An unlikely union: Israel and the European far right

Israel has been engaging far-right groups and parties across Europe, ignoring their anti-Semitism.

by Ramzy Baroud & Romana Rubeo

In November 2017, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) hosted a gala dinner in New York City honouring Stephen Bannon, US President Donald Trump‘s then-chief strategist.

That Bannon and his media outlet Breitbart News were, and still are, seen by many as anti-Semitic was of no consequence to Zionist leaders from the US and Israel, who were in attendance.

There were, however, some critical voices from within the Jewish community who denounced the ZOA for its decision to invite Bannon. One of them was former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Bret Stephens, who dedicated a column in the New York Times on the issue.

“Just as there are anti-Zionist Jews, there are also anti-Semitic Zionists,” Stephens wrote. He then went on to condemn Bannon’s indirect link to neo-Nazi Richard Spencer who, according to Stephens, advocates a “factitious theory that Israel is the sort of ethno-nationalist state he’d like to see America become.”

While Stephens was right to be outraged about the gala dinner, he is wrong to claim that Israel is not an ethnonationalist state.

Just recently, the Israeli government endorsed the Nation-State Bill, which among many racist provisions, calls for the establishment of Jewish-only towns. This bill alone should be enough to settle the silly debate on whether Israel can be both a Jewish nation-state and a democracy.

But relations between Israel and its lobby groups and racist, neo-Nazi and fascist organisations go way deeper than a one-off gala dinner with Steve Bannon. In fact, in Europe, Israel is actively pursuing alliances with far-right groups and parties as a state policy.

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“Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President [Reuven] Rivlin, his predecessor, President [Shimon] Peres, and the former Knesset Speaker all refused to meet members of extreme European right-wing parties and called on all Israeli parties to refrain from such meetings,” reported the Jewish American newspaper Forward last March.

But members of the Likud partyhaven’t followed suit. During the Ariel Sharon government in the early 2000s, Italian post-fascist Gianfranco Fini paid a visit to Israel.

At that time Fini, the leader of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), the ideological successor of the anti-Semitic Fascist Party, was trying to rebrand his movement.

He started by changing the name to the “National Alliance” and then, to solidify its new image, he embarked on a trip to Israel, in the company of Amos Luzzatto, the head of the Italian Jewish community.

Today, the National Alliance is long gone, as it was dismantled under the pressure of its own corruption and multiple scandals. However, the constituency that brought the National Alliance to prominence mobilised in full force in this year’s elections in Italy and voted for the far-right League Party under the leadership of the current Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.


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