Open any Jewish newspaper or online resource this week – including our own – and you’ll find reports and opinions from communal leaders and journalists about the dangers of Zionism getting mixed up with the traditional extreme right. The reason for this sudden rash of commentary is the tragic events in Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik last week attacked a government building and a youth camp, killing upwards of 70 people, the vast majority of them children and young adults.
But the events in Norway were no black swan. Several months ago, I started bookmarking articles about a disturbing relationship developing between the extreme far right and Israel. I planned on writing a blog post about the dangers of making anti-Islam common ground between the Jewish community and its traditional enemies. I thought I had time to gather information, research. I never imagined that what seemed an incipient danger would manifest so quickly and tragically.
The article that triggered my concern appeared in Newsweek, and reported on a group of European political figures with strong ties to the neo-Nazi community being invited by an Israeli businessman to visit Yad Vashem. On that same visit, the leaders of Europe’s right-wing, nationalist political parities met with Knesset members, including from Shas, and signed a declaration stating Israel’s right to defend itself against terror and the threat of fundamental Islam. Does it say something about the cause if these are the kinds of people coming to our defense?
Since that initial article, other news reports starting seeping in. Right-wing Europeans meeting with Israeli settlers. Two weeks ago in the IJN we reported on a meeting between Berlin billionaire Patrik Brinkmann, who in the past has supported neo-Nazi parties, and a Likud member. The common ground? Anti-Islam and defending “Christian-Jewish values”.
The Jewish community reacts in horror to the extreme charedi Jews who meet with Ahmadinejad and his ilk, protesting the existence of the State of Israel, but why haven’t we done the same when it comes to some of the individuals defending Israel’s existence? Of course this week everyone from the AJC to Abraham Foxman is commenting on the dangers of ties to right-wing parties, but where were these voice when we were befriending the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and other anti-Islam leaders?
An idiom purports that your enemy’s enemy is your ally, but this begs two questions. Typically, employing this strategy means aligning yourself with a non-traditional ally. Is it worth the sacrifice? The most notable example was the United States and the Soviet Unions teaming up to defeat Hitler. It was viewed a necessary compromise and ultimately proved a successful tactical move, though hostile relations returned just as soon as the common goal was achieved. So even in the best-case scenario, making friends with an enemy is a short-term solution.
Second, is Islam our enemy? Does Palestinian terrorism a history of military invasions from Arab neighbors make all of Islam our enemy? The Jewish community has already demonstrated a dangerous precedent of making friends with anyone who is anti-Muslim, such as Geert Wilders. Do we stop to think that being vehemently “anti” any particular group reveals an intolerant, hateful mindset, which could just as quickly turn on us or any other group of people depending on perceived threats?
And what about our common ground with Islam? Particularly in Europe, where the anti-Islam sentiment is much stronger and more vocalized than in America, the Jewish communities have more in common with Muslims than with neo-Nazis. (Is it not utterly absurd that such a sentence requires being written?!) Just look at the recent shechitah ban in the Netherlands or the shocking vote here in Switzerland two years ago banning the construction of minarets. These kinds of anti-religion decisions bind us closely to the Muslim community.
Selective hearing is a dangerous thing. Just because someone is pro-Israel does not necessarily make him our friend, ally or supporter. The same should be true regarding the anti-Islam movement. Having something in common does not a partner make. It’s the whole picture that matters.