The results of the recent elections to the European Parliament indicate a clear shift to the extreme Right. The shift is much more visible in the elections to the European Parliament than in national elections, because of much lower general voting rates, and the fact that the voters of the extreme Right appear to take much greater interest in the European elections than do the voters of the mainstream parties. In addition, many voters who would never dream of voting for the extreme Right in national elections seem to have fewer qualms about doing so in the elections to the European Parliament as a sort of harmless protest against the economic situation, and the apparent inability of national government to address the issues that matter to the ordinary European.
In the UK for example in the recent election to the European Parliament the total number of voters was only 44 percent of the number of voters in the 2010 British general elections. Furthermore, because of the system of elections in the UK – single-member constituencies in which there is a “first past the post” system, meaning that you don’t even have to gain an absolute majority to get elected – smaller parties are at an enormous disadvantage, which resulted in the extreme right-wing UKIP (UK Independence Party) gaining no seats in the House of Commons in the 2010 elections, even though it received 3.1% of the total votes. In the European parliament elections, which are based on proportional representation, UKIP gained a third of the British seats – 24 – with 27.5% percent of the vote, thus receiving more seats than either the Labor or the Conservative Parties.
In Germany the neo-Nazi NDP has never gained seats in the Bundestag because of a 5% qualifying threshold in the case of the votes cast nationally, and the fact that while the NDP is strong in certain regions in Germany (especially in what used to be East Germany) it has never received a majority in any of the constituencies that would give them Bundestag seats (in the German system half the seats go to representatives who run on national lists, while the other half go to members elected in single member constituencies). However, in the recent European Parliament elections one member was elected from the NDP.
In France too, because of the electoral system, in the 2012 election to the National Assembly Marine Le Pen’s National Front received only two of the 577 National Assembly seats, even though it received 13.60% of the vote. In the elections to the European Parliament the NF received 24 of France’s 74 seats, having received 24.85% of the vote.
Though only around 7% of the seats of the new European Parliament are held by extreme Right, anti-non-European-immigration, Euro-skeptical parties (and it should be noted that there are Euro-skeptics in other parties as well) this is a significant rise from the previous elections in 2009, and the general trend is undeniable. However, do we as Jews, or as the State of Israel, have reason for concern? As Jews we are naturally sensitive to the growing power of right-wing parties, which are inclined to be anti-Semitic, even though at least some of them disclaim being anti-Semitic, and the French NF, for example, reportedly has Jewish voters. Of the two extreme right-wing European parties, only two – that of Hungary and that of Greece – are rabid anti-Semites.
In recent years there has certainly been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, though there are countries where the situation is worse than in others.
According to the Foreign Ministry the situation is worst in Hungary, France, Belgium and Sweden.
Part of the rise in anti-Semitism can be attributed to the fact that close to 70 years have gone by since the end of the Second World War, and many anti-Semites are much less wary of “leaving the closet.”
In addition, criticism of Israel seems a good excuse to express anti-Semitic opinions in the guise of anti-Zionism. Muslim anti-Israel propaganda in general, and Palestinian propaganda in particular strengthen this trend.
There is no doubt that Muslims who have settled in Europe in recent decades, are responsible for at least part of the rise in anti-Semitic incidents (this is true especially with regard to Belgium and France), and since most of the extreme-Right parties are more inclined to express antagonism toward Muslims than toward Jews, as Jews we certainly find ourselves in a dilemma, since the extreme Right seems more inclined than the consensus parties “to do something” about what it, European Jewry, and we in Israel perceive to be a growing Muslim threat.
In fact, as reported, there are right-wingers in Israel – including some leaders of the West Bank settlers, and Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis – who feel no aversion to meeting with the leaders of these parties, though it is not clear whether these cases represent naiveté, extreme political cynicism or genuine ideological affinity.
Liberal Jews are certainly no less concerned than their right-wing brethren about the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. However, with regard to the growing strength of the extreme right-wing European parties they are more worried about the fact that this weakens the liberal-democratic and social-democratic values and the backbone of Europe.
From an Israeli perspective there are many who see a parallel between the growing strength of the extreme Right in Europe, and the growing strength of the extreme Right in Israel – some of it even within mainstream parties like the Likud, which in the 2013 elections left the party’s most marked rule-oflaw liberals outside its Knesset list. It should also be added that it is much less unpleasant to be a Jew in Europe today – with or without European citizenship, than to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, or an African seeking refuge in Israel.
It was perhaps only to be expected that the proximity of the European elections to the murderous attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels should result in the two being linked – even if loosely – both in media reports, and in the statements of some of our leaders, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and all this before we know the identity of the terrorist responsible for the killings in Brussels.
If the Brussels terrorist was sent by Hezbollah or some other pro-Palestinian terrorist organization with offshoots in Europe, then the link between the two events might be said to be that the rise of the extreme Right in Europe is, inter alia, a reaction to the growing influence of Muslim extremism in Europe. If the Brussels terrorist was a right-wing European anti-Semite, then the link between the two events might be said to be that the terrorist attack reflects the danger of the rise of the extreme Right.
At the moment we do not know which of the two is the case, and while we must certainly do everything in our power to get the member states of the EU to fight against all manifestations of anti-Semitism, whatever their origin, we should try to view the results of the elections to the European Parliament more as a danger to liberal and social democracy, than as a danger to the Jews.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.