The rise of the Euro Right

Is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews? Those in the know say it’s not as terrible as it may seem, but it’s not great either

The rise of the euro right (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER / REUTERS)
The rise of the euro right
THE STUNNING results of the elections to the European Parliament May 25 saw huge advances by right-wing parties and set off alarm bells among Jewish communities around Europe and the world.
The most notable advance was by Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party in France, which emerged as the country’s single strongest political group, capturing almost a quarter of the vote and winning 24 seats in the European Parliament where it previously had just four seats.
To ascertain what these results really meant The Jerusalem Report interviewed Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF (the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), roof body for organized French Jewry, and Philip Carmel, special adviser on European policy at the European Jewish Congress (EJC) in Brussels. The Report also spoke to a senior source in the leadership of the British Jewish community, who asked not to be identified, about the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which emerged as Britain’s top vote-getting group.
Speaking from EJC headquarters in Brussels, Carmel, a 51-year-old Briton from Manchester, clarifies, “The European Union was formed because of the lessons of the Second World War. Parties which support an anti-EU agenda, and which are generally nationalistic and favor the collapse of the European model, are generally not positive for the Jews.”
But, Carmel cautions, there are very wide differences between the parties of the Euro-Right.
“There are among them two clearly identifiable, strong parties which are neo-Nazi and which received a large percentage of the vote in their particular country. One is the Jobbik party in Hungary, which is the third-largest party there and which regularly receives over 20 percent of the vote in general elections – though they received slightly less than 20 percent of the vote in the European elections.
They are a party which has a paramilitary wing, they dress up in uniforms, they carry out pogroms against Roma [gypsy] communities, they deny the Holocaust and they ask in parliament for a listing of Jews. They are definitely a neo-Nazi, or Fascist, nationalistic far-right party.”
The same is true, he contends, in Greece of the Golden Dawn party, which he described as “a criminal party… also clearly neo-Nazi and far-right.”
Carmel noted that Germany’s NPD party, “the successor of the [wartime] Nazi party,” had entered the European Parliament, albeit with only one seat. “That a German neo- Nazi party is present in the European Parliament is in itself a terrible thought just 70 years after the Holocaust, but we also have to understand that the removal of the electoral threshold in Germany enabled this for a party that actually received less than one percent of the vote.”
On a different level, Carmel says there also exist parties of the traditional far Right, which had questionable histories toward Jews, specifically the FN in France, the FPO in Austria, the Swedish Democrats and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium.
A third group of political parties, he notes, is composed of “Eurosceptic, center to center-right parties such as UKIP in Britain, or the Danish Peoples Party (DFP) in Denmark, and, to a lesser extent, the True Finns in Finland. “These are parties that I would not regard as being far Right, but more of the Eurosceptic nationalist Right.”
The latter groups represent a certain threat to Jews if their initiatives, such as promoting laws aimed at controlling or banning Muslim religious animal slaughter, also affected kosher shechita, he says. “The Jews could in a sense be ‘collateral victims’ in certain cases affecting the limitation of religious freedom.”
CARMEL NOTES that Geert Wilders and his Dutch PVV party are pro-Israel and liked to put forward an image as Jewish-friendly, but that “when push came to shove in the Dutch parliament, Wilders led the campaign against slaughter according to religious practice because, whatever his views on Jews or on Israel, his party has always been anti- Muslim. And this also affects Jews. The same is true of the Danish Peoples Party. They have a very strong pro-Israel line but, like others who have a strong position against Muslim immigration into Europe, they will always adopt positions that are not favorable to us on shechita.”
It is important to note that there is not necessarily a direct link between the strength of a far-right party and current physical threats against Jews in Europe, he adds.
In Greece and in Hungary, “there are nasty climates of anti-Semitism and of Holocaust denial, but no increase or noticeable level of physical attacks against Jews. In France, however, there is a very worrying trend, indeed, of the level of physical violence against Jews, but that is not necessarily related to the rise of the National Front,” Carmel says.
Physical anti-Jewish violence has been a major problem in France for more than a decade with Jews, especially those residing in blue-collar areas, being the targets of recurrent violence by young hotheads from local North African Muslim communities. There are about six million Muslims in France, 10 times more than the local Jewish population, which is the largest in Europe. Similar problems exist in adjacent Belgium, which, like France, has a sizeable North African Arab Muslim community.
During the European elections, four people were killed by a gunman in a horrifying shooting attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24. The dead included two Israeli tourists; a French woman volunteer at the museum, who was the daughter of Holocaust victims; and a young Belgian-Jewish employee of the museum.
