LONDON – British Jewish communal leaders have sharply criticized the judgment of the head of the country’s newest political party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, over its choice of a new partner in the European Parliament, a member of a far-right “extremist” Polish party.
UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, has earned himself enormous coverage and gained considerable popularity since a governing Conservative Party MP suddenly defected last month, and two weeks ago won a spectacular victory in the subsequent by-election, notching up a large majority and securing UKIP’s first Parliamentary seat.
Until last May’s European Parliamentary elections, UKIP hardly registered as a significant political party, but with an agenda that is overtly populist, right-wing and anti-immigrant, they managed to win 24 seats in Brussels.
Farage, by now an old hand in the European Parliament, knew that to have enhanced speaking rights and obtain lucrative Parliamentary funding for his fledging party, according to the regulations of the Brussels Parliament, he needed to form a right-wing coalition of at least 25 MEPs, from at least seven EU-member states.
With his political eye on next May’s UK general election, the prospect of official funding in excess of £1 million was a prize he could ill afford to lose, but last week a Latvian MEP decided to desert the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) bloc, leaving Farage, who heads the 48-member grouping, facing the real prospect of losing the much needed injection of campaign funds.
However, it is his choice of new parliamentary recruit that has angered Jewish leaders.
The right-wing Polish MEP Robert Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz is – putting it mildly – controversial, recently saying that beating women “helps bring wives back to earth.” When challenged on his comment, he dismissed criticism, saying he was being ironic and shouldn’t be taken literally.
Iwaszkiewicz, 52, is a member of the Poland’s Congress of the New Right (KNP), whose founder and leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke has a reputation for blatant racism, including highly controversial views on the Holocaust.
Just last month, Korwin- Mikke was fined for using racist language in a debate, and he reportedly has claimed that Adolf Hitler would have been acquitted in court today, as he was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated.”
It is understood that while Korwin-Mikke will not be joining the EFDD, he had given his blessing to Iwaszkiewicz’s agreement earlier this week to join the EFDD as an individual.
As a result, Farage has been thrown a vital financial lifeline though he was clearly unconcerned about his new recruit’s views when questioned by the BBC.
He claimed that the Polish MEP’s comment about women was “just a joke,” adding that “I have found nothing in this guy’s background to suggest he is a political extremist at all, he has joined our group to save us,” Farage said, adding, however, that he had yet to meet or speak to Iwaszkiewicz.
“All of us in the European Parliament have to make compromises to make sure our voice is heard. I want us to have a group, but I will not do it at any price,” he emphasized.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said the Jewish community was “gravely concerned” about reports of Farage’s decision to align himself with a member of the KNP and it found it was “beyond belief,” especially since the KNP’s leader was clearly a Holocaust denier.
“Extremists and racists should be roundly rejected not embraced. Even France’s farright Front National rejected the KNP as being too extreme,” the spokesman said.
“For UKIP to choose such a figure as Robert Iwaszkiewicz as a bedfellow – apparently for money – is beyond belief.
Nigel Farage has some very serious questions to answer, he has placed in issue the credibility of UKIP.”
Wheeled out in an attempt to put the UKIP decision in a better light, one of the party’s Jewish members and an unsuccessful candidate in last May’s European Parliamentary elections, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Odze, tried to put a different gloss on the new arrangements.
Iwaszkiewicz was the only Polish member asked to join the EFDD, he said, adding that “the only comment he made on Hitler was that he was an evil man who should have been executed.”
He made clear that KNP party leader Korwin-Mikke was not a member of the EFDD, and that both UKIP and EFDD “abhor and reject any scent of anti-Semitism.”
As a rabbi and former candidate, and after several years of UKIP membership, he claimed never to have experienced any anti-Semitism.
If a general election were to be held now, UKIP probably would be expected to secure about 14 percent of the national vote.