Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here We Go Again

« Jimmie Akesson, chairman of the right-wing party Sweden Democrats, cheers September 19 after national election forecasts said the party would enter the new Swedish parliament.
The year 2010 is witnessing a sharp shift toward extremist politics throughout Europe. The anti-Islam, anti-immigrant public mood permeating the Continent has given political legitimacy to far-right politicians and movements across Europe, many of which also center around anti-Semitic ideologies. This uptick in anti-Islam sentiment, which some analysts call “the new anti-Semitism,” remains the more pervasive trend currently underway in Europe, but the same ideologies guiding anti-Islamic and anti-immigration movements can easily be redirected toward Jewish populations. So the “new anti-Semitism” is paving the way for a resurgence of traditional anti-Semitism.

And although right-inspired social friction is nothing new to postwar Europe, this is the first time so many countries across the Continent have been swept up in the fervor.
Sweden, traditionally seen as a bastion of tolerance and liberalism, is in the midst of redrawing its political map in a framework few Swedes would once have imagined. On September 19, the country underwent a political shift when the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), a party with a neo-Nazi history, won 20 seats in the parliamentary vote, which represents the support of 300,000 citizens. The victory, substantial enough to leave the leading center-right coalition without a governing majority, shocked many liberals.
The victory marks the SD’s first entry into the Swedish national parliament, and, according to the Musalman Times, is “a sure sign of changing times.”
Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish communities in Sweden, said on October 25 that the true anti-Semitic nature of the far-right SD party will soon be made plain.
“This is a Neo-Nazi party … articulate, and talented … but very dangerous,” Posner said. “We know where these people are coming from. They are Nazi sympathizers who, under their jackets, are still wearing their brown shirts.”
Hungary has undergone an even more massive shift to the right this year, with its capital city of Budapest experiencing what Germany’s Der Spiegel called “a rebirth of anti-Semitism.” Earlier this month, Hungary saw the right-wing populists of the Fidesz Party capture a two-thirds majority in parliament, while the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party became the third-largest in the nation, having won 16.7 percent of the vote.
On May 14, chairman of the Jobbik party Gábor Vona appeared at the Hungarian parliament dressed in what one German newspaper called a “sort of a Nazi outfit,” shocking many of the nation’s liberals. Erich Follath, reporter for Der Spiegel magazine, explains the Jobbik philosophy as “a crude blend of inferiority complex and megalomania, coupled with a clear set of bogeymen, including the Jews ….”
Meanwhile, vandals in Hungary defiled Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial with bloody feet from pigs. New legislation grants the government control over 80 percent of the Hungarian media. The television channel Echo tv recently ran an image of Auschwitz survivor Imre Kertész along with a voice-over about rats. And the capital city just elected István Tarlós, its first right-wing mayor.
“When I see the political victors in this country, I get a foretaste of a culture war,” said 77-year-old acclaimed Hungarian-Jewish author György Konrád. “I survived two dictatorships. It’s possible that the third one is now on its way.”
Jobbik European Parliament member Krisztina Morvai recently said “liberal-Bolshevik Zionists” should begin to think about “where to flee and where to hide.”
And the trend is seeping into other European nations too.
In August, the Jerusalem Post said that in France, anti-Semitic attacks are now so frequent they are considered “normal.” Austria’s far-right Freedom Party more than doubled its seats in Vienna’s local government last week, sharply diminishing the governing Social Democrats’ ability to continue on their political path. A poll published on October 24 concluded that anti-Jewish prejudice in Spain is now hovering at around 34 percent. In Belgium, an event called “Palestine Day” was recently held in Antwerp’s government-funded College of the Sacred Heart. The activity was “replete with anti-Semitic references and activities for youngsters,” including a booth labeled “Throw the soldiers into the sea” where the youths were instructed to toss models of Jewish soldiers into two large tanks (Barcelona News.Net, October 18).
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders has ridden the crest of a populist tsunami to become the one of his country’s most popular politicians. The Freedom Party that he leads now holds 24 of the country’s 150 parliamentary seats, and the coalition government relies on his support to pass legislation. While Wilders is an outspoken critic of the presence of Islam in Europe, he claims to be staunchly pro-Israel. But many unconvinced Jewish leaders caution their people against supporting his populist party. Ron van der Wieken, chairman of Amsterdam’s liberal Jewish congregation, said that since Wilders’s party “fiercely opposes halal slaughter, kosher butchering will not exist much longer as well. And if headscarves would be forbidden, how about yarmulkes? And circumcision?”
Lena Posner commented on the Dutch Freedom Party saying, “We are quite upset about having a party [in the Parliament] that says they are only addressing Muslims and immigration. History has taught us about where this can lead, and this is not necessarily good for the Jews.”
But of greatest importance is Germany, home of the Nazi regime that killed 6 million Jews in World War ii. Recent trends are revealing that Germany is not immune to the far-right sentiment sweeping across Europe.
A study published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on October 13 revealed that 13 percent of Germans would like a “Führer”—a word pollsters selected because of its association with Adolf Hitler—to rule the nation “with a firm hand.” The same poll found that 17 percent of Germans think Jews have “too much influence.” Though these percentages don’t represent the majority, they reveal that anti-Semitic views are no longer restricted to the far-right German extremists with shaven heads and leather jackets. The report said extremism in Germany is not just on the edges of the political spectrum, but “in all social groups and in all age groups, regardless of employment status, educational level or gender.”
The researchers said the survey indicates that after years of decline, views in favor of xenophobia, dictatorship, and anti-Semitism are increasing in popularity.
“In the past, the base for extreme-right views in Germany, though present, was more latent in nature,” Oliver Decker, one of the study’s authors, told the Irish Times. “Now these views are being expressed more frequently. … The economic crisis seems to have allowed aggression [to] come to the surface. Among those looking for a valve, foreigners in general and Muslims in particular fill that role.”
Jewish Response
The European Jewish Congress (ejc) released a statement on October 14 saying that, in the midst of a recent uptick of anti-Semitism on the Continent, certain European Jewish communities are in “grave danger.” Among the examples the statement cited was an October event organized for Jewish children in Malmo, Sweden, which was attacked by a group of thugs who shouted “Jewish pigs” and “Heil Hitler” as they entered the activity site and ransacked the property.
ejc President Moshe Kantor voiced his concerns about the trend: “Small Jewish communities are facing a situation where they are being physically, verbally and psychologically threatened by fundamentalist elements and their extreme left-wing cohorts on one side and the far-right neo-Nazis on the other. If they can’t receive protection or respite from mainstream officials, then we are entering a very dark period for the Jews in Europe.”
Europe has a long history of looking toward extremist leaders during times of economic turmoil. The present climate remains far less extreme than the devastating tragedies in the 1920s and 1930s that resulted from extremist movements soaring to power in Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany. But, nevertheless, Europe’s far right is rising, and with Europe’s custom of power-sharing coalition governments, many far-right movements now have significant voting power in governments across the European Union.