In the context of economic downturn, demographic shifts, failed multicultural policies, and the deterioration of civil security, Europe is in the throes of political turmoil that has engendered an identity crisis and bolstered attraction to political extremism. Satisfaction with the EU is at an all-time low, and in France and the UK – home to half of all European Jews – far-right populists garnered 25 percent of the total vote in the May 2014 European Parliament elections (Table 1).1 The recent Greek debt crisis and increasing Mediterranean migration from Africa have only exacerbated the situation.
Populist parties lay at both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. The anti-establishment far left associates the Jews with the global capitalism they oppose, and reject Zionism as a colonialist enterprise. Wherever they are strengthening (Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Scandinavia), they adopt anti-Israel stands, and their anti-wealth policies drive away the local Jewish philanthropists who sustain communal life. The conventional and main source of Euroscepticism is, however, reactionary and conservative in nature. While the far left perceives the EU as undemocratic or too bureaucratic, the far-right parties claim European integration weakens the nation state. As the anti-system parties become major political players in several countries, it is important to consider how these developments may affect local Jewish life and Europe’s attitudes toward the Jewish state.2
This paper focuses primarily on the far-right parties, which are divided on Jewish and Israeli issues. Among them, the old far-right parties that claim to have cut ties with their anti-Semitic past will receive special attention.
Two policy questions are related to this debate:
- How should Jews respond to being courted by populist parties? As radical parties understand that warm relations with Jews will immunize them from anti-Semitism accusations, provide moral legitimacy, and help them convince reluctant voters, they court Jews and Israel. This paper seeks to distinguish between the various types of populism and provide communal leaders and Israeli politicians with directions to interact with them.
- How will the rise of anti-establishment parties affect the Jewish future in Europe?