Israel’s dance with far-right movements across the world

The current far-right agenda has more to do with Islamophobia than anti-Semitism, but both sentiments are on the rise across the West. So why is Benjamin Netanyahu cosying up to these groups?

By Murat Sofuoglu
5 Mar 2019

Under hardliner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel has chosen to collaborate with anti-Semitic neo-Nazi movements across the world.

Netanyahu, who is also the leader of far-right Likud Party, recently developed strong ties with numerous far-right parties and personalities across the continents.

Experts and pundits underline different factors for the development of this new alliance between Israel and the far-right, which is anti-Semitic in its essence. One element is the increasing visibility of Islamic communities across Europe and the US, appearing to dominate the other factors.

“I think Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes friends with people who share the Israeli government’s values. Those values are deeply slickened to hatred of Islam and Muslims,” said Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist and author, who has recently penned Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.

According to Loewenstein, both Israel and far-right movements, which have been fomented by recent migration waves mostly from Muslim-majority countries, have been meeting on a common Islamophobic agenda.

One of the most striking examples of the Israeli connection with far-right movements is Italy where the country’s neo-Nazi-rooted far-right party, the League Party (Lega Nord in Italian), has recently become part of the coalition government.

Israel’s love affair with the far-right

In December, Matteo Salvini, Interior Minister and the leader of the League Party, has paid a visit to Israel, meeting Netanyahu, who called him a “great friend of Israel.” But he could not meet with the Israeli president as Italy’s Jewish community strongly protested the visit.

This was not Salvini’s first visit to the Jewish state. The far-right leader visited in early 2016 to get support from the Israeli government in Tel Aviv for his future political bid in Italy. Banking on the rise of the continent’s anti-migrant resentment, Salvini eventually became the Italian interior minister in June.

As one of the staunchest defenders of anti-migration measures, Salvini is also targeting refugees and migrants alike. “Italian ports are CLOSED,” Salvini tweeted in late December, evoking memories of WWII.

“Basically, what we see in the world and West is that the radical right has been inspired by Israel for very good reasons. Because Israel is a hardcore nationalist, hardcore racist, hardcore anti-migration [state],” said Gilad Atzmon, a musician and a political activist, who was born and grew up in Israel.

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When Palestinian refugees want to come back their land, Israelis shoot them at the border with snipers, Atzmon, who recently published his latest book, The Wandering Who?, told TRT World.

In 2016, Netanyahu spoke like any other far-right leader saying: “In our neighborhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts,” referring to Palestinians using racist language.

The far-right love affair with Israel is not limited to Italy. Netanyahu, who has been facing severe corruption charges at home, has been enthusiastic about meeting with far-right figures from Hungary to Brazil.

In 2017, he met with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a man, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

Most recently, Netanyahu also met with Brazil’s newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the Brazilian version of Donald Trump, who is the new star of Latin America’s rising far-right.

Like Salvini, Bolsonaro visited Israel several times before he became president.

“He is a pro-Zionist man. He has visited Israel many times,” Debora Thome, a Brazilian academic, told TRT World in an October interview before the country’s crucial elections. Bolsonaro has also recently confirmed that Brazil would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The political move is a controversial decision because both Palestinians and much of the international community think that the status of Jerusalem should be decided at the end of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

“They have no problem treating Palestinians or Muslims as second-class citizens because they themselves view Muslims as second-class citizens in their own countries like Brazil, Poland, Hungary,” Loewenstein told TRT World, referring to the attitudes of anti-migrant far-right movements across the world.

The Israeli love affair with the new far-right does not only have ideological roots but also political aims. 

“Israel wants to get international recognition or legitimacy for its occupation of the Palestinian lands and these countries [where the far-right is on the rise] provide legitimacy,” Loewenstein observed.

Apparently, it’s a good trade-off between Israelis and right-wing zealots.

Netanyahu has also conspicuously stayed silent on the rise of Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD), another far-right party, which became the largest opposition in 2017 after the last parliamentary elections.

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Like Brazil’s Bolsonaro, the AfD is also campaigning to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The AfD’s roots in Germany’s Nazi legacy is particularly troubling for outside observers.

But the ties are not only limited to political channels between Tel Aviv and the AfD, they include signs of social engagement between German-Jewish political operatives and the AfD establishment.

“The AfD is the only party in Germany that focuses on Muslims’ hatred for Jews, without playing it down,” said Dimitri Schulz, a German-Jewish politician with roots in the former Soviet Union, who has worked to create a Jewish group inside the party according to the New York Times.

Schulz even wants to go further, talking about a possibility that “an alliance of rightist conservatives in Europe is closely associated with Judaism,” he says referring to far-right movements as “rightist conservatives”.

Schulz’s reference to a new alliance is remarkable because various arms of the Israeli state and the Jewish lobby have long collaborated with evangelical groups across the world, primarily in the US. It might herald a new era, in which evangelical groups, the far-right, the Jewish state and its right-wing Jewish supporters around the world can effectively collaborate against left-wing political groups and Muslim communities, who seek dignified lives.

Internal divisions in Jewish communities

But the Israel-far-right alliance could come at the cost of deepening internal Jewish divisions.

“Right-wing zealots are inspired by Israeli anti-Islam approach,” Atzmon said. Escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians makes the Israeli position even more appealing to these zealots, Atzmon says.

“But it’s very fragile because an anti-Jewish element also [exists] in the right wing universe,” Atzmon added.

He believes that this rapprochement between the far-right and Israel also foments an “internal Jewish debate” between progressives and conservatives, making some believe that the rising tensions could lead to a “civil war” among Jewish factions.

“I believe mainstream left-wing groups in the West have either abandoned Israel or pretty much expressed a lot of contempt how Israel treats Palestinians and other minorities,” Loewenstein said, arguing that this abandonment could be one of the leading causes of the recent far-right-Israeli alliance.

“For many people around the world including myself, who is Jewish, I find it very disturbing and offensive,” Loewenstein said.

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He describes himself as secular, atheist and anti-Zionist.

“There is an ongoing struggle between authoritarian and democratic tendencies around the world. We see various [non-violent] civil wars in different forms,” Osman Bostan, a Turkish political analyst, said.

Lowenstein thinks Netanyahu feels free to pursue such a policy because his first concern is not anti-Semitism, which has recently increased in significant proportions in Europe, forcing 40 percent of Jews to think about leaving Europe, according to a recent study.

“They believe and view that all the Jews around the world should move in Israel and be in safe. No way in the world is safe for the Jews unless you live in Israel, they say,” Loewenstein said.

“But the truth is because Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands more than 50 years, in fact, Israel is in some way a very unsafe place for the Jews,” he says.

At the same time, the Israeli government stays silent against the rise of anti-Semitism and Trump-supported white nationalism in the US, he added.

According to Loewenstein, Netanyahu’s Israel believes that “anti-Semitism is not very destructive.”

At the same time, the current far-right agenda is more about Islamophobia than anti-Semitism despite both trends being on the rise, overlapping with Netanyahu’s political agenda.

Furthermore, strangely, the rise of anti-Semitism forces Jews to move to Israel, helping to implement Israel’s political agenda that the country is the only place Jews can feel safe.

But Loewenstein and others still think differently.

“Israel claims to speak for all Jews around the world. Israel claims to be the Jewish state. For me, as a Jew, Israel does not speak for me. Israel is a country that regularly assaults Palestinians and occupies for over 50 years,” he said.

“For me what Jewish values should be is believing in all people are equal,” he concluded.

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