EU Jewish leaders have been warned against being co-opted by alt-right nationalist groups emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency and trying to ‘whitewash’ themselves of previous anti-Semitism.
At a special conference of some 120 Jewish leaders from across Europe in Brussels on Monday (23 January), the EU Coordinator on anti-Semitism and US State Department adviser on anti-Semitism both posited the risks of far-right groups in Europe attempting to legitimise themselves by posing as “friends of Israel”.
Holly R Huffnagle, policy adviser on anti-Semitism at the US State Department, said that far-right neo-Nazi groups, and racist political parties, were now declaring themselves to be pro-Israel in a bid to “prove” they were not anti-Semitic.
There had been “multiple bomb threats” against synagogues and other Jewish centres over the past two weeks spanning the inauguration of President Trump, she said, across 15 US states.
“Most anti-Semitic attacks in the US, as in Europe, reportedly still come from far-right, white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups,” she told the conference.
“There is a very real concern today of the rise of the far-right historically anti-Semitic parties in Europe.
“They campaign on ethno-nationalist, anti-migrant and anti-Muslim platforms.
“They now proclaim that they are ‘pro-Israel’ and therefore they are no longer anti-Semitic, [that] they can’t be anti-Semitic.”
European far-right fishing for Israeli support
She cited the example of party leaders reaching out for political gains with a rabbi in Hungary receiving a Hannukah card from the far-right racist Jobbik party.
European political parties singled out by name at the conference were Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Hungary’s Jobbik, and France’s National Front of Marine Le Pen – who has officially renounced her father’s anti-Semitism and looks likely to make the second round of the French Presidential contest in May.
Alex Benjamin, director of the Europe-Israel Public Affairs (EIPA), a non-partisan pro-Israel lobby group, said his organisation was “frequently” approached by the Dutch Freedom Party and France’s National Front.
He said, “They [these parties] rather cynically seek to exploit Jewish support as a means of washing themselves clean.
“I think we should be extremely vigilant about allowing them to do so.”
“Our policy [at EIPC} is not to solicit, not to go and meet with, and not to discuss strategic objectives with these groups,” he told the all-day seminar at a hotel in Brussels.
“And I would advise everyone in this room to do likewise.”
“It’s a challenge for everyone in this room. The far-right seems to be on the right across Europe.”
AfD ‘mask has fallen’
Katharina Von Schnurbein, the EU’s Coordinator on Anti-Semitism, said the AfD’s “mask had fallen” when last week its leader in Thuringia, Bjorn Höcke, called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin as a “memorial of shame”.
Höcke, speaking to a youth audience in Dresden, had added that “these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us – we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance”.
Von Schnurbein also seemed to criticise the German judicial system, saying that “In my opinion, Molotov cocktails against a synagogue, and in Germany, are always anti-Semitic. There is no doubt about it.”
That was a reference to a firebomb attack on the synagogue in Wuppertal in 2014, which a German court ruled was criminal arson, but not anti-Semitic.
The three men responsible, Palestinian-born Germans, were given suspended sentences after saying it was a protest to call attention to the conflict in Gaza.
Von Schnurbein pointed to the May 2016 ‘Code of Conduct’ between the EU and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on countering hate speech online.
Huffnagle also cautioned those defending Israel from being “demonised and delegitimised” to be “careful and accurate”.
She cited a 2014 article on Israel National News, headlined “Pope’s Anti-Semitic Plan for Jerusalem”, in which Pope Francis was criticised as having an “Islamic-friendly” visit to Israel because he was meeting with Palestinian refugees, as “counter-productive”.