x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A paradox of hate: extremist Israelis ally with neo-Nazis

Extreme right-wing European groups, many with an anti-Semitic past, see Israel as the defender of western civilisation against Islam.

Anti-Semitism is still a threat to European Jews. On a daily basis, Neo-Nazis, left-wing extremists and radical Islamists spread their online hatred and, too often, their propaganda incites real-life attacks.

It sounds quite similar to the wave of Islamophobia that has swept through Europe in recent years, resulting in political parties based on xenophobia and all-too-frequent crimes against Muslims. And in recent years the same groups that are infamous for intolerance regarding Muslims, and in many cases Jews in the past, have now falsely assumed the mantle of protesting against anti-Semitism.

The truth is that leading members of Europe's Islamophobic movement are forging close bonds with ultra-conservative Israeli politicians, lawyers and businessmen. The two most prominent contacts for Israelis seeking partners in the fight against "Islamisation" are Filip Dewinter, a well-known politician in Belgium's extreme-right Vlaams Belang party, and Patrik Brinkmann, a Swedish millionaire based in Berlin who has gained notoriety as a generous sponsor of Germany's far right. Mr Brinkmann is now planning a trip to Israel for like-minded Europeans and says that he has 120 registered participants, 35 of them from Germany.

On the Israeli front line stands Ayoob Kara, a Druze politician for the governing party Likud and the deputy Speaker of the Knesset. As recently as July, a meeting between Mr Kara and Mr Brinkmann caused a small scandal, the latest in a series of visits between the two.

After the recent visit, an Israeli government spokesman was forced to state that Mr Kara was in Belgium in a personal capacity and that his visit did not reflect government policy. Even Israel's ultra-nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly condemned the meeting.

Belgium's Jewish community was also disturbed to learn of the unlikely friendship. Mr Kara had already caused a stir when he met a leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria in 2010. Michael Freilich, the editor-in-chief of the Belgian newspaper Joods Actueel, said at the time to the European Jewish Press: "Is this the message we want to send to Europe? That Israel follows the racist ideology of Europe's most notorious bigots?"

The unofficial European-Israeli network includes politicians and academics such as David Ha'ivri, an activist settler who in his youth participated in Israel's Kach party (now listed as a terrorist organisation), and Hillel Weiss, a professor at Bar Ilan University who is active in the Neo-Zionist movement.

Mr Kara and Mr Ha'ivri have just returned to Israel from Nigeria, where they tried to drum up support in the face of next month's United Nations bid to recognise the country of Palestine.

It gets worse. Mr Kara and a fellow Knesset member last month welcomed two high-profile Russian neo-Nazis to the Knesset and Yad Vashem, the Israeli monument to the Holocaust. Radical Islam is our enemy now, was the official line - but the two Russians were proven Holocaust deniers and photos have emerged of them doing the Hitler salute.

The controversial politician Geert Wilders, a kingmaker in the Dutch government, is another European point of contact. In December 2010 he attended a conference in Israel held by the right-wing Hatikva party. In a passionate speech, Mr Wilders exclaimed: "Let us stand with Israel, because it is the frontline in the battle for the survival of the West!" Around the same time, representatives of the Sweden Democrats, Vlaams Belang and the two "Freedom" parties (one in Germany, one in Austria) signed the so-called "Jerusalem Declaration in Israel", in which the far-right parties - many with an anti-Semitic past - pledged their allegiance.

The basis of popular racism has changed, says Liz Fekete, a British expert on contemporary xenophobia. "It's not so much based on race, but on culture and religion - it is civilisational racism - the notion that there is a hierarchy of cultures, where western civilisation reigns supreme."

This idea was prevalent in the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik's manifesto. "The extreme right no longer thinks - publicly at least - in terms of race pride, or white pride," Ms Fekete said, "but in terms of civilisational pride, civilisational vigour." Mr Wilders is drawn to Israel "because he sees Israel as the defender of western civilisation against Islam. He admires Israel as a country prepared to use force against Muslims to defend itself."

In a backlash against these extremist views, many Jewish and pro-Israeli associations protest against the link between anti-Semitic efforts and intolerant ideas such as the call for bans on minarets. The extreme anti-Muslim parties have in some cases overshadowed other right-wing European parties and legitimate concerns about immigration. Sadly, the anti-Muslim bigotry of some Israeli right-wingers has got in the way of seeing Europe's far right for what it really is.

 

Maik Baumgärtner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in right-wing extremism. Lisa Bjurwald, based in Stockholm, is a freelance writer monitoring Europe's right-wing populist parties