Europe’s Far Right’s Unwavering Support for Israel

07/03/2024 per Miquel Ramos

“The anti-Semitic past and hostility towards Israel of many of the New Right parties are undeniable; however, this thriving political movement shares objectives and concerns with Israel,” state the first pages of the report titled ‘An Approach to the “new [alt] right” in Europe,’ by the Friends of Israel Initiative (FoII) and the Strategic Studies Group (GEES) of 2017. This document sought to explain the rise of the far right in Europe, not as a danger, but as an opportunity for Israel.

“The New Right could see Israel not only as a reliable ally but also as an example in many fields such as the fight against radical Islam, the defense of Western civilization, or the fight against economic uncertainty,” the report continues.

Miquel Ramos. – Red. 18 january 2024

“Under the leadership of the former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, a high-level group met in Paris in mid-2010 to launch a new project in defense of Israel’s right to exist,” explains the website of the Friends of Israel Initiative, the foundation that authored the report on the New Right. Among its members are several former heads of state or government from countries such as Canada, Spain, Australia, Northern Ireland, Uruguay, Colombia, and the Czech Republic, as well as the former National Security Advisor of the Trump Administration, John Bolton. One of its founding members and director was Rafael Bardají, former advisor to José María Aznar on defense during the time of the invasion of Iraq in which Spain participated, and a member of the PP since its founding in 1989. He later joined Vox and became part of its National Executive Committee just a year after the report on the rise of the far right in Europe and the opportunity this represented for Israel was published.

This foundation, registered in Miami, USA, in September 2010, but based in Madrid, Spain, soon began to receive large amounts of money in donations. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2013 and 2016 alone, it received $9,709,047, a portion of this money was contributed by the Adelson Family Foundation, the foundation of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who also donated to Donald Trump’s campaign. And it is from 2015 that the FoII began to transfer large amounts of money to Spain, without specifying to whom, recording the expenses as ‘travel’ and ‘consultants’. The lack of transparency allowed for this type of organization makes it easy to lose track of the money and for them to operate with a certain opacity.

Islamophobia, the New Anti-Semitism

Islamophobia has replaced the traditional anti-Semitism of the Western far right. Although they never ceased to be anti-Semitic, years ago they understood that it was not good marketing and that there were many more profitable enemies, in line with the new international context. After the fall of the USSR, the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the new ‘Muslim enemy’ largely replaced the ‘Jewish problem’ that some of the founders of the parties or the ideological fathers of those who today defend Israel still pointed to. Islamophobia has also historically been part of the identity construction of Europe, from the Crusades to the decolonization processes of the late 20th century, in which racism and anti-Arab hatred have also been culturally fueled through cinema and literature, as shown by the documentary ‘Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People’. This work, directed by Sut Jhally in 2006, analyzes about 1,000 movies produced between 1896 and 2000 in which Arabs and Muslims are presented as bandits, terrorists, or as a wild nomadic race.

The Zionist project today represents an enclave of the West in a strategic situation, a colony in the Middle East that defends the interests of Western capitalism and that must be preserved at all costs. The best approach in this case is to wrap that colonial defense in a sort of clash of civilizations, between modernity and barbarism, between the free world and democracy (‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ they repeat insistently), an old mantra that was already used to justify other atrocities throughout the 20th century, from slavery and colonization to wars and invasions to the present day.

THE NEW ‘MUSLIM ENEMY’ LARGELY REPLACED THE ‘JEWISH PROBLEM’ THAT SOME OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE PARTIES OR THE IDEOLOGICAL FATHERS OF THOSE WHO TODAY DEFEND ISRAEL STILL POINTED TO.

On the other hand, the fascination with Israel has been cultivated in the West through two distinct vectors, yet under the same supremacist framework: conservatives, many of them also religious but not Jewish, see Israel as a bastion of traditional Judeo-Christian values, always against the barbarism that Islam represents for them. Meanwhile, liberals have constructed the myth of Israel as a democracy amid a hostile enclave, using supposed LGBT rights, feminism, and other progressive flags attributed to Israel, even though they are not respected there either. This operation of pinkwashing (use of LGBT struggles) and purplewashing (use of feminism), from a deeply neoliberal framework and without class perspective, also serves Zionist propaganda toward more progressive sectors. In both cases, the defense of the Western capitalist order is concrete in the consensus among many liberals and conservatives in their defense of Israel along with the global far right.

