Should We Work With Dictators and Antisemites?
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 on the continent.
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 US 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 non-democratic states — or even those whose viewpoints on various issues we strongly oppose.
Some would condemn this approach as hypocritical and an example of amoral realpolitik.
Yet many Israelis are happy 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 also optimistic — and with good reason — about our relationship with Egypt, as headed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Yet, antisemitism still dominates much of the state-controlled media in that country, partly because 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 the two countries face common enemies.
The covert, albeit somewhat schizophrenic, new Israeli 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; its mullahs are notorious for calling on the faithful to murder Jews, whom they call “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Yet the emerging Iranian threat to impose regional hegemony has induced the Saudi leaders to covertly cooperate with Israel.
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. 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 issue. 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 US Republican Party, which is supported by some fringe racists, or the Democratic Party, which is the political home of some vicious anti-Israel and antisemitic elements — from our support.
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 antisemites 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 antisemitic.
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 there. 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 of these parties, except for the Dutch one, 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 outright antisemites from their ranks, certainly more so than the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Significantly, Heinz-Christian Strache, the 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 antisemites 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 antisemitic 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 Labour 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 antisemites, irrespective of which side of the political spectrum they are situated.
Diaspora Jewish leaders should not become involved in these issues — unless the parties concerned are outright and openly antisemitic. This applies to Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the Golden Dawn Party of Greece, Croatian apologists of the genocidal Nazi Ustasha regime and Ukrainian nationalists that 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 antisemitism 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.
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at email@example.com.