Head of Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, April 25, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/HEINZ-PETER BADER)
In the famous WWII movie A Bridge Too Far, Maj.-Gen. Urquhart, played by Sean Connery, in the landing scene of his forces, looking at escaped lunatics pointing and laughing at the British paratroopers, says, “think they know something we don’t?”
Tomorrow MK Yehudah Glick is planning to meet Austrian Vice Chancellor Hans-Christian Strache. Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party of Austria, admits his youthful frolicking with neo-Nazism when he was “stupid, naive and young.” Glick, a Likud parliamentarian, has tweeted that he is going to meet Strache after the issue was checked and approved, and that the charges that the Freedom Party is antisemitic, xenophobic and racist are mere libel.
When the Prime Minister’s Office was asked, it denied that the trip to Austria had been brought to its knowledge. It did not publicly instruct Glick to cancel the meeting, however.
Standing government policy regarding Austria is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, is in “direct contact” with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Ministry is supposed to draw up guidelines on how Israel should conduct its affairs with the new Austrian coalition and that in the meantime Israeli diplomats are only to deal with civil servants in offices run by Freedom Party members. There were no instructions for MKs.
The issue circulated on social media following an appeal by the World Union of Jewish Students that Glick reconsider his trip due to the concerns of the union and the Jewish community of Austria. On the same day George Soros was branded by the British Telegraph
as being behind the anti-Brexit campaign in a “secret plot.” And in the United States Arthur Jones, the only candidate running in the Republican primary for Illinois’ 3rd congressional district and a once leader of the American Nazi Party said openly on CNN that the political system in the US is a “two party, Jew party,” that “the Holocaust is an extortion racket” and that “yes I deny the Holocaust.”
All this in a week that shook Israel because of new law in Poland threatening to jail those who (correctly?) imply the country had a role in the Nazi death camps. It would’ve been more relevant to demand that Poles who were actively part of the Nazi killing machine be held accountable. Contrary to other European countries, like Norway, that had to deport the Jews for the Nazis, Poles had the death machine in their back yard.
In a reality today where right-wing, populist and in some cases neo-Nazi sentiment is ever present in public discourse, on the streets of Charlottesville and elsewhere, the State of Israel needs to build a strategy to engage this challenge.
The current situation allows MK Glick and others to act independently, building bridges to people and parties that use their friendship as a fig leaf; “I’m not antisemitic, I have Israeli friends.”
This reality of “lone wolf” public servants making their own foreign policy potentially sets the stage for a catastrophic, Arnheim- type defeat for Jewish communities around the world. While trying to advance Israeli interests abroad, such engagement will be empowering the worrying trend of the increasing global antisemitism. By building these bridges without a clear strategy representatives are putting Jews at risk, and deepening their sense of rejection from the Jewish state, especially when we disregard their position as libelous.
What the government needs to do is request clarification of antisemitic statements, work with the Jewish communities that have a deep understanding of the history and current affairs of their own countries, and together with “reformed” elected officials design a working plan for their countries to combat antisemitism. Finally, the government needs to weigh the interests versus the moral responsibilities and make certain Israel does not become the fig leaf for today’s haters of Jews.
It is not enough to emphasize Israel’s “absolute commitment to the struggle against antisemitism and commemoration of the Holocaust.” Doing only that is like the Allies in Operation Market Garden that were stopped by the Wehrmacht with a “bridge too far.”The author, a retired IDF lieutenant colonel, is a communications and strategy consultant, Israel advocate and a former IDF spokesperson.