Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

A short guide to the far-right parties elected to the European Parliament

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Far-right parties have made significant gains in the European Parliament election, including those with neo-Nazi affiliations. The election results came in on May 25, one day after the tragic shooting at a Jewish Museum in Brussels that killed four people, suspected to be a terrorist attack. Both have shaken but not surprised Jewish communities across Europe.

While centrist parties with pro-European Union (EU) stances will continue to retain control of the European Parliament, which approves EU wide legislation and elects the commissioners who act as the Union's executive branch but generally has limited power, far-right parties espousing racism and xenophobia did very well in this election.

However, it should be kept in mind that the various far-right parties elected differ in ideology and cannot be put into the same camp, even if they jointly share a Eurosceptic stance. Traditional far-right parties with neo-Nazi roots such as Greece's Golden Dawn, Hungary's Jobbik, and Germany's NDP have gained seats, but they differ from the more populist new radical right-wing groups. These have concealed or removed antisemitism from their platforms, distanced themselves from street thugs or explicit racism, yet campaign against ethnic and cultural diversity (especially regarding Muslim immigration), as well the perceived inability of their government to improve economic life and on the alleged loss of national sovereignty.

Greece, Golden Dawn, 3 seats (9.33% of the vote):

Despite some of its members being prosecuted by the Greek Government, Greece's Golden Dawn party - widely seen as explicitly neo-Nazi - will enter the European Parliament for the first time and likely gain 3 seats.

Golden Dawn denies the ‘Neo-Nazi' label, preferring to call itself ‘nationalist'. However, its flag closely resembles the Nazi swastika, members are known to use Nazi salutes, the party openly displays copies of Mein Kampf alongside works on Greek racial superiority at party headquarters and the party symbol has been found at the sites of antisemitic attacks in the past.

Sources close to Golden Dawn also confirm these fears. Haris Kousoumbres, the former party No 3 who defected in 2002, wrote a self-published book titled "Tearing Down the Myth of Golden Dawn" in which he said that he was required to read Hitler's Mein Kampf and the writings of Josef Goebbels before being made a full member (for further information see AIJAC's previous article on Golden Dawn).

The Greek Government's attempts to reduce support for the party by exposing its beliefs and arresting most of its lawmakers has clearly not worked as Victor Eliezer, the Secretary General of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece notes, "Now no one can say that they did not know, no one can say that it was a vote of protest... This time, to my sorrow, the votes for Golden Dawn are clearly ideological; they are votes for a neo-Nazi party."

Germany, NPD, 1 seat (1% of the vote):

Also for the first time Germany's neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) will be entering the European Parliament with one seat. Despite receiving only 1% of the vote, the NPD has benefited from the recent scrapping of a three-percent threshold for European elections in Germany.

The seat will go to Udo Voigt who in 2004 was found guilty of promoting Nazism after he called Hitler "a great man". According to the Times of Israel, he has also questioned the number of Holocaust deaths, and received a four-month suspended jail sentence for inciting violence following a 1998 campaign speech in which he called for voters to engage in "armed combat." In 2011 the NPD published posters depicting Voigt, on his motorbike, with the motto "Gas geben" (Step on It) or literally "give gas" in what some viewed as a reference to gas chambers used to kill Jews in Nazi death camps. Other NDP party posters have stated, "Europe is the continent of the white people and it should remain that way."

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert has labeled the NPD "an anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-constitutional party." The Central Council of Jews in Germany wrote in a statement, "It is incomprehensible why public funds should finance neo-Nazi propaganda and hatred... In our view, this party should have been banned long ago."

Hungary, Jobbik Party, 3 seats (14.7% of the vote):

In Hungary, the Jobbik party won 3 seats, matching its 2009 EU election results. Jobbik is widely considered antisemitic, with some of its MPs even calling for Jews to be registered as a ‘national security threat'.

