My Two Shekels: Is the rise of extremist politics a threat to Jewish communities?

My Two Shekels: Is the rise of extremist politics a threat to Jewish communities?

My Two Shekels' looks at how extreme politics may affect the Jewish community

Norbert Hofer
Norbert Hofer

The narrow defeat of Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate in Austria’s recent presidential election, provoked sighs of relief across Europe.

No one, though, is pretending that this represents the high watermark of the resurgence of extremist politics.

Aside from increasingly illiberal regimes in Poland and Hungary, parties such as France’s National Front, Italy’s Lega Nord and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang represent a serious and, in some places, growing electoral force.

It may only be a matter of time before an openly racist party takes national power somewhere in Europe. And that’s before we mention the likes of Donald Trump, Avigdor Lieberman or Recep Erdoğan – examples of deeply illiberal politicians near or in power in democratic countries.

Clearly, we are in the midst of a troubling period, in which radical economic, environmental and political insecurity, together with ever-more bewildering technological and social change, combine to make simple, yet attractive, solutions to complex problems.

Of course, extremist ideologies never went away, but their recent growth in support demonstrates how far these are promising times for those who seek support for extremist causes.

So is this trend a threat to Jews? Of course, in the case of Islamic fundamentalism, there is no disputing that Jews are often their target.

But in the case of far-right extremism, the situation is more complex. Anti-Semitism is still a mainstay of right-wing extremist politics in some countries, particularly in Hungary and some other places in Eastern Europe.

Elsewhere though, far-right parties have claimed to have turned their backs on anti-Semitism or, in the case of new groups such as Germany’s Pegida or the English Defence League, appear not interested in Jews at all. In fact, in some contexts, Israeli flags have been flown at demonstrations and far-right politicians have visited Israel.

The reasons for this are not hard to grasp: for the European far-right – as well as non-Europeans such as Donald Trump – Muslims are seen as the paramount threat to ‘western civilisations’.
Jews and Israel, according to this view, represent a necessary bulwark to the Islamist assault.

Jews should refuse such overtures. For one thing, in the case of some far-right groups, such as France’s National Front, their ‘conversion’ to philo-Semitism is dubious, or partial at best.
However, in any case, it would be a terrible mistake if Jews were to allow themselves to be used as a tool against Muslims.

Regardless of whether the rise of extremism has any direct impact on Jews, we should still fight it.

With our long and complicated history, we know all too well where prejudice and hate can lead.

A politics of division doesn’t just hurt those who are targeted for discrimination and abuse – it hurts us all.

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