Anti-semitism rears its head again

Death of far-right figurehead reveals the insiduous creep of extremism

This article appears in The First Post

16 October 2008

The death of Austria's far-right politician Jorg Haider in a car crash on Saturday draws attention to an ugly truth about modern politics - the new anti-semitism sinking its roots in Europe.
Haider liked to present himself as a man of the people - expressing simple Austrian thoughts about too many immigrants, too much Europe, too much political correctness.
But underneath these standard right-wing tropes - shared by the BNP, UKIP, and populist politicians of the left and right elsewhere in Europe - was a man who carefully developed a politics of anti-semitism. Haider claimed to be inspired by the German right philosopher Ernst Forsthoff, who in 1938 wrote that Jews "were not a religious community but a racially foreign body utterly different from the German people".
Haider compared Jews to the Sudeten Germans who lost property and were forced to leave Czechoslovakia in the mass transfers of peoples that took place in Europe, British India and the Middle East in the years after 1945. When Hitler's aide Rudolf Hess died in Spandau prison in Berlin, Haider wrote Hess had "stayed faithful to true German honour".
Journalists in Europe are reluctant to describe modern anti-semitic politicians as such. Like France's Jean Marie Le Pen who tried unsuccessfully to keep under control his views on Jews, Haider tried to avoid openly direct anti-Jewish remarks.
But by insinuation, choice of metaphor, or expressing his belief that Jews in Germany in 1940 were able to live freely, he was in the mainstream of modern anti-semitism with its banalisation or denial of the Holocaust, its contempt for Israel, and its belief that secret Jewish lobbies have too much power.
In Britain, the only lengthy published works by the BNP leader Nick Griffin are obsessed with Jews. In Who Are the Mindbenders, a pamphlet published in 1997, Griffin depicted the British media in the hands of Jews like Michael Grade who changed their names to avoid identification. In a magazine called The Rune, Griffin argued that "the very idea of Zyklon-B extermination has been exposed as unscientific nonsense".
This and other denials of the Holocaust are a core ideological element of contemporary anti-semitism. If the Holocaust did not happen, Jews have no right to protest and the right of Israel to exist can be openly challenged. Haider's party and a sister far-right party won 30 per cent of the vote in last month's elections in Austria. In Britain, the BNP is steadily gaining ground.
The Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who has to do hand-to-hand political fighting with the BNP in his Dagenham, east London constituency, has warned that the BNP could win an MEP seat in next June's European Parliament election. In Stoke, a BNP candidate stands a chance of becoming the directly elected mayor of the city.
Anti-semitism also lies at the heart of fundamentalist Islamist ideology. From Osama bin Laden to the Hamas charter, the language about Jews is little different from the classic Jew-baiting texts of anti-semitic politicians, going back to Hitler. At the UN in September, Iran's President Ahmadinejad accused Jews of "dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres as well as the political decision-making centres of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner". This line is no different from Nazi propaganda claiming Jews were in secret control of British and US politics before 1939.
So today's anti-semitism has its state sponsors like Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has its European politicians who play on anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner themes. It has its intellectuals who develop theories about the Holocaust. It has its fellow-travellers who hate Israel and call for boycotts of Jews in Israeli institutions without ever applying the same standards to Israel's neighbours where human rights are ruthlessly repressed. It is not the anti-semitism of the extermination camp or the burning of synagogues. But anti-semitism is back, is growing as a political force, and is once again causing fear among many who thought it belonged to the history books.