Benjamin Netanyahu is Italian
How Netanyahu is flirting with Europe's right wing
Europe's right-wing populists, not known for their love for Jews, are making a pilgrimage to Israel in droves. Why are Israel's nationalists so generous in ignoring the horrific anti-Semitic legacy that carries with it the rights of Europe?
Is it a cognitive disorder? In the run-up to his most recent visit to Israel, Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that growing anti-Semitism went hand in hand with Islamist extremism, "which nobody pays attention to." Provided that he meant the extremism that the West speaks of incessantly, that delights media managers every day anew and that his host, Prime Minister Netanyahu, warns the world about from morning to night: Wouldn't it be conceivable that Salvini thought, Nobody in Israel pays heed to the fact that the Italian fascists he knows, values and encourages once liked to kill Jews too?
The butcher of Manila
The Mésalliance is amazing, but vital. Europe's right-wing populists like Israel. You dare to like Israel. And some, it should be emphasized, certainly have nothing in the least against Jews. They are happy to invite Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of government, to join them, and when he actually comes, they often reveal an enthusiasm that seems like the secret joy of a successful prank.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the populists are giving each other a hand and are all declaring themselves to be good friends of the Jews. Thoughtfully, swaying, glass in hand, Czech President Milos Zeman announced in the summer that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Donald Trump was at the western wall, kippah on his head, Austria's Prime Minister Kurz was here. His coalition partner, the FPÖ, was founded by the Nazis. Even Philippine President Duterte, who said he would like to slaughter three million drug addicts, was admitted. He was not even denied access to the Holocaust memorial in Yad Vashem. Salvini was also in Yad Vashem.
Millions in the diaspora can hardly believe it. The Jews of America and Europe tend to be secular and pluralistic, and they see with disgust what sinister figures the Israeli prime minister is serving. They all protest, the left J Street movement, the Reform Jews, the pluralistic American Jewish Committee, the New Israel Fund, which fights for social justice and equality for all Israelis. The gap between the liberals in the diaspora and the ruling right-wing in Israel is now marked by naked hatred and has become insurmountable.
The enviable Jews
But the liberals of Israel are not impressed either. When Viktor Orban, the symbolic figure of the new European right, honored Jerusalem, Yair Lapid, head of the center party Yesh Atid, tweeted that it was a shame. First, through his agreement with Poland, Netanyahu “loots” the memory of the Holocaust victims, and then he pays tribute to Orban, of all people, Orban, who praised a Nazi collaborator. Lapid meant Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian ruler, whom the Prime Minister in Budapest had dubbed an "exceptional statesman". Orban's toxic campaigns against the Jewish billionaire George Soros also sparked outrage on the liberal scene in Israel. Netanyahu seems to be leaving that indifferent. He remains loyal to his right-wing populists. A few days ago he announced that he would attend the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Love is strong, it is mutual and has deep roots. Europe's populists love Israel first and foremost because nowhere as here is the politics of that ethnic, religious and national “identity” cultivated, by which the right-wing straighten up spiritually when they are once again overrun by strangers. Amazing, these Israelis. They still know what the fatherland is and what patriotism is. They even know exactly who is Jewish and who is not. Europe's rights must fade with envy: The matter of the purity of blood is dwindling, it’s difficult at a time when good Swiss people are called Xherdan Shaqiri.
The Jews, however, defend themselves and their culture so pleasantly snappy and without any fear of clear language and angry Brussels bureaucrats. The "ethnic": Here it still applies. The new “National State Law” grants only the Jews the “right to national self-determination”; the minorities are by definition second-class citizens. If something like this could also work in the north!
Old left identity politics
Netanyahu is a hero anyway. He fouted about the UN and “world opinion”, he didn't really care about Brussels. He is strong. He can rely on his army. He's got atomic bombs. He is thinking openly about attacking Iran: This provokes almost wild admiration among Europe's right-wing extremists. Israel is hunting down “infiltrators”, illegal migrants from Sudan and Eritrea, who allegedly destroy the country's Jewish identity. They do not destroy anything, but help, as cheap labor, to build Israel up and keep it clean. But you just don't like them, and many Israelis have no qualms about sharing this with the world on social media.
