On March 17, the Israeli Supreme Court banned Michael Ben Ari, the leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party from participating in the April 9 general elections, arguing that allowing him to run for the Knesset would “legitimise racism”.
The ruling came less than a month after Otzma Yehudit entered into an electoral alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, causing shock and anger in certain political circles within and outside Israel.
“The place of people who believe in the superiority of race is behind bars, not in parliament,” said Tamar Zandberg, the leader of the opposition Meretz Party in a statement after the coalition was announced. Even the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the influential pro-Israel lobby group and close ally of Netanyahu, seemed upset by the move. “The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel,” AIPAC tweeted.
But for Palestinians, who are on the receiving end of Israel’s institutionalised racism, military occupation and apartheid, there is no difference between Otzma Yehudit and Likud or any other mainstream Israeli party. They know Israel’s long history of racism is in constant flux.
In fact, just last May, Israel passed a nation-state law, which ended once and for all, any supposed confusion about Israel’s identity. The new law openly declared Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”, completely disregarding the Palestinian people and marginalising their rights, culture, language and history.
The political platform of Otzma Yehudit and the many racist and violent pronouncements of Ben Ari are not fundamentally different from the text of the nation-state law, or the myriad offensive statements made routinely by top Israeli mainstream politicians like Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Ariel Uri.
Yet Israelis and Israel supporters continue to insist on the distinction between the Israeli far right and mainstream because they want to preserve the illusion that Israel upholds the values of democracy, transparency and human rights.
This is meant to cover up Israel’s dark underbelly of racial supremacy, military occupation and apartheid and the role it is currently playing within the emerging global far-right menace.
It is not coincidental that far-right ideologues and extremist groups are celebrating its racism and violence against the perceived common enemy: the Muslims. They see its “war on terror” and victimisation of Muslims as a model.
This link between Israel and the far-right movements around the world, however, is not one based solely on their shared hatred for Islam and Muslims or common goals of Zionism and white supremacy.
There is increasing evidence that Israel and far-right groups around the world are converging in a global movement that aims to promote and grow far-right ideology and politics.
At the core of this emerging union is the conspiracy theory of the “great replacement” which was laid out by the infamous far-right ideologue Renaud Camus in his book “Le Grand Remplacement”. Camus offers an extreme interpretation of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations”, arguing that Europe faces a Muslim invasion which will lead to “change of civilisation”.
This idea has spread beyond Europe and reached as far as North and South America, India, Australia, etc. In it, Israel sees a reflection of its own demographic anxiety about the fact that the Palestinians have been and remain the majority on the ground in Palestine.
And while this theory in some places has also acquired anti-Semitic tinges – such as in the US, where in 2017 a far-right march chanted “Jews will not replace us!” – Israel has actively encouraged belief in it.
European far-right ideologues and groups who espouse the “great replacement” conspiracy theory are also all eager supporters of Israel.
Camus, himself, has expressed his admiration for Israel on a number of occasions. In December 2017, after Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, he tweeted: “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel is a model of resistance. We must make Europe a greater Israel”.
During a 2015 speech, Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who is well known for his Islamophobia, said: “There is nothing wrong with preserving our own Judeo-Christian civilization. That is our duty […] 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.”
Former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson has claimed that “Jewish people are persecuted [by Muslims] and no one speaks out for them.”
Both Wilders and Robinson have received money from the pro-Israel think-tank, the Middle East Forum, to offset their legal costs after they were charged with incitement of hate against Muslims.
Austrian Vice-Chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache, who has called for “zero immigration” and putting “an end to the policy of Islamisation” in Austria, has visited Israel a number of times in recent years and supported moving the Austrian embassy to Jerusalem.
Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has been linked to the German Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA), chose to launch his electoral campaign for the Italian elections during a 2016 visit to Israel, where he declared: “Israel embodies the perfect balance of different realities, while ensuring law and order. It surely is a role model for security and anti-terrorism policies.” Two years later, Salvini won enough votes to form a coalition government with the populist Five Star movement.
Salvini’s electoral success, along with Strache’s in Austria and Viktor Orban’s in Hungary, have brought far-right ideas into European governance. In countries across Europe, South and South-east Asia and the Americas, where the far right has failed to make it to the government, it has still managed to push national politics to the right.
This global far-right movement has also emboldened the grassroots and encouraged more violence, where rabid Islamophobia has also been combined with admiration for Israel.
Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six worshipers in a Quebec mosque in 2017, was a fan of the Israeli army and pro-Israel groups such as “United with Israel”.
Brenton Tarrant, who killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch and who refers to Camus’ conspiracy theory in his manifesto, visited Israel, along with other countries, where he was searching for the proverbial clash of civilisations and struggle against the “Muslim invaders”. He was recently found to have donated money to the far-right anti-Muslim group Identitarian Movement Austria.
Considering the degree of violence now associated with these far-right groups and parties, it is essential that we move with our understanding from merely analysing possible links to strongly confronting all channels of political support and validation they receive, including from Israel.
Israel’s success in making its war on Palestinians a global cause, shared among far-right ideologues worldwide is not just a danger to world peace, but a precursor for more deadly violence, from Gaza to Quebec to Christchurch.