Text size

Considering the corruption in the Likud, the unrealism in the Labor Party, and the class selfishness of Shinui, Meretz now appears to be the sanest party in Israel. Its leader, Yossi Sarid, has a sober and creative political outlook, a sensitive and just social approach, and a longstanding commitment to peace and human rights. He is also clearly not a corrupt person. In an era of brutality and rot, his party appears to be the last line of defense against extremist nationalism, brutishness, corruption and racism.

But Meretz of 2003 has a small problem that the Israeli media has chosen to ignore. In the fifth slot in its Knesset list is MK Roman Bronfman. Bronfman is an intelligent, sharp-witted man who is meant to represent new immigrants in the Meretz mosaic. Unlike most politicians from the former Soviet Union, he not only is opposed to religious coercion, but also opposes the occupation and discrimination and is a passionate supporter of the soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories.

However, Bronfman is not only a passionate supporter of refuseniks. He is also a passionate supporter of Jorge Haider's Austrian Freedom Party. For years, Bronfman has had a close relationship with the former secretary-general of the party, Peter Sichrovsky. On various occasions, while all of Europe was boycotting the Viennese coalition government in which the Freedom Party played a key role, Bronfman met publicly with its leaders: former deputy chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer and former finance minister Karl Heinz Grasser. He did this even though it was clear that the meetings served Haider's people as a European and international stamp of kashrut (approval) at a time when the European and international community was boycotting them.

In August 2001, Bronfman went even further. In an interview with the widely distributed German-language paper Courier, the Israeli leftist said "Israeli society has no right to criticize what's been called the racism of the Freedom Party as long as it allows what happens in Israel to foreign workers, new immigrants, Arabs and Palestinians. I believe that the Freedom Party is based on two foundations: nostalgia for a period of national pride that is sometimes mistakenly tied to the period of the Third Reich, and representing the social and economic interests of the native population.

That has to be read twice to believe: one of the senior leaders of a Zionist-Left party is defending nostalgia in Haider's party for the era of national pride. One of the senior leaders of the Israeli peace party justifies "representing the social and economic interests of the native population" by Haider's party. Israeli enlightenment lines up to the right of an extreme nationalist European party. The Jewish left gives its patronage to the Austrian neo-Nazis. The man from Meretz supports the Freedom Party; the man from Meretz grants Haider's party moral legitimacy.

It's worth remembering who exactly is Riess-Passer, with whom Bronfman forged an alliance. She is someone who claimed the "Nazis were not all bad." It's worth remembering that Grasser, with whom Bronfman has cooperated, is someone who refused to participate in memorial services commemorating the Holocaust and objected to Austrian politicians going to Israel "to take on collective responsibility for the horrors of World War II." It's especially worth remembering that Haider, whom Bronfman has so enthusiastically recommended, is the person who praised Hitler's employment policies and defined the men of the Waffen SS as "decent people, of character, who even in the face of powerful opposing winds, stuck to their beliefs and remained loyal to their nationality to this very day."

Why did Roman Bronfman choose to become their ally? Why did an Israeli man of the left decide to serve the interests of the extreme Austrian right? Bronfman claims he exploited the noise around the Freedom Party to hold up a mirror to Israeli society. He says Israel is no less - and perhaps more - racist than Austria. In addition, he used his contacts in the Austrian government to help conduct secret contacts for the return of Israeli prisoners in Lebanon.

However, Bronfman's dark connection to the Freedom Party takes to the absurd a pathological spirit in the most extreme circles of the Israeli left. The dark connection between Bronfman and the Freedom Party is an expression of a certain longing to treat Israel as a nearly neo-Nazi phenomenon when the real neo-Nazis are treated as an innocent or meaningless phenomenon. However, whatever Bronfman's motives, the result is clear: number five on the Meretz list for the 16th Knesset describes the chilling Haiderist longings as nostalgia for the era of national pride. Number five on the Meretz list describes the racist policies of the Freedom Party as representing the interests of the native population.

Sarid has no choice now. He must choose between Bronfman and the humanism of his party. He must choose between Bronfman and the Meretz's humanity.