Today, Israel represents the first line of defense for the West, where Arabs and Muslims today embody the enemy, who is also internal. This enemy, labeled as ‘Islamist,’ invades our country through migration, resides among us, does not integrate, and aims to destroy European culture and identity, and are often labeled as potential terrorists. This is why the war in Palestine is sold as a religious matter and wraps any criticism of Israel under the cloak of anti-Semitism, thus erasing historical analysis of the creation of this state and Zionism itself. The instrumentalization of the Holocaust, a matter as serious as anti-Semitism, serves to absolve the West of its centuries-long sins of anti-Semitic pogroms, transferring that stigma to the natives who have suffered the theft of their lands, ethnic cleansing, and an apartheid for the construction of the State of Israel. This is why any criticism of Zionism and Israel is always linked to ‘anti-Semitism,’ despite the many Jewish people who do not feel represented by it, and even today lead many of the protests against the actions in Gaza.

These policies of protecting the Zionist project at any cost have a particular impact in countries involved in the Holocaust, such as Germany, Austria, or France, where defending Israel is a state policy. This implies, as we have observed in recent weeks, systematic persecution of any shows of solidarity with Palestine, under the accusation of anti-Semitism, even going so far as to ban organizations, demonstrations, slogans, and even Palestinian symbols. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the persecution of academics, politicians, or activists for Palestine has increased in recent months, while several Islamophobic attacks have proliferated.

The Formalization of the Alliance

Six years after the publication of this study, the European far right has gained even more weight in its respective countries, and their alignment with Israel is complete: Alternative for Germany (AfD), the National Rally of Marine Le Pen, and Reconquest of Eric Zemmour, both in France; the neo-fascist Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the Islamophobic Geert Wilders, who won the elections in the Netherlands; Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump and the entire Republican apparatus in the United States; Milei in Argentina or Vox in Spain: all the far-right parties are today with Israel and have publicly defended it.

Marine Le Pen’s party, the National Rally (RN), which in a recent poll achieved first place and 30% of the votes for the 2024 European elections, has positioned itself on numerous occasions in defense of Israel. “I keep repeating it to the French Jews who are increasingly joining us,” Marine Le Pen said to the far-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles in 2014. “Not only is the National Front not your enemy, but it is undoubtedly in the future the best shield to protect you from the only real enemy, Islamist fundamentalism,” she added.

After the events of October 7, Marine Le Pen quickly showed her full support for Israel. Louis Aliot, her former partner and ex-number two of the party, had already visited Tel Aviv in December 2023, along with Michel Thooris, a former advisor on security matters and of Jewish faith, and a supporter of the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Aliot recently reactivated the National Circle of French Jews (CNJF), created in 1986 by Robert Hemmerdinger, a former member of the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated during the British Mandate of Palestine, between 1931 and 1948, when most of its members would integrate into the Israel Defense Forces, the army of the newly created state after the Nakba. Later, Hemmerdinger also became part of another terrorist group, the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS), created in 1961 by French military and ultra-rightists against the independence of Algeria. This armed organization was responsible, among other deaths, for the assassination attempt against Charles de Gaulle in the Parisian neighborhood of Petit Clamart on August 22, 1962.

The CNJF had been inactive since Hemmerdinger’s death in 2004, but after criticism from various French Jewish entities regarding the invitation of the Jewish community radio Radio J to Marine Le Pen in 2011, the party reactivated it. The CNJF was a meeting point between far-right Jews and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, despite its traditional anti-Semitism. Several progressive Jewish entities mobilized in March 2011 to warn of the party’s attempted rehabilitation. In a statement, the Union of French Jewish Students expressed ‘concern that some Jews may be tempted to adhere to Marine Le Pen’s discourse’. Marine Le Pen achieved a year later, in the 2012 presidential elections, 13% of the Jewish vote in France.

After the change of name and the replacement of leadership by Marine Le Pen, the National Rally (RN) tried to clean its image of anti-Semitism by distancing itself from its founder, the leader’s father, Nazi collaborator Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made several speeches against Jews during his political activism and even referred to the Nazi gas chambers as ‘a detail of history’. As French journalist Claude Askolovitch explains in an article for Slate, ‘if anti-Semitism forbids honorability to the FN, then it must be eradicated to conquer. If the Jew was a rejection for the father, it would be a proof for the daughter.’ Jean-Richard Sulzer, a member of the RN’s national council, created in 2019 the Jewish National Assembly, renamed at the request of a lawyer for Marine Le Pen as ‘National Jewish Circle France-Israel’. In 2021, Sulzer encouraged Marine Le Pen to discard certain personalities from the RN lists in the regional and departmental elections with anti-Semitic backgrounds. Since then, showing RN’s alignment with Israel has been insistent, thus trying to shield itself from its anti-Semitic past.

