By Khalid Amayreh, Occupied Jerusalem
It is one of the paradoxes of Israel that the Jewish state has a lot of support amongst right-wing and fascist groups in the West. The common factor appears to be hostility towards Islam and Muslims; in short, Islamophobia. Israel's belligerence against the Palestinians (the Christians amongst whom are overlooked by the extreme right) is championed.
However, a closer examination suggests that extreme right-wing ideology and extreme interpretations of Zionism go hand in hand. As the government coalition in Israel moves ever more to the right, it is worth considering the residual influence of the Kach Party, banned in Israel in 1988 for its extreme racist views.
Kach was formed in the early 1970s by an American-Israeli rabbi, Meir Kahane, who wrote a book called "They Must Go" in which he called for the ethnic cleansing of all non-Jews from mandatory Palestine, including Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem; voluntarily if possible, by force if necessary. When his openly racist ideology was attacked as anti-democratic by mainly leftist circles in Israel, Kahane fought back, arguing that democracy was incompatible with Judaism and that faithful Jews ought to discard democracy and adopt Jewish law as the law of the land. According to his Orthodox interpretation, Jewish law treats non-Jews as slaves, and those refusing to settle for the status of slaves have to be expelled or killed.
Kahane's party was banned after he had been elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, mostly in order to save Israel the public relations disaster he and his party were causing the Jewish state, especially in the West. However, Kahanist ideology continued to grow in Israel, so much so that the current coalition government in Israel, headed by Benyamin Netanyahu, has been described as a fulfilment of Kahane's vision.
The rise of Kahanism in Israel has been matched by a rise in Jewish extremism in Europe and North America. Baruch Goldstein, the settlers' "hero" of the Ibrahimi (Hebron) Mosque massacre in 1994, was an American citizen who, like Kahane, migrated to occupied Palestine.
It is not so long ago that European and American Jewry was at the forefront of liberal forces in their respective countries, fighting for the cause of human rights and civil liberties. Indeed, until very recently, Jews were among the fiercest opponents of the forces of racism and xenophobia around the world. It is disturbing, therefore, to see Israeli flags carried by members of the so-called English Defence League (EDL) in Britain, a group of fascist Islamophobes devoted to incitement against anything and everything Islamic or Muslim. These English Kahanists are adopting Nazi ideology with the exception of hostility towards the Jews.
The afore-mentioned shift to the extreme right in Israeli politics and the muted, if any, condemnation of the racist antics of the EDL by Jewish representative bodies in the West has prompted suggestions that increasing numbers of Jews now do not view fascism, even in its most virulent form, as anything distasteful, as long as it doesn't target Jews. That this should be the case, given Jewish history in the 20th century, is astonishing, although those brave Jewish voices which speak out against all forms of racism and fascism are to be applauded.
In the United States, even Jewish organizations with a track record of anti-racism, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), are signalling support for right-wing opponents of an Islamic community centre in New York City, criticism of which borders on racist Islamophobia. Abraham Foxman, the ADL's Director, has conceded that there is no legal justification for opposing the Islamic Centre for which the authorities have given approval two blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan. Foxman, who has supported consistently every conceivable Israeli war crime against the peoples of the Middle East, believes that it is not right to build the centre, which would include a mosque, since doing so would hurt the feelings of racist, anti-Islam fanatics.
Unfortunately, some Jews are at the forefront of opposition to building the Islamic Centre, which is intended to be a bridge between communities in the city. Some of these Jews have likened plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero to erecting a memorial for Adolf Hitler near Auschwitz.
Of course, such statements should be treated with the contempt they deserve. After all, Hitler and his right-wing fanatics were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Russia; 20 million Russians died in World War Two alone. To compare the planned Islamic Centre with such death and destruction is scandalous, but it is a reflection of the rightward drift in politics, even within Jewish communities which really ought to know better.
A few years ago, the Israeli government invited the leader of Dutch fascism, Geert Wilders, to Jerusalem in order to spew forth his venom against Islam and Muslims. Mr. Wilders is noted for his desire to ban the Qur'an, as Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" has been banned. During Ariel Sharon's term of office, the head of the Italian fascists, Gianfranco Fini, was given a warm welcome in Israel. An anti-Islam statement by Fini was enough to turn him from a supposed persona non grata into a great friend of the Jewish state to be afforded VIP treatment.
There are many examples of Zionist Jews embracing fascist and extreme right-wing leaders in the West as long as the latter have shown their credentials by maligning Islam and standing with Zionism against the legitimate Palestinian cause. This appears to vindicate those who see in Zionism an opportunistic, immoral and racist ideology that uses and abuses Judaism and those Jews – "Torah Jews" – who practice it. The latest connections with fascist movements do not suggest that this is likely to change any time soon.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.