Jews in Europe and around the world are split on the possible dangers of a surge in nationalist sentiment on the continent as a result of terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists.
As far-right parties make political hay out of last week’s attacks against the iconoclastic Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, some Jewish figures have warned that increasing support for such groups could pose dangers for other minorities.
Others, however, see such worries as overblown, asserting that a precipitous rise of fringe parties will not result from last week’s violence.
“It is certain that the far-right will get a boost after yesterday’s attack and especially in France, and that indirectly the Jews will be affected, but the main problem is much deeper,” Eli ringer, former president of Belgium’s Forum der Joodse Organisaties told The Jerusalem Post.
While Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front Party, is now being considered a realistic contender for the presidency in France’s 2017 elections, the larger problem is that for the last 30 years Western governments have pursued an “ostrich policy” which endangers Europe’s future, he charged.
Ringer cited a number of attacks against Belgian Jews since the 1980s which he believe were handled insufficiently by his government.
“The authorities do not want to be woken up,” he continued, stating that recognition of a Palestinian state whose leaders signed a unity agreement with Hamas sends a “strong signal to all those extremist organizations that we are weak and frightened and giving them a free hand to do whatever they want.”
“By always blaming Israel unilaterally and by amalgam the Jews we, Jews, become the scapegoat for all the problems in the world. Europe claims high moral ground for itself and pretends to be the moral judge of Israel,” Ringer concluded.
According to Stephan Kramer, head of the American Jewish Committee’s European Office on Anti-Semitism and the former secretary-general of the Central Council of German Jews, European governments have failed to commit adequate means to the fight against Islamist extremism, making it “easier for Islam-haters to disseminate their propaganda and to attack all Muslims.”
Thus, he asserted, “the extreme Right is strengthened and many Muslims are alienated.
Thus, a vicious circle is created.
Islamist extremism must be fought decisively for the benefit of all Europeans, be they be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.”
Likewise, Mark Gardner of England’s Community Security Trust said that he believes that “Jews seldom benefit from the rise of extremism” and that “the Paris attack will deepen the many tensions that already exist and that have steadily grown since 9/11 and everything that has followed.”
In 2013 World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder issued a call for European leaders to ban “neo-Nazi parties” such as Hungary’s Jobbik and Greece’s Golden Dawn, citing the “lack of appropriate and energetic action on the part of German democrats that led to the rise to power of the Nazis” prior to the Second World War.
Pundits have said that everything has changed, commented Dr. Alex Clarkson, a lecturer at Kings College London. However, there have been previous waves of terrorism in Europe and “after initial weeks of anxiety such attacks in themselves ultimately failed to cause the deep social changes commentators predicted,” he said.
While “in certain parts of Europe minority groups in general and Muslim and Jewish communities in particular are coming under increasing pressure [from] right-wing populist movements,” he explained, the impact of such groups is not uniform across the continent.
Clarkson said that while some regions in Germany may feel a strong impact from nationalist factions, others may remain untouched, and in countries with small Muslim minorities such as Hungary, “the ethnic exclusivism of a movement such as Jobbik is far more likely to be directed at established minorities, such as Jews or Roma.”
Moreover, “in societies with significant Mugrabi or Turkish minorities, such as France or the Netherlands,” the Right may actually “often court more conservative strands of the Jewish community in order to shield themselves from accusations of extremism.”
“As tragic as they are, acts of terrorism alone – such as the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine – often do not lead to the sweeping changes analysts and pundits predict,” he explained, stating that politicians such as Le Pen use the violence as a opportunity to solidify their own base rather than recruit undecided voters.
“Fears that such terrorist acts may play into the hands of right-wing populists are also more likely to mobilize their political opponents in support of their own left-wing or center- right values rather than suddenly lead to a massive switch in political allegiance,” Clarkson said.
The Jewish community of Hungary agreed, with a spokesman for the local Action and Protection Foundation telling the Post that, “for the time being the counter-immigration movements will definitely gain some arguments from the tragic events of Paris, but their direct effect on the local Jewish community is limited,” given the small number of Muslims living there.
Yitzi Lowenthal, a Chabad emissary in Denmark, agreed, saying he believes the rise of the Right is “nuanced” and that while “in some places that could have negative effects for Jews,” elsewhere “it is often the more to the right that are willing to say ‘we have a problem’ and [push the] government… to take some responsibility” for Jewish security.
Support for the anti-Islamic Freedom Party of Dutch populist Geert Wilders jumped to its highest level in more than a year after the Islamist militant attacks in Paris, Reuters reported.
Many Zionist nationalists support Wilders for his anti-Islamic stance and outspoken support of Israel.
Things could swing either way in Europe, Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman said.
“If the Charlie Hebdo attack catalyzes meaningful and sustained actions by the government and in the French Muslim community to counter radicalization, the Jewish community will surely benefit.
If the predominant reaction is an increase in popular support for the ultra-nationalist political party National Front, that will not be good news for the Jewish community or France as a whole.”
Following the attacks in Paris, the Alliance for Peace and Freedom, a gathering of far-right parties, including Golden Dawn and the British National Party, aims to “protect, celebrate, and promote our common Christian values and European cultural heritage” and is opposed to “the advocates of US hegemony” in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, according to its website, issued a statement blasting Israel in addition to Europe’s policy on Islam.
“We call upon Israel to stop providing medical aid and air strike assistance to jihadi terrorists in Syria, and to end the oppression of Palestinians, which does so much to radicalize Muslim opinion and is the best recruiting sergeant for Islamist extremism,” the group said.
Despite the fears of a rightwing backlash, as exemplified by anti-Islam protests in Germany and several violent incidents against Muslims in France, other Jewish leaders believe that last week’s attacks will prompt European leaders to recognize what they see as the danger of radical Islam and work harder to protect their Jewish minority.
“There is a hope that a wider general public will now have a deeper understanding and outrage toward Islamist terrorism,” said Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, adding, “100% tolerance for all religions, but 0% tolerance for any form of terrorism.”
Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.