Opinion

Netanyahu and Europe's Right Wing: Quite a Success Story

Netanyahu is steering a path through teetering Europe with a realpolitik approach, strengthening relations in the east and south, without damaging ties with Western Europe

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini in Jerusalem, December 12, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Will the Israeli government boycott Marine Le Pen if she is elected president of France? Le Pen, whose chances of winning the next presidential election are growing, has in the past denied the role of the Vichy government in dispatching French Jews to death camps in World War II. And if anti-Semitic Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is elected in Britain, will he be welcome in Israel? These dilemmas will intensify as Europe grows more polarized to the left and to the right.

President Reuven Rivlin evaded a meeting with Italian Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has expressed admiration for Mussolini. But the prime minister doesn’t have the privilege of ignoring the current Italian government, any more than he can ignore the developments in other European countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach is one of realpolitik, an approach as old as the State of Israel itself. This approach yielded the reparations agreement with Germany and was reflected in the concept of “a different Germany” that was coined by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to justify the military ties between Israel and West Germany in the 1950s. It’s hard to believe that he and his colleagues missed the rewriting of history in the forced apology of then-Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who declared in 1951 that, “The overwhelming majority of the German people abhorred the crimes against the Jews and did not participate in them.”

But the realpolitik approach allowed for a separation between the harsh feelings and the young State of Israel's need to survive. The relationship that has since developed with Germany hasn’t stopped Holocaust research, Holocaust education or exposure of the truth about the annihilation of the Jews.

Menachem Begin, who opposed the reparations agreement, never accused Ben-Gurion of sympathizing with Nazism. Yet Salvini’s visit to Israel was exploited by the left to attack Netanyahu, who was described as embracing fascists like Italy’s Salvini, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki. Historian Moshe Zimmermann has gone so far as to argue that the new European fascists, who hate Muslims, love Netanyahu because of what he has done to the Palestinians.

Thus the cat is out of the bag. The argument is not about the past, i.e., about the undeniable role of the Italians, Hungarians and Poles in the destruction of Europe’s Jews, but about the present. Prof. Zimmermann’s comments revealed the radical left’s standards for proper diplomacy; Corbyn the anti-Semite is “in” because he likes Muslims, while Salvini, Orbán and Morawiecki are “out” because they oppose Muslim immigration to Europe.

By the same token, Angela Merkel, who imposed a heavy recession on Greece, is described in left-wing circles as a merciful leader because she brought Middle Eastern refugees to Germany. And Berlin is the capital of world tolerance thanks to its hundreds of mosques, which grant the Germans atonement for the destruction of synagogues on Kristallnacht.

The left insists on seeing Muslim migrants as the new Jews of Europe, and grants them the status of persecuted and tortured. This need is understandable, but it is based on a mistaken analogy, since the opposite is true: Because they rid themselves of their Jews in such violent ways, the Europeans are not coping with the waves of Muslim immigration and have no humane solution today. Either they must expel the Muslims, as the right demands, or they will drown in Muslim extremism under the illusion that they are enlightened and progressive, as the left thinks. Within this trap, European politics is shifting from one extreme to the other.

Netanyahu is managing to steer a path through this teetering Europe with a realpolitik approach. He is strengthening relations with countries in the east and south, without damaging relations with Western Europe; Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May are clearly more attuned to Israel’s positions than their predecessors were.

Believe it or not, for them Israel is an example of how to cope with Muslim extremism without losing its humanity. What seems to the left to be our tragic failure looks from the outside like quite a success.