Natan Sharansky .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Just as those who claim to love Jews but hate Israel cannot be considered friends of the Jewish people, so too those who say they love Israel but are opponents of the local Jewish community are equally enemies, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said on Tuesday.
Sharansky made his comments at a panel at the Foreign Ministry-sponsored sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism dealing with the rise of far-right parties in Europe, and the dilemmas this poses for the Israeli government. The government is currently struggling with whether it should alter its policy and begin engaging with the far-right Freedom Party of Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.
When it comes to having to choose between realpolitik interests and values, Sharansky said, “we have to choose values – our interests are where our values are.”
Sharansky said that there is a continuous fight every day on campuses in the US against those who say that because they love human rights and liberal values, they hate Israel. In the same vein, he said, Israel has to fight those nationalists in Europe who cross redlines in their opposition to human rights, yet say they are supportive of Israel.
“This seems simple, but in realpolitik it becomes more complicated,” Sharansky said.
Just as there are Jews on the Left who feel the need to work with people or organizations that are tainted by antisemitism, such as Black Lives Matter and US activist Linda Sarsour, there are those who would want to make common cause with far-right, racist parties in Europe because they now profess support for Israel. Both those trends should be rejected, he asserted.
“There are forces that at the moment look very important to us, but they are hostile to the [local] Jewish communities and cannot be our friends,” Sharansky said. He stressed the importance of the Israeli government working in concert with the Diaspora Jewish communities regarding how to engage with these parties.
“It is important that Israel and the local Jewish community speak in one voice, that is our obligation as a Jewish state,” Sharansky said.
One of the loudest voices against Israel engaging with Austria’s Freedom Party, which is now a member of the Austrian government, is Ariel Muzicant, who used to be the head of the Viennese Jewish Community and is now vice president of the European Jewish Congress.
Muzicant said that the 1.5 million Jews living in Europe, many whose parents survived the Holocaust, “can’t be quiet when people start to talk about the supremacy of the Aryans and the white race.” He said many of the Jews in Europe justify living there by fighting against this type of racism.
“If we lose this battle, we have no raison d’etre to live in Europe,” he said.
In a reference to right-wing politicians like the Likud’s MK Yehudah Glick who meet openly with leaders of the Freedom Party such as Strache, which the organized Jewish community views as beyond the pale, Muzicant said these politicians “are pulling the carpet out from under our feet.” They don’t understand, he said, that the local Jewish communities have “risked a lot by condemning certain positions of these extreme-right-wing parties.
“If Israel starts to be friends with these people, while we say there is a redline, our position of keeping up Jewish values is gone,” he said.
Shlomo Avineri, a Hebrew University professor emeritus of political science, said that the support for Israel among many of these far-right parties is not because of a genuine support for Israel, but rather because they view Israel as fighting Islam, which is now their primary enemy.
Citing the important political support Israel took from the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin in 1947 and 1948, Avineri said that “we have to take support where we can get it.” But, he added, “no one said that he [Stalin] was the greatest friend of the Jewish people, because we knew otherwise. We have to make those distinctions.”