Several days later, police in Marseilles arrested 29-year-old Franco-Algerian Mehdi Nemmouche, a multi-convicted criminal turned Muslim jihadist, after they searched his luggage and found the weapons from the Brussels attack as he got off a bus arriving from Amsterdam. Nemmouche’s lawyer said his client stole the weapons from a parked car.
At the time of this writing, it was not clear if he would be tried in France or Belgium.
Carmel relates the feeling of insecurity is stronger among Jews in France and Belgium than it is in Hungary or Greece. “That might be because the Jewish community is much more visible in places like France and Belgium.
And it may be because there are certain populations there which are antagonistic towards Jews.”
In the European Parliament, Carmel contends, “Jews are best served by a scenario where the mainstream blocs, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists and centrist liberals form the greatest possible portion of the parliament.”
But the successes of the far Right, of the Eurosceptic Right, and to a lesser degree of the far Left, have seen the size of the mainstream blocs drop from about 72 percent to about 64 percent in the recent vote. On the subject of Israel, whose main trading partner is the European Union, “The greater the strength of centrist forces within the European Parliament and, in particular, that of the EPP, the more positive the positions have tended to be toward Israel. The far Left, in particular, and, to a certain extent, also the Greens, in general, have adopted less balanced positions in this area,” he says.
Some parts of the far Right “might believe that their fair weather support for Israel buys them certain legitimacy with Jews. It doesn’t because we are under no illusions that its motivation has very little to do with genuine support for the Jewish state and much more to do with their negative perceptions of other religious minorities in Europe,” Carmel notes.
“So-called support for Israel coming out of the mouths of racists is something we and Israel can well do without.”
THE RECENT vote, he adds, has resulted in “an enormous symbolic issue, especially in the case of France, one of the biggest European countries, where a party of the far Right has topped the poll. This is also true of Austria where a clearly far rightist group allied with the French FN emerged with a very strong position.”
The enormous success of Marine Le Pen provoked a veritable political earthquake in France where the ruling Socialist government has never been as unpopular. The Socialists came in third in the vote with less than 14 percent; second was the center-rightist Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which received almost 21 percent. But, within days of the vote, the leadership of the UMP broke apart amid squabbling about who would lead the party into the 2017 presidential elections. Its leader, Jewish politician Jean-François Copé, was forced to step down after accusations of financial improprieties by the party under his stewardship.
The FN itself was in some turmoil despite its successes after a dispute between its founder and honorary president, 86-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter Marine, who took over the party in 2011. The senior Le Pen, once again, got into hot water over one of his “humorous” quips when he said the FN would include highly popular singer Patrick Bruel in a coming “oven load” over his strong stances against the FN. Bruel, born Patrick Benguigui in then-French Algeria, is Jewish and Le Pen had in the past been found guilty by French courts for racist comments about ovens and concentration camps.
Marine Le Pen has said she believed her father’s quip was wrongly interpreted and that it was a “political mistake” on his part that was harmful to the party. She also scrapped the weekly video appearance by her father on the FN’s website. “The National Front firmly condemns any form of anti- Semitism,” she said.
The situation heated up even more after Louis Alliot, an FN regional leader who is Marine Le Pen’s live-in companion and the son of a Jewish father, described the senior Le Pen’s statement as “stupid and appalling.”
Within days, the press reported that father and daughter had ceased to speak to one another, a turn of events many commentators said would strengthen Marine Le Pen’s fortunes in future elections even further.
“This is a heaven-sent gift for her because this opens the way for people who are not anti-Semitic to now vote for the FN,” French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut told French-Jewish radio.
CRIF President Cukierman, 77, a retired senior figure from the Rothschild banking galaxy, is very wary of happenings within the FN as he speaks to The Report in Paris “I’m not very interested in the discussions between the Le Pens. He has been found guilty many times for anti-Semitic outbursts, while she is extremely careful not to be related to anything related to anti-Semitism. She is irreproachable on this subject.
“Nonetheless, she is president of a political party in which Holocaust deniers, pro-Vichy elements and declared anti-Semites exist in great numbers. She criticized her father for the political inappropriateness of what he said rather than for the moral or immoral value of his words. I still consider the FN dangerous for Jews, just as it is dangerous for Muslims and for democracy,” he asserts.
What is immediately worrisome, according to Cukierman, is that, because of its new electoral strength, the FN conceivably could make deals with members of a disintegrating French center-right and join a future coalition French government whereas it had hitherto always been shunned as being beyond the pale of political respectability.
“As Jews, we are too attached to democracy and opposed to potential fascist values, which are shared among many of the people who are behind Marine Le Pen, to make it impossible for us not to be fearful,” Cukierman contends.
