United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) candidate Mark Reckless, the former Conservative Party member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, and his wife Catriona Brown, arrive for the by-election ballot count at Medway Park in Gillingham, southeast England in November..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Imagine that one morning, a Likud MK stands up and declares he is fed up with the Likud, that it no longer represents the values it was founded on, and that he is switching to the Bayit Yehudi Party. Well, that is exactly what happened last September in England, when not one but two members of the Conservative Party announced their defection to UKIP.
This phenomenon represents some major changes in the political map of Europe, as huge numbers of voters are tired of the European Union economic and political policies. All over Europe, euroskeptic parties are on the rise, presenting their new vision for Europe.
For us Israelis it is even more interesting, as these parties are not shy about declaring their devotion to the State of Israel, based on what they call “Judeo-Christian” values.
Events of recent months in England serve as a great example of this phenomenon.
Last year, the political map of England went through an historic earthquake, as the rising new party UKIP won the elections for the European Parliament, gaining 27.5 percent and 24 seats in the European Parliament from the UK. Established in 1993, UKIP stands at the forefront of the euroskeptic parties in Europe. Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, UKIP has expressed more than once its will for England to disengage from the EU. On October 22, Farage even denounced the new European Commission as “The enemy of the very concept of democracy.”
In the past few months, we have seen two MPs defecting from the Conservative Party to UKIP. The first was Douglas Carswell, representing Clacton, a known supporter of Israel who last August announced that he wanted to see “a fundamental change in British politics.” Carswell made history in the by-election, becoming the first ever UKIP MP. The second was Mark Reckless from Rochester and Strood, who defected to UKIP two months ago.
Last Thursday, Reckless made history after winning the by-election in Rochester with 16,867 votes, making him the second MP for UKIP. Reckless defeated Kelly Tolhurst from the Conservatives, an anti-Israeli activist who supports the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement. More astounding is the fact that Rochester was ranked as their 271st most winnable seat in early predictions, so who knows what’s next for UKIP.
These defections have gained more support for UKIP, which now gets 18% in the polls. Even more amazing is the fact that over 30% of the respondents said they would back UKIP if they believed it could win in their constituency.
These polls are great news for Israel, as UKIP is one of the main supporters of Israel in Europe. As said before, we often hear about anti-Israeli policies in the EU, but unfortunately we have not yet managed to engage with our allies.
Nigel Farage himself stated many times that he supports Israel. In 2009, he said that “there is a ‘strong bias’ against Israel within the European Union” and that UKIP “fundamentally believes in Israel’s right to exist and sympathizes with it because it finds itself in a horrid position.” This year Farage acknowledged the “Judeo-Christian identity of our country” in an interview on FOX News.
UKIP’s rise represents another side of Europe, one which we rarely hear about.
Israeli officials’ comments about Europe often mention anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policies, but these officials fail to create connections with Israel’s supporters in the continent.
To give up on Europe would be a huge mistake for Israel, as new euro-skeptic, democratic, right-wing libertarian parties are getting more and more support from voters, all over Europe: in Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and more.
Instead of complaining about the EU’s policies, Israel should now begin to build bridges and make allies with these parties. It is understandable when officials cannot openly support opposition parties; that is what NGOs are for. Instead of spending huge amounts of money on public diplomacy and new media campaigns, Israel should engage in actual diplomacy, the old, simple way: by creating an entire new non-official set of diplomats who will spend night and day to make allies in Europe.
We have already seen the potential benefits of this in the Swedish case, as the pro-Israeli SD Party managed to pass a resolution by the local parliament, declining their government’s decision to acknowledge Palestine.
When the British Parliament voted for the recognition of Palestine, UKIP abstained.
Just imagine what could happen if there were an ongoing channel of cooperation between Israel and these parties.
As we are nearing the annual conference of the United Nations Security Council, Israel relies on America’s veto power regarding Abbas’ request to recognize Palestine.
To rely on one single state is not a healthy situation for any state, let alone Israel, which is surrounded by so many enemies. Israel’s first prime minister’s greatness was his diplomatic wisdom.
In 1956, David Ben-Gurion worked together with France and Britain. It is Israeli officials’ duty to try to follow his legacy and recreate these alliances. So, instead of non-stop talking about our enemies in Europe, let us start talking about our allies. Let us start with UKIP.The author is a writer and researcher of anti-Semitism and Israel-Europe relations, a student of law and political science at Bar-Ilan University and an intern in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.