It appears that the lines defining 'the other' are shifting with the rise of populism on the European political stage. Where will that leave the Jewish community in 2017?
With Brexit and Trump, 2016 was certainly not an easy year for Progressives around the world. This year won’t be easier either. The Netherlands will hold elections in March, Wilders’ Party for Freedom is topping the polls. In April, it will be the French’s turn to elect a new head of state and the far-right’s candidate Le Pen is beating the major Conservative opponent Fillon in several public surveys. In September, the Alternative for Germany will presumably make it into the Bundestag with 10 to 15 percent: For the first time in history since 1933, a far-right party will be represented in the German parliament.
These parties may stand for different economic policies but they share one common core characteristic: spreading hate against Muslims, migrants and refugees.
In order to be more effective in the agitation against these groups, the modern far-right politicians tries to line up with their traditional enemies, with feminists, queers – and Jews.
Suddenly anti-Semitism is not acceptable anymore in the far-right.
In December 2015, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the French far-right party Front National got kicked out from his movement by his successor, his own daughter Marine Le Pen for repeated anti-Semitic statements. Geert Wilders described the State of Israel as the “main front protecting the West” from “the ideology of Islamic barbarism.” H.C. Strache from the far-right Freedom Party of Austria posts on his Facebook page a selfie with Berel Lazar, the Chabad Chief Rabbi of Russia.
Historically speaking, the far-right is responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews. Today, the far-right suddenly speaks of a Judeo-Christian Occident and presents itself as the defender of this concept.
The message is clear: Jews and Christians belong to Europe. Everyone else, especially Muslims, don’t.
But we Jews know that this is plain nonsense. We have never been part of Europe until the past few decades. We were persecuted, tortured, put into ghettos without any rights. In the best case we were tolerated but never been considered to be an integral part of the European body. The European literary canon doesn’t know of any Jewish authors, it doesn’t know the richness of Talmudic stories or the beauty of the Medieval Piyutim. If a Jew wanted to be seen as a true European he converted to Christianity. As the Jewish-born Christian convert poet Heinrich Heine put it:
“Conversion to Christianity is the entrance ticket to European society.”
The far-right’s new philo-Semitic image is dishonest.
Pegida, the far-right Islamophobic movement in Germany claims in its manifest to be defending the Judeo-Christian Occident: At the same time, the 2015 study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation proves that most participants of this movements share anti-Semitic stereotypes. Most of these “modern” far-right parties have members who come out as anti-Semites after a while.
Islamophobia and anti-Semitism go hand in hand.
Many of the new Islamophobic accusations are actually just the remix of the old anti-Semitic statements. Today, Islamophobes speak of an “Islamization of Europe”, a hundred years ago anti-Semites spread fear concerning the Eastern-European Jewish migrants coming into Austria and Prussia. Islamophobes take certain verses from Quran out of their context to prove that Islam is barbaric as such, anti-Semites abuse passages from the Talmud for the same purpose, etc. Actually, one of the motto’s of the German far-right used today in the agitation against Muslims originates from the 19th century Historian Heinrich von Treitschke who used the same sentences against Jews: “Deutschland den Deutschen!” (Germany is for the Germans).
Many Jews fall unfortunately for this false philo-Semitic image. According to Roger Cuikerman, former President of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish organization and present-day Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, Marine Le Pen has an “irreproachable personality” and her party is „not a party of violence anymore.“ In France, there is now even a Jewish organization that was established to speak up for FN in public, the Union of French Jewish Patriots. The anti-Semitism among French Muslims makes for them the National Front kosher, a.k.a “the enemy’s enemy is my friend.” I wonder what the anti-Semitism among French non-Muslims does make these voters supportive of. In Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Belang got 2014 the support of 6 percent of the whole population – at the same time, 15 percent of the Jews voted for this Nationalistic political movement which supported the Nazis in the early 40s and still commemorates collaborators. In most of these political parties there are an emerging number of Jewish politicians like Wolfgang Fuhl in Germany, Nigel Sussman in the United Kingdom or Michel Thooris in France.
The far-right wants to divide us. But we won’t let that happen.
We won’t fall for their remixed anti-Semitism masked as Islamophobia. Our struggle against anti-Semitism is very much connected to the Muslims’ struggle against Islamophobia, to the queers’ struggle against Homophobia, to the feminists’ struggle against male chauvinism. An open society is only possible if all non-violent people are respected regardless their differences. We should remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.“
2017 will be a tough year – but it will be at the same time an opportunity for us progressive Jews to raise our voices against the principle of ‘divide and rule.’ We stand and stick together with our Muslim, migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. We defend the open society together from its enemies: Not only from the Islamic terrorists but also from the far-right politicians.
Armin Langer (1990) is a graduate student of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam. He is the founder and coordinator the Jewish-Muslim activist group Salaam-Shalom. He has published op-eds in several German and international outlets, and his first book "Ein Jude in Neukölln" (A Jew from the No-go-Zone) was published in 2016.
Image credit: Matt Northam