More than half of French voters, he notes, abstained from the European Parliament vote, whereas about three-quarters of voters usually participate in French national voting.
Some commentators noted that, despite its strong showing, the FN only received about 10 percent of the ballots of registered voters.
But, he adds, apparently the abstentions came equally from all sectors of the public.
I ask Cukierman what the position of France’s organized Jewish community would be if the FN was to enter into a broadbased government? “Firstly, I hate such a hypothesis but, secondly, some of the delegates of CRIF in the regions of provincial France have already asked us how to handle this precise case in cities where the FN took over town halls in municipal elections this year,” he responds.
There are issues, such as burial grounds, where it is impossible not to be in contact with the local municipality at a high level, Cukierman says. CRIF had recommended that any member of a local CRIF delegation, apart from the delegation chief, be entrusted with such contacts.
What if Marine Le Pen was to win the 2017 presidential election? “There are several reasons for Jews to leave the country and that is one of them,” he replies.
“THE SECOND hypothesis where Jews would leave the country would be if there were more murders like those in Toulouse [where four Jews, including three children, were killed by a jihadist in March 2012] and Brussels recently. I would even say that it’s more of an immediate consideration today [than Le Pen’s possible election] because it could happen tomorrow,” Cukierman asserts.
He recalls that French authorities have identified 800 French citizens, mostly of Muslim Arab origin, as fighting in jihadist ranks in Syria. “Some 30 of them have been killed, but others will come back and they will be delayed-action time bombs. This is more worrisome for us than anything else because it may hurt our children.”
On the issue of Jews in FN ranks, Cukierman says some Jews may have been drawn by the FN’s strong anti-Muslim stance but that no known community figures were among them. One of the rising stars of the FN is David Racheline, who, at 26, earlier this year was elected mayor of the Mediterranean town of Fréjus. His paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, but his mother is not Jewish and he is not known to have any contact with Jewish groups.
“I am not in the ‘if’ business,” Cukierman maintains, when asked if he thought Marine Le Pen could gain respectability in Jewish eyes if she ousted her father and his sympathizers from the FN. In a recent interview with Valeurs Actuelles weekly news magazine, Marine Le Pen called on Jews to support her saying, “We are not your enemy. We are your protectors against fundamentalist Islam.” She said an increasing number of Jews had already rallied to the FN’s ranks.
Some French political commentators say that one day she might be tempted to imitate Italian politician Gianfranco Fini who, in the mid-1990s, headed his country’s MSI neo-Fascist party. He purged the MSI of those members nostalgic for the Mussolini era, condemned fascist policies, and transformed his group into a center-right party, the Republican Alliance, notable for its pro-Israel positions.
Fini was especially supportive of Israel when he served as Italy’s foreign minister from 2004-2006.
What about Britain and its UKIP party? A senior source close to the British Jewish community’s leadership, who prefers not to be identified, tells The Report, “UKIP is not a racist party in the tradition of the British National Party. UKIP is most definitely not anti-Semitic and they have made it clear they want to distance themselves from anti- Semitism.”
UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, has rejected overtures from Marine Le Pen for an alliance of their parties in the European Parliament, he adds.
UKIP, which took 27.5 percent of the vote in Britain and won 24 Euro Parliament seats compared to the 13 it held before, draws its votes from former Conservative voters worried about the EU, or people who find the Conservatives have become too liberal on social matters such as gay marriage, he said.
But it also draws former Labor voters from the white working classes who feel abandoned by the ruling parties and worry that their preoccupations with housing and jobs are not being addressed.
UKIP’s sometimes very strong antiimmigrant stance has made some British Jews uncomfortable with its populist overtones and some of the unpleasant things said about Muslims, according to the source.
“Some of their suggestions about Muslims having to sign loyalty pledges seem more than a bit excessive,” he says.
“It’s a complex phenomenon, but we’re a bit worried that UKIP might attract some of the wrong type of people, although they have reacted very quickly in their own ranks when someone went too far,” he notes. “We are cautious, but we do engage with UKIP as we would with any non-racist party.”
One problem with UKIP relations is that it has a very weak infrastructure and is led by no more than 10 people. “We tried to engage with their foreign affairs spokesman but realized they don’t have one because they don’t really have a set foreign policy aside from being anti-EU,” the source says.
The leadership of British Jewry has found UKIP supportive of Jews on the issue of shechita, but since UKIP is opposed to engaging in any EU legislation, their support does not make them effective on that issue, he adds.
UKIP leader Farage, speaking at a Jewish school last year, was generally supportive of Israel, but admitted he knew very little about the Jewish state, which he had visited only once for a four-hour business trip.