The dramatic swing to the right in the recent Austrian elections is likely to have widespread repercussions throughout Europe. It will also oblige Israel to reconsider its current approach to far right-wing groups.
While many readers may strongly disagree with my views, I feel that the time has come to face reality. Israel is stronger today than at any time since it was founded. But the fact remains that despite a currently friendly U.S. administration, most of the world continues to discriminate and apply double standards toward Israel. No other nation is confronted by adversaries of fanatical cultures that extol evil and death and repeatedly and publicly bay for the destruction of their neighbor – to the indifference of most of the “civilized” world, which merely watches and at best remains silent.
In this environment, it is time for us to overcome inhibitions and intensify efforts to actively seek out alliances, with nondemocratic states or even those whose viewpoints on various issues we strongly oppose.
Some would condemn such an approach as hypocritical and amoral realpolitik.
Yet almost all Israelis are encouraged that our leaders have forged a positive relationship with an authoritarian Russia ruled by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent who currently displays philo-Semitic sympathies.
In general, Israelis are optimistic – and with good reason – about our relationship with Egypt headed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Yet, anti-Semitism still dominates much of the state-controlled media as Egyptian society has been conditioned over the years to hate Israel and the Jews. This may change in time but the reason for the current rapprochement is primarily because we face common enemies.
The covert, albeit somewhat schizophrenic, new relationship with Saudi Arabia is even more bizarre. Fanatical Saudi Wahhabism is the fountainhead of Islamic terrorism and continues to promote it throughout the world. Its hatred of Israel and the Jews knows no bounds and is an integral component of the current Saudi educational curriculum and textbooks and its mullahs are notorious for calling on the faithful to murder Jews, “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Yet the emerging Iranian threat to impose regional hegemony induced the Saudi leaders to covertly cooperate with Israel. Confronting an aggressive common enemy also created this alliance.
Israel has likewise been cultivating relations with India and China as well as other Asia, African, and Latin American states, many of which are not even remotely democratic.
By and large, despite some of the problematic attitudes shared by these new allies, the clear majority of Israelis – across the political spectrum – consider these developments positively.
However, the one region in which we seem to have made scant progress is Europe. The EU has in fact been pouring huge sums of money into NGOs that have actively undermined the Israeli government and shamelessly apply bias and double standards in all their dealings with Israel. For example, at a recent seminar in the European Parliament, a political group uniting leftists invited as one of its keynote speakers, Leila Khaled, the notorious Palestinian terrorist who hijacked two civilian aircraft.
Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, some of the Baltic states and now the Czech Republic, are pro-Israel and distance themselves from the EU policies. Yet these are mainly right-wing nationalist governments bitterly opposed to the flood of Muslim immigrants that Germany and the EU seek to impose upon them. Accusations have been leveled that they are supported by neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and, in some cases, that is probably true.
Likewise, in Western Europe, we are now also confronted with a host of right-wing populist opposition groups that are emerging in protest to the immigration. These populists are likely to grow stronger, gain influence and may alter the entire political spectrum in Europe.
Needless to say, no responsible Jew could contemplate any association or alliance with neo-Nazis or Holocaust deniers. But the fact that a percentage of such undesirable scum support a particular party should not disqualify that party any more so than the U.S. Republican Party, which is supported by some fringe racists, or the Democratic Party, which is the political home of some vicious anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements.
Israel cannot simply distance itself from all of these right-wing groups and must review and weigh each case individually. It is clear that if leaders of governments include apologists for Nazis or outright Holocaust deniers, we can have no truck with them. However, the reality is that despite extremists and even anti-Semites supporting the emerging right-wing parties, many of these groups are overall less hostile to us than leftist governments that support the Islamists and are also becoming increasingly overtly anti-Semitic.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front achieved 34% of the vote in the recent presidential runoff; in Italy, the Northern League has 19 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 12 in the Senate; Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom became the second largest party in the Dutch Parliament; and Alternative for Germany created an upheaval by emerging as the third-largest party following the September federal election. The latest shock was in Austria where the hard-right Freedom Party became the third-largest party and will become a coalition partner to the winning conservative Austrian People’s Party.
All these parties, except for the Dutch, at one time had fascist elements actively supporting them. Although there are problematic components in the German and Austrian parties, by and large most continue to purge anti-Semites from their ranks, certainly more so than the British Labor Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Significantly, Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Austrian Freedom Party, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, as have most populist parties.
There are of course boundaries and sometimes this is a gray area but the Holocaust is too deeply ingrained in our psyche to even contemplate an alliance with pro-Nazi politicians.
This is not a simple issue but as long as anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers are condemned and expelled, Israel must consider each case on individual merits, applying equal standards to the Right and the Left. There are very few left-wing political parties that do not incorporate substantial anti-Semitic and rabidly anti-Israel elements. For example, unpalatable though it may be for some, it is questionable whether the Austrian Freedom Party, whose former leader Jörg Haider in 1999 was considered a Nazi sympathizer, is more dangerous to us than the British Labor Party under its current leadership.
We live in a world where we should seek out allies from all sectors but draw the line with those that harbor outright anti-Semites, irrespective of which side of the political spectrum they are situated.
Diaspora Jewish leaders should not become involved in these issues as Jews unless the parties concerned are anti-Semitic. This applies to Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the Golden Dawn Party of Greece, Croatian apologists of the genocidal Nazi Ustasha regime and Ukrainian nationalists who today sanctify pogromists or pro-Nazi collaborators.
The Israeli government and especially the Foreign Ministry should analyze the situation carefully and avoid the double-standard mentality that calls for boycotting extremists on the Right but buries its head in the sand when leftist anti-Semitism emerges.
When in doubt, we should consider our relationship with Saudi Arabia, which I support despite the knowledge that its society remains riddled with hatred against the Jewish people. There are occasions when it is acceptable to collaborate on specific issues with nations or political groups that do not share our outlook and in some cases even despise us, in order to overcome common enemies.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom