On 26 January 20,000 right wingers marched through the streets of Paris in a protest against the Socialist Party government of Francois Hollande. Their “Day of Anger” included attacks on defence cuts, rising crime, high taxes and “destruction of the family”.
However, besides the manifesto demands, the march was marked by an chillingly organised parade of anti-Semitism. The “Day of Anger” took place on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, referred to in France as Shoah (Hebrew for “the catastrophe”).
Along the march a contingent of fascists, up to 200 strong, shouted, “Shoah! Shoah! Ha-ha-ha!” In a reference to the notorious French Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson, another favourite ran, “Faurisson a raison! Chambres a Gaz, c’est du bidon!” (“Faurisson is right! Gas chambers, they’re bullshit!”). The inverted fascist salute, the “Quenelle”, adopted by the anti-Semite “comedian”, Dieudonne, was on full display.
These were not odd individuals breaking discipline from their minders. This was a Nazi hard-core seeking to build a fascist hegemony within a right wing march dominated by anti-immigrant, Islamophobic racism.
There is growing anti-Semitism on the far right. Most evident in parts of Eastern Europe, it is now spreading more widely.
In Hungary, the Nazi Jobbik is now the third-largest party after winning 16 percent of the vote in 2010. Its deputy parliamentary leader demanded a state register of Jews claiming they pose “a national security risk”, an MEP candidate called for “armed battle against the Jews” and in February the party held an election rally in a former synagogue. The echoes of history must chill Hungary’s 120,000 Jews. More than 437,000 of Hungary’s Jews perished in the obscene climax of Hitler’s “Final Solution” in just eight weeks in 1944 as Hungarian police and officials emptied the provinces of their Jewish population and sent them to Auschwitz.
On the wall of the synagogue where the rally was held, a memorial bears witness to “the 500 Jewish citizens of Esztergom…deported to Nazi death camps on June 5th and 6th, 1944”.
In neighbouring Ukraine the fascists of Svoboda (Freedom) who gained 40 percent of the vote in some regions, played a leading role in the Maidan protests. Oleg Tyagnibok, the Svoboda leader, has called for the banning of all Jewish organisations.
The International Business Times noted, “Tyagnibok has also claimed ‘organised Jewry’ dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities and plan to engineer a ‘genocide’ upon the Christian Ukrainian population.”
In Greece, Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, denies the existence of gas chambers and death camps. During the Second World War, 70,000 Jews, 81 percent of the Jewish population, were sent to the gas chambers that Michaloliakos claims never existed.
As fascist and right wing movements across Europe increasingly use anti-Semitism, we need to understand its rise, and the strategy anti-racists and the left should adopt in response.
It is critical not to separate the rise of anti-Semitism from the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Roma and anti-immigrant racism. The far-right have built their base by riding the tiger of Islamophobia and racism fomented by the governments and establishment parties of Europe.
The recent display of anti-Semitism in France is the price paid for the failure to combat the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. Tragically, most of the French left failed to take a stand against the banning of the veil in schools and public places.
For leading defenders of Israel, the collapse reached tragic proportions. France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe, numbering more than half a million. Yet Richard Prasquier, president of the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies, saw “Israelophobia” on the left as the greatest danger. “The new category of Jew-bashing comes from those who present themselves as being anti-Zionists.” Meanwhile he reassuringly observed, “anti-Semitism is no longer a main characteristic of the FN (Front National)”.
In Hungary the government has openly promoted anti-Roma racism. Zsolt Bayer, a founder of the ruling Fidesz party and friend of prime minister, Viktor Orban, wrote, “Most gypsies are…not fit to live among people. They are animals.
These animals should certainly not exist. The problem must be solved – immediately and no matter how.” So during the election campaign of 2010 Jobbik candidates blamed the Roma for “crime” and dependency on welfare and their “allies”, the Jews, for making profits from the financial crisis.
Many on the left have been disarmed by the strategy adopted by fascist parties since the 1980s, when fascists such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, attempted to present a “respectable” electoral face. This involved toning down Holocaust denial and Sieg Heil salutes. As Islamophobia became their trump card, some European fascists, including Marine Le Pen, Nick Griffin and the EDL, even declared themselves “friends” of Israel.
