If someone showed British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan footage of the waving of Israeli flags during a speech in front of a mass of people made by Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Interior Minister, at the his party’s (the League) annual gathering a few days ago in Pontida, Italy, both would undoubtedly interpret this in their own way. In fact, they would probably say the following: The first would judge it as a “criminal” link between Israel and right-wing nationalism and populism; the other would see it as a sign of Islamophobia, blatant anti-Palestinian hatred and therefore anti-Arab.
As for Italian and European Jews—my people—many of them are asking themselves how to remove this bitter cup from their lips in order to continue to drink from the left’s. Why? Because Jews and the left have for decades (and for many good reasons)—that is, since the battle against Nazi-fascism and numerous persecutions—been mutually bound and morally dependent. Even after history has gone down so many different paths, including that of Stalin’s murderous anti-Semitism, they still struggle to pull off the umbilical cord.
The Jews are always very attentive to any signs of right-wing anti-Semitism (as they should be), but (quite wrongly) they aren’t so vigilant when it comes to the daily, deafening, anti-Semitic attacks that, disguised as criticism of Israel, come these days from not only the left, but also from Italy’s Muslim communities.
Salvini has proclaimed on several occasions that he is a friend of Israel; it is a fact to be appreciated, but also put to the test. All right-wing politicians in Europe are currently on trial, but it’s a good test, not a trap. Sebastian Kurz, Chancellor of Austria, seems sincere when he declares that his country must take responsibility for its crimes against the Jews and declares his support for the Jewish state. Hungary, too, beyond insisting that it’s not anti-Semitic, has sided against the ignoble attempt of “labeling” Israeli products adopted by the European Union. The Poles have gone to great lengths to reverse its Parliament’s resolution that absolved them of their crimes during the Holocaust; and Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and perhaps Poland as well are at present seriously considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem, following the example of the United States.
Are these countries alien to anti-Semitism? I would say no. Neither is Italy. This doesn’t mean, however, that Salvini should be compared to the latter simply because he belongs to the League Party.
So are the current right-wing governments in Europe without anti-Semitic elements? Of course not. But I challenge anyone to point out a single European country in which this monster has been eliminated within the echelons of the ruling class, both on the right and the left. This is the message that I, as a European Jewish woman, wish to impart.
Someone has to explain to me what this is, if not anti-Semitism, when at the time of the Second Intifada nearly 2,000 Israelis were killed—suicide-bombing terrorists murdered men, women and children on public buses and in restaurants—and no one in Europe lifted a finger or raised an eyebrow. What prevented the police from finding Ilan Halimi after he had been kidnapped in a Muslim Banlieue of Paris, where he was tortured to death? Perhaps out of fear of calling out its Islamic citizens for their anti-Semitic attitudes? After all, that was the only reasons for that ominous murder.
In 2004, Romano Prodi, Italy’s former prime minister and then president of the European Commission, blocked the publicity of an investigation into anti-Semitism because Islamic anti-Semitism was emerging like a frightful Hydra. That Hydra has gone on to persecute and kill Jews in France, Belgium, England and the Netherlands. It had become impossible to wear a kippah in many Western European neighborhoods—and so much so in Berlin that on April 25, a demonstration took place to this effect, protesting the ability to wear them in peace. In still another demonstration in Berlin, Hezbollah’s flags were seen waving and “Death to the Jews” was chanted, while human-rights institutions actually lent their support to Hamas, condemning Israel for defending its besieged borders. Is this anti-Semitism? Certainly. Is it the work of the right? No, it is left-wing anti-Semitic anti-Israelism.
Anyone who fears that an anti-Jewish wave may emerge from populism fails to take into account the fact that many of the elements that have made it a mass movement in the last century are missing.The Jews are not held responsible for the failure of the euro or the European Union; they are not anti-Western foreign conspirators suspected of having created discomfort; they have nothing to do with the immigration crisis that Europe is currently facing—if anything, they are always accused by the left of being too Western, familist and conservative (they are never linked to falling birth rates or to the crisis of the family). In short, these are themes of interest for right-wing anti-Semites. That said, certainly the right has its Jew-haters, and in some cases, they can be ultra neo-Nazis, violent and dangerous.
But Euro critical movements and governments these days can’t be perceived as an anti-Semitic danger, per se, inasmuch as it exists, while the terrible wave of anti-Semitism that is sweeping Europe—unprecedented since World War II—has by now completely different origins on the left and in the Islamic world.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.