Moreover, in April 2012, the deputy leader of Jobbik, Zsolt Barath gave a speech in Budapest Parliament that revisited the Tiszaszlar Blood Libel Claim (see previous blog post). The blood libel claim is the false accusation that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood for religious rituals - it has a long history of leading to mob violence and pogroms against Jewish communities.

In 2013, when the World Jewish Congress held its annual meeting in Budapest, Jobbik staged a protest rally against the event, with party chairman Gabor Vona telling the crowd, "The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale."

Jobbik was originally established as the Right-Wing Youth Association by a group of Catholic and Protestant university students in 2002, and later founded as a political party in October 2003. In 2010, Viktor Orban's nationalist conservative Fidesz party came to power winning two-third majority of seats in parliament, and Jobbik won 17% of the vote becoming Hungary's third-largest political party. Jobbik denies that it is fascist and antisemitic but also agrees that they are not democrats.

Jobbik's alleged open antisemitism may stem from its embrace of the cultural philosophy known as ‘Turanism' - a pan-Turkic ideology emphasising the alleged origins of Hungarians among the peoples of the Central Asian steppes.

As James Kirchik noted in Tablet:

"Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of Hungary's wartime fascist Arrow Cross party, espoused the existence of a ‘Turanian-Hungarian' race. One of the unspoken functions of Turanism is to emphasise the racial peculiarity of Hungarians and thereby establish Hungary as a country in which the Jews and the Roma have no place. While the Communists suppressed Turanism, since it challenged their own claims to universal brotherhood, the Hungarian far right, with Jobbik in the forefront, has revived it. Jobbik leader Vona has declared that ‘an alliance based and developed on the principles of Turanism instead of the Euro-Atlantic alliance would be more effective in serving the needs and interests of our nation.'"

France, National Front, 24 seats (26% of the vote):

Marine Le Pen's far-right, Eurosceptic National Front got the most votes of any party in France, gaining 24 seats in the European Parliament, up from 3 seats in 2009. Ms Le Pen has spent years rebranding her party, attempting to shed a reputation for antisemitism that had been established by the party's founder, her father Jean Marie Le Pen, who had multiple convictions for inciting antisemitism. The National Front under Marine Le Pen's leadership now actively seeks Jewish voters and her different approach was reinforced when she denounced Nazi concentration camps as "the pinnacle of barbarism".

However, Jean Marie Le Pen continues to be the party's honorary President. The Anti-Defamation League noted Jean Marie Le Pen's antisemitic history back in 2002:

"Le Pen has repeatedly made statements that attempt to diminish or deny the Holocaust, once remarking that the Nazi gas chambers were ‘a mere detail' in history. He and his aides likewise have consistently espoused anti-Semitism. In February 1997, for example, Le Pen accused President Jacques Chirac of being ‘in the pay of Jewish organizations.' More recently, Le Pen has toned down his anti-Jewish sentiments, while focusing his oratory against Arab immigrants from North Africa... One of Le Pen's more egregious comments, evoking widespread protest from parties across the political spectrum and from human rights and Jewish organizations, was that ‘the races are not equal.' The National Front Mayor of Vitrolles, Mine Mégret, repeated this same line. Both Le Pen and Mme Mégret elaborated on the statement by noting that, after all, different races have different strengths -- thus, both said, Blacks are better at sports..."

Danish People's Party won 4 seats (26% of the vote):

The Danish People's Party (DPP) won 4 seats, up from 2 seats in 2009, making it the largest party in Denmark with its anti-immigration policies. The party was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjaersgaard, until the leadership passed to Kristian Thulesen Dahl in 2012. The party aims to protect the freedom and cultural heritage of the Danish people, including the family, the Monarchy, and the Church of Denmark, to enforce a strict rule of law, to work against Denmark becoming a multi-ethnic society by limiting immigration and promoting cultural assimilation of admitted immigrants. Last year, DPP rejected, a proposed Europe-wide alliance of right wing parties, citing the perceived antisemitism of France's National Front, according to Agence France Presse. DPP Party spokesman Soeren Soendergaard told the AFP, "The Danish People's Party does not like the National Front," adding "The National Front has an anti-Semitic background."

