In recent years a historic reversal of support and hostility for Jews and the State of Israel has occurred, in which most of the political Right, and especially what might be termed the ethno-nationalist Right throughout the world, are now strong supporters of the Jewish state, while the political Left is increasingly and centrally hostile to it. While much has been written on left-wing anti-Semitism, little has been said about the growing and quite extraordinary links by the political Right with Israel.
To show the magnitude of the change, one ought first to set out the nature of European anti-Semitism as it existed between about 1870 and 1945, especially the doctrines held by the Nazis, and then contrast these attitudes with right-wing leaders today. Anti-Semitism as it existed in Europe (and elsewhere) before 1945 had a number of points as its main planks. First, the Jews were not simply a religious denomination but a “race”, or ethno-nationality group. According to Hitler in Mein Kampf, “the Jews’ entire existence is built on one single great lie, namely that here one had to deal with a religious brotherhood, while in fact, one had to deal with a race”. Second, and following from this, Jews were not and could not be a genuine component of the countries in which they lived, but were a separate entity which, however long they dwelled there, retained an independent existence. As Hitler expressed this in Mein Kampf:
the Jewish “state” (which is supposed to be the living organism for the preservation and propagation of the race) is territorially unlimited … The Jew was never a nomad, but always only a parasite in the body of other peoples … he is always looking for a new feeding soil for his race … a typical parasite, a sponger who, like a harmful bacillus, spreads out more and more if only a favourable medium invites him to do so … where he appears the host people die out sooner or later.
Even Continental European nationalists who were not genocidal concurred with this view. For instance, many Polish nationalists often pointed out that Jews in inter-war Poland did not have merely a separate religion from the majority of Poles, but a separate language (Yiddish), a separate historical chronology, a separate culture and cultural institutions, which were not Polish and could not be Polish.
This essay appears in April’s Quadrant.
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European anti-Semites also claimed that Jews were part of an international conspiracy of evil which aimed at international domination by any and every means, means which at first glance appeared diametrically opposed: they were among the leaders of international finance capital in Wall Street and the City of London, and were also the progenitors of Bolshevism in Russia and of the Marxist revolutions which broke out, after the First World War, in Bavaria and Hungary. Jews were regularly the leaders of most destructive, subversive and obscene modernist movements, in literature, music, drama, the cinema, psychoanalysis and sexual liberation. Where Jews controlled the press, which according to anti-Semites they generally did, their newspapers and magazines were almost always anti-nationalistic and anti-patriotic, and in favour of weak-kneed internationalism, racial equality and pacifism.
It might also be pointed out that many anti-Semites (and others) thought that the most effective way to deal with the harm done by the Jews to their host population was to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, which would rid their countries of Jews while establishing a “normal” Jewish society elsewhere. Hitler disagreed. In Mein Kampf, he said that Zionists “have no thought of building up a Jewish state in Palestine, so that they might inhabit it, but they only want a central organisation of their international world cheating … a refuge for convicted rascals and a high school for future rogues”.
While few were as extreme as Hitler, social and economic anti-Semitism was a constant part of life even in the democracies until the Second World War or even later. Belief in at least some of these pillars of anti-Semitism, and mistrust of the Jews, was found on the political Right throughout the world, even in the English-speaking democracies. Anti-Semitism was strongly associated with the political Right, and would be eliminated whenever the progressive Left came to power—at least in theory.
Before coming to an analysis of how the situation has changed and why, it might be worthwhile citing some recent press and media reports to highlight the sheer extent of the change.
From National Public Radio (US), December 17, 2018: “Last week, Israel welcomed the leader of Italy’s far right, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Called a neo-fascist by his left-wing critics, Salvini was accused of embracing World War II era dictator and Hitler ally Benito Mussolini when he echoed Mussolini’s words in a tweet marking the anniversary of his birth. Netanyahu last Wednesday called Salvini ‘a great friend of Israel’.” This report included a photo of Salvini laying a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
From the Israeli left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz, July 22, 2018: “In a series of tweets [American white nationalist leader] Richard Spencer writes of his admiration for Israel’s contentious nation-state law, which confers the right to national self-determination in Israel to the Jewish people alone.” Spencer stated that “Jews are showing a path forward for Europeans”. Spencer, who describes himself as a “white Zionist”, is an American, born in 1978, who has been termed (on Wikipedia) a “white nationalist … and the equivalent of a ‘Zionist’ for white people”. Spencer coined the term “alt-right”, and advocates white European unity and a “peaceful ethnic cleansing of non-whites from America”. According to Spencer, “Immigration is a kind of proxy war—and maybe a last stand—for White Americans, who are undergoing a painful recognition that, unless drastic action is taken, their grandchildren will live in a country that is alien and hostile.”
From the London Independent, July 19, 2018: “Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed his Hungarian counterpart as a ‘true friend of Israel’ at the start of a controversial two-day visit which has sparked widespread outcry over Viktor Orban’s praise … for Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s Second World War ruler, who introduced antisemitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis … Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Orban for ‘defending Israel’.” In his Wikipedia entry, Orban’s political beliefs are termed a mixture of “social conservatism, national conservatism, soft Euroscepticism, and advocacy of what he described as an ‘illiberal state’”.
The Times of Israel, January 31, 2019, reports that later this year there will be a summit conference of four Eastern European leaders—Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the leaders of the Visegrad Group of nations, which is the most right-wing and nationalistic faction within the European Union. So what? you might ask. Just this: this summit meeting will be held in Jerusalem, where it will be chaired by Benjamin Netanyahu. The democratic but right-wing successors to Admiral Horthy in Hungary, Tiso in wartime Slovakia, and the anti-Semitic governments of inter-war Poland, now apparently look to the Prime Minister of the Jewish state as an unofficial leader.
