By Jonathan Fenton-Harvey
From the unprecedented success of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in this month’s state elections in Germany, to the Front National’s defeat of its pro-establishment adversaries in last December’s local French elections, a ground-breaking political revolution is sweeping Europe and is threatening to undermine Europe’s status quo.
It is no secret that the far-right has been responsible for much suffering and persecution of Europe’s Jewish communities. Even after the significant decline of its most perverse form – Nazism – far-right sentiment still lingered insidiously in Europe. Even after being outlawed from the political mainstream, it was still concealed under the shadows.
The reappearance of the far-right spectre will perhaps spark concern about how Europe’s Jews will fare. Yet in an ironic twist, many Jews have actually clamoured behind these movements. While this will surely shock some readers, it is highly understandable if one delves deeper into the issue.
The fear of far-right movements is vastly outweighed by the fear of radical Islam. Militant Islam is a great concern for the general public, but it is of even greater concern to many Jews who are particularly susceptible to attacks. Daniel Killy, leader of Hamburg’s Jewish community, revealed the anxiety that his community feels. “No, we are no longer safe here,” he said. He spoke of the “terrible fear of mentioning Islamism as such.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that some Jews are supporting Pegida, which is committed to ending the Islamisation of Europe. Founded in Germany in 2014, the movement quickly expanded into other European countries, and has received vocal support from many Jews across Europe. Israeli flags have even been spotted at their demonstrations. Henryk Broder, a journalist well informed within the German-Jewish community, states that Jews are terribly afraid of a growing Muslim presence, and he recommends that they back the Pegida movement.
This sentiment is widespread across Europe’s Jewish communities. A Jewish lady from Holland, who does not want to reveal her name, told me of her support for the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV). Like others, she fears militant Islam and the effects it will have on her community. In this case, the PVV, which promises to stem the Islamisation of Holland and the number of refugees, holds much appeal.
It’s clear that both Jewish communities and the far right perceive a common threat in the form of Islamic jihad. Yet this fear stems from dissimilar perspectives. Right-wing movements are inherently nationalist. From the more moderate UK Independence Party (Ukip) to the much less restrained Italian Northern League, a great sense of nationalistic pride is driving the far right agenda. Islam is seen as an outside culture, contaminating European cultural traditions. An ‘alien invasion’, I’ve heard some call it.
Yet for Jews, the motive is somewhat different. Jews tend to oppose Islamism because they perceive it as a direct threat to their lives and their communities. Indeed, the future of European Jewry is perceived to be at risk. One Pew Research poll from 2011 shows that 95 per cent of people who live in Islamic countries hold unfavourable views towards Jews. Such anti-Jewish sentiment is entering European countries via the new migrant arrivals into the continent.
Medhi Hassan, a British Muslim journalist, recently wrote in the New Statesman: “Anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article — if they are honest with themselves — will know instantly what I am referring to. It’s our dirty little secret.”
To an extent, this opposition to radical Islam has clearly united Jewish communities and far-right movements. Front National leader Marine Le Pen personifies this change. Not only has she declared her unwavering support for Israel, she has taken decisive action to cleanse the party from regressive anti-Semitic elements that were left behind from the legacy of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is notorious for denying the Holocaust. Much like Pegida, this is a bid to make the right-wing more accommodating to Jews.
It wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to say that the right-wing is becoming a greater friend to the Jews than the left is; especially considering how the latter is contaminated by the presence of the BDS movement. In Britain, the Labour Party and left-wing student union bodies continue to reel from one anti-Semitism scandal to another.
This does not mean that the Jews and the far-right are ideological partners. Many Jews do not share the far right’s nationalistic opposition to Islam. But it’s fair to say that an unprecedented connection has emerged between Europe’s Jews and the far right, even if it is only a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’
Jonathan is currently living in England, studying a degree in History, and eventually a Masters in Political Science. He actively writes about political and global issues, and is a Jerusalem Post blogger.