Hungary’s Orban, Taking Aim at EU’s Insistent Funding of Palestinian Causes, Flirts With Brexit Lite

Currents of discontent with a broad spectrum of questionable Brussels policies are roiling the waters of the Danube.

AP/Ariel Schalit, pool, file
Prime Ministers Orban and Netanyahu after their meeting at Jerusalem, February 19, 2019. AP/Ariel Schalit, pool, file

How irritating it must be for the bureaucrats at Brussels to watch as a nation at the heart of the Continent bursts the pretensions of the European project. That country is of course Hungary, whose prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has asked Hungarians to weigh in on whether “grants from Brussels to Palestinian organizations have also reached Hamas.”

That’s a loaded question, by Jiminy. It is part of a “national consultation” launched on Friday that Mr. Orbán has touted as a means of shielding Hungary from a number of EU policies he sees as ill-conceived or downright dangerous.

While Mr. Orbán has signaled no specific wish for Hungary to break from the European Union altogether, the reliably contrarian leader’s beefs with Brussels are starting to add up to something meatier than the thickest Hungarian goulash.

“We will resist the crazy ideas of Brussels bureaucrats, the migrants’ invasion, the gender propaganda, and we will resist the illusions over the war [in Ukraine] and Ukraine’s unprepared EU membership,” he told members of his Fidesz party over the weekend. 

The question of European funding of Palestinian Arab groups that may or may not include Hamas is particularly timely,  given Israel’s campaign to eradicate the terrorist group in view of its October 7 attacks and the killing of 1,200 Israelis.

The EU gives annually more than $200 million to Palestinian Arab organizations. In May the bloc passed a resolution condemning the Palestinian Authority for the “hateful” content of its textbooks, but kept doling out the money that presumably paid for them. 

Despite the efforts of much of the left-leaning press, including notably Britain’s Guardian newspaper, to push back against claims that some of those monies also reached Hamas, it is likely that they have. The terrorists still run the Gaza Strip, or much of it, so it would be almost impossible for that not to be the case. Last month NBC reported that some of the “charitable organizations” to which European countries have sent funds “have been proven to be fronts to funnel money to Hamas.” 

Mr. Orbán, who has a good relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, has promoted Hungary’s image as a place of safety for Jews in a Europe that was roiled by antisemitism even before the Hamas attacks last month. Budapest’s historic Dohány Street Synagogue is Europe’s largest. And this month, with Israel still at war, Mr. Orbán spearheaded the effort to enable the Israeli men’s soccer team to play its remaining home games in the Euro 2024 qualifying tournament in Hungary. 

The grateful players will be kicking around the village of Felcsut, where Mr. Orbán spent many of his childhood years. 

The question that the Hungarian leader put to his countrymen about inadvertent EU funding of Hamas is part of an 11-question survey, called the “National Consultation on the Defense of Our Sovereignty,” which the  government originally posted on its Facebook page on Friday. In it, the battle over immigration figures prominently. Earlier this month Mr. Orbán stated that illegal migration has a “clear link with terrorist acts” and that his opposition to Brussels’ approach to the migrant crisis would continue. 

Hungary has vociferously opposed a planned reform of the EU’s asylum rules that would essentially farm out the responsibility for hosting asylum seekers among various EU members, including contributing to the costs. Hence, one of the survey questions asks citizens whether they agree with the claim that “Brussels wants to establish migrant ghettos” in Hungary.

There is also a survey question about whether the EU should allocate more funds to Ukraine or grant it membership. Mr. Orbán said last week that the EU’s strategy of sending money and military assistance to Ukraine had failed, and he has been a vocal opponent of negotiations that would see Ukraine’s eventual membership in the bloc. The fact that Budapest is in a headlock with Brussels over EU funds that have been frozen over accusations of democratic backsliding has not stopped Mr. Orbán from making known his feelings toward Ukraine and President Zelensky. 

Yet Budapest’s strained relations with Kyiv stem less from comity with Moscow than lingering tensions over the rights of a Hungary minority in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine. 

Hungary has maintained certain commercial ties with the Kremlin since President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine but so has France, particularly with regard to its reliance on Russia’s uranium-enrichment capacities to help power French nuclear power plants. 

But questions of energy sovereignty and the EU’s quizzical embrace of shunting European taxpayer money to Palestinian Arab organizations of dubious repute may matter more in the short term. Once the war in the Middle East winds down and after more European countries wean themselves decisively off of Russian energy dependency, the issues of immigration and the EU’s “woke” agenda will factor heavily in Hungary’s geopolitical outlook. 

The citizens’ survey, the results of which will be known in January, shows that not unlike President Trump, Mr. Orbán will be more or less content to do things his way.

If staying in the European Union in the long run means having to pay to resettle mostly Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East in a mostly Catholic country and being force-fed Brussels’ radical left “gender propaganda,” Hungary’s current flirtation with a Brexit lite could turn into a thornier kind of romance. For the delusional champions of a European superstate, that is news worth noting.

The New York Sun

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