Economic upheaval and strife in Europe have historically begat fierce nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Faced with a serious debt crisis, severe budget cuts, grim austerity, rising unemployment and creeping inflation, the current depression is no exception.
Since the fall of 2008, reported incidents of anti-Semitism have risen across the continent. In Britain, a record number of anti-Jewish crimes was noted in 2009. This year in the Netherlands, the number of Jews who reported being verbally harassed, and even physically attacked, climbed. More recently, a restored Jewish cemetery in the Republic of Kosovo was desecrated with Nazi grafitti.
What is fundamentally different about Europe’s current condition, however, is that anti-Semitism has been largely superseded in the organized far-right by suspicion at best, and hatred at worst, of the continent’s growing Muslim community. As Australian writer Antony Loewenstein puts it: “Yesterday’s anti-Semites have reformed themselves as today’s crusading heroes against an unstoppable Muslim birth rate on a continent that now sees Islam as an intolerant and ghettoized religion.”
More curious still is that via this Islamophobia (for lack of a better term), Europe’s extremist parties have entered into a disturbing marriage of convenience with sections of the Israeli right. In December 2010, politicians including Heinz-Christian Strache of Austria’s Freiheitliche Partei and Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang in Flemish Belgium visited Israel and signed the Jerusalem Declaration, “guaranteeing Israel’s right to defend itself against terror.” On a separate occasion, Members of Knesset Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and Ayoob Kara (Likud) met with members of a Russian neo-Nazi delegation that also toured Yad Vashem.
The English Defense League — not a political party but, rather, a thuggish and violent mob made up of the same sort of white working-class males who formed the rank-and-file of Mosley’s Blackshirts — has described the bond between themselves and Israel in the following terms: “In many ways there are parallels to be drawn between the radicalization that has infected the Palestinians and their supporters and the radicalization that continues to breed in British mosques. In this way at least, the people of England and the people of Israel have a great deal in common.”
Don’t be fooled. In the discourse of the European right, “extremism” and “radicalism” with regard to Islam are terms used to couch deeper concerns and prejudices, so as to broaden the movement’s appeal. Overtures to the existential security of Israel as a bulwark in the Middle East are in one respect an extension of this desire for wider acceptance and a detoxification of the far right brand.