Tomorrow, in the Danish city of Aarhus, a Europe-wide rally organized by the far-right English Defence League will try to set up a European anti-Muslim movement. For Europe’s far-right parties the rally, coming so soon after the murders in southwest France by a self-professed al-Qaeda-following Muslim, marks a moment rich with potential political capital.
Yet it is also a delicate one, especially for Marine Le Pen. Well before the killings, Le Pen was assiduously courting Jews, even while her father and founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was last month convicted of contesting crimes against humanity for saying that the Nazi occupation of France “wasn’t particularly inhumane.”
Marine must disassociate herself from such sentiments without repudiating her father personally or alienating his supporters. To do so she has laced her oft-expressed Islamophobia (parts of France, she has said, are suffering a kind of Muslim “occupation”) with a newfound “philozionism” (love of Zionism), which has extended even to hobnobbing with the Israeli ambassador to the UN.
Almost all European far-right parties have come up with the same toxic cocktail. The Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Freedom party, has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf.
In Tel Aviv in 2010, he declared that: “Islam threatens not only Israel, Islam threatens the whole world. If Jerusalem falls today, Athens and Rome, Amsterdam and Paris will fall tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Filip Dewinter, leader of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang party, which grew out of the Vlaams Blok Flemish nationalist party, many of whose members collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, has proposed a quota on the number of young Belgian-born Muslims allowed in public swimming pools. Dewinter calls Judaism “a pillar of European society,” yet associates with antisemites, while claiming that “multiculture ... like AIDS, weakens the resistance of the European body” and “Islamophobia is a duty.”
The most rabidly Islamophobic European philozionist is Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Austrian Freedom party, who compared foreigners to harmful insects and consorts with neo-Nazis. Yet where do we find Strache in December 2010? In Jerusalem, alongside Dewinter, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
In Scandinavia the anti-immigrant Danish People’s party is a vocal supporter of Israel and Siv Jensen, leader of the Norwegian Progress party and a staunch supporter of Israel, has warned of the stealthy Islamicization of Norway.
In Britain, English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, in his first public speech, sported a star of David. At anti-immigrant rallies, the party’s banners read: “There is no place for Fascist Islamic Jew Haters in England.”
So has the Jew, that fabled rootless cosmopolitan, now suddenly become the embodiment of European culture, the “us” against which the Muslim can be cast as “them?”
It’s not so simple.
For a start, “traditional” antisemitism has not exactly evaporated. Look at Hungary, whose ultra-nationalist Jobbik party is unapologetically Holocaust-denying, or Lithuania, where revisionist lawmakers claim that the Jews were as responsible as the Nazis for World War II.
What is more, the “philosemite,” who professes to love Jews and attributes superior intelligence and culture to them, is often (though not always) another incarnation of the antisemite, who projects negative qualities on to them — both see “the Jew” as a unified racial category. Beneath the admiring surface, philozionism is not really an appreciation of Jewish culture, but rather the opportunistic endorsement of Israeli nationalism and power.