The fascistic President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, visited the state of Israel in March/April this year, where he was warmly welcomed. His tour of that state is just the latest in a series of building connections and links between far-right anti-Semitic political figures and the Israeli government. In December last year, the Italian Interior Minister and leader of the racist anti-immigrant Lega Party, Matteo Salvini, visited the Israeli state where he declared his unconditional support for the regime in Tel Aviv.
It is no exaggeration to state that Israel has actively courted the friendship and connections of ultra-rightist and anti-immigrant parties and ideologues from around the world. In turn, the latter have expressed their ideological support for the ethnocratic Zionist project, while holding explicitly anti-Semitic viewpoints. Why is there an open and burgeoning alliance between the far-right fascistic parties and the state of Zionist Israel?
It is interesting to note that Salvini, a powerful member of Italy’s rightist coalition government, has revived the politics and themes of Italian fascism for a modern audience. The late Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, enacted anti-Semitic legislation in the 1930s, leading to the deportation – and subsequent murder – of Italian Jews in concentration camps. Salvini has declared his intention to rid Italy of its Roma population in language reminiscent of the anti-Semitic terms deployed by Italian fascism against Jews.
The Zionist state has become a pole of attraction for various anti-immigrant, neo-fascist politicians and far-right ideologues because of the shared ideological kinship between Zionism and other ultra-rightist political philosophies. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has framed his outreach to neo-fascist and ultra-rightist forces as an exercise in pragmatic realpolitik, this rationale ignores the underlying commonalities between Zionism and ultra-rightist nationalism.
Political Zionism, being one variant of extreme ultranationalism, is admired by the international far-right for its push to construct an ethnocratic state based on the exclusion and dispossession of the Palestinians. Zionism regards the Jewish people worldwide as forming one, biologically-based indivisible nation, incapable of assimilating into the countries of their residence. This is a mirror reflection of the basic logic of the anti-Semite.
Netanyahu’s embrace of anti-Semites and ultra-rightist figures is neither opportunistic in origin nor accidental. Yvonne Ridley, writing about the open alliance between Zionism and ultranationalist, racist groups, states that:
Israel certainly has hooked up with some of the world’s most odious anti-Semites since the State was founded on Palestinian land in 1948. Such links would, no doubt, have had the blessing of Theodor Herzl, the godfather of political Zionism. Promoting Jewish migration to Palestine around the turn of the twentieth century he wrote, “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”
One of Israel’s staunchest European allies is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The latter travelled to the state of Israel in 2018, and expressed his support for that nation. Orban makes for a seemingly strange political bedfellow of the Jewish state, having stated his admiration for wartime Hungarian dictator Admiral Miklos Horthy. In the 1930s and 40s, Horthy implemented anti-Semitic measures, cooperating with Nazi Germany in deporting and killing thousands of Jews. Orban’s praise of a wartime Nazi collaborator and killer is apparently no obstacle in forming friendly relations with Tel Aviv.
Not only anti-Semitic heads-of-state are welcomed by Israel’s supporters. Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for the Trump administration and ultra-rightist political operator, is a strong supporter of Zionism. Feted by the Zionist Organisation of America at a gala dinner in November 2017, Bannon has maintained strident anti-Semitic viewpoints, but these have posed no difficulties in acquiring friends in pro-Zionist organisations.
Let us not underestimate the influence of Islamophobia is cementing the alliance between Zionism and the far-right. Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo, writing in Al Jazeera, make the perceptive observation that ultra-rightist groups and political ideologues view Israel’s suppression and exclusion of Palestinians as a strike against a common Muslim enemy. With increasing numbers of refugees from Muslim-majority countries seeking asylum in Europe and America, the far-right has fixated on a new enemy out-group, and seeks ways to counter what they perceive as ‘encroachments’ on Western civilisation – in their distorted worldview.
The ultranationalist right looks to Israel for ways to deal with the Islamic outsider. Consider the following statement by Dutch ultra-rightist MP Geert Wilders. In 2015, warning that Islamic immigration posed a threat to Europe, he stated his proposed solution:
Look at Israel, learn from Israel; Israel is an island in a sea of Islamic barbarism. Israel is a beacon of freedom and prosperity in a region of Islamic darkness. Israel refuses to be overrun by jihadists. So should we.”
The Israeli government is itself a contributor to the resurgence of far-right and ultranationalist politics worldwide. Netanyahu’s willingness to ally with ultra-rightist militarists and Islamophobic fanatics in his own cabinet make him a willing accomplice in an international far-right project to acquire ideological rehabilitation – a crucial step towards state power.
When ultra-rightist Islamophobic parties make common cause with Israel’s ongoing offensive against the Palestinians, they are not only making Israel’s fight their own, but are also making Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land into a global cause. By cleverly affixing the tag ‘clash of civilisations’ to Israel’s construction of settlements on and annexation of Palestinian territory, the far-right’s ideology gains legitimacy among Israel’s supporters.
Creating an ethnic majoritarian nationalism on the ground in the Palestinian territories is a shining example of how the ultranationalist right intends to carve out a ‘cleansed’ whites-only majoritarian project on what it regards as its own turf. By applauding far-right bigotry under the guise of ‘countering Muslims’, the ultranationalist right is only emboldened to increase its attacks on all ethnic and religious minorities. There is an alternative course of action: rather than constructing alliances with far-right and white supremacist groups, Jews and Muslims can and must combine to fight the menace of bigotry and oppose the violence such hatred engenders.