One weekend last month a thousand members of the French Socialist Party, including cabinet ministers and leading party activists, gathered in Paris to discuss the National Front, a radical right-wing party that, according to recent polls, is expected to significantly increase its electoral strength. The purpose of the conference was to arrive at a profound understanding of the National Front phenomenon and its broad historical and intellectual dimensions, and to create tools for fighting ethnic and racist nationalism.
In light of what is happening today, a simple fact must be understood: The chauvinistic, racist right is an integral part of European culture and is a built-in element in European ethnic and cultural nationalism. Furthermore, it must be understood that the emergence of the chauvinistic, racist right in the 20th century was not just an incidental result of the First World War and the crises that erupted in its wake. Many people are now asking the frightening question: Are we witnessing a return to the 1930s?
An Israeli participating in this conference could not help but compare the situation in Europe with what is happening today in Israel, and could not resist recalling that the last time the Israeli left held a similar discussion was the period immediately following the debacle in the 1977 elections. The Israeli left shuns ideology; it clings to “pragmatism,” which is nothing but crass opportunism, because by being “pragmatic,” it hopes to prove that it is fit to be the ruling party. Second, in failing to vigorously oppose the ethnic, religious and messianic perception of nationhood that is being promoted by the right, the Labor Party’s leftist establishment is actually collaborating with the right.
In the situation currently prevailing in Europe and Israel, those who do not wage an all-out war on xenophobia and racism are, in effect, making peace with the existence of the most destructive phenomenon in modern history. Ultimately, one must ask whether the current wave of xenophobia is not in principle similar to the anti-Semitism that, in the 1930s, confronted the Jews who lived in western Europe or immigrated there. In other words, is “Islamophobia” today replacing anti-Semitism as a social ill? All of the various groups comprising the European left find this question highly disturbing. Everyone is aware that radical right-wing groups are gaining strength on the European continent – even in countries where the growth of the radical right is surprising, such as Norway, which does not have a high rate of unemployment or poverty and which has a superb welfare system. Many people today are reluctantly admitting that the source of the problem is to be found deep inside European culture and the European concept of organic nationalism.
When comparing Europe and Israel in 2013, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that among Western states, the country where the radical right is the most powerful (and is even in power), and where the left is the weakest, is Israel. Here as well, the source of the problem is to be found in the country’s culture, in the concept of the nation as a tribe and in the problematic definition of Jewish identity. It is even harder to avoid the conclusion that the Israeli right – from the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu to Habayit Hayehudi – is very far to the right of Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Compared to most of the cabinet ministers and Knesset members, Le Pen looks like a dangerous leftist.
Israel is today at the extreme rightist end of the political spectrum, and its rightist groups are among the worst and most dangerous of those currently operating in democratic societies, with the exception of neo-Nazi groups. Israel is gradually being distanced from the family of the world’s enlightened nations – by laws being proposed in the Knesset that are founded on openly declared ethnic and national discrimination, and by the oppressive regime in the West Bank.
As in Europe, the key to Israel’s continued survival as an enlightened country is in the hands of the so-called moderate right and in the hands of those who wallow in the mud that is called the political center, such as the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, and his followers. In a time of crisis, who will they side with and where will Israel’s Labor Party turn to? Will it turn to the hardline nationalists who each day are causing Israeli society to deteriorate, or to the left, which sticks by its principles and fights for them?
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