Islamophobia has become in the last 20 years the main banner of the far right that today is nearing power in several countries, and Israel now presents itself as an opportunity to rid themselves of their anti-Semitic stigma. Also, to reinforce their theories of a clash of civilizations, presenting Arabs and Muslims as the main threat to security and national identities, a new identity retreat where neo-Nazis, New Right parties, and much of the rest of the parties converge, from social democrats to liberals and conservatives. The example of Marine Le Pen’s RN serves to illustrate the strategy that other parties and leaders of the Western far right have tried to cleanse their stigma of anti-Semitism by embracing Israel and replacing this hatred with Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

Furthermore, France, like Germany and the United Kingdom, has in recent months engaged in a systematic persecution of expressions of support for Palestine, using the accusation of ‘anti-Semitism’ or ‘supporting terrorism’. The obsession with censoring any critical opinion of Israel’s policies or questioning Zionism is accentuating the repression against social movements of the left, decolonial movements, and anti-fascists, trying to navigate bureaucratic obstacles, political and police persecution, and constant defamation campaigns in the media.

Ultra-Right Leaders Visit Israel

On December 5, Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish far-right party Vox, was in Israel. The visit took place a few days after the statements of the President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, who asked Israel to respect international law and criticized the numerous civilian casualties caused by the army since the start of the bombings. During his visit to Israel, the Israeli Foreign Minister criticized Sánchez’s words, describing the numerous civilian casualties of the offensive as ‘unbearable,’ leading to accusations of supporting terrorism and making ‘false accusations’ about the conflict.

Abascal was accompanied by the director of the Disenso Foundation (Vox’s think tank) Jorge Martín Frías and by the Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the Group of Conservatives and Reformists Europeans (ECR), Hermann Tertsch, also a member of Vox and son of Ekkehard Tertsch, a member of the Nazi Party and an Austrian journalist protected by Franco after World War II. During their brief visit to Israel, they were received by the Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, Amichai Chikli, and the Minister of Agriculture, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet and former head of Shin-Bet, Avi Dichter.

Both the conservative Popular Party (PP) and Vox aligned themselves against the criticisms of the president and defended the Israeli military operation from the beginning. Coinciding with the start of the bombings in early October, Vox requested in the Parliament the immediate suspension of any payment to the Palestinian National Authority, or, where appropriate, any NGO operating in Palestine. In addition, Vox requested in Madrid the awarding of the city’s medal of honor to the State of Israel, a proposal that was approved with the votes of the PP, despite being rejected by the social democrats of the PSOE and the Más Madrid party. Subsequently, on November 28, the Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida (PP), displayed a photograph in the plenary session of the City Council of several Hamas militiamen, stating they were ‘Pedro Sánchez’s new best friends’. Any position defending Palestine and drawing attention to the massacres and violations of international legality committed by Israel or to the rights of the Palestinian people, is automatically labeled as anti-Semitic, supportive of Hamas, or Islamic terrorism. Despite this, Spain and Israel continue to maintain significant commercial and military agreements that have not been affected by these events.

The other French far-right leader, Eric Zemmour (Reconquest), also visited Israel last October to show his support for the government in its military operation against Palestine, which he described as a “great struggle of civilization.” During his visit, he insisted that France faces ‘the same problem’ as Israel: “The drama of Mr. Macron and especially of France is that there are two civilizations on the same soil and there cannot be two civilizations on the same soil.” Geert Wilders, leader of the far right in the Netherlands who has just won the elections, had already visited Israel on numerous occasions, and even volunteered in a kibbutz when he was young. In 2009, when his friend Avigdor Lieberman was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilders was accepted in the Jerusalem Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was granted the status of an important politician. Wilders already combined Islamophobic and racist propaganda with openly pro-Israeli slogans. When he won the elections, he decorated the wall of his office with the flag of Israel.”

Far-Right Parties’ Celebrations

On the weekend of December 16, in the Roman gardens of Castel Sant’Angelo, several global far-right figures joined Giorgia Meloni at the Atreyu party, an annual event of the youth of Brothers of Italy, the neo-fascist Italian party of the current Prime Minister. The far right is increasingly a normalized actor in Europe, as its proposals not only no longer discomfort the social democratic, liberal, or conservative establishment, but are increasingly adopted by these and implemented in their governments, as evidenced in policies and speeches against immigration, in foreign policy (with support for Israel as a flag), and in economic policies, today meeting points among all these political actors.

