Jews “get a poor hearing” in the European Parliament, Shneur Odze of the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party told the Jewish Chronicle during an interview last Friday. Running for a seat on the transnational body, the 33-yearold Chabad hassid told the British Jewish newspaper that despite a “xenophobic” reputation, he does not believe the anti-immigrant party to be in any way racist.
European Jewish groups have expressed worries over the rise of the far Right in Europe, especially given recent electoral success by parties with anti-Semitic overtones such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s Front Nationale and Hungary’s Jobbik. The far Right is expected to make significant gains in May’s vote, prompting some Euro-watchers, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Robert Wistrich to predict that the “Jews in Europe do not have a future.”
While the UK Independence Party’s anti-immigration message has alienated portions of the British Jewish community, it differs from other far Right and Euroskeptic parties in significant ways. Last year UKIP suspended party candidate Anna-Marie Crampton in east Sussex for encouraging prospective voters to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Party leader Nigel Farage has come out publicly against Front Nationale leader Marine Le Pen, calling her and her party guilty of “prejudice and anti-Semitism.” In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle in 2009, Farage decried what he saw as “a very strong anti-Israel bias” in European politics, which he termed “almost a new trendy form of anti-Semitism.”
However, comments by party representatives such as Crampton and UKIP councillor Eric Kitson, who was given the sack for claiming that the Rothschild banking clan had directed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, have given the party a reputation that is hard to shake. Kitson also stated that Muslim women ought to be hanged, an extreme manifestation of the antipathy toward Muslims among UKIP supporters.
Some critics have claimed that the selection of Odze was merely a cover for the party rank and file’s dislike of Jews. The Orthodox candidate, however, disagrees.
“My selection was by the membership – one person, one vote. They put me here. For every member to think alike – ‘let’s choose a token Jew’ – would have been very cunning,” he was quoted by the Jewish Chronicle as saying.
According to Odze, serving as an MEP would allow him to combat the “great indifference to Jewish issues” in Brussels.
“There’s a lot of naiveté and ignorance about issues affecting Jews and Israel – like terrorism. I’m fighting for the same things as Israel – independence, democracy, the rule of law,” he said.
While also working on issues of concern to UKIP as a whole, he said, he also would like to lobby for Jewish interests regarding ritual slaughter and circumcision, both of which have come under attack in various European countries.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, a communal body, declined to comment on Odze’s candidacy.