Elections have become a buzzword for political disruption over the last few years. The mass disenfranchisement from politics which characterised the previous twenty years has been replaced with a passionate youth who are demanding change. In many countries this is supplemented by a feeling that quality of life has declined and is only getting worse. People want sweeping change.
This has led to political disruption in the form of Trump in America and Brexit, the success of Le Pen in France and a near miss in Austria where the extreme right came within a few percentage points of victory in the presidential race. Each election created its own unique changes to the political landscape and Europe’s Jewish communities.
In the summer, Macron beat Marine Le Pen decisively in the second round of the French Presidential election, with a coalition of two thirds of French voters. But we must be honest and face the facts, a third of French people voted for Le Pen. This was a far-right candidate in a tier one democracy who had been associated with hugely inflammatory policies for a long period of time. There were wide spread reports that parts of the Jewish community had also backed Le Pen. We need to take a step back and ask what is going to be best for our communities in the future? I cannot imagine that would be a Le Pen Presidency.
Germany was soon to follow with the extreme-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) moving from 4.7 per cent in the 2013 legislative election to coming in third place this year with 12.6 per cent of the vote. The nationalist, populist party were able to focus on Merkel’s refugee policy to get votes. They played on stereotypes slogans such as “Islam is not a part of Germany” at its spring conference. This type of intolerance has an impact on religious freedoms as a whole and ultimately our community.
Europe’s Jewish communities find themselves left between a rock and a hard place. The Islamic extremism, so often portrayed as part of the immigration picture, is a real threat. Incidents in Paris and Copenhagen in the last two years are too often banded around but we cannot deny their significance and there impact on the Jewish community. If nothing else, the Jewish community is spending a growing amount of its resources on security, consuming funds that could be spent elsewhere.
But there is also a significant threat coming from the right, their attacks on religious practice and their tolerance of anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric should set alarm bells ringing. I have heard reports, particularly in Austria in 2016, where Jews backed Norbert Hofer because of immigration policies. This needs to be kept in context, simply backing anti-immigration parties or claiming that immigration is the cause of this type of violence is both short-sighted and misguided.
In the next year Europe will go to the polls in over twenty countries. Jewish voters need to be aware of the pitfalls of the far-right, no matter how they dress themselves up. In Hungary, one of Europe’s most notorious far-right parties, Jobbik, has been on a charm offensive for over a year. It started with Chanukah cards and has continued with other half-hearted attempts to change their image and befriend the Jewish community. But without material changes within the party, these gestures are empty. Jews cannot support change when it is so entrenched in anti-Semitism.
While no two Jewish communities are the same, many individuals are sucked into domestic politics and the tides of change, but we have a duty to look at the bigger picture. While Jewish life should not and cannot be the only factor when we go to the polls, it is something we need to be aware of. We cannot back an ideology which is the antithesis of Judaism and has an intrinsic hate of our culture. There are serious threats to Jewish life and Jewish practice but the extreme-right is not the answer.