Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Why Europe's far-right political parties are gaining ground


French politician Marine Le Pen, who is the head of the far-right National Front party.

The refugee crisis, escalating terrorism and dissatisfaction with the political elite are blamed for the current rise of Europe's far-right political parties. Such a revival has not been seen since World War II.

What's uniting the parties is an "imagined Muslim enemy in Europe," and a desire to support and connect with Israel, according to Farid Hafez, a sociology and political science professor at Austria's Salzburg University.

The ideology of Europe's far-right parties is rooted in several things, said Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist and an associate professor at the University of Georgia's School for Public and International Affairs.

"The refugee crisis speaks to a fear of aliens taking the native land," Mudde said. "Authoritarianism is a reaction to the terrorism, and the connection made between refugees and terrorism. Populism plays into the European Union and its inability to deal with terrorism and the refugee crisis."

Over the last 17 years, Europe has seen the number of seats for far-right parties double in each election, from 11 percent in 1999 to 22.9 percent in 2014, according to a report by European Parliament research fellow Thilo Janssen.

If the trend continues, the far right could win 37 percent of European Parliament seats in the next election.

Many of these political groups have a history of anti-Semitism. After the fall of the Nazi regime, blatant anti-Semitism lost popularity, and so did the far right, Hafez said.

When large numbers of foreign workers began streaming into Europe in the early 1990s, the far right tried to re-establish prominence through economic nationalism, a feeling of loyalty and pride in their own country. They also felt native-born citizens should be given job preferences and welfare support over non-natives. But their efforts were largely unsuccessful.

However, after 9/11, and in the wake of Muslim refugees flooding into Europe, the far right found its ticket, Islamophobia, according to Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey. He calls what's happening in Europe "Islamophism" and likens it to the anti-Semitism of the 19th century.

"Muslims have become global scapegoats, blamed for all negative social phenomena, such as illegality, crime, violence, drug abuse, radicalism, fundamentalism," Kaya wrote in a recent paper. "There is a growing fear in Europe that Muslims will demographically take over sooner or later."

Bar-Ilan University professor Amikam Nachmani says Nazi-style rhetoric employed against the Jews is now targeted against Muslims.

He estimates the anti-Muslim hatred increasingly being employed by the far right is a proxy for its longstanding racism and anti-Semitic ideologies.

In France, for example, there were 806 anti-Semitic hate crimes against Jews in 2015, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). While attacks against Muslims tripled in volume, the total was only 400, half the number of attacks committed against Jewish people and property.

"The far-right parties claim they want to defend Europe's Judeo-Christian heritage and foundations," said Hafez. "This is a game."

The right wing and Israel, bedfellows?

So why are members of the ruling Likud party in Israel making increasing efforts to engage with the young leadership of conservative parties throughout Europe? The belief, according to Michael Kleiner, president of Likud's tribunal, is that these parties share their ideology.

"This is a bloc that is becoming stronger in the European Parliament," Kleiner told JNS.org. He contends the parties are pro-Israel and have taken steps to clean house, apologizing for their anti-Semitic pasts.

"The fascist party in Italy was taken over by [Gianfranco] Fini," Kleiner said. "He cleaned the platform and made it pro-Israel, pro-Jews and apologized for that part of the platform which was anti-Jewish in the 1930s."

Kleiner has been inviting far-right party leaders to Israel, including representatives from Germany's Christian Democrats, the Danish People's Party, France's National Front and Austria's Freedom Party.

These political groups don't agree with Europe's leftists on Judea and Samaria, the West Bank territories, and refuse to participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

"There is no logical reason why these parties should be on a black list," Kleiner said. "They should be treated minimally like any other party in Europe in which we are in touch, including left-wing parties that are pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and blame us for Hamas shooting at us. Do you know how we look when someone wants our friendship and we reject it for no obvious reason?"

Kleiner does not view the far right as anti-Muslim, but rather anti those Muslims that are not ready to accept what's required by Europe to become upstanding citizens.

Dutch politician and leader of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders. Wilders, who spent time in Israel as a young adult, has been an outspoken supporter of Israel.

Others, like Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, a Likud party member, feel it's not difficult to find indications of extreme, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic vitriol from within the populist party. After learning of a visit by Austrian party leader Christian Strache to Israel in May, Rivlin said he's "amazed at what appears to be an erosion of our national honor, in the face of a crackpot union with fraudulent voices on the extreme right in parts of Europe." Rivlin was speaking at a ceremony marking the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Mudde said renewed relations make sense from the perspective of Likud and supports Kleiner in his view that the far-right and Likud share a similar vision of the dangerous strength of Islam in the world.

The European left continues to weaken, so these ties could have far-reaching political implications in the future, especially if the right maintains control in Israel, Mudde added.


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