Is walking to Canossa the right direction?

“I can assure you, we will never go to Canossa!” exclaimed chancellor Bismarck, referring to Emperor Henry IV’s walk to Cannossa in 1077 to do penitence in front of Pope Gregory VII. When the leaders of the European nationalist parties from Flanders, Austria, Germany and Sweden went to Jerusalem in the beginning of december 2010, it was if they were going on a pilgrimage to do penitence. After years of being accused of being Neo-Nazis, Mr. De Winter and Mr. Strache were paying lip service to Israel: “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.” Are they doing the right thing?

First I want to point out the ridiculousness of this situation. Imagine if the leaders of nationalist parties would go to a similar country, for example Serbia, and speak out exactly the same words: “If Belgrade falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.” They would be accused to being agents of Serbia and ridiculed for their words. In the case of Israel, the mainstream media think it is normal to show this kind of servile behavior. Further, Israel is the most powerful nation in the region, and the only one with nuclear weapons and uncompromisingly backed by the most powerful nation on earth, the USA (which also has a veto in the UN security council). Jerusalem is not under threat by Islam, but is in the process of transformation from a multicultural and multireligious city into a monocultural Jewish capital.

Secondly, I want to show by the case of Mr. De Winter (Flanders) and Mr. Strache (Austria) that making obeisance to Israel is no guarantee for power at home. In 1999 Mr. Strache’s party FPÖ, back then led by Mr. Haider, won a landslide victory in the Austrian elections with 27% of the popular vote. The FPÖ won even more votes than the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) and Haider managed to form a right-wing government. The other European countries reacted hysterically and Israel temporarily withdrew its ambassador. In the end, there were no formal sanctions or other lasting damage for Austria and even the vital tourist industry was not harmed. It was a breakthrough for a nationalist party at the time without any Jewish/Israeli support whatsoever.

In Flanders the situation was different. Vlaams Belang, the party of Mr. De Winter, has its popular base in Antwerp—the largest Dutch-speaking city in Belgium and its main port—receiving one third of the votes in 2000 and 2006. In Flanders the party receives between 15% and 25% of the popular vote. Like FPÖ, Vlaams Belang has the capability of expanding its popularity over 10% with peaks of 25% and occasionally even 33%. In Antwerp, there is also a significant Jewish minority, but it is mainly a closed community of Orthodox religious people. Unlike in Austria, Vlaams Belang is excluded from public offices and participation in the coalition government. The central question is whether support for Israel will turn the tables for Vlaams Belang.

Support for Israel is by no means restricted to radical parties. (Incidentally, MP Wim Kortenoeven of Wilders’ Freedom Party has called for “preventive war” against Iran.)  Mainstream parties are generally favorable towards Israel and Jewish interests, despite a small but noisy pro-Palestinian faction within the socialist parties. Any Israel lobby will focus on the best way to influence the established liberal, socialist and Christian parties. In other words, from the Jewish side there is no interest in seeking the support of nationalist parties. Local Jewish communities are generally hostile to nationalist sentiments. In 2008, the Vienna Jewish community leader called Mr. Strache “more dangerous than Haider.” By the way, Haider died in October 2008 and got the semblance of a state funeral which was attended by all important political leaders in Austria.

My point is that Israel is not desperately seeking support and is no power broker in European politics. Even more, local Jewish communities in Europe remain hostile towards nationalist and Christian sentiments, as is proven by an official protest by the Austrian Jewish community of contacts between Likud and Mr. Strache. Love for Israel has always been a one way affair and Diaspora Jews are staunchly leftist. Even in Holland, where Mr. Wilders is unquestionably pro-Jewish (married to a Jewish wife and with possible Jewish descent) and pro-Israel, Jews don’t publicly support him in the media or via the polls. I am convinced that within a democratic framework politics is about acquiring support from interest groups, but there will never be a genuine affection between nationalist politics and Jewish interests.

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