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These are not our friends

Far-right parties have made strong gains in the elections for the European parliament. They may vote against pro-Palestinian resolutions, but that should be far from a comfort.
The Jewish Independent
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Man with microphone and clenched fist

Co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Tino Chrupalla clenches his fist on stage after first exit polls during the Electoral evening of the farright Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) after the European Parliament elections in Berlin, on June 9, 2024. ( RALF HIRSCHBERGER/AFP via Getty Images)

Published: 13 June 2024

Last updated: 13 June 2024

We find ourselves in a troubling world indeed when a far-right surge sweeps Europe and some people think it is good for Israel and therefore “good for the Jews”.

The results of the European parliamentary elections should be disturbing for anyone with the smallest knowledge of history or the slightest concern about human rights.

Far-right parties are set to win about 150 of the European parliament’s 720 seats, giving them unprecedented impact on the make-up of coalitions in the new parliament.

The far-right parties that made significant gains include Alternative for Germany (AfD), Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Poland’s Confederation, and the coalition party Identity and Democracy (ID).

Among their successful candidates are Grzegorz Braun, who last Chanukah disrupted an event in the Polish Parliament, extinguishing the Chanukah candles and describing the festival as “satanic worship”.

They also include German Maximilian Krah, who caused a furore last year when he told an interviewer that he did not consider all members of the SS to be criminals.

Europe has not collapsed. The centrist European People’s Party (EPP) was the biggest single winner on Sunday night and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second term, expressed hope that the group could still act as an “anchor of stability”.

“The centre is holding. But it is also true that the extremes on the left and on the right have gained support, and this is why the result comes with great responsibility for the parties in the centre,” she told an audience in Brussels.

Netanyahu’s willingness to go into coalition with Israel’s own far-right nationalist extremists has accustomed Israel to the fascist language of exclusion and self-interest.

The rise of far-right parties will mostly affect voting on environmental and human rights issues, and that is where some reaction within the Jewish world becomes concerning.

“European politics are going to get more polarising, more politicised and more populist,” said Nicolai von Ondarza of the German Institute for International Affairs (SWP).

It should be obvious that polarisation and populism are bad news for minorities. Many of the current crop of far-right European politicians do not target Jews – they are more concerned about migrant populations like Turkish Muslims and African migrants. But whether they attack Jews directly or not, ideologues who condemn immigration, scoff at human rights, are stridently nationalist and strongly authoritarian are dangerous to Jewish freedoms. Need anyone be reminded that this was the ideology that created Nazism and the Holocaust?

In order to know who we are, it can be helpful to notice who are our friends.

The far right should also be anathema to anyone whose Jewish values include the Golden Rule of treating others as we would wish to be treated or the Torah injunction to welcome the stranger.

Unfortunately, there are some within Israel and the Jewish world who feel strangely comforted by a result that gives the far-right unprecedented power in the European Parliament.

Haaretz reported this week that Israeli officials believed the far-right gains will improve Israel’s chances of rebuffing significant measures in favour of Palestinians at the EU.

Israel is also hoping the EU’s foreign policy chief will be replaced by someone less partisan. Josep Borrell has accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon in Gaza and described last weekend’s operation that freed four hostages as a “bloodbath”, after Hamas declared it had caused more than 200 Palestinian deaths.

Foreign policy remains the purview of member states, and EU voting patterns are not necessarily reflected in national elections. But the EU has significant involvement in funding aid in the Palestinian territories and in an environment where Israel has few champions, any boost is significant.

We are in an extraordinary situation when the Jewish state feels more comfortable with far-right control in Europe than with centrist politicians who question its conduct of the war and its record on human rights.

Such a situation is not entirely new. The Netanyahu government has long courted Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orban and has shown himself comfortable with the European far-right’s hostility to human rights. (By contrast, the short-lived Lapid-Bennet government refused to engage with the European far-right).

Israel and the Jewish community may indeed have some community of interest with those opposing immigration in Europe. There is valid concern about Islamic extremism and rising antisemitism emanating from those communities.

But as Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who chairs the European Jewish Association, observed – Jews do not share the values of the far-right.

“There are some far-right politicians who support Israel’s right to defend itself because of radical Islam, and I understand why some Jews are really happy to see them getting power because of the Middle East.

“But being a Jew in Europe is not only about Islamism, we have to remember we do not share the exact same values as the far-right.

"We do not have a problem with Muslims, with immigrants, or with strangers. I call on those who jump from happiness to calm down a bit. We have to be cautious. We have to analyse party by party,” said Margolin.

The ability of the Netanyahu government to feel comfortable with far-right allies is partly the result of making deals with the devil. Netanyahu’s willingness to go into coalition with Israel’s own far-right nationalist extremists has accustomed Israel to the fascist language of exclusion and self-interest at any cost.

Sadly, large sections of Israeli society have become desensitised to human rights as a result of more than 50 years as an occupier, denying the aspirations of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Far-right extremism is a response to perceived threat. It is a defence mechanism that denies the interests of the weak because it is afraid they could become strong, and denies the rights of minorities to shore up the hegemony of the majority.

Israel’s strength and its excesses are also born of fear, often justified fear that has become entrenched in its psyche and has deepened after the trauma of October 7, when it found itself vulnerable as never before.

But if that fear has led the Jewish state to a point where core values are diminished, it is time to reckon not just with its enemies but with itself.

In order to know who we are, it can be helpful to notice who are our friends.

If it is easier for Israel to live with the far-right than the centre, it is not the country Jews sought to build, certainly not those who fled Europe after the 20th century reign of the far-right.


  • Avatar of Rachel Sussman

    Rachel Sussman15 June at 10:59 am

    Accusing Israel of befriending the faschists because this is what it also is, is truly shameful. While it is true that the current Government had undesireable elements of the far right, the author clearly failed to recognize that the Israeli public has been demonstrating and continues to demonstrate with the intention to defeat the current Government – which it will!
    The author also keeps talking about the ‘centre’ but unfortunately the ‘centre’ has no power… it is the far- left that is ruling and dominating and the far left is just as faschist as the far right….
    Israel is used to criticism and it certainly had not lost touch with human rights as the author claims, nor has it sank into pure self interest but it is equally foolish to deny self- interest… Israel is fighting for its survival right now and this seems to somehow fail the author’s attention – if Israel does not look after its interest it will simply fall because as is clear, no one else will look after it… 50 years of occupation are an undesireable state of affair but please remember it ‘takes two to tango’ and the ‘tango partner’ carries much responsibility for this state of affair… maybe the current pull to what the author perceives as the far- right will finally awake the left and prompt it to return ti the centre instead of sinking in its own mud – the far left…

  • Avatar of Wesley Parish

    Wesley Parish14 June at 03:57 am

    A more succinct way of saying this, is: “The current leaders of Israel are comfortable with fascism and right-wing extremism in Europe, because they themselves are fascist and extremist right wing.” This is nothing new. Uri Avnery was well aware of this, and this was one of the reasons he was so angry about the conflation thus confusion of anti-Zionism with antisemitism – because what happens when the far right extremist European supporters of Israel turn on the Jewish communities in their midst? For not leaving Europe and going off to Israel? You’ve shouted “Wolf” too often, now everybody is so bored with you that they’ll ignore the howls and screams …

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