As a woman who admits growing up around anti-Semitic jokes and vibes, today Virág Gulyás writes and speaks about her journey and is well-known for her raw, honest blog, The Almost Jewish, in the U.S., Europe and Israel. As a loud pro-Israel voice, a Hungarian, and a non-Jewish Zionist, she has created an ideology that aims to change the stereotypes about Israel and the Jewish people one day at a time. She is the NYC Coordinator for the grassroots movement called End Jew Hatred.
What values do you think the state of Israel and Judaism have today? What values are important to you personally?
However unpopular it may be if you read this as an observant Jew, my answer is that Israel and Judaism hold the exact same values as Christian values-driven Hungary. Both countries – and ideally every modern democracy – are based on the same values and moral systems. At the end of the day, without getting into theological debates, we may say that both religions demand the same from their people: do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, and so on. These are basic standards for me personally, too. While this question sounds quite simple, any answer I might give would draw criticism. Why? Because religion is a sensitive topic. There are way too many posts circulating on social media – even in my own circles – where uttering the phrase Judeo-Christian values is considered a sin. I am puzzled by this. Do these two religions have the same commandments? They do. Are these commandments the baseline for any decent, moral modern person? They are. So let us leave the rest to the scholarly debates. And yes, I am familiar with “what the Christians did to the Jews” and similar arguments, but are we here to learn from the past and do better, or are we here to kvetch (good old Yiddish word for complaining) and keep repeating history?
What do you think about Zionism? Do you think anti-Zionism is the new type of antisemitism?
Absolutely yes. I am fully aware of the evolution of Zionism. However, I try to avoid talking about Zionism in terms of saying “4000 years ago God promised a land to the Jews.” This approach does not sit well with many today. Do you want people to understand Zionism? Talk to them in terms they can relate to. Therefore, I would say Zionism is the self-determination of the Jewish people. Similar to when the Hungarian people fought for their self-determination and independence in 1848 or 1956; Jews did the same until 1948-49.
Zionism has become a twisted word. In fact it is no different from the nationalistic endeavours of literally every nation around us. Look at how the maps changed throughout history. People who shared the required commonalities fought for their nation-state and independence. The very same desire of the Jews is called Zionism. So why is my answer so confident when you ask if anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism? Because the moment you question the legitimacy of the only Jewish state, it cannot be anything else. It used to be “the Jews”. Now it is the “Zionists”. It used to be the Jews who ruled the world; now, it is the Zionists. It used to be the Jews who poisoned wells; now, it is the Zionists who poison the Palestinians.
The result of Zionism is actually the existence of Israel. So the moment you are not criticizing Israel but demonizing it, using double standards against it, or delegitimizing it, it is not simply being critical of Israel and Zionism at large, but being an anti-Semite. And this is Nathan Sharansky’s famous 3D test to see whether a sentiment is antisemitic or simply a criticism. Being antisemitic is not trendy. Hating someone for their religion is not a “woke” thing to do. But hating someone for their nation-state is accepted. Antisemitism mutated into anti-Zionism.
Why are anti-Zionism and various movements to boycott Israel so popular among progressive leftist groups (like BLM) and politicians, and even among Hollywood celebrities?
Because that is the easy thing to do, that is herd mentality, that is what gives you the illusion of being a moral person because that is what comes without consequences. After all, being “woke” is what is profitable. It is like when you were a teenager, and you did not want to smoke because you thought it was unhealthy, immoral, or listened to your parents, and so on. As a result, you became a target; you were an outcast among the cool kids. This was a way harder position to be at than to (reluctantly) join the other group even if you did not really understand why you joined them.
Today, being a critical thinker is not something to strive for. We apparently have a barely 3-second attention span, during which time we need to make up our minds about things we hardly understand. Most of the people who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions have no clue what BDS stands for, have never been to Israel, let alone ever read the mission chart of the boycott movement. Had they done so, they would know that it is almost identical to the charter of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization. So there you go; your ignorance just made you a terrorist-sympathizer.
Look, you can have a different opinion, you can choose to hate Israel, you can choose never to interact with a Jew in your life again – these are all your rights. But the moment you legitimize a terrorist organization, you really should meditate on your moral values and moral compass. The current boycott movement is almost identical to that of the Nazi boycotts in the 1930s and the Arab boycotts in the 1940s. Both were ideological and hate-driven. The current BDS is just branded better – thanks to modern tools such as social media. But it strives for the same: the delegitimization of Israel and of the Jewish people.
