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What does an anti-Semitic party look like in Europe today?

As Britain debates antisemitism and the left, support for populist right-wing parties using hardline anti-Semitic messages is growing across the continent. 

March of Jobbik - Hungary's third largest party. Tamas Kovacs/PA images. All rights reserved.The election to the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – a noted supporter of Palestine and critic of Israeli government policy – surprised many, not least those in his own party who regard him as too left-wing to win an election in Britain.

Opponents of Corbyn have claimed that his assumption of the leadership has coincided with a rise in antisemitism among Labour members, best exemplified by the suspension of Labour MP Naz Shah for posting an cartoon that suggested Israel be relocated in the US in 2014, and of Ken Livingstone who claimed Hitler was originally a Zionist. However, others have argued that the number of antisemitic attacks has been exaggerated and misconstrued and that anti-zionism does not equal antisemitism.

But what does anti-Semitic party policy and rhetoric look like in Europe today? Away from the UK, populist right-wing parties are on the rise across Europe using hardline anti-Semitic messages to augment their support. 

Jobbik: anti-Semitism behind a ’pro-Palestine’ veil

Jobbik remains Hungary’s third most popular party in its own right. In its vision of Hungary as a 'bridge between west and east', Jobbik has dismissed any charges of Islamophobia. Furthermore, the party has been quick to strike a ’pro-Palestine’ outlook and castigate Israel not solely for its aggression against the Palestinians but also over its, allegedly, belligerent foreign policy towards other states in the Middle East (namely Iran).

Between 2010 and 2014, negative references to Israel’s alleged meddling in Hungarian domestic policies featured quite regularly in Jobbik’s rhetoric. In its 2010 Party Manifesto, Jobbik has been highly dismissive of transnational capitalism and the suspicious role of multinational corporations in Hungary.

In the party’s speech, specific references to the engagement of Israeli companies in Hungary appeared more frequently than the link between the collapse of certain German (also Austrian) banks and Hungary’s economic crisis. This campaign reached its zenith in November 2012 when Martin Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s second-in-command, stated that: ’It is high time to figure out which MPs and government members are of Jewish origin and represent a security risk to Hungary’.

A few days earlier, the party-leader, Gábor Vona, had demanded that: ‘Government members and MPs are screened in order to determine whether any possess double, Hungarian-Israeli, citizenship’. This informal statement was made during a ‘pro-Palestine’ rally held by Jobbik in front of the Israeli embassy.

The main bulk of Jobbik’s voters have opted for the party mainly on the basis of its wider ‘anti-systemic’ speech and, to a much lesser extent, on the grounds of its anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the new realities of the refugee crisis and the wave of sexual assaults in Germany on New Year’s Eve, have demonstrated that the party can be situationally-adaptive in its stance vis-à-vis the Muslim world.

Recently, Jobbik-affiliates have become highly vocal over the necessity to safeguard Europe’s Christian pillars of identity and protect Hungarian/European women from the ‘rapacious Islamic invaders’. This largely corresponds to the endorsement of a body politics approach.

With specific regard to its anti-Semitism, it becomes rather visible that Jobbik has been feeding on the propagation of negative Jewish stereotypes on the level of cultural discourse.

These are mainly the stereotypes over the, allegedly, conspiring Jewish nature, the Jewish proneness towards illegitimate networking, as well as their resistance to integrate into the main body of national societies where they live. This becomes rather evident in the party’s more explicit and rather frequent vilification of Jewry/Israel, despite the attempt to mask this endeavor behind a more geopolitical, ‘pro-Palestine’, critique.

Naše Slovensko: anti-Semitism as historical revisionism

In the latest national elections, Naše Slovensko delivered an impressive performance and garnered 8.7% of the vote. By contrast to Jobbik and its alternative outlook on Islam, this party never denied their Islamophobia. In particular, Naše Slovensko managed to capitalize on popular insecurities over the influx of the first refugee waves from the Middle East. When it comes to anti-Semitic speech, this party has been less vocal in comparison to Jobbik.

On the level of cultural discourse, Slovakia is home to negative Jewish stereotypes which are rather comparable to those in Hungary. What seems to be the main qualitative difference between the two cases is that, in Slovakia, Naše Slovensko’s anti-Semitism forms component of a historical rehabilitation project.

In a similar vein to the Croatian far right vis-à-vis the NDH, the party’s leadership have been engaged in an endeavor to rehabilitate Josef Tiso’s wartime Slovak state (1939-1945). This Nazi puppet-regime has been charged with the transportation of Slovakia’s Jewry to death camps across Eastern Europe.

Naše Slovensko have sought to rehabilitate the wartime Slovak state through commemorative venues and the replication of the ‘Hlinka Guard’ militia’s uniforms. In their public statements, the party-affiliates have not solely attempted to deconstruct the, erstwhile dominant, Communist narratives about Josef Tiso, they have also condemned the campaign of international Zionism and its ‘domestic accomplices’ with the objective to falsify history and vilify the Slovak nation in its entirety.

Towards this aim, Naše Slovensko has been indirectly facilitated by the abundance of ‘alternative outlooks on the wartime state since the end of Communist rule and Czechoslovakia’s velvet dissolution (1990-93). To this, one should also add the older, albeit less articulate, proposals of rehabilitation by Jan Slota and his Slovak National Party (SNS).

Towards a new divide: Cultural versus more pragmatic discourses?

From a macro-political perspective, one can detect a differentiation between these two parties and successful right-wing parties in Western Europe. If one concentrates on Frances’s Front National or Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, the principal emphasis is laid on Islam. In the former case, Islamic values are interpreted as a potential threat to the concept of laïcité.

Echoing Pim Fortuyn’s older remarks, Geert Wilders and other members of the Freedom Party tend to regard Islam as incompatible to the secular values upon which Dutch society has been built.

Meanwhile, Heinz-Christian Strache and his FPÖ in Austria have equally abstained from anti-Semitic remarks. In this case, dissociating from allegations of Nazi-origins, since Jörg Haider’s tenure in office, has long formed a crucial concern.

Instead of drawing a distinction between eastern cultural and western pragmatic outlooks on anti-Semitism, one might argue that the parties discussed are equally pragmatic in their own terms.

As already mentioned, certain segments of the Hungarian and Slovak electorates opt for Jobbik or Naše Slovensko principally along the lines of their broader ‘anti-systemic’ speech and, to a much lesser extent, because of these parties’ anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, adding certain touches of (cultural or quasi-historical) ‘anti-Semitism without Jews’ helps these parties capitalize more solidly on these segments’ votes. Moreover, Jobbik’s shift towards an ostensibly more anti-Islam course demonstrates that such parties can become more situationally-adaptive than external observers might anticipate.

This piece was completed courtesy of research funding from the Swedish Institute (Stockholm)

About the author

Vassilis Petsinis is a visiting researcher at Tartu University (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies). His specialisation is European politics and ethnopolitics with a regional focus on central and southeast Europe (including the Baltic States). He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham. His personal profile on academia.edu can be accessed here.


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