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How Israel learned to stop worrying and love Europe’s neo-Nazis

Supporters of the English Defence League protest (EDL) come together in a demonstration [Ruth Alexander/Facebook]

For years now far right groups across Europe have sought increasing links with Israel despite the fact that 20-30 years ago these fascistic groups held Jews as their number one enemy.

But the so-called War on Terror era changed all that, making Islam the prime scapegoat across much of the Western world, and especially among far right groups. In truth, the signs of this change had been there much earlier. As long ago as 1981 the late, lamented Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote critically, in “Covering Islam”, how Western media were portraying “the world of Islam” as “mired in religion, primitivity, and backwardness”.

But such malign coverage went into overdrive following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Far right groups had found their new scapegoat and most decided that they would moderate or disguise their anti-Jewish agenda. The amount of Islamophobic bile spat by mainstream journalists and politicians as part of war propaganda around Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq meant that focusing on a Muslim bogeyman seemed far more likely to help with recruitment.

Far right groups, historically anti-Semitic, increasingly came to embrace the so-called “Jewish state”. Europe’s fascists began to cosy up to Zionism in order to become “kosher in Israel” as one far right politician recently put it.

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The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin – formerly of the Holocaust denying National Front – in 2009 claimed that he had brought the party “from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which… stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson in 2011 recounted warmly that “in our first demonstrations… we flew the flag of Israel, the Star of David. In the first public speech I ever gave, I wore the Star of David in Leeds. The reason for this is because Israel is a shining star of democracy. If Israel falls, we all fall”. More recently, an anti-Palestinian blogger gave Robinson a tour of occupied Palestine and Syria during which he posed on a tank with Israeli soldiers.

Groups like the EDL and BNP have their roots in the neo-Nazi and fascist street gangs who have often been involved in attacks on people of colour and immigrants. Many were, or are, also virulently anti-Semitic. For such groups to embrace the “Jewish state” is not so much of a contradiction as it may first appear. After all, the mission of Zionism was to remove Europe’s Jews from Europe – something anti-Semites also sought.

In the last few years, the far right in Europe has been winning an alarming number of elections. Anti-immigrant agitation has been the primary recruitment agent. Due to the fact that the War on Terror against usually Muslim-majority countries has never ended, such agitation has also been anti-Muslim.

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These groups have increasingly sought to create ties with Israel as a way to, as they see it, “kosherise” themselves. It also gives themselves a perceived foreign policy credibility, seeing as most mainstream parties in Europe consider Israel an ally nation – even while occasionally mouthing toothless criticisms of Israel’s illegal settlement policies.

The leader of Austria’s far right Freedom Party has visited Israel at the invitation of MPs from the ruling Likud Party, and has welcomed a far right Israeli activist from the “Temple Mount” movement (which aims to destroy Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque). This man, Heinz-Christian Strache, leads a party which was founded by former Nazis after World War II. Strache himself once belonged to a group styling itself as “Hitler Youth”. Strache’s party came third in recent elections, and is currently in negotiations to form a coalition government as a junior partner.

Similarly, the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 100 seats to Germany’s lower house in September’s elections, coming third place. Again, the party’s core goals are attacking immigrants and Muslims, and again it seeks common cause with Israel.

In an interview with an Israeli journalist AfD’s deputy leader said that “Israel could be a role model for Germany… Israel is a democracy that has a free and pluralistic society. Israel also makes efforts to preserve its unique culture and traditions. The same should be possible for Germany and any other nation”. AfD leaders have also visited Israel and they have also been supported by Yehuda Glick, the same far right Temple Mount activist courted by Austria’s Strache. This is a party which has adopted openly Nazi rhetoric.

As the esteemed Palestinian American intellectual Joseph Massad outlined recently, these links between fascist, historically anti-Jewish parties and Israel are actually long-standing and go back to the very foundations of Zionism.

Zionism, a movement founded in Protestant Christian theology, the “millenarian project to expedite the second coming of Christ”, sought to engineer a “return” of Europe’s Jews to Palestine. As Massad put it, “European Jews resisted and, along with their American co-religionists, still resist these calls for mass self-expulsion from Europe and the United States to a distant Asian land”.

The convergence between Zionism and anti-Semitic European fascism was more than incidental – it was based on the shared belief that Europe’s Jews were actually “alien” to Europe. Zionism sought to remove them to Palestine, while Nazism sought to remove them full stop.

Israel’s modern-day continuance of this alliance is yet another sign of its moral bankruptcy.

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