The populists in the cold north are also impressed by the fact that Israel hardly takes in refugees unless they are Jews. In Hungary refugees are “Muslim invaders”, Orban's vocabulary of exclusion is strikingly similar to Netanyahu's. Israel can score points here: for years the country has generously helped wounded Syrians. And nobody will seriously demand that Israel, of all places, take in millions of Arabs, where super-rich states like Saudi Arabia disdainfully stand aside.
Blinded by so much patriotic din, Europe's populists completely overlook the fact that Israel also has a very positive relationship with the traditional beneficiaries of old-left identity politics. Minorities, women, lesbians, gays, transgender people and idiosyncratic people in general are not very popular with right-wing populists, and they probably believe it is the same in Israel. Another misdiagnosis. Israel is more complex. Israel takes the minorities very seriously. Tel Aviv is the world capital of hedonism. Woe to you, you blaspheme a fringe group.
Sure, the right-wingers, the ultra-Orthodox and the conservative Muslims are a thorn in the side of happy sinners and God-deniers. You would like to put an end to them, i.e. withdraw their rights. They fail for two reasons. On the one hand, the seculars are strong because they have excellent international networks. Second, Netanyahu is pliable. He “works” with everything, including the tolerant image of Israel, which makes Iran look so pleasantly backwoods. There gays are tied to lampposts. Therefore, and not out of heartfelt affection, he chills with Netta Barzilai, who brought the Eurovision Song Contest to Israel.
Where the real guys live
The European right-wing populists see in Netanyahu the good friend of Trump and Putin, the man who duped Obama, stifled the Iran deal and who barely pays a glance at the hated EU foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini. There is also something seldom mentioned: Israel's fighting power. Here it smells of gunpowder vapor, here the emergency rules. That electrifies, because the Europeans can't keep up there either. Israel won battles against Arabs. Israel's soldiers are on duty every day, the danger is "clear and present" and not simulated with tracer ammunition and cardboard comrades. You have to see how Europeans adore the Israeli military at international meetings. There they are now, these fabulous guys who drop bombs in Syria and Iraq, fight Hamas in Gaza, who can test their great cyber-tech devices under the toughest conditions and who have the best secret service in the world, the Mossad, work together. Populists are born militarists. Salvini likes to show himself with the sniper rifle and wants to reintroduce general military service. Orban said no border could be defended with flowers and teddy bears.
One can understand the enthusiasm of the European right for Israel. But why is Netanyahu flirting with the populists? How can it be that Israel's nationalists so generously overlook the horrific anti-Semitic legacy that carries with it the rights of Europe? Here, too, it is about a new hierarchy of values. Netanyahu is not an ideologist. He likes the right above all as disruptive elements in Europe, as enemies of the Brussels Moloch. Nothing is more hated in Israel than the incessant and indeed often unfair and sterile criticism of European institutions. The rebels, from Salvini to Orban to the Balts, are resisting it. It is they who are torpedoing a coherent Palestine policy of the EU, it is they who are reminding us of how vile the policies of the Arabs in the UN Human Rights Council have become.
Netanyahu does not care that the right has not the slightest inhibition to play with anti-Semitic resentment in order to mobilize the more intellectually undemanding part of their electorate. The head of government likes his Europe to be divided, disparate and weak.
A touch of McCarthyism
Israel's rights conduct politics in a way that the European right would like to but cannot. They define what is good and what is bad, what is Israeli and anti-Israeli, what is good for the fatherland and what is harmful to it. There is a hint of McCarthyism blowing through the country: decent patriots are on the right, leftists and liberals are traitors. The term “anti-Israel” has been used for years, it affects the secularists mentioned above as well as artists who love Israel and want to show the country that it goes astray if it ostracizes constructive critics. The spokesman for this faction is the Minister of Culture Regev.
It may be that the right-wing populists, with their visits to the Western Wall and in Yad Vashem, try to eradicate the sins of the past and, as it were, wash themselves clean, as is being written here and there. Politicians do what the moment dictates. But these are gestures, it doesn't go deep. Anti-Semitism is in the DNA of right-wing racists. At the moment, they are united by the great common enemy, Muslim jihadism. But tomorrow it can be over with love. When a cold wind blows in Europe again, when the people get angry and need scapegoats, right-wing anti-Semitism will quickly awaken again.
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