European Jewry’s choice

Europeans – both Jewish and not – must be careful not to lose sight of the principles of liberalism and tolerance embedded in democratic thought as they confront the challenge presented by Muslim extremism in their midst.

September 23, 2012 21:31
2 minute read.
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen France National Front 300. (photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)


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For a European Jew, it can be tempting to support right-wing – even quasi fascist – political movements.

Like Jews elsewhere in the Diaspora, European Jewry has been tremendously successful at integrating into their host countries’ societies. They speak the language, are well-versed in the culture and understand the mentality. Inevitably, they are likely to share with other Europeans the same negative views toward the large and rapidly growing Muslim populations in cities such as Brussels, Copenhagen, Marseille, Amsterdam and Malmo that are often openly hostile toward European culture and stubbornly refuse to integrate into European society. This is particularly true considering the fact that Muslim extremists have become the principle perpetrators of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe.

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Politicians on the Right who are the most vocal critics of the Islamization of Europe are often strong supporters of Israel. Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom comes to mind, as does Filip Dewinter, the leader of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang party who visited Israel at the end of 2010 and expressed his solidarity for the Jewish state and for settlements in Judea and Samaria.

This pro-Israel stance articulated by Wilders, Dewinters and others such as Britain’s English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, who has repeatedly supported Israel’s right to defend itself, contrasts sharply with the far-left’s penchant for forming alliances with Islamists against Israel. Even more moderate left-wing political parties tend to be more critical of Israeli policy than those on the Right. And many extreme right-wing political parties – such as the Vlaams Belang party – and politicians – such as France’s Marine Le Pen – have adamantly denied harboring anti-Semitic sentiments or ties.

Still, European Jews must be cautious. The xenophobia and intolerance directed at Europe’s Muslims can easily be turned against Jews. Le Pen’s suggestion last week that Jews should be banned from wearing kippot in public places is a case in point.

In an interview with Le Monde, the leader of the National Front called for a ban on head scarves and veils in public places. (“Ostentatious religious signs” are already banned in France’s public schools, as is the burka in public places.) Asked if the ban would include kippot as well, Le Pen responded, “Obviously, if the veil is banned, the kippa [should be] banned in public as well.”

In a follow-up interview on French TV, Le Pen repeated her statements, adding, “Jewish skullcaps are obviously not a problem in our country,” but “what would people say if I’d only asked to ban Muslim clothing? They’d burn me as a Muslim-hater.” Le Pen has no qualms about trampling on the right to religious expression of both Jews and Muslims to advance her xenophobic and intolerant agendas.

Europe’s Jewry cannot rely on politicians such as Le Pen. And Le Pen is not the only right-wing disappointment. Wilders’s Party for Freedom has reportedly included in its platform a prohibition of ritual slaughter – both Muslim and Jewish. And Dion Graus, a parliamentarian from the party, intends to continue efforts to ban the import of ritually slaughtered meat. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has written to Wilders asking him to reconsider.

Europeans – both Jewish and not – must be careful not to lose sight of the principles of liberalism and tolerance embedded in democratic thought as they confront the challenge presented by Muslim extremism in their midst. Throughout history the litmus test for the level of freedom enjoyed by any society is how it protects the rights of Jews. And this remains true today.

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