A worrying trend is sweeping Europe. Extremist parties on both the far-Left and the far-Right are on the rise, apparently exploiting the economic turmoil that has swept across the debt-ridden continent. The co-opting of extreme solutions to the Muslim immigration issues also seems to be playing a part.

In France, a number of anti-Zionist parties on the far-Left made a strong showing in the first round of voting in April. And in the wake of socialist François Hollande’s victory over Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday’s presidential race, there is a real possibility that these parties will be included in Hollande’s government coalition.

Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewry, has warned of the need for caution regarding the rise of the Left in France. While Hollande, has made the right public comments in condemning anti-Semitism and professing admiration of Israel, some of the parties who are supposed to be partners in Hollande’s coalition “are not friends of Israel,” he said.

These Trotskyites, anarchists and Greens, who succeeded in garnering 15% of the vote in the first round of voting, have collaborated with Islamists. Shimon Samuels, Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has testified to seeing representatives of these parties “marching with Hezbollah banners, incongruously invoking Allahu Aqbar” in demonstrations in France and outside the anti-globalization World Social Forum in Brazil, and in India.

Cause for additional worry in France is the surprising success of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which received 18% of about 11 million votes in the first round. And more support for the extreme Left and Right is expected in the upcoming legislative elections and in the regional and local ballots.

Meanwhile, last Thursday in London’s mayoral election, rabidly anti-Zionist Ken Livingstone – who has excused suicide attacks and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing – nearly defeated rightwing incumbent Boris Johnson. Particularly worrying, was the precedent set. Livingstone managed to receive 48% of the vote on a campaign that appeared to be based on catering to one million Muslim votes by alienating some 200,000 Jews. It might not have worked for Livingstone, but promoting an anti-Israel position to garner Muslim support could become a tactic in other cities where there is a high percentage of Muslim residents.

In Greece, the neo-Fascist Golden Dawn party is poised to win 7% of parliament seats, easily passing the 3% threshold. In the 2009 elections Golden Dawn received just 0.29% of the vote. In a June article on Greece’s political crisis that appeared in Foreign Policy, Golden Dawn was seen as having “no prospect of winning parliamentary seats.”

But as support for mainstream parties in Greece has waned, the space for the fringe has widened. Greeks are increasingly attracted to parties that promise to crack down on crime and the migrants who supposedly cause it.

Inevitably, the rise of extremism – whether on the Right or on the Left – is bad for the Jews. Benjamin Albalas, head of the Jewish community in Athens voiced his concern over the rise of parties like Golden Dawn. He noted that while there have not been any attacks against Greece’s estimated 5,000 Jews, he was pessimistic: “Now they are attacking Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals and foreign workers, but not the Jewish people. Not yet.”

Recent developments in Europe point to a worrying trend of far-Left and far-Right empowerment.

As was the case in the wake of World War I, Europeans’ support for extremist parties seems less about identification with their goals and values and more to do with punishing mainstream candidates for perceived mistakes. But even a throwaway vote for radicalism is liable to grant these extremists undeserved respectability and legitimacy.

Can it be that Europeans have so quickly forgotten the lessons of the recent past?

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