The first Israeli Conservatism Conference sought to bring some of the biggest conservative intellectual names to its event in Jerusalem on Thursday. In that vein, British writer and commentator Douglas Murray spoke, along with well-known Israeli right-wing figures.
Murray has given several talks in Israel this week on immigration, the subject of his hit book The Strange Death of Europe, which came out in 2017 and was released in Hebrew late last year.
“Immigration is the major issue everywhere, and even the countries where it isn’t the number one issue, it ends up becoming one,” Murray told The Jerusalem Post this week.
Murray pointed to differences between Israel and Europe on the issue: “In Israel, you see strong borders as the best way to ensure peace, while in Europe, people see it as a cause of war. Israel has had little taste of what Europe had in recent years in much larger numbers.
“People in developed countries have been lucky, and are trying to work out what latitude should be given to people born in unlucky countries,” he said. “There is a consideration of that in Israel, but the scale is very different than in Europe.”
Behind the different views on immigration is a drastically divergent understanding of the concept of nationalism, Murray explained.
“In Europe, everything to do with identity, history, patriotism and nationalism is viewed in a suspicious light, for reasons I don’t need to elaborate on,” he said, referring to fascism and World War II, “while in Israel, nationalism is viewed as good, and patriotism is good. The religious inheritance in Europe is incredibly fraught, while Israel is not lacking in friction, but people have a healthier attitude and are more engaged.”
The clash between the Israeli view on nationalism versus the European view has come to the fore due to Israel’s warming ties with Central and Eastern European countries, whose resurgent nationalism has coincided with the glorification of Nazi collaborators and a distancing of the government from the role of previous generations in antisemitic violence.
Murray called the criticism of those ties a “grotesque political misunderstanding.”
“It’s unwise to say nation-states wanting to retain their national identity in Europe should be dissuaded or stopped from doing so. Nationalism can go wrong, sure – but everything can go wrong,” he explained. “People trying to quash [nationalism] are those going towards an empire… The Eastern and Central European nations would like to retain their national identity and not be superseded into a Franco-German super-state.”
Murray lamented a “very simplistic view in recent decades that any expression of nationalism in Europe would lead to the horrors of the mid-20th century again.” He called it a “spreading around of German guilt” by which “almost everything is looked at in light of World War II and specifically the Holocaust.”
“This is the most important thing to think about – and also a terrible lens through which to view everything,” he remarked.
Still, Murray said, “there are serious questions” in those countries, but it is not unique to them, and a proper analysis of the matter is an “incredibly fine surgery” which, instead of being given the consideration it deserves, is being “carried out by chimpanzees.”
“I went to Berlin last month and Budapest the month before. In which of these cities did the Jewish leaders [recently] say don’t wear public signs of Jewishness?” Murray asked.
The answer is Berlin.
“We have an unending diet of people telling us about the antisemitism of the Hungarian government and endless excuses for reckless decisions by [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel. Merkel made it worse for Jews in her country, not [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban.”
On immigration, Murray said that, “Orban is agreed to have done the right thing for the wrong reasons and therefore should get no credit, but Merkel did the wrong thing but for good reasons, so she gets credit. What has been done by advocates of open borders and unrestricted immigration is much worse for European Jews than anything since the end of the Cold War in any of the Eastern European countries,” he argued.
Murray cited the statistics that there is a far sharper rise in antisemitic incidents in Western European countries such as Germany and France than in the Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
“Is there inherent remaining antisemitism [in Central and Eastern Europe]? Of course – as unfortunately there is almost everywhere,” he added. “It’s important to stress that the antisemitism weapon is being used in a very strange way in Europe.”
Similarly, in the US, “people are intent on claiming [President Donald] Trump is an antisemite against all evidence, but it fits the political narrative: that everybody on the Right who is popular must be a populist and therefore an antisemite.”
IN HIS HOME country of Great Britain, Murray lamented that, “Her Majesty’s official opposition” – the Labour Party – “is so rife with antisemitism, its own MPs described it as institutionally racist.”
“There is nothing a right-wing government has done in Europe that is anything like as bad as what the British Labour Party is currently enmeshed in,” he argued. “The leader [Jeremy Corbyn] has spent his entire life swimming in the swamps of antisemitism. He never saw an antisemite he didn’t hug, and that’s from every direction. It’s not just every Islamist. He also loves every non-Islamist antisemite.
“It’s a moral catastrophe for the Labour Party,” Murray said, and called for “a serious rethink among people who spent their whole lives expecting every ghoul to come from the Right, and ignoring that they’re stampeding from the Left.”
Murray chuckled when asked about his trip coinciding with the Eurovision, perhaps one of the last non-controversial expressions of national pride in Europe other than sports.
“I will not be tuning in myself, because I am a fan of music,” he quipped, “but I love that people have so much fun… It’s rather like cricket; I enjoy the idea but I don’t partake myself.”
But Murray, who was here earlier this year on vacation with his family, said he was pleased for Israel to be hosting the song contest. “I love it, because it shatters…[how] very often people view Israel, only through the pages of the foreign news with terrible stories and rockets and war and so on. That’s changing. I think everything that reminds people that this is a normal country and more is just very healthy.”
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