Don’t Blame the Anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic Right for Killing Jews

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A makeshift memorial at the entrance of the Jewish museum in Brussels on May 25, 2014, a day after the fatal attack. The suspect is a French citizen who fought with jihadist forces in Syria.Credit: AP

Before the identity of the Brussels' Jewish Museum assassin has been verified, it is unwise to engage in unsubstantiated speculations. The immediate reaction to the March 2012 murders of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse was that they were the work of an extreme rightist. It later emerged that Muhammad Merah, a criminal-yurned-jihadist, was the perpetrator.

The very opposite of Toulouse occurred in 2011 when Anders Breivik detonated a series of bombs in Oslo, killing eight and then proceeded to massacre 69 other people, mostly teenagers. Some prematurely assumed that this was the handiwork of an Al-Qaida affiliate or a lone wolf Islamist.

They were embarrassed when Breivik turned out to be an unabashed right-wing extremist.

Despite this proven need for caution, some commentators threw it to the winds when they sought to advance a political agenda. Arad Nir, the foreign editor for Israel's Channel 2, tied the Jewish Museum killings to the projected rise of Euroskeptic parties of the right in the European Parliament elections that concluded the day after the crime.

This explanation was similarly peddled by Méabh McMahon, the Brussels correspondent for France24, in its otherwise excellent coverage of the elections. McMahon appeared to be shilling for a European Union establishment that has persuaded itself and seeks to persuade others that any halt to increasing European federalism will plunge us back to the darkest eras of Western history. The continent's countries will again be in a Hobbesian state of war, and authoritarian movements will be ascendant domestically.

This explanation is incomplete and unsatisfactory, even if it eventually materializes that the Brussels assassin came from the extreme right. No correlation exists between Euroskepticism and anti-Semitism. The mixed bag of Euroskeptic parties that recorded electoral gains includes some nasty and avowedly anti-Semitic groupings such as Hungary's Jobbik and Greece's Golden Dawn, but also other parties such as UKIP and the Danish People's Party that are either friendly to the Jews or no worse than some Europhile parties like the Greens.

The anti-Semitic climate in Europe did not develop in countries governed by Euroskeptical parties, but in countries governed by the pro-European establishment. The common hot button issue behind every Euroskeptic electoral success is immigration – where Europe confronts its “Gillian Duffy” moment.

Gillian Duffy a 65-year-old retiree, unexpectedly starred in Britain's 2010 general elections. A lifelong supporter of the Labour Party from Rochdale, Duffy confronted  the incumbent prime minister, and her party's standard bearer, Gordon Brown with a complaint about uncontrolled immigration.

Unaware that he still had a live mike pinned to his lapel, Brown proceeded to lambast his aides for allowing that "bigoted woman" to get close to him. Once the conversation was played back on the news broadcasts, Brown had to scurry back to Rochdale and apologize to Duffy in a 40-minute conversation that did not succeed in repairing the damage.

It is very tempting for European leaders to “do a Brown” and dismiss the election results by labeling voters for Euroskeptic parties racists, and return to business as usual. By yielding to this temptation, they would merely compound the problem.

It is not xenophobia to want your country to exert control over its immigration policy. A country has the right to safeguard its national identity, particularly in an era when new immigrants do not burn their bridges with the old country, thanks to cheap and speedy travel and effective communications with it via the Internet.

A state is entitled to decide whether to welcome immigrants for economic growth considerations; or to augment a population depleted by war, as France did between the two world wars; or to restrict their entry. Preference can be extended to particular candidates for immigration based on a point system for needed skills, or due to a Law of Return repatriating Diaspora Jewry to Israel.

When a country accepts immigrants, it has a claim on their loyalty. It can expect them to learn the language and culture of their new land and display patriotism. A situation where a crowd of North African beures [a colloquial term to designate French-born people whose parents are immigrants from North Africa] at a Marseille soccer match jeers when the French national anthem is played is an intolerable situation. British Prime Minister David Cameron is correct when he insists that immigrants to the United Kingdom should respect the country's Christian roots.

He obviously had in mind attempts to perform a religious makeover of Britain from Sharia-governed neighborhoods to takeovers of state schools and deleting reference to Christianity or teaching of the Holocaust from the curriculum.

It is not racism if European voters believe that states within the European Union have lost control over their immigration policy and are paying a price for that loss of control. Israelis are alarmed when the state comptroller reports that in five Tel Aviv neighborhoods illegal immigrants comprise the majority of the local population. Why shouldn't Europeans feel the same about becoming a minority in their major cities?

The best antidote to extremist parties is to have respectable parties address the problem. An attempt to fob off the voters with assurances that they can see are patently false or treat them with disdain will merely provide hothouse conditions for Euroskepticism.

Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.

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