Commentary Magazine

Israel’s True Friends

To the Editor:

Michael Moynihan argues convincingly in “False Friends” [November 2012] that fascists in Europe must not be allowed to get away with what he calls “strategic Zionism” and “Israel-washing”—that is, concealing their ugly views by a show of support for the Jewish state. But he leaves several topics unaddressed that I hope he will cover in reply to this letter.

First, at what point does one accept that a person or organization has shed its fascistic origins and become legitimately conservative? What are the litmus tests for this? Who, if anyone, has made this transition?

Second, is there not value in encouraging organizations like the British National Party, Vlaams Belang, Front National, Austria’s Freedom Party, or the Sweden Democrats to shed their unsavory origins and elements? Of course, the left focuses relentlessly on their negatives; but it is counterproductive for the right to pile on. Why not expand the respectable right by urging these parties to renounce their fascist aspects and evolve in a constructive direction? And if Mr. Moynihan deems such an evolution impossible, why so?

Third, he says not a word about Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, arguably Europe’s most important politician, nor about his Party for Freedom, nor about the many other like-minded parties that have risen in recent years, including Italy’s Northern League, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Swiss People’s Party, the Danish People’s Party, Norway’s Progress Party, and the True Finns. Does their omission imply that he endorses working with them? If he does not, why not?

Daniel Pipes
Middle East Forum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


To the Editor:

Michael Moynihan believes that far-right groups do not deserve to be among Israel’s supporters, and that Israel deserves other friends. He who likes Israel but is not likable is called a false friend and phony philo-Semite. But expecting Jews to be uniquely choosy about friends might be seen as a manifestation of phony philo-Semitism as well. The author is concerned that many Hungarian people distrust Jews, but he should not be surprised, as it was the Jews who led Bolshevik violence (Bela Kun) in Hungary in 1919, and it was the Jewish politicians (Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Gabor Peter) who organized the Stalinist terror in Hungary after WWII. Ignoring the Jewish role in the Communist terror should also fall under false philo-Semitism. 

The author does not distinguish between Belgium’s pro-Israeli Vlaams Belang and Greece’s anti-Jewish Golden Dawn—both are condemned as fringe right. Surely it is not their “fringeness” that worries Mr. Moynihan, but their rightness. That is corroborated by the fact that he also condemns many Israelis, including democratically elected members of the Israeli parliament, who allegedly “cozied up with the far right.” 

Mr. Moynihan disagrees with the “primitive formula that my enemy’s enemy is my friend” but forgets that higher ideals have never been a part of practical politics; that his praised political mainstream aims at signing peace agreements with reactionary Arab leaders and Hitler admirers; and that even the United States allies itself with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Alliances with the fringe right seem troubling to the author for moral reasons, and also because they justify Israel’s critics who equate the Israel Defense Forces with the Wehrmacht. The fact is that anti-Semites and Israel’s enemies do not need any justification for their hatred, and it would be of no help to try to please the far left by refusing the far right.

We in Israel frequently remember Ben-Gurion’s words: “What matters is not what they say but what we do.” In all countries in the world, what was considered “moral” has been what was good for the country. To ask anything else from Israel would constitute phony philo-Semitism.

Although Mr. Moynihan notes that half of Germans hate Israel, he advises Jews to stick with the mainstream and not with the fringes. But that is exactly what Jews have always done, and the tragic history shows that it did not help. If Jews constitute a normal nation today, it should not be surprising that they have, beside their beloved far left, a far right, because a normal spectrum has two fringes. More important, the political right usually supports Israel, but the left does not. 

Thomas Guttmann
Be’er Sheva, Israel


To the Editor:

Michael Moynihan suggests that since anti-Semitic parties and individuals attacked Jews and Jewish interests in the past, pro-Zionist parties and individuals today are being hypocritical and opportunistic and actually harbor old attitudes toward Jews.

My understanding is that anti-Semitic sentiment was directed at Jewish internationalism, whether that of the Communists or of the democratic Jewish supporters of such bodies as the League of Nations. Nationalists, including National Socialists, were opposed to internationalism in general as well as the Communist Internationale. Jews felt that nationalism was inimical to Jewish interests because Jews lived in many different countries. 

Zionism, in my understanding of it as a Gentile, was a political movement with the goal of creating a Jewish state, a nation for the Jews—the polar opposite of internationalism. 

What we’re seeing today are the same nativists who opposed internationalism in the past, now supporting the nationalism of Israel. This is hardly “phony,” and hardly an attempt to “look respectable,” as Mr. Moynihan claims. It shows a consistency of purpose on the part of nativists and nationalists, a purpose that has been largely defanged of its previous violence and cruelty. 

