Where Have All the anti-Semites Gone?

Where have the big anti-Semites, those we knew in the 20th century, disappeared to? Where are they hiding, those racists who prided themselves on their hostility to the members of the Mosaic faith and to the Jewish state? Is it possible they reached the conclusion that anti-Semitism no longer pays?

In an interview with Haaretz this month, the leader of the far right in Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, spoke of the Wehrmacht as an army that "committed crimes like any other army," spoke of army deserters as traitors and of the Austrian public as if it were not responsible for Nazi crimes. As for neo-Nazism, he related to it as "a spirit that does not really exist."

The fact that these remarks by the successor to Jorg Haider were so widely published in the Austrian media is proof they are not accepted with understanding; that the theory of "the first victim of Nazism" no long holds water with most of the Austrian public; and that although Strache's electoral potential is some 30 percent of the voting public, many Austrians are prepared to fight to block his way.

The most intriguing phenomenon with regard to Strache lies in his rhetorical duality and his attitude toward Israel. In 2002, Strache succeeded in organizing a visit to Jerusalem for himself and wanted to get Haider to join him "so Israel and the Jews would purify them and thus put an end to their 'stigmatization'in terms of anti-Semitism." Strache hoped his visit then and the interview he gave Haaretz now would lead to the Jewish state's supplying him with a longed-for kashrut certificate to pave his way to the Austrian chancellorship.

Strache is not the first nationalist who has tried to use Israeli recognition as a stepping stone to position of power. Gianfranco Fini, the head of Italy's post-Fascist National Alliance, said in an interview with Haaretz in 2002, that if he were invited to Israel, he would accept responsibility for the crimes of Fascism and ask forgiveness from the Jewish People.

That very year, on the eve of the historic presidential elections in France, in which Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round, he told Haaretz: "There is no reason to attach the label of 'anti-Semite' to my name." He complimented the Jews on "their many successes," called Zionism "a remarkable challenge of a people that is trying to reconquer its homeland" and expressed his admiration of the Israelis who are "only a few million as compared with a billion Muslims." In a different interview, in 2005, the Flemish nationalist Filip de Winter presented himself as Belgium's No. 1 friend to the state of Israel. He said that "an alliance [was needed] of fraternal love between Europe and Israel" - which he wished to visit.

Prof. Zeev Sternhell identifies among the far right a phenomenon of admiration for Israel's power and its unrestrained use of power and lack of moral inhibitions in doing so. According to this concept, the Jew underwent a metamorphosis in Israel and achieved the ideal of national unity, which extreme right parties were not themselves able to realize in their countries. The Jewish enemy-demon was replaced by the Muslim immigrant-criminal. Islamophobia replaced anti-Semitism, and it is the strongest card today in the hands of the extreme right in Europe.

Strache wishes to eradicate as far as possible the Muslim "visibility." Le Pen relates to the Muslims as France's central problem at the beginning of the 21st century. And for De Winter, Islam is "enemy no. 1 of the free world." An important role is also played by education about the Holocaust and racism - fixing the day of the liberation of Auschwitz as International Holocaust Day, producing films, plays and so forth - and the legislation that forbids denying the Holocaust and crimes of hatred and punishes offenders.

However, the picture is far from uniform. While Fini has undergone a true transformation, Strache's tactical motivation is transparent. In certain cases, the nationalists mix pro-Israeli and even pro-Zionist concepts with anti-Jewish approaches (Le Pen). In other cases, their anti-Islamic sentiments are combined with pro-Arab concepts (Strache).

Moreover, while part of the far right admires "Israel the bully," another part hides its anti-Semitism precisely behind anti-Israel sentiments that are considered legitimate. Sometimes traditional anti-Semitism has made way for another kind that is "new" on the part of migrants and the far left, and in other cases (Hungary, for example) its long-held bases are exposed and threatening.

The glass is half full, and this leaves room for hope. Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, anti-Semitism is no longer politically correct and in most cases does not pay off electorally. But the other half of the glass obliges us to remain strictly on our guard.