BDS kicked off as an organized entity with the Durban conference in 2001, where the infamous slogan “Zionism is racism” was coined
Why is it cool to say you support BDS, and why should one hide after saying out loud that she is a Zionist? Because we have created a perverted world. BDS kicked off as an organized entity with the Durban conference in 2001, where the infamous slogan “Zionism is racism” was coined. What a smart move that was! Creating a catchy slogan that makes people feel super intellectual when they say it. Facts did not matter. And facts matter even less today. So when you ask why these types of movements have become so popular, one answer I might have is that we are a spoiled generation that is getting dumber by the day. But what is worse is that we are getting inconsistent in our morals. You want to call out Israel on something? By all means, do it. But then make sure you also raise your voice when Iraq, Iran, or Qatar do something. But that hardly ever happens. So the moment you cherry-pick – and even that you do without factuality – you degrade yourself to a simple anti-Semite.
Back to my comment about being dumb: the man on the street will most likely unable to say why Hitler was a bad person (to say the least). Most people cannot define genocide or apartheid. Yet, they are quick to join all kinds of movements to fill a void they face each day. That void is their existential crisis. This might seem overly philosophical here, but ask any young person I always do during my talks) what they want to be, and the answer you get will often be ‘I want to be famous.’ And the path to being famous is paved with trendiness, whether that serves any higher purpose or not. As for Hollywood, well, the world of the arts has always been left-leaning. In that bubble, your hands are tied; you either say what is expected of you, or your career can be crushed. So obviously, very few people are ready to think independently and speak their minds.
What is your opinion about the relationship between Jewry in the diaspora (primarily American) and Israeli Jewry? Is there a conflict? If so, what is the reason and direction of this conflict?
The short answer is that there is massive cognitive dissonance. But here is a longer answer. Sometimes, as a third-party, I really feel that diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews live in very different universes. Jews in Israel do not fight anti-Semitism. They do not feel it on their skin. Instead, they have to deal with other types of enemies. American Jews are not faced with terrorism every day, so many on the political left even have the audacity to call out IDF or call Israel a genocidal state. Jews in Israel could not care less about the UN and all the s it issues.
American Jewry (especially the young generation) still considers the UN a powerful institution. There are many other differences, but I guess you get the gist of it.
However, there is an even more critical difference. And this is something I got asked when I was in a relationship with an Israeli. Aren’t the cultural differences challenging, people asked. And the answer is that the most significant division is never caused by culture, but by political denominations. As long as I was dating a conservative Israeli, we had more in common than I would have had with any leftist Hungarian. In fact, political ideologies matter more than it is recognized. They shape your beliefs, your values, and influence how you want to raise your kids. And the same is true when it comes to Israeli Jews versus the Jewry in the diaspora. A conservative Jew in Israel will stand up against BDS the same way as a Jew in the diaspora. But a left-leaning Jew in Israel will support the boycott movement the same way any Jewish Voice for Peace member and other woke Jewish organizations would in the diaspora.
It is challenging when it comes to the “what does it mean to be a Jew” question. After all, is being a Jew simply a religion? Or does it mean peoplehood, nationhood, or a lifestyle?
Being a Jew in America might mean keeping the Shabbat while donating to anti-Israel NGOs. Whereas being a Jew in Israel might mean smoking hookah in Tel Aviv each Shabbat after a yoga session on the beach, but proudly serving in the Miluim (IDF reserve service) as long as you can. One can easily see the natural dichotomies in these examples. The future, therefore, is malleable.
How do you think the relationship between Christianity and Judaism will develop in the future? What is the opinion about evangelical Christians in Jewish circles?
This is a question I do not necessarily feel equipped to answer. But as far as I am concerned, although I am Christian, I do not practice religion in its traditional form. So if it was up to me, the relationship between Christians and Jews would be fabulous. We would focus on what is good in each religion, we would try to become the best versions of ourselves as individuals, and we would be curious about each other’s traditions. Yes, this way, we would create a better future. Call me a utopian. However, more realistically speaking, I think there are two primary attitudes: the first is the continuation of the last thousands of years, where we bash and trash each other, point fingers at each other, consider one religion to be superior to the other, and, in the name of God, we hate on each other. A clear example is what I experienced around Christmas and what Ben Dror Yemini (journalist and author of Industry of Lies : Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict) covered in Hebrew later that week. An Israeli influencer wishing Merry Christmas to his Christian followers resulted in a disgusting and insulting line of comments from Jews, with remarks such as “Christians are just killers” and so on. Obviously, these sorts of insults go both ways. And I have also experienced some of my Jewish clients not wishing me merry Christmas but a happy holiday, simply because Christmas is equated with Jesus. I mean, seriously, if this is where we still are, we deserve our fate.
