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Islamophobia unites Israel and Europe's far-right

July 8, 2024 at 12:38 pm

People march against racism and Islamophobia in Paris, France on 21 April 2024 [Mohamad Salaheldin Abdelg Alsayed/Anadolu via Getty Images]

Recent comments by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister, Amichai Chikli, endorsing France’s far-right politician Marine Le Pen brought to mind the insightful words of prominent anti-Zionist British cabinet minister Edwin Montagu more than one hundred years ago. “Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom,” stated Montagu famously in a 1917 memorandum expressing his opposition to the proposed Balfour Declaration three months before it was issued.

The Jewish MP’s prophetic assessment, which cautioned against the threat that Zionism posed to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, remains strikingly relevant today, as Israel aligns itself with Europe’s far-right. Chikli’s endorsement of Le Pen not only illustrates the growing alliance between Israel and the far-right across Europe, but also exposes a long-standing but often overlooked tension between the interests of Jews and those of the Jewish state, a tension that has existed since Zionism’s early days.

“It would be excellent for Israel if [Marine Le Pen] were the president of France,” Chikli told Kan News. “In my opinion, it would be good for the State of Israel.” When asked if Israel’s prime minister shared his position, Chikli replied, “It seems [Netanyahu and I] are of the same opinion. It’s not a personal matter.”

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Chikli also mentioned attending a mass rally for Spain’s far-right Vox party in Madrid, where he met Le Pen and expressed the fact that he was “very impressed” by her actions. This courting of the far-right by Israeli officials contrasts starkly with warnings issued by France’s official Jewish representative body, CRIF, and other Jewish groups against engaging with Le Pen’s party due to its historical ties to anti-Semitism.

Others, such as France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, have also expressed deep anxiety over the rise of the far-right.

“I think it’s scandalous to vote for the far left and the far right. So, we have to submit spoiled ballots that say that we want neither one nor the other, if we are faced with a choice like this,” Korsia is quoted as saying by the Financial Times.

Chikli’s endorsement of Le Pen exemplifies a growing trend in Israeli politics: the embrace of Europe’s far-right to advance Zionist interests. The alliance, highlighted in a recent European Coalition for Israel webinar, stands in contrast with Israel’s positive image in the West. As the weekend’s French election results show, there is deep unease in the country about the resurgence of far-right, ethno-nationalist politics. Israel is a quintessential ethno-nationalist state, and yet, it is embraced by Western governments, while the likes of Le Pen are seen as an existential threat to Western liberalism.

The alliance between Israel and Europe’s far-right, however, has been forged largely through their shared hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Although there is no factual basis to their hateful claim, the narrative that Muslims pose an existential threat to Europe has become a potent propaganda tool. The rhetoric has served to mobilise both global Zionism and the global far-right against Muslims, creating a powerful and troubling intersectional force. Their partnership is rooted in anti-Muslim racism and deep hostility to Islam, as examined by Narzanin Massoumi, Tom Mills and David Miller in their book What is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State.

The chapters in the book provide a comprehensive analysis of the social, political and ideological underpinnings of anti-Muslim racism. The authors identify five key pillars of Islamophobia: the state; the neoconservative movement; the Zionist movement; the so-called counter-jihad movement (which includes far-right political parties and groups); and certain elements within liberal, left, secular and feminist movements.

Notably, certain factions within the Zionist movement have been instrumental in spreading Islamophobic sentiments.

Organisations such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Foundation for Defence of Democracies are noted for promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric, often framing Islam as inherently violent and incompatible with Western values. The counter-jihad movement, comprising various far-right and nationalist groups, explicitly targets Islam as a threat to Western civilisation, thriving on fear-mongering and conspiracy theories about Islamic domination.

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The alliance between far-right European parties and pro-Israel groups is thus built on a shared foundation of Islamophobia and ethno-nationalism. This partnership, far from being unlikely, reflects their common ideological genealogy rooted in concepts of ethnic and cultural supremacy. United by their antipathy towards Muslims, Le Pen and Chiklis seek to form a powerful coalition that not only harms Muslim communities, but also has an impact on Jewish minorities. Their coordinated efforts in promoting anti-Muslim sentiments and policies have created a formidable political force that is reshaping European and Middle Eastern politics.

The current setback suffered by the far-right in France highlights a critical juncture, where the continent is grappling with two competing visions of the Enlightenment. On one side stands a liberal, universalist perspective that champions reason, individual rights and universal human values. This vision has long been the driving force behind European integration, the expansion of democratic norms and the promotion of human rights. It seeks to forge a Europe united by shared principles, embracing diversity and collective progress as pillars of strength and resilience.

Contrasting this universalist vision is a narrower, ethno-nationalist perspective that prioritises cultural uniqueness and exclusive national identities.

In their extreme manifestations, these aspirations have been used to justify xenophobia, authoritarianism and even ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The ongoing struggle between these two competing worldviews continues to shape European politics, influencing everything from debates over EU integration to the surge of populist movements across the continent and attitudes towards Israel.

The ethno-nationalist vision finds its latest expression in the growing alliance between far-right parties and pro-Israel groups. Their shared ideology emphasises cultural superiority, ethnic supremacy and narrow national identity, standing in stark opposition to the concept of open societies and universal values. It is an alliance that represents a shift away from the principles of inclusivity and human rights that have long been associated with post-war European ideals.

In this volatile environment, the alliance between Israeli officials like Chikli and far-right European figures such as Le Pen takes on a deeper significance. Their expression of solidarity is not merely a tactical partnership, but also a fundamental ideological convergence with potentially dire consequences for Europe’s Jewish and Muslim minorities. Contrary to popular belief, the long-term interests of these communities lie not in supporting such alliances, but in standing united against the divisive ideologies propagated by both far-right politics and its sister ideology Zionism.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.