Austria, Freedom Party, 4 seats (20% of the vote):

Austria's Freedom Party made significant gains in this election gaining 4 seats - two more than the 2009 election. It is a Eurosceptic anti-immigration party that campaigned with slogans such as "Too much EU is dumb". It has reportedly said that it hopes to form an alliance with France's National Front and other like-minded parties in the new EU parliament. The party was reportedly established by former Nazi members, as Anna Goldenberg at the Forward wrote last year:

"Emerging after World War II under the leadership of several former Nazi Party members, the party actually hewed to a moderate-right line for a period of time. But in 1986, under the controversial leadership of Jorg Haider, the party took a sharp right turn, seizing on immigration as its main issue." She added, "It's not just the party's origins under the leadership of former Nazis that make Jews uncomfortable; it has more recently been accused of pandering to xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The Freedom Party's former leader, Jörg Haider, famously sparred with Deutsch's predecessor Ariel Muzicant, who headed the Jewish community until 2012. Today, around one-third of the Freedom Party's members of parliament are associated with controversial right-wing fraternities, some of which hold connections to neo-Nazi or German nationalist groups.

"Last year, party leader Strache attended a ball organized by several of these fraternities and compared the demonstrations against the event to the Kristallnacht pogroms of the Nazis. A few months before the elections, Strache posted a cartoon on his Facebook page that depicted a repulsive fat banker with a hooked nose and cufflinks that resembled Stars of David oppressing the Austrian people."

Sweden, Sweden Democrats won 2 seats (9.8% of the vote):

For the first time the Sweden Democrats have won 2 seats in the European Parliament. In 2009 they only received 3.3% of the vote.

The party campaigns against immigration, and while it has reported Nazi-roots it underwent a process of moderation in the 1990s to oust openly racist or pro-Nazi extremists from the party's ranks.

The Sweden Democrats were founded on 6 February 1988 as a successor to the Sweden Party, which was founded in 1986 by the merger of two organisations generally recognised as openly racist - Bevara Sverige Svenskt "Keep Sweden Swedish" and a faction of the xenophobic Progress Party. One of the party's early chairmen, Anders Klarstrom, was formerly active in the Nazi Nordiska Rikspartiet (Nordic Reich Party), and the party's first auditor, Gustaf Ekström was a Waffen-SS veteran and had been a member of the national socialist party Svensj Scialistisk Samling in the 1940s.

Netherlands, Dutch Freedom Party, 3 seats (12.22% of the vote):

To the surprise of many, the Dutch Freedom Party led by Gert Wilders, considered far-right, Eurosceptic and anti-Islam, lost ground. Wilders is known for his criticism of Islam and campaigns to end all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands and to repatriate those already living there. Wilders told the Dutch parliament in 2008, "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam".

Wilders blamed the low voter turnout and the fact that his voters were not interested in the elections for the European Parliament. However, the party had 17% of the vote in the 2009 election. Peter Martino, writing for the Gatestone Institute, suggests that Wilder's alliance with France's Front National may have led to the decline in votes:

"Five years ago, Wilders promised his voters that he would not align himself with any foreign parties in the EP. This time, however, he went to the European elections in coalition with the French Front National [FN] of Marine Le Pen. Having met Ms Le Pen, Wilders says he is convinced that she wants to break with the anti-Semitic past of her party. Wilders, who is one of Israel's most outspoken supporters in Europe, said, ‘Marine Le Pen is not her father. She is not anti-Semitic. She cares about France, its identity and its sovereignty.' Wilders is also convinced that nothing much is to be expected anymore of the French establishment parties for the defense of France's identity. He sees the FN as the last chance the French have against the rising tide of Islamisation...