Rather than deploring nationalists in Holland, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere, nationalists in Israel should—as some do—welcome them as supporters. True democracy is only possible among people with similar cultures (witness Lebanon, Egypt, etc., for the opposite), so the more nationalists we have, and the fewer internationalists, the better—in Europe and everywhere else.

Frank Hilliard
Grand Forks, British Columbia


To the Editor:

I cannot agree with the argument of Michael Moynihan’s overwrought article: that Zionists should never, ever form alliances with nationalistic European political parties that are sympathetic to Israel but have anti-Semitic pasts or current anti-Semitic elements or tendencies. (Regarding such tendencies, I am grateful for the informative “Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual,” by Ben Cohen, in the same issue.) Political alliances are often partial and shifting. It is the way of the world and is not wicked. While I think Zionists should resist any temptation to whitewash such partners, and should oppose them if and when they attack the Jewish way of life, I do not see that alliances with them against common foes should be rejected a priori. Pace, Mr. Moynihan, I doubt that many not already disposed to regard Israel as fascistic will be moved to do so because of such alliances.

Shmuel Ben-Gad
Washington, D.C.


Michael Moynihan writes:

Daniel Pipes makes some worthwhile points and poses a number of important questions. He is surely right that those who distrust moribund socialist and conservative parties should encourage Europe’s new populists to purge their ranks of racists and anti-Semites. I don’t believe that, for the most part, parties with toxic pasts should forever be associated with their most extreme adherents, any more than I think that the often troubling histories of both the American Democratic and Republican Parties should mean that they should be boycotted or dissolved. At present, though, most of the parties he mentions are a rather long way from respectability.

The BNP, for instance, is not an organization that attracts racists, but is a racist organization, currently led by lunatic anti-Semite Nick Griffin. A quick Internet search finds Griffin sharing a dais with his chum David Duke or allying with Muammar Gaddafi. The same is true of the poisonous English Defence League, which created a Potemkin “Jewish Division,” whose former leader defended Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. 

As for those populist right groups I ignored, I did so only because they’re not, with the exception of Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, parties that I have watched closely in the past decade. As Ben Cohen pointed out in the very same issue, though, the Freedom Party does possess some distressingly illiberal instincts. But in fairness to Wilders—a man who, whatever one thinks of his politics, is remarkably brave—his warm feelings toward Israel predate 9/11 and seem independent of his criticism of Muslim immigration to the Netherlands.

Having watched the immigration debate up close in Sweden, I am less impressed by the ability of the Sweden Democrats to moderate. The problems that have arisen from immigration in Sweden have largely been ignored by mainstream political parties and underplayed by major media outlets, who fear inviting charges of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Subsequently, the Sweden Democrats are now polling at around 10 percent. But not long after my story was published, a video surfaced of leading members of the party’s “reformist” faction armed with iron bars and they fought and shouted racist abuse at an immigrant in Stockholm.

Thomas Guttmann’s recommendations to German Jews—to ally with anti-Semites to smite anti-Semitism, for example—don’t make sense. Contrary to his claim that “Jews have always” clung to mainstream groups, German Jews have allied with many political parties, both within and outside the mainstream. Perhaps Mr. Guttmann is unaware that the extremists in the German Communist Party (KPD) were themselves culpable in allowing the Nazi seizure of power. At the behest of Moscow, the KPD focused its attacks on “social fascism” in the Social Democratic Party—instead of the actual fascism of National Socialism. In other words, two ideologically fringe parties created the conditions for world war and the Holocaust. I’m not sure what
Mr. Guttmann suggests German Jews should presently do—embrace the far right and ally with the neo-Nazi NPD? 

He also writes that I “should not be surprised” by Hungarian anti-Semitism, employing the argument that “it was the Jews who led Bolshevik violence (Bela Kun) in Hungary in 1919, and it was the Jewish politicians (Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Gabor Peter) who organized the Stalinist terror in Hungary after WWII.” It was not “the Jews,” of course, but those Jews he mentions. As Anne Applebaum points out in Iron Curtain, only 25 percent of Hungarian Jews voted for the Communists in 1945.

What can one say to Frank Hilliard’s celebration of European nationalism as a useful counterweight to “Jewish internationalism” and his implicit contention that the United States couldn’t be a democratic country because “true democracy is only possible among people with similar cultures”? He draws sufficient attention to the perils of certain types of alliances all on his own. 

Shmuel Ben-Gad similarly overstates the (very limited) benefits of such alliances. Once Islamic radicalism has been dispatched, it will be the turn of those “Jewish internationalists” who destroy the cohesion of European culture.

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