[Paleopsych] NYT: Europe's Jews Seek Solace on the Right

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Week in Review > Europe's Jews Seek Solace on the Right


    PARIS A curious thing is happening in Belgium these days: a small but
    vocal number of Jews are supporting a far-right party whose founders
    were Nazi collaborators. The xenophobic party, Vlaams Belang, plays on
    fears of Arab immigrants and, unlike the prewar parties from which it
    is descended, courts Jewish votes. Perhaps 5 percent of the city of
    Antwerp's Jews gave it their votes in the last election.

    The Belgian example is extreme, but it represents the sharpest edge of
    a much broader political shift by European Jews - away from the left,
    particularly the far left, and toward the center and right, in the
    face of rising displays of anti-Semitism and the European left's
    embrace of the Palestinian cause.

    This drift from the left has "been going on steadily for the last 20
    or 30 years," said Tony Lerman, who runs London's Hanadiv Charitable
    Foundation, which supports Jewish life in Europe.

    Of course, the shift is not monolithic and some of it is also
    associated with a rise in Jews' social and economic status. In the
    vast majority of cases it represents a move toward tolerant parties of
    the center or center-right rather than a leap to the far end of the
    spectrum - where many xenophobic parties remain unfriendly to Jews as
    well as to Arabs. So the number of Jews on the far right remains a
    very slim minority.

    But the fact that there are any at all is a measure of the degree to
    which many of Europe's 2.4 million Jews feel abandoned by the left and
    are still searching for a comfortable place in European politics.

    Meanwhile, they are becoming increasingly active in the mainstream

    In Britain in the last 60 years, the number of left-of-center Jewish
    members of Parliament has dropped from more than two dozen to about a
    dozen, primarily older, members while the number in parties of the
    center and right has climbed from none to about half a dozen. The
    Tories' would-be finance minister, Oliver Letwin, is Jewish, as is the
    party's new leader, Michael Howard. Mr. Lerman says Jews in Britain
    are now identified in public opinion more with the Conservative Party
    than the Labor Party.

    Much of European Jewry considered the left its natural home in the
    19th century and the early 20th century. The left supported Jewish
    emancipation and more liberal immigration policies in Western Europe,
    and Social Democrats and Communists opposed Russia's czars, who
    sponsored anti-Semitic pogroms, and Hitler.

    But after World War II, Stalin, too, attacked Jews, and in the 1950's
    the Soviet Union identified itself with Arab nationalism.

    From the 1960's onward, the left in Europe increasingly portrayed
    Israel not as a land of collective farmers making the desert bloom but
    as an occupying power. So the disenchantment accelerated, especially
    in the last few years. "Arafat became the leftist pinup boy following
    Che Guevara," said Barry Kosmin, head of the Institute for Jewish
    Policy Research in London.

    Jews say the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has
    often become difficult to see. Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans have
    marked pro-Palestinian marches in some Communist-run municipalities in
    France. In Britain, many Jews who opposed the war in Iraq stayed away
    from antiwar rallies because of the strong anti-Israeli element.

    "Because of the negative stuff coming from the left, many Jews felt
    that their fates were tied to Israel, so they have to go along with
    those who support Israel regardless of the past," Mr. Lerman said.

    There is particular anxiety among the many European Jews who fled
    their North African homes after the creation of Israel in 1948 and
    again after the 1967 Middle East war. "They fear that their destiny is
    threatened by Islam on both sides of the Mediterranean," said
    Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser at the French Institute for
    International Relations.

    Those fears shape some of the most extreme voices on the new Jewish
    right. Giselle Littman, who was expelled from Egypt in 1957 and now
    publishes under the pseudonym Bat Yeor, argues in her latest book,
    "Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis," that Europe has consciously allied
    itself with the Arab world at the expense of Jews and the
    trans-Atlantic alliance.

    Not all of what Jews see as a resurgence of European anti-Semitism is
    coming from Muslims. There is also a virulent neo-Nazi strain. But an
    essential difference between the anti-Semitism of today and that of
    the 1930's is that center-right parties tolerated - or encouraged - it
    then and denounce it today.

    Even some elements of Europe's far right have reached out to Jews:
    Gianfranco Fini, Italy's foreign minister and a former admirer of
    Mussolini, has become a champion of Israel since apologizing to Jews
    three years ago for Italy's wartime race laws and deportations. Filip
    Dewinter, head of Belgium's Vlaams Belang, meets regularly with Jewish
    leaders and has been photographed with prominent rabbis. Denmark's
    far-right People's Party had an Israeli theme at a recent convention
    and served wine from the Golan Heights.

    "We have a common enemy, a common struggle," said Mr. Dewinter. He
    called Israel "the forward post of the free West fighting radical
    Islam" and said Jewish culture is "one of the main cultures of
    European civilization, but we can't say the same of Islam."

    But Elie Wiesel, the American author, Nobel Peace Prize winner and
    Auschwitz survivor, warns that while the center-right has become a
    more comfortable place for European Jews, Jews have no place in the
    xenophobic parties. "Whatever crisis we're enduring, no Jew should go
    to the extreme right," he said. "A Jew should never be an ally of
    racism because we know what it is."

    In Antwerp, according to one study, at least 65 percent of those who
    were registered as Jews during World War II died during the Holocaust.
    According to another study, based on exit polls, at least 5 percent of
    the Jewish population there voted for Vlaams Belang last June, in the
    most recent elections.

    Henri Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew whose Polish parents survived
    Hitler's camps, is unapologetic about his support. "Orthodox Jews are
    thinking in the same ways that non-Jews are thinking, that Vlaams
    Belang can protect them," he said. "Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews
    had to compromise with the societies in which they lived and this made
    it much easier for Orthodox Jews to go with the standard, 'Is it good
    for Jews or bad for Jews?' " he said. "Today, it seems it is good for

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