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August 26, 2016 2:59 am

Explaining the Rise of the Far-Right in Europe

avatar by Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman /

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Right-wing Jobbik Party members in Hungary holding a rally. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Right-wing Jobbik Party members in Hungary holding a rally. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – 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, the same percentage that Adolf Hitler’s National Society party won in 1932, resulting in the rise of the Nazi regime.

Many of these political groups have a history of antisemitism. After the fall of the Nazi regime, blatant antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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 antisemitic ideologies.

In France, for example, there were 806 antisemitic 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 He contends the parties are pro-Israel and have taken steps to clean house, apologizing for their antisemitic 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.

Others, like Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, a Likud party member, feel it’s not difficult to find indications of extreme, anti-Zionist and antisemitic 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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  • Stan Nadel

    Farid Hafey is not a Professor at the University of Salzburg, he is an Externally Funded Researcher according to its website, but what he says here is correct.

    Stan Nadel, Salzburg

  • Andromeda Thorn

    The “imagined” Muslim enemy – should read the several-times -declared enemy of ISIS who continues to tell its people to stop coming from Syria and attack Europe from within. I think it is no longer qualifies as “imaginde” if the enemy is stating its intention to attack domestically and has no carried out several attacks.

    Likewise, there IS a verifiable connection between refugees and terrorism:
    1. at least 2 of the Paris bombers were fingerprinted migrants from Greece
    2. the anniversary Charlie Hebdo terrorist was an asylum seeker living in a center in Germany with 7 different aliases
    3. Omar Krayem was a Syrian migrant who traveled through the Balkan route to Belgium and helped plot the Brussels terror attack
    4. 2 ALgerian asylum seekers were arrested plotting an attack on Berlin
    5. 1 Syrian refugee arrested in Dinksladen, Germany plotting an attack in Germany
    6. 1 Syrian refugee arrested in Mutterstadt for plotting a terror attack at a German soccer match
    7. 3 refugees arrested in Italy for plotting terror attacks

    You are doing your readers a disservice when you ignore factual data. The rise of the far right should read the drifting of all political parties ever leftward has resulted in all right parties being called the “far right”. Your readers know that the terror threat is not even being acknowledged unless it is a drip, drip acknowledgment after ever goring attacks. The media covers attacks under the guise of mental health or buries the information on refugee responsibility by only releasing that infer days later or in the bottom of the article. You are part of the media downplaying the terror threat and the connection it has with both refugees and Muslim neighborhoods that house radical mosques and protects radical imams. Your comparison to Hitler’s rise ignores all these factors. There were no jews hiding weapon caches in their places of worship as has been occurring in France (300 mosques shut down so far this year) and 40 radical imams deported in France in 2016 so far.
    Do your readers a favor and yourself as this will only get worse – report the news and include a voice from the side of the “far right”. you’ll find the Far Right is much more knowledgeable than you are intimating.

  • Eric R.

    A lot of these party are not really right-wing – they believe in big government programs and high taxation and are opposed to free markets.

    You may wish to call them ultra-nationalist or nationalist, but as we define right vs. left in America, they are NOT right wing.

    • Stan Nadel

      right wing is originally a European term and these parties are definitely right wing–often with fascist and Nazi roots like the Austrian Freedom Party.