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Far-right gains in Europe: Good for the Jews?

It’s “absolutely” possible that a far-right party could be good for Israel yet bad for the Jews, said the European Jewish Association chairman.

Marine Le Pen speaks to the press at the international agricultural fair in Paris in 2011. Credit: Frederic Legrand-COMEO/Shutterstock.
Marine Le Pen speaks to the press at the international agricultural fair in Paris in 2011. Credit: Frederic Legrand-COMEO/Shutterstock.

Far-right parties made dramatic gains in the European parliamentary elections on June 9. Israel supporters celebrated, anticipating the exit of some of the worst purveyors of anti-Israel hatred. Even so, European Jewish Association (EJA) chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin advises caution.

While acknowledging that he isn’t sorry to see “the biggest antisemites” exit Europe’s parliament and saying he understands the excitement of many about the right-wing gains, Margolin told JNS that “the rise of far-right parties is something that requires all of us to be really careful, to analyze very carefully the situation.”

While Europe’s right has expressed support for Israel, that doesn’t necessarily translate into support for European Jewish life. “Many of them and, of course, many of their supporters, hate Jews no less than they hate Muslims,” he said.

It’s “absolutely” possible there could arise a situation where a far-right party’s rise will be good for Israel but bad for the Jews of that country, he said.

While many far-right parties support Israel, almost all, with the notable exception of Hungary’s Fidesz Party headed by Viktor Orbán, oppose ritual slaughter and circumcision.

Clinging to its values is what sustained the Jewish people for 3,000 years, Margolin noted, but those values are not congruent with far-right European values.

EJA is still sifting out those political actors it can work with from those it cannot. “We need to analyze what are the policies of the different political parties,” said Margolin. “We could work with some of them, but it has to be in a very specific, very practical, very detailed way.”

Margolin expressed hope that Israel will understand and support European Jewry’s point of view in the same way that European Jewry supports Israel. If a politician or party is supportive of the local Jewish community, but attacks Israel, “we don’t consider him Jewish-friendly,” Margolin noted. “It should be vice versa.”

European Jewish Association chairman Menachem Margolin addresses the EJA’s conference in Amsterdam on June 3, 2024. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch.

The Spanish government, for instance, takes pride in its local Jewish community but condemns Israel to the point of recognizing a Palestinian state. “Ask every Spanish Jew: what do you think about the government? They will tell you this is an antisemitic government. Why? Because of all the hatred expressed towards Israel,” he said.

‘We cannot know what to anticipate’

The EJA considers friendly governments those that make Jews feel welcome, support Jewish culture, protect Jewish institutions, combat antisemitism and back Israel.

From a Jewish perspective, Margolin’s choice for a model European leader is Hungary’s Orbán. While Margolin acknowledges that Orbán is considered a “troublemaker” by Europe’s leadership, Hungary embodies “exactly how and what we expect from every European country,” he said.

Hungary is committed to combating antisemitism, provides financial support to the community, offers strong support for Israel, and, above all, values freedom of religion, he explained.

Echoing comments he made at EJA’s recent annual conference in Amsterdam, in which he called on Israel to prepare for a mass influx of Jews as antisemitism skyrockets across the continent, Margolin told JNS: “The situation in Europe is getting worse and worse.”

If European governments call it quits on freedom of religion and refuse to go “the extra mile” to protect their Jewish communities, then it’s time for European Jewry to pack its bags, he said.

A drastic decrease in antisemitic attacks could be achieved in six months, he added. It’s a matter of enforcement, he said. Train the police to identify antisemitic acts and swiftly sentence—“not in five years”—those who commit anti-Jewish crimes. Jews don’t bother reporting hate incidents because they consider it a waste of time. They don’t believe the authorities will do anything about it, said Margolin.

Margolin doesn’t yet expect any major changes from the election results. Despite the right’s gains, the centrist parties retained their hold on power.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is likely to win a second term, observers say, as her European People’s Party scored the most seats.

Where more profound changes may arise is on the national level, said Margolin. France’s National Rally Party racked up impressive gains in the European Parliament elections, leading French President Emmanuel Macron to call for snap national elections to be held on June 30 and July 7.

“Most important is to see what’s going to happen in the countries, in France, in Germany,” Margolin said. “We cannot know yet what to anticipate.”

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