This opportunism was part of a wider strategy aimed at consolidating a fascist base while focusing on Muslims. Griffin explained that Holocaust denial and open anti-Semitism would simply deny the BNP election victories. However, he never recanted his long record of Holocaust denial. Even Svoboda will deny they are anti-Semitic when they feel they need to court the Western media.
Anti-Semitism is not simply ideological nostalgia for Europe’s fascists. It is no accident that anti-Semitism is to the fore in those states where economic and financial crises are deepest. Greece, Hungary and Ukraine have all experienced a catastrophic economic collapse. Unemployment has soared.
In Hungary, prior to the 2008 financial crash, two thirds of Hungarian mortgages were taken out, mainly in Swiss francs. Overnight the Hungarian forint plunged in value and a wave of repossessions followed. In May 2013 Jobbik held a protest outside the World Jewish Congress in Budapest against “a Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary”, playing both on the financial crisis and (paltry) government compensation paid to Hungarian Jews who lost families and homes in the Holocaust.
When an American Jewish Committee leader, David Harris, visited Greece, Golden Dawn said, “The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots – the international loan sharks who are humiliating the Greek people… We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”
Ukraine was hit hard by the crisis of 2008 as world steel prices fell and debt mushroomed on vast foreign loans. The economy contracted 15 percent and the currency lost 40 percent of its value. It is in this context that Svoboda’s leader talks of “organised Jewry” enriching themselves.
Fascists will always be reluctant to shed anti-Semitism from their political armoury. Fascism requires an ideology that can vent the hatred for financial institutions and big business but divert that rage away from the capitalist system itself. Anti-Semitism and notions of “Jewish finance capital” fulfil a role that the Roma or Muslims cannot.
The fascists of Europe also confront a historical dilemma. The reactionary regimes of pre-war Europe, including Vichy France, collaborated with the Nazis, were viciously anti-Semitic and assisted in the deportation of Jews.
It is precisely these regimes the fascists need to rehabilitate in order to underpin their own claims to represent a historic national identity. Europe’s fascists have tried to reinvent themselves but, as they seek to physically confront their opponents, they again look to rehabilitate the pre-war model. From denying that they are anti-Semitic at all, they turn to deny the Holocaust instead.
In Eastern Europe history has been particularly severe. Anti-Semitism was a weapon of the Tsars and Europe’s autocrats. After the Russian Revolution Stalin resurrected anti-Semitism to restore Russian chauvinism and establish a Soviet empire.
In Ukraine the experience of Soviet rule, when millions died of famine, allowed the Nazis to mobilise Ukrainian fascists who Svoboda now claim as true patriots who fought the “Jew Bolsheviks”.
The rise of fascism is not irresistible. Indeed, in courting a hard-line Nazi ideology, Europe’s fascists also expose themselves. For the vast majority the Holocaust remains a horror never again to be repeated.
However, the European experience shows the folly of letting Islamophobia pass unchallenged or invoking anti-Muslim stereotypes in defence of Israel. It also shows the mistake of comparing the anti-Semitism sometimes displayed by a minority of Muslims with that of the Nazis. While no quarter can be given to anti-Semitism in any form, such views represent a disastrous division on our side, rather than putting those who express it in the fascist camp.
The European left and anti-racist movement need to learn that relying on the state and legal bans is to misunderstand the nature of both fascism and the state. Holocaust denial is illegal in both France and Hungary but this has not stopped the growth of Nazi parties.
The potential to resist exists across Europe. In Britain the BNP and the EDL were brought down by united mobilisation whenever they tried to campaign or march. In Greece we have seen Golden Dawn thrown into retreat by mass anger and protest. In France and Germany thousands of school students protested against the expulsions of immigrant families. In Eastern Europe millions dread the return of fascism and can be mobilised to stop it.
As crisis and austerity inflict misery and despair, anti-Semitism has emerged from the shadows. Once forced to skulk in the dark corners of the Nazi beer hall, it now begins to bray openly and spew from fascist electoral platforms.
The first task is to ensure they do not pass. There is another. The fight for a revolutionary alternative to a system that breeds such vile horror becomes more urgent.
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