Israel’s embrace of far-right political parties around the world could be its very undoing. Indeed, the Zionist movement, which later manifested itself in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, was predicated on a clear and consistent logic: negotiating a safe position for itself between center right and center left parties across the Western hemisphere.
For 70 years, Israel felt very much like a western country – at least this is how it wished to portray itself for the sake of generous and unconditional western political, financial and military support.
Since World War II, most of the west, in its geopolitical makeup, vacillated within mainstream, traditional politics of Left and Right, as a result of which Israel enjoyed much leverage and faced little criticism.
Now that we are witnessing the political restructuring of western politics and the imminent end of the liberal democratic era, Israel is also changing.
Of course, Israel has, since its inception, championed racist and chauvinistic national politics masquerading as ‘western democracy’, but it has nonetheless, followed a precise script. It branded itself as the “only democracy in the Middle East”, while incrementally moving to achieve its precise goals of settler colonialism.
Unlike the years that adjoined the founding of Israel (between 1947-49) when Palestinians were expelled in their hundreds of thousands, the following decades witnessed a tactical style of ethnic cleansing - what some historians refer to as ‘slow genocide.’
This gradual yet relentless process no longer finds a need for caution thanks to the rapidly-changing political modes in the United States, Europe and even countries that historically, more or less, sided with the Palestinians.
Hungary, Ukraine, and now Brazil are only examples in what is clearly a calculated shift in Israel’s political approach to world politicsRamzy Baroud
Brazil is a case in point. As soon as the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential race was announced, Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, picked up the phone.
“We await your visit to Israel,” Netanyahu told the far-right extremist Brazilian politician, who secured a victory on the back of a racist campaign targeting the poor and reminiscing on the ‘good old days’ of military dictatorship.
What truly mattered to Netanyahu is the fact that Bolsonaro’s political discourse regarding Israel is a carbon copy of the populist and chauvinistic US President, Donald Trump.
The days of Israel’s political correctness and constant homage to democracy are over. Israeli leaders approve of the rise of populism yielding a massive amount of racist and antisemitic slogans and ideas.
Israel’s dangerous alliances with the far right challenges the entire political order upon which Israel was established. The country that was supposedly established as a safe-haven to world Jewry, is now engaging in a deadly embrace with the very forces that promote anti-Jewish political thoughts.
Recently, Israel has reached out to Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who has been leading a vicious political campaign against the Jewish Hungarian American financier, George Soros. Accusations of antisemitism against Orban and his party did not deter Netanyahu from visiting him in Budapest in July last year.
But the move that perhaps best illustrates where Israel is headed in its support for the far right is its decision to arm the Azov battalion, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization in Ukraine.
Human rights activists recently petitioned the High Court of Justice in Israel to stop the government from selling weapons to such groups after their appeal to the Israeli defense ministry produced no response. However, Hungary, Ukraine, and now Brazil are only examples in what is clearly a calculated shift in Israel’s political approach to world politics.
“Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President (Reuven) Rivlin, his predecessor, President (Shimon) Peres, and the former Knesset Speaker all refused to meet members of extreme European right-wing parties and called on all Israeli parties to refrain from such meetings,” reported the Jewish American newspaper Forward last March.
But members of the Likud party haven’t followed suit. During the Ariel Sharon government in the early 2000s, Italian post-fascist, Gianfranco Fini, paid a visit to Israel.
At that time Fini, the leader of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement) and the ideological successor of the anti-Semitic Fascist Party, was trying to rebrand his movement. He changed the name to the “National Alliance” and solidified its new image by embarking on a trip to Israel in the company of Amos Luzzatto, the head of the Italian Jewish community.
The National Alliance was dismantled under the pressure of its own corruption and multiple scandals. However, the constituency that brought it to prominence mobilized in full force in this year’s elections in Italy and voted for the far-right League Party under the leadership of the current Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini.
Unsurprisingly, Salvini also went through the same political baptism by Israel as Fini did. In March 2016, he paid a visit to Tel Aviv to launch his political career. “Israel embodies the perfect balance of different realities, while ensuring law and order. It surely is a role model for security and anti-terrorism policies,” he said during his trip.
To the north of Italy, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has also registered remarkable electoral success. And it, too, is establishing solid ties with Israel, despite its racist views.
“The party derided for antisemitic, xenophobic views redolent of the Nazis is also staunchly supportive of Israel,” reported the Times of Israel. “(It is) one of a number of right-wing populist parties in Europe that have tried to make common cause with Israel’s tough stance toward terror and self-styled position as a forward bulwark against Islamic extremism.”
Last April, the anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic AfD, enthusiastically launched a campaign pushing for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite PM Angela Merkel‘s opposition to it. Now that Merkel is abandoning politics altogether, under the pressure of the country’s far right, Germany’s future political outlook is in danger of moving in the direction of the AfD and their likes.
Israel is rarely perturbed, at least for now, by the seismic shift in world politics. Instead, all that matters to Tel Aviv is moving forward with sealing the fate of Jerusalem as its ‘eternal and undivided capital’, ensuring the ‘Jewish identity’ of the country and forcing Palestinians into a long-term, unhindered apartheid without the least amount of world censure.
Now that the US has officially moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and racist Jewish ‘nation-state law’ is in effect, Israel is once more establishing new settlements and pushing Palestinians out of their land at a much higher rate than before. All that matters to Israel is being able to sustain this illegal apparatus without much criticism and with the full consent of its allies.
During his July 2017 visit to Budapest, Netanyahu met leaders from the so-called “Visegrad Group”, which includes Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
There, he hoped to find new allies to help exert pressure on the rest of the EU. In an audio recording obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu derided “Old Europe” for daring to criticize Israel’s dismal human rights record, illegal settlement policies and military occupation. “I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said.
Netanyahu needs new ways to pressure Europe because pro-Palestinian policies and attitudes are slowly but steadily entering mainstream politics, as grassroots groups are becoming increasingly outraged by Israeli crimes against Palestinians. Israel’s fear of Europe abandoning its Zionist cause could be seen in recent Israeli official reactions.
On July 12, Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the “immediate” closure of his country’s embassy in Dublin after the upper house of the Irish parliament voted in favor of a bill that could boycott Israeli products manufactured in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Israeli government seems intent on weakening democratic movements, in Europe, the US and elsewhere, by investing in existing divisions and offering political validation to groups that, until recently, were on the political fringes.
It remains to be seen whether Israel’s embrace of far-right, neo-Nazi and fascist parties will pay off the way Netanyahu and his government hope or whether it will backfire , exposing it for what it truly is: an ethnonationalist state with no interest in true democracy and equality.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.