Opinion | Opinion

Norway attacks spotlight far-right outreach to Jews, Israel

(JTA) — For decades after World War II, far-right political movements in Europe stirred up for Jews images of skinheads and Nazi storm troopers marching across the continent.

But in recent years, as European xenophobia has focused on the exploding growth of Muslims on the continent, right-wing anti-Semitism has been replaced in some corners by outreach to Jews and Israel. It’s part of an effort in far-right movements to gain broader, mainstream support for an anti-Muslim alliance opposed to the notion of a multicultural Europe.

Indeed, in the anti-Muslim manifesto attributed to Anders Behring Breivik, the accused perpetrator of the July 22 deadly attacks in Oslo and the nearby Norwegian island of Utoya, the pseudonymous author expresses sympathy for Israel’s plight and cites numerous critiques of the Palestinians.

“Aided by a pre-existing anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, European media have been willing to demonise the United States and Israel while remaining largely silent on the topic Eurabia,” the author writes in his manifesto, titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.”

Later, he lists four potential political allies among Israel’s political parties: Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and National Union.

Breivik’s apparent proto-Zionist viewpoint is shared by a number of far-right leaders around Europe.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict illustrates the struggle between Western culture and radical Islam,” Filip Dewinter, the head of Belgium’s far-right, anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang Party, said last December during a visit to Tel Aviv.

“Israel is of central importance to us,” German Freedom Party head Rene Stadtkewitz told JTA last year. What Israelis do to fight terrorism, he said, “is what we would have to be doing here. And I am very thankful that they are doing it.”

But after the deadly attacks in Norway, which authorities say left at least 76 people dead, the dangers of making common cause with movements where extremists like Breivik can find an ideological home and where some supporters are known for being violent is all too clear, some Jewish figures are saying.

“A large-scale hate crime attack such as the one in Norway demonstrates the clear and present danger of incitement against political, ethnic and religious groups,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations. “Hate crimes are among the most insidious of dangers to democracy.”

To be sure, Breivik is an extreme example of the anti-multicultural tide rising in Europe, and far-right leaders say they eschew the killing of innocents in their crusade to restore Europe to its pre-heterogeneous state. But some watchdog groups say that European far-right movements provided the ideological underpinnings to Breivik’s attack and they must be held to account.

“Breivik was clearly influenced by an ideological movement both in the United States and Europe that is rousing public fear by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith,” warned the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman.

The fact that Breivik attacked those he viewed as collaborators with Muslims rather than Muslims themselves shows just how dangerous extremist ideology can be, the ADL suggested in a statement.

Jewish leaders in Europe, who in recent days have taken pains to distance themselves from Breivik’s proto-Zionism, long have warned that even far rightists who do not espouse anti-Semitism are dangerous for the Jews.

Far rightists “want a Sweden for the Swedes, France for the French and Jews to Israel,” Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, told JTA last October.

“Islamism certainly is a danger to the Jews and to Western democracy,” Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA last year. “The way to fight [Islamists] is not, however, to demonize and ostracize all Muslims.”

Not all Jews have gotten the memo, however. Polls show that a small minority of European Jews supports some far-right parties, and a few far-right figures have gained a certain measure of respectability among some Jews.

When firebrand Geert Wilders, the leader of Holland’s Freedom Party, spoke at an event in Berlin last year, former Israeli Knesset member Eli Cohen of the Yisrael Beiteinu party was one of the featured speakers.

Wilders also has his Jewish fans in America. One is Daniel Pipes, a columnist and director of a think tank that warns of the dangers of domination by radical Muslims, or Islamists.

In a column last year for The National Review titled “Why I Stand with Geert Wilders,” Pipes called the controversial Dutch political figure “the most important European alive today” and the man “best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent.”

Pipes’ writing was quoted extensively in Breivik’s manifesto. Reached this week by JTA, Pipes declined to comment for this story.

As for Wilders, he was quick to condemn last Friday’s attacks in Norway.

“That the fight against Islam is conducted by a violent psychopath is disgusting and a slap to the face of the global anti-Islamic movement,” Wilders said in a statement. “It fills me with disgust that the perpetrator refers to the [ Freedom Party] and me in his manifesto. … We fight for a democratic and nonviolent means against the further Islamization of society and will continue to do so.”

Of course, not all far-right parties in Europe are trying to make common cause with Jews. Many, like Jobbik, a far-right movement in Hungary, lump Jews with Gypsies, Muslims and others as undesirables.

Far-right parties in Europe have varying degrees of support, but polls show their political backing is rising across the continent. In Norway, the anti-immigrant Progress Party is now the second-largest in parliament. In Hungary, Jobbik won nearly 17 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last year, making it the country’s third-largest party.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s sagging popularity and the collapse of the anticipated presidential candidacy of Dominique Strauss-Khan following rape charges were filed against him in New York gave Marine Le Pen — leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party and daughter of Holocaust-minimizer Jean-Marie Le Pen — a lead in some polls of French presidential contenders.

In June 2009, far-right parties across Europe captured a sizable share of seats in the European Parliament, a development attributed to rising xenophobic sentiment fueled by the global economic downturn. Among the winners were the neo-fascist British National Party and the Austrian Freedom Party, which campaigned with posters reading “FPO veto for Turkey and Israel in the EU.”

The appeal of far-right political positions is not relegated to the political fringes. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stances have permeated mainstream political discourse and influenced government policies.

In Switzerland, the far-right Swiss People’s Party is the largest party in the National Council, one of two federal legislatures. Two years ago the party helped spearhead a national referendum that succeeded in outlawing the construction of minarets on newly built mosques.

Earlier this year, France outlawed the wearing of the niqab, the Muslim full-face veil. Last summer, Sarkozy launched a campaign to strip French nationality from foreign-born individuals who attacked police officers and started a program to rapidly deport Gypsy — or Roma — migrants to Romania and Bulgaria.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared last fall that Germany’s experiment with multiculturalism had failed.

It’s still not clear how the deadly attack in Norway will impact Norwegian politics, much less the rest of the continent. That will depend on how well far-right parties are able to draw a sharp distinction between Breivik’s violent attacks against multiculturalists and their own opposition to immigrants, Muslims and multiculturalism.