By Katie Engelhart, Macleans, November 30, 2013
Defying predictions, nationalist parties are tightening their networks and coalescing into dangerous alliances
In August 2010, dozens of far-right politicians from across Europe flew to Tokyo for a week of plotting and scheming. They were invited by Japan’s right-wing Issuikai group, famous for its denial of Japanese war crimes during the Nanjing Massacre, in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands raped, by Japanese soldiers. The occasion was a conference: “The Future of Nationalist Movements.”
By all accounts, it was a success. A who’s who of European nationalists showed up: delegates from the British Nationalist Party (BNP), Jobbik (Hungary), Tricolour Flame (Italy), Attack (Bulgaria), Freedom (Ukraine) and Flemish Interest (Belgium). Jean-Marie Le Pen—former president of France’s Muslim-bashing, European Union-trashing Front National—gave the keynote address. The congress, said an Issuikai spokesperson, was focused on “how we can protect the national identity in our respective countries and co-operate to win the battle against globalization.”
The last few years have been good to Europe’s far right. In 2010, extreme parties in the Netherlands, Hungary and Sweden gave powerful electoral showings. Soon after, Austria’s Freedom Party raked in over 25 per cent of state election votes and doubled its parliamentary seats. That momentum has not waned. “I would never have imagined that demons long believed to have been banished would return,” wrote European Parliament President Martin Schulz in 2012. “But simple-minded populism is once again gaining ground.” This year in Norway—just two years after a far-right militant named Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 people on the island of Utøya—the Progress Party that once inspired him won almost a quarter of the national vote.
But this is not, as some observers claim, the 1930s redux—for these are not the same far-right parties. Rather, much of Europe’s radical right has broken with its bellicose past. Today’s far-right parties are more polished and articulate, more welcoming of mainstream agenda points (like same-sex marriage and welfare assistance) and more committed to playing by democratic rules. In some cases, their goals have changed too; many far-right parties have sidelined the fight for electoral seats in favour of projects meant to push mainstream parties rightward. In places like Britain, conservative parties have taken the bait. Earlier this year, the U.K. Home Office dispatched government vans to drive around London, emblazoned with the message, “In the U.K. illegally? Go home or face arrest”—in what many say was a nasty concession to far-right forces. For this reason, the new far right appears all the more insidious. Experts speak of a continental “contagion from the right.” In Hungary and Switzerland, they worry about democratic collapse.
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By Susie Linfield
Boston Review, November 13, 2013
It is no secret that the Israeli left is marginalized; the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada (2000–2005) killed not only individual Israeli civilians but the credibility of the left itself. The shredded bodies, especially those of children and old people—in supermarkets, at cafés, on buses—made it difficult if not impossible to speak of a peaceful, or perhaps any, solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nothing that has happened since, either internally or externally, has caused the left to recover. But in a series of interviews I did with various leftist Israelis—journalists, academics, historians—this June in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I was struck not only by their despondency but also by their vibrancy, which seems to stem from the rich cultural, intellectual, and civic life that coexists with—and at the same time is separate from—a desolate political situation. I was impressed, too, by the complexity of the challenges leftist Israelis face, which are often simplified in the Western press. In addition to the occupation of the Palestinian territories, these include Israel’s rightward trend toward exclusionary ethnic nationalism; the violent turmoil in surrounding Arab countries, especially neighboring Egypt and Syria; the continuing rule of Hamas in Gaza; and the political apathy, or perhaps fatigue, of their fellow citizens. As Bar-Ilan University professor Ilan Greilsammer told me, “The big problem [among students] is depoliticization. They’re not for Zionism or against Zionism—they tend to be indifferent to any ‘ism.’” Then there are the deeply emotional, perhaps even unconscious, aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that in part explain its peculiar virulence. As journalist Gershom Gorenberg put it, “We have two pretty neurotic peoples facing off.”
Also striking were the frequent surprises—the originality of thought, the departures from simplistic stereotypes—that my interlocutors presented. Someone who unapologetically spoke of the need to “break the bones of the Egyptian army” in the 1967 war is a longtime advocate of a Palestinian state and a fierce critic of discrimination against Arab Israelis; another interviewee, who wants to “de-Zionize” Israel, opposes both the return of the Palestinian refugees and a one-state “solution.”
What follows is a report on what I learned. It is not a scientific survey but, rather, an impressionistic account. Nevertheless, it will, I hope, give a fuller picture of the contemporary Israeli left than the one often presented in the Western press, both mainstream and leftist. (The latter, especially in the United States and Britain, tends to publish expatriate anti-Zionist Israelis such as Ilan Pappé and Avi Shlaim, thereby exaggerating the import of their views, which, within Israel, is slight.) As Gorenberg, a self-described “left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew,” notes, “Distance erases detail. It’s easy to be extremely certain about a place far away.”
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