The other attitude is, and this answers your second question, that of groups such as the evangelicals who are devotedly pro-Jews and pro-Israel. However, most of the Jews I know find these groups suspicious. And I can often feel why they do so. When I started to write and speak, I was often asked if I was an evangelical. Frankly, I had no idea what they meant as I was unfamiliar with these labels and what they entailed. That was where I stopped saying I was a Christian Zionist. It just brought way too many additional labels to my already label-driven persona: white, woman, conservative, Hungarian, non-Jewish, Zionist. None of these come without a price today. So I just try to avoid the topic of religion and the “who killed Jesus” issue altogether and focus on pragmatic things like Israel’s right to exist or Jews’ rights to safety and living without fear.
There is also significant Aliyah from Western European countries (e.g., France). What do you think is the reason for that, and what future can await the relationship between Europe and Israel?
While there is no country free from anti-Semitism, there is a tangible difference between Western and Eastern Europe right now
The answer is a no-brainer. Although it is not PC or diplomatic. The Muslim population in western countries is significantly higher than in any Eastern European country. This, in itself, is not the problem. The problem arises when a faction of these Muslim communities spread Jew-hatred. Regardless of the fact that these people are, for instance, 3rd generation French, their community keeps anti-Semitic education alive. While there is no country free from anti-Semitism, there is a tangible difference between Western and Eastern Europe right now. And anyone who wants to remain factual and avoid the politicization of this topic will admit it – because it is the fact. Telling a Jewish joke is inappropriate and often borders on hate speech. This is what can happen in Hungary, for instance. But breaking into an elderly woman’s home, abusing her for hours, then throwing her out of the window is a whole different type of antisemitic hatred. This was actually the case of Sarah Halimi in France. And sadly, Halimi’s case is not a one-off incident. Such attacks are becoming a trend. Why? Because there is no real consequence to Jew-hatred. The killer of Halimi was considered to be under the influence of marijuana, and therefore, not fully responsible for the killing. The case is still pending as there have been appeals to the highest court in France and the case was in fact reopened recently. The whole situation is just insane. So who in their right mind would consider it to be safe being a Jew if killing a Jew is normalized? This is why you see such a large wave of Aliyah from France and other Western countries and much less from the Eastern nations, which may have the issue of verbal anti-Semitism to cope with.
As for the future of the relationship between Europe and Israel, the answer is a challenging one. First of all, for many reasons, but primarily for the one discussed above, we cannot generalize about Europe with regard to Israel or Jews. Europe, regardless of attempts to the contrary, is not a country. It has no common foreign ministry. Each country has a unique relationship with Israel. And I like that and hope it stays that way. Because should Europe ever force all of its member states to have the same voice towards Israel, it would be bad news for Israel. It’s legitimacy would be questioned on a daily basis, and we would see yet another UN-type bullying of the country.
Right now, I take pride in how Hungary has been liaising with Israel. But, of course, you need two to tango. So when the Israeli media features Hungary-bashing reports, unless the criticism is justified, Hungary should always defend itself. No country is on a pedestal, but similarly, no country should be held up against a double standard. To add one final thought, I am sure that many of the readers are unaware of how large amounts of money each and every EU member state channels to Hamas or the Palestinian Authorities (both terrorist organizations). This is a system I hope to challenge in the future. Because I never authorized anyone to give my tax payments to terrorists. And this should be a red flag to everyone, regardless of their views on Israel.
The Israel Allies Foundation’s top 50 list of Israel’s closest friends came out a few months ago. What do you think of this list? What do you think of these people, and what do you think it means to be a non-Jewish philanthropist? How did you become a lobbyist?
These lists are always tricky. Like in the case of an NGO, where you need to see where their money is coming from. The same goes for these lists. Usually, they serve a purpose. I know I am the party-pooper here, but I have worked in PR and marketing enough to say this with confidence. I have been named on such lists myself. Sure, it boosted my ego for five minutes, but at the end of the day, I always knew why I was on the list. But let me give you an answer from a different perspective. I know four people in person from this specific list. I will name Colonel Richard Kemp, whom I met at an event in Miami. He has been doing incredible work with teens. And since he is someone who served in the military and experienced war first hand, he comes across as a credible and robust person. And we all need these types of unique voices. So, all in all, as long as these people on the list (or on any other for that matter) manage to change even one person’s perspective on Israel for the better, I am okay with them being listed.