London – While the European far-right once made the Jewish community their primary scapegoat, their more recent focus on Muslims has made them Israel’s latest bedfellows.
Islamophobia has been on the rise in recent years, with Muslim communities coming under increasing attack both rhetorically and physically. This political climate of Islamophobia has been dubbed “The Cold War on British Muslims” by a recent report.
These right-wing rabble-rousers are increasingly coming to view Israel as an embattled front-line state against what they consider the threat of Islamist expansion. For its part, Israel has made a conscious effort to appeal to such paranoid scenarios of inter-civilization conflict for decades. While in the past, Israel touted its anti-communist credentials and belligerent role against the “threat” of Arab nationalism as reasons for Western support, Islam is the current bête noire.
Far-right parties and groups across Europe are starting to talk warmly about Israel, even making contacts as high as the governmental level. While many are “new right” groups such as the English Defence League, some like France’s National Front and the British National Party have historical roots in neo-fascism and anti-semitism.
The far right’s newfound love for Israel has gone hand-in-hand with a related trend: the idea that there is a “new anti-semitism” primarily carried out by leftist and Muslim opponents of Israel. Antony Lerman, the founder and former director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, describes this thesis as “the radical notion that to warrant the charge of antisemitism, it is sufficient to hold any view ranging from criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government to denial that Israel has the right to exist as a state, without having to subscribe to any of those things which historians have traditionally regarded as making up an antisemitic view.”
While some Zionists have been pushing this concept for decades, it has gained increased prominence over the last 10 years. As Lerman has written, it has reached such an absurd point that French intellectual and Zionist Bernard Henri-Levy claimed in a 2008 book that the “antisemitism of the 21st century would be ‘progressive’ – meaning essentially left-wing hatred of Israel – or not exist at all.”
This is essentially an attempt to re-define anti-semitism from the phenomenon of bigoted or racist views against Jews, to any and all hostility towards Israel. Hatred of Jews as Jews, the belief that Jews are racially inferior or a belief in a world-wide Jewish conspiracy could all be forgiven, or at least overlooked, as long as ideological loyalty to Israel is maintained.
This is where the “new right” of Europe has fitted right in. They see alliances with Israel as natural in what they think is a battle against the “Islamization of Europe.”
Lerman traces the beginnings of this trend back to even before the 9/11 attacks. In the early 2000s Italian former neo-fascist party National Alliance (AN) led by Gianfranco Fini “reached out to the Italian Jewish community to apologize for the party’s ‘former’ antisemitism and to express support for Israel.”
Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) is currently the third-largest party in the Netherlands, has visited Israel numerous times, including in 2008, the year his anti-Muslim film Fitna made international headlines. In 2010 he met with far-right Israeli foreign minister (and settler) Avigdor Lieberman and gave a speech in Tel Aviv in which he called for more Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. Speaking to Reuters, he explained the counter-jihad ideology that so many in Europe’s far right are now adapting: “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and [the Israelis] are fighting our fight…If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”
The day after Wilders spoke in Tel Aviv, a delegation of politicians from European anti-Islam parties toured West Bank colonies, reported settler news site Arutz Sheva. They included leaders from Germany, Austria and Belgium; “and yet these parties had by no means abandoned their antisemitic roots” according to Lerman.
In October 2009, BNP leader Nick Griffin made a controversial appearance on Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political talk show. He used the occasion to express enthusiastic support for Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip: “I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an antisemitic and racist organization into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”
The BNP won almost a million votes in 2009 elections to the European parliament, so Griffin cannot be dismissed as a totally unrepresentative quack. Nonetheless, he clearly is an extremist in mainstream political terms. But the leading British parties feed into BNP rhetoric on issues like immigration.
Also in 2009, David Cameron, leader of the UK’s Conservative party and the current prime minister, broke with the centre-right bloc in the EU parliament and allied his party with the new Euro-skeptic EP bloc. But its chairman Michal Kaminski was well known for his past anti-semitic views. Objections were raised in the Jewish community, but many Zionist leaders, editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard and the Israeli ambassador praised Kaminski because he expressed strong support for Israel.
The English Defence League, an anti-Muslim street gang that contains many football hooligan elements, regularly waves Israeli flags during its demonstrations. Since it rose to prominence in 2009, it was open about its counter-jihadist orientation. EDL leader Tommy Robinson said that one of the main principles the group was founded on was “support for Israel’s right to defend itself…Israel is a shining star of democracy. If Israel falls, we all fall.”
In 2010 the EDL launched a so-called Jewish Division. Although this sub-group is thought to be numerically insignificant, it is emblematic of the EDL’s counter-jihadist, pro-Zionist ideology. There are also more recent reports that the EDL may be developing links with the Jewish Defense League, founded in America by Meir Kahane the extremist American rabbi who later settled in occupied Palestine and founded the Kach party (later banned under US terrorism legislation).
While visiting Berlin in July this year Israeli deputy minister Ayoob Kara met Patrik Brinkmann, who has ties with the German neo-Nazi party. Brinkman has reportedly visited Kara in Israel several times. In November, Israel’s new UN ambassador Ron Prosor was photographed smiling next to Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front (laughably, he later claimed this was an accident).
And then there is the Islamophobic Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who reportedly confessed to the murder of 77 people in a combined bombing and mass-shooting in July. Press reports noted that some of his young leftist victims had held Palestine solidarity workshops at their summer camp on Utøya island.
From what he’s written, it’s clear Breivik is a big fan of Israel. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to the state. For example: “let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.” This is from page 1163 of his “compendium,” large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.
These connections and affinities between Zionism and the far-right do not stop at Europe of course. In the US, right-wing fundamentalist Christianity is a far bigger political factor, and this current very much tends to side with Israel. It has even been argued that this Christian Zionism the greatest factor fueling political support for Israel in the United States. John Hagee of Christians United for Israel is openly anti-semitic, with his fundamentalist rantings about how Hitler was supposedly sent by God and so forth.
The extent to which this developing new alliance between Israel and the far-right is sustainable remains to be seen. From the Zionist point of view, it could be argued that Israel is strategically foolish to throw its lot in with European fascists. Making friends with Nick Griffin is hardly likely to win many of the “progressive friends of Israel” that seem to be so important to the Reut Institute these days.
On the other hand, it seems possible the far-right stands to gain from the ever-increasing signs of economic meltdown in Europe. Maybe elements in Israel have just scented that the Islamphobic far-right is just the way the tide is turning in Europe.
More likely, there is no single plan. Israel is a creature of the West after all. From that perspective, it’s no surprise that a European settler-colonial entity such as Israel would mimic, echo and amplify the worst of European racism.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist based in London who writes about Palestine. www.winstanleys.org