Outside of Europe, nationalistic right-wing parties and leaders are also now strongly allied to Israel. A good example of this is the extraordinarily good relations which have grown up during the past twenty years or so between Israel and India’s ruling BJP (the Bharatiya Janata Party), the Hindu nationalist vehicle, which, in a manner resembling the situation of Labor and Likud in Israel, has replaced the left-wing Congress Party, headed by the Nehru dynasty, as India’s normal ruling party. Under the BJP, relations between Israel and India have become remarkably close, whereas the Congress Party had kept Israel at arm’s length, restricted to a consulate in Bombay rather than an embassy in New Delhi.
Another example is Brazil’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, an across-the-board right-wing nationalist and (as he is often termed) populist, who, according to one left-wing commentator, is “the most misogynistic and hateful elected official in the democratic world”, who is often termed a “fascist” and a “right-wing demagogue” by leftist commentators. Eighty years ago, the views of someone like this about Jews would almost certainly have been hostile. Today, on the contrary, Bolsonaro is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, which, he was quoted as saying in September 2018, will be the first foreign country he intends to visit as President of Brazil; Benjamin Netanyahu recently completed a highly publicised visit to Brazil. Asked about Palestine, Bolsonaro stated that Palestine “is not a country, so there should be no embassy there”, adding that “you don’t negotiate with terrorists”.
There has thus been a total reversal of attitudes towards the Jews and the Jewish state by, in particular, what might be termed the ethno-nationalist Right. Because of the existence and policies of the Jewish state, the Jews are no longer seen as the instigators of a vast international conspiracy of evil or as permanent alien parasites, but the opposite: Israel is a role model for what a democratic ethno-nationalist nation might look like, and a signpost for the road that other democratic nations ought to take. Indeed, on the Right—apart from the residual neo-Nazi far Right—support for Israel has become a litmus test for wider support for right-wing and conservative issues across the board, while the Left is increasingly and often centrally hostile to Israel.
Right-wing support for Israel is largely based on several aspects of the country’s dominant policies: an unapologetic rejection of non-Jewish immigration, especially that of Palestinians; an unswerving commitment to the destruction of terrorists, especially Islamic extremists; and international independence, free of the constraints imposed, for example, upon member states by the European Union. Those nations, especially in Europe, which now hold Israel in high regard would, above all, like to stop as comprehensively as possible the destruction of their national identities and heritages by mass immigration, especially from the Islamic world and from Africa and, as well, be free of dictation about their policies and futures by international bodies like the EU or the United Nations. The Trump administration appears to be an American equivalent of this stance, and has, so far, been the firmest supporter of Israel of any American administration since 1948. The fact that Israel is a nation-state with a “normal” social structure and a famously successful army has, in particular, acted to remove the old image of the Jews as aliens and parasites.
Today’s right-wing ethno-nationalism is completely democratic, and has none of the defining elements associated with fascism in the 1930s: no all-powerful dictator, no secret police or concentration camps, no attempts to control the press or media, the judiciary, or the universities. Its aim is the Nation in Arms, voluntarily united in support of patriotic rather than subversive aims. Possibly the first modern movement in a democracy to exhibit these characteristics was that of the Ulster Unionists just before the First World War. From the 1880s, Liberal governments in Britain attempted to enact Home Rule for the entire island of Ireland, a goal bitterly opposed by, among others, the Protestants of Northern Ireland. Home Rule had always failed because it was defeated in the House of Lords, but the removal of the Lords’ veto powers in 1910 made its enactment inevitable. As a result, a movement of opposition to Home Rule grew in Ulster. In 1912, it produced a so-called Solemn League and Covenant, which was signed by 237,368 men and 234,046 women in Ulster, virtually the entire adult Protestant population, who pledged the “using of all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy” to enact Home Rule; it led directly to the creation of Northern Ireland and its remaining in the United Kingdom when Irish independence was enacted in 1922. This was arguably the earliest example of a truly populist and democratic right-wing resistance to the Left and, in a sense, the progenitor to today’s right-wing populism.
Although this growing alliance of the world’s right-wing movements with Israel has attracted little attention, the other side of the coin, the desertion by the Left of its former support for Israel and its admiration for nations and movements which would like to destroy Israel, has been fairly well documented. Throughout the Western world, the Left regards Israel as virtually the centre of all evil, and consistently supports the Islamic terrorists who barely disguise their desire to destroy Israel. The further left one goes, the more likely this is to be true: Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in Britain, the new anti-Zionists on the left wing of the Democratic Party in America, the hostility to Israel shown here in Australia by the Greens and a part of the left wing of the ALP, are similar components of a broader international picture.
Israel’s Jewish population, now seven million, has the highest birth rate of any in the Western world. Its Jewish population is predicted to grow to 15 million by 2050, and to 30 to 40 million by the end of the century. With its significant high-tech sector, its strong links to America and to Asian countries like India and China, and its renowned military prowess, Israel is likely to emerge, if not as a superpower, then certainly as a major regional power which, ironically in view of the history of the Jewish people, may become one of the leaders of the Western world’s conservative forces. Count Metternich, the leader of the “Holy Alliance” of ultra-conservative European states like Tsarist Russia and Habsburg Austria, would have been astonished to learn that his successor 200 years later was the Jewish Prime Minister of a Jewish state—but as we say in this country, such is life.
William D. Rubinstein has held chairs at Deakin University and the University of Wales, and is currently an adjunct professor at Monash University. He wrote “The Emergence of Conservative Affection for Israel” in the September 2017 issue.