Nevertheless, it seems that Wilders failed to convince his voters. The remarks by Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, on the eve of that very day proved toxic for Wilders. During a political debate in France, the elderly Le Pen gleefully suggested that the ebola virus will solve Europe's problem with immigration from Africa. The remark was widely publicized in the Dutch media, who devoted even more attention to it than the media in France. Dutch public opinion reacted with indignation. Even though Wilders immediately dismissed Jean-Marie Le Pen's remark as ‘reprehensible' and emphasized that ‘Marine Le Pen is in charge of the FN today,' it cost him dearly in the election booths on the following day."

Belgium, Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), 1 seat:

Belgium's Vlaams Belang (VB) lost one of its two seats. It is a Flemish nationalist political party in the Flemish region of Brussels that advocates for the independence of Flanders, is Eurosceptic and calls for strict limits on immigration. The party rejects multiculturalism but accepts a multi-ethnic society as long as people of non-Flemish backgrounds assimilate into Flemish culture.

Vlaams Belang originated from Vlaams Blok, which adopted its new name and changed some controversial parts of its statute after Belgium's highest court in 2004 ruled that the Vlaams Blok was guilty of violating anti-racism legislation. Since 2004 the party under its new name has sought to change its image from a radical to a more conservative party, and has distanced itself from some of its former programs.

In 2001, the Vice-President of the Vlaam Blok, Roeland Raes, was forced to step down as a Senator and from his party role after expressing doubt about the Nazi extermination of Jews in a television interview

Conclusion:


The success of far-right parties and Eurosceptic parties in this election has undermined the myth that Europe is moving towards "ever closer union", and that Europe's legacy of fascism has dissipated. For example, a Eurosceptic party in the UK - U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), a group that wants Britain to pull out of the European Union won 28% of the vote, more than the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties. The success of far-right and Eurosceptic parties will also put pressure on mainstream parties, especially in Britain and France, to reshape their policies to recover lost ground.

Fortunately, there is a reported reluctance among some of the moderate Eurosceptic parties to align themselves with the more extreme far-right parties in the parliament. For example, the UKIP has already ruled out cooperating with the National Front reportedly due to its racist and antisemitic roots, and the leader of the Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany, Bernd Lucke, told the media, "We won't work with right-wing populists".

Meanwhile, even parties on the far-right are unlikely to form a cohesive alliance. While ‘traditional' far-right groups with shared neo-Nazi ideology like Golden Dawn and Jobbik may cooperate, it appears unlikely that anti-immigration groups like the National Front and Dutch Freedom Party will want to align themselves with the neo-Nazi groups. Ms Le Pen has already ruled out joining forces with Jobbik and Golden Dawn. Nevertheless the gains of far-right parties, especially those with neo-Nazi roots, is a matter of serious concern and a reflection of a general renewed permissiveness for fascist ideas in the continent from which fascism initially sprang.

The warning signs of growing extremism in Europe have been there for sometime, spurned by those disillusioned with the European Union, increased immigration, and economic austerity measures which have led to soaring unemployment and cuts in social spending. Within this environment, extremism and in particular antisemitism has flourished in some quarters - especially in Greece and Hungary. According to the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Global 100 Index, it found 27% of the adult population of the EU holds antisemitic attitudes, with alarmingly high figures in Greece (69%), Hungary (41%) and France (37%).

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman commented, "There is no doubt that political extremism is on the rise in Europe, and along with it anti-Semitism is rising as well," adding "The success of extremist political parties, both on the far-right and far-left, has never been good for democracy or for Jews and other minorities. The continuing trend in Europe toward support for these parties is cause for heightened concern."

Similarly, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris recently wrote in the Huffington Post "Europe needs to wake up to the threat posed by anti-Semitism." Harris commented: "Sure, it thinks it's awake, but, in reality, only partially. The problem is bigger and deeper than many realize. And the stakes couldn't be higher, not just for Jews, but for Europe's core values, beginning with the protection of human dignity."

Sharyn Mittelman

 

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