwavering solidarity in the face of this blind hatred,” said Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo. “We will counter terrorism together with even greater determination.”
Anyone who has walked around Brussels knows these are empty words. De Croo himself can’t possibly believe them. The political class to which he belongs is squarely responsible for the mass migration, failed integration, radicalism, and anti-Semitism that Western leaders claim to abhor.
One member of the European Union and NATO has defied this trend of “bothsidesism”—Hungary. The Central European country’s ties to the Jewish people and Israel are extensive. It is the birthplace of Zionist pioneer Theodor Herzl, a scene of human tragedy during the Holocaust, the site of two of the world’s four largest synagogues, and home to one of Europe’s proportionally largest Jewish populations.
The country’s long-serving Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sets the tone for policy on these issues. “There will be NO pro-terror demonstrations in Hungary!” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) less than a week after the initial Hamas attacks. And so it has been. He also asserted Hungary’s leaders “unequivocally support Israel’s right to self-defense.”
On October 9, two days after the Hamas attacks, Budapest hosted the (previously planned) “International Pro-Israel Summit,” the most significant such conference in the former Warsaw Pact region since the democratic transition.
Unlike in fellow EU member states reality on the street has overwhelmingly echoed these sentiments. Pro-Israel demonstrations have occurred across Hungary and attracted thousands. Budapest’s iconic Chain Bridge flashed Israeli flag colors. Hungarians’ online outpouring of support recalled much of the West’s response to France after the November 2015 terrorist calamity in Paris.
Of course, these demonstrations of support pale in comparison to what really makes Hungary a pro-Israel bastion in Europe: it lacks a migration-fueled parallel society culturally antithetical to the host country.
During the 2015 migration crisis, Orbán held accountable then-Chancellor Angela Merkel for Germany’s preferred, untenable solution of maintaining open Schengen borders and no external border fence. In an editorial in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he wrote, “We must acknowledge that the European Union’s misguided immigration policy is responsible for this situation.” Hungarian governments have consistently rejected the EU’s forced migrant-resettlement schemes.
On October 25, Hungary’s Parliament approved a declaration that included this assertion:
The Hungarian Parliament draws attention to the fact that the large numbers of people, including terrorists, proxies, or Hamas and other terrorist organizations, who are allowed to enter Europe without any control represent a direct and serious risk to the security of European citizens and the continent. This is a direct consequence of an irresponsible and failed migration policy.:
These Hungarian policies have been among the most disagreeable to the West’s “unwavering solidarity” political class. Accordingly, Biden classified Hungary among the “thugs of the world.” Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called Orbán a “dictator.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the Hungarians seemingly have pressing marketing work on their hands. “Is it safe in Budapest for my Jewish friend and her son?” asked one Reddit user in a recent post that received hundreds of interactions. (The answer was a resounding “yes.”) In Hungarian cities, a man wearing a yarmulka shares a reality with someone wearing a crucifix necklace: his greatest threat is pickpocketing.
Those who have visited understand the irony of this disconnect. “As my time wraps up here in Budapest, I must say that I felt safer as a Jew walking the streets of Budapest than I will when I return home to Florida,” asserted Israel summit participant Bryan Leib, an advocate for combating anti-Semitism and former U.S. congressional candidate. Rabbi Róbert Frölich, chief rabbi of Budapest’s famous Dohány Street Synagogue, called Hungary “an island of tranquility” amid Europe’s pro-Hamas tumult.
These commenters can go one step further: Budapest is one of the only major European capitals that deserves the characterization “safe for Jews.” That is no accident. It results from a conscious set of policies that have often been controversial globally and criticized by the “unwavering solidarity” political class. In such a moment of global volatility, these facts should be badges of honor.
Michael O’Shea is a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute. He is an alumnus of the Budapest Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Hungary Foundation and the Mathias Corvinus Collegium.
Image: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com