Friday, December 25, 2015

Jews and the rise of populist conservatism - Isi Leibler

by Isi Leibler

How should Jews around the world respond to the rise of traditionally anti-Semitic right-wing parties that now support Israel?

Since the emancipation of the 18th century, Jews engaged in public life traditionally supported ‎liberal, reform and even revolutionary movements which in most cases paved the way for ‎them to achieve equality. This was not surprising as, by and large, the conservatives and ‎especially the nationalist and radical right embraced anti-Semitism as a central platform issue. That was not deflected by the fact that many of the early socialists, ‎even those of Jewish origin like Karl Marx, frequently also promoted anti-Semitism. ‎

This trend accelerated in the 1930s when many conservatives tolerated Nazism as a bulwark ‎against bolshevism. As the global Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda onslaught mushroomed, it was ‎primarily (but not exclusively) the socialists and liberals who spoke out.‎

In countries where Jews found haven from the Nazis, the liberals and socialists tended to be ‎more accommodating to the refugees than the frequently hostile conservatives.‎

In occupied Western Europe, it was parties on the right, such as the French Vichy government, ‎that collaborated with the Nazis. In Eastern Europe it was the traditional radical right-wing ‎nationalists with a long tradition of instigating pogroms against Jews who often directly aided ‎and abetted the Nazis in carrying out their Final Solution.‎

It is thus hardly surprising that in the postwar era, the Jews in the West largely supported, ‎contributed to and were overwhelmingly represented in liberal and labor parties, even when ‎their own economic status would have inclined them toward the more conservative parties.‎

Even at the turn of the century this applied, especially in the United States, which absorbed ‎large numbers of East European bundist democratic socialists. Jews' involvement in and ‎support of the Democratic Party became part of their uniquely American DNA, at times ‎superseding their Jewish cultural and religious backgrounds.‎

However, the past three decades have witnessed dramatic changes. Together with ‎organizations purporting to promote human rights, the liberals and the left-wing political ‎parties have distanced themselves from Israel amid its conflict with the Palestinians, and at best employed moral equivalence ‎toward the Palestinian perpetrators of terror and the Israelis defending themselves. ‎Throughout Western Europe they have become outrightly hostile to Israel. The newly elected ‎U.K. Labour party leader is even on record praising Hamas.‎

This has led increasingly to many committed Jews who had traditionally voted for parties on ‎the left to tilt toward more conservative parties. This applies to Europe, Canada and Australia.‎

The United States is an exception. Even following U.S. President Barack Obama's vicious diplomatic ‎onslaughts against Israel and the Republican Party's committed support for Israel, the majority ‎of American Jews remain Democratic Party supporters.‎

Over the last two or three years, the emergence of populist parties on the far right of the ‎political scene has further complicated the political situation for Diaspora Jews.‎

Of course, the Hungarian Jobbik and Greek Golden Dawn are disgusting outright anti-Semitic ‎Nazi parties that Jews abhor.‎

But there are other populist parties that have grown dramatically in response to Arab ‎terrorism and more recently in protest to the massive influx of Syrian and other Muslim refugees.‎

A decade ago, the French National Front party headed by the anti-Semitic Holocaust denier ‎Jean Marie Le Pen was considered a fringe fascist group with marginal appeal. These days, under ‎the leadership of his daughter Marine, the party obtained 28% of the first round vote in the ‎recent local elections, making it the largest party in the French political arena. Were it not for a ‎union of the socialists and Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing Republicans, the National Front may ‎have triumphed in the second round.‎

Le Pen sought to cleanse her party of fascist and anti-Semitic elements and even expelled the ‎party's founder, her father. She has waged a relentless campaign to limit immigration and ‎prevent Islamic elements from influencing the country. She defeated a ‎government effort to charge her for inciting against Muslims after she claimed that the closure of ‎central Paris streets for Muslim prayer reminded her of restrictions imposed on the nation ‎during the Nazi occupation. She also publicly supported Israel. ‎

Yet the representative body of the French Jewish community, CRIF, in a major statement ‎issued by its president, veteran Jewish communal leader Roger Cukierman called on all ‎French Jews to rally and campaign against the National Front to deny the "populist and ‎xenophobic party" an electoral victory. He was supported by French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia. ‎Yet despite this, it is estimated that about 18% of Jews who felt threatened by recent events ‎still voted for the National Front.‎

Similar situations prevail with other populist parties that have eschewed anti-Semitism and ‎support Israel but remain shunned by most Jews who still associate them with the former anti-‎Semitic populist movements. None stands out more than Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, ‎whose passionate support for Israel is remarkable. Yet many Jews would find it difficult to ‎endorse his extreme call to outlaw the Quran and are offended by his party's commitment to ‎ban Jewish as well as Muslim methods of slaughter.‎

There are even more complex situations in Eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, ‎may be an authoritarian nationalist leader but is nevertheless -- for the time being -- a friend of ‎Israel and the Jewish people.‎

The Hungarian government, despite being extremely right wing and having a sizeable neo-Nazi ‎party in parliament, rejected a memorial for the anti-Semitic Hungarian nationalists (albeit ‎under pressure) and is very supportive of Israel. The new Polish government includes a ‎number of people with unsavory records but is displaying positive attitudes to Israel and Jews. ‎The Baltic governments promote as heroes, nationalists who collaborated in the extermination ‎of their Jewish population, and seek to cover up a torrid past. But these governments also try ‎to present themselves as friends of the Jewish people and supporters of Israel. ‎

How should Israel and Diaspora Jews respond to these situations?‎

If we respond exclusively in moral or judgmental historical terms, we isolate ourselves and lose ‎whatever influence we might have. ‎

It is time for us to start thinking in pragmatic terms. Let us set aside noble concepts of limiting ‎ourselves to associating exclusively with the "good" people (if they exist beyond our illusions) ‎and doing what all other nations and people do. Dismiss political and moral correctness and ‎act to promote our interests, although they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. ‎

We should not be committed to or against any party -- other than obviously opposing blatant ‎anti-Semitic elements. But the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend any more than ‎the friend of our friend is necessarily our friend.‎

Jews should not be committed to either liberals or conservatives. Each situation should be ‎reviewed on an independent, case-by-case basis and determined pragmatically on the basis of ‎what is considered beneficial to us. In most cases, this will almost invariably also parallel that ‎which is best for society as a whole. ‎

Jews are not monolithic and should display the flexibility which ensures that no political party ‎can automatically rely on our support. Our political influence will be immeasurably ‎strengthened when political parties recognize that to gain Jewish support, they must respond ‎to Jewish needs. ‎

Isi Leibler's website can be viewed at ‎He may be contacted at


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