At the neo-fascist party in Rome, in addition to the Italian far-right leaders who hosted, there were also the leader of the Spanish party Vox, Santiago Abascal, the social-democrat Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, (who has offered Italy to build two immigrant detention centers on its territory), the billionaire owner of the social network X, Elon Musk, obsessed with an ‘anti-woke’ crusade and anti-immigration policies, and the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who offered a speech against immigrants despite the fact that his parents were also immigrants. All of them have openly defended Israel and its policies in Palestine, under the pretext of defending Western civilization and fighting terrorism.

Our Fascist Friends

Last May, Matthias Moosdorf and Marc Jongendos, deputies of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), visited Israel and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Several members of this party had been involved in various controversies for questioning the remembrance of the Holocaust in Germany, “a bird poop speck in over 1,000 years of successful German history,” according to Alexander Gaudan, honorary president of the party. However, every time Israel undertakes an action against Palestine, the AfD takes the opportunity to play the Islamophobia card to justify its policies and thus endorse the State of Israel. After October 7, AfD requested a cut in aid and financial support to the Palestinians and presented parliamentary proposals to stop financial donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

In a recent opinion column titled ‘Israel’s Dilemma: Radical Right-Wing Support Worldwide’ in The Times of Israel, university professor Sam Lehman-Wilzigtried to explain the reasons for the global far-right’s support for Israel: “The main reason is very clear, as they do not hide it: antipathy toward the Muslim world in general and massive Muslim immigration to their countries in particular (in the U.S., you can add ‘brown,’ Latin American immigration). From their perspective, Israel’s ongoing struggle with some of its Muslim neighbors (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas) is seen as part of a broader struggle; call it ‘civilization’.”

Although Lehman-Wilzig advocates for the concept of a nation-state for Israel through supposed policies that do not discriminate against a part of its population in order to distance itself from the far-right who support it and view it as a model, the same arguments he presents in his article, as well as Israel’s colonial reality, its systematic policies, and its apartheid, explain this natural alliance between Western racism and the Zionist project. Moreover, the professor adds that Israelis ‘fully understand such right-wing reactions to non-European immigration,’ as Israel ‘had to deal with this phenomenon a decade ago, mainly from Africa.’ However, Israelis of African origin have repeatedly denounced the racism they experience from white Jews.A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) Peace Index from May 2012 already showed that more than half of Israelis consider black Jews ‘a cancer to the nation.’

“Some people who talk about white identity, white culture, focus on Jews as a problem, but where are they and how many of them are part of the ‘mainstream’ New Right community? The 2017 Friends Of Israel Initiative report stated. Well, many of them remain active in these new far-right parties that support Israel today. Seduced by the supremacist project, the animosity against Arabs, and the whitewashing that their support for the self-proclaimed ‘Jewish state’ against their anti-Semitism brings, they are increasingly reinforcing this alliance. This is the case with the ultra-rightists who governed Poland until the recent elections, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), or with the Hungarian president, Viktor Orban, who has on several occasions praised the collaboration of local populations with the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.

“In Vox, we also find some Nazis who today fly the flag of Israel. One is the provincial deputy for Barcelona, Jordi de la Fuente, a former member of the now-defunct neo-Nazi party called the Social Republican Movement (MSR), or his colleague Alejandro Fernández, from the same party and today councilor of Barberà del Vallès, Barcelona. Also Diego Ramón del Castillo, who was a candidate of the neo-Nazi party National Democracy (DN) is today an advisor for Vox in Alicante. Among the Vox candidates are also the grandchildren of the Belgian Nazi war criminal Leon Degrelle, who took refuge in Francoist Spain, as well as the lawyer José María Ruíz-Puerta, former leader of the Nazi organization, the Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe (CEDADE), created in 1968 and dissolved in 1995, and which was the largest distributor of Nazi and Holocaust denial material in Europe.

“The Friends Of Israel Initiative report also warned that ‘although not all New Right parties have the same concept of Israel, we must responsibly work for these parties to see that Israel is a necessary asset for the future of the West.’ Mission accomplished in 2023, when, amid the conflict in Gaza, there are no fissures in this defense of Israel, which is also shared by conservatives and social democrats. Although some do so with nuances for the public, in practice, the impunity of Israel and the complicity of the West with the Zionist entity, whatever it does, is guaranteed.

Miquel Ramos is a journalist who specializes in covering the extreme right and hate speech in Spain.