The following political ad was described in the Economist magazine:
“A digitally animated snake slithers out of an EU flag into a montage of images of supposed threats to Czech identity, such as the Israeli flag, smiling Orthodox Jews, a vaccination and a 500 Euro note. The serpent is eventually slain by a knight holding a shield that bears a fork-tailed lion crest, the Czech symbol. ‘Let’s kill the snake,’ cheers the voice over.”
The ad was part of a deluge of anti-Semitic material put out by parties running across Europe in the recently-concluded elections for the 751-member European Parliament. Between May 22-25, 375 million Europeans in 28 countries went to the polls to elect Members of the European Parliament, the largest directly-elected legislative body in the world.
Established in 1958, the European Parliament was the work of a post-war generation who felt the best way to safeguard peace on the continent was through Europe-wide federation. Jean Monnet, one of the architects of European integration, described his project as “building union among people, not cooperation between states.”
But the times are changing. For the first time, fully a third of the European Parliament will be filled with anti-EU members, many from extremist parties who ran angry campaigns appealing to disillusioned voters, blaming Jews and other minorities for all their troubles. The European Parliament now has a significant share of members who have as their goal its dissolution. They trumpet a turn inward to extreme nationalism, the expulsion of immigrants, and anti-Semitism.
French President Francoise Hollande described the European Parliamentary election as an earthquake, and France saw the greatest share of any EU member’s vote go to an extreme party; a full quarter of French voters backed the neo-fascist Front Nationale. Although the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, has worked to shed her party’s toxic reputation as a bastion for racists and anti-Semites – her father, Front Nationale founder Jean Marie Le Pen once called the Nazi gas chambers a “small detail” of history - her parties continues to paint Jews and other minorities as threats to France. Marine Le Pen backed a kippah ban in France, and after the Front Nationale won control of 11 towns in French national elections in May 2014, one of her first pronouncements was that schools in her jurisdictions would no longer offer pork-free lunches to Jewish and Muslim students.
In Greece, the fascist Golden Dawn party came third in European Parliamentary elections, garnering close to 10% of the overall vote. The party, whose spokesman sports a swastika tattoo and once quoted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Greece’s Parliament – with no censure from other lawmakers - leaves no room to doubt how they view Greece’s Jews and other minorities. After setting up “Greek-only” food banks, Golden Dawn ran in Greece’s national elections in 2012 with the slogan: “So we can rid this land of filth!”
And Golden Dawn isn’t the only party in Greece to demonize Jews and the Jewish state. Syriaz is Greece’s main opposition party, and came in second in the European Parliamentary elections, with over a quarter of the vote. But that hasn’t stopped it from speaking irresponsibly about Greece’s tiny Jewish minority. A Syriaz candidate for regional governor last year complained that Greece’s new public broadcasting channel was part of a Jewish plot to defeat Greece, and called Prime Minister Antonis Samarra’s visit to the Thessaloniki Synagogue a “threat” to the country.
In Germany, 6.7% of the vote went to the year- old Euro-skeptic party Alternative for Germany, which has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism, including a photo that did the rounds on Twitter last summer of one of its leaders appearing to make a Nazi salute. At the same time, Germany’s openly fascist National Democratic Party, founded by World War II-era Nazis in the 1960s, won one percent of Germans’ votes, and the right to send a member to the European Parliament. That new MEP, Udo Voigt, proudly boasts of being the son of a Nazi SA Assault Division Commander, and has praised Hitler as a “great man”.
Another Nazi sympathizer is James Hirvisaari, the leader of the anti-Europe Finns Party, which is now Finland’s largest opposition political party. He recently invited a friend to the Finnish Parliament, then photographed him making a Nazi salute. In the past, the Finns Party leader backed a suggestion that all non-native Finns be forced to wear armbands.
The openly fascist vote was most successful in Hungary, where the neo-Nazi party Jobbik, currently the third largest party in Hungary’s national parliament, won nearly 15% of the vote. It will send three members to the European Parliament. Jobbik has demanded the registration of Hungary’s Jews, and has also urged Jews to leave the country. At a major 2013 demonstration opposing a meeting of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, Jobbik leaders and politicians wore black uniforms, were photographed performing the Nazi salute, and donned Palestinian headdresses before lambasting Israel for “crimes against mankind”.
Austria’s far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party gained about a fifth of the vote, and will send four members to the European Parliament. Its leader recently favorably compared the Third Reich to the current European Union, claiming there were greater freedoms under Nazi rule.
Italy saw another huge political shift: the Five-Star Party, founded as an anti-European Union protest movement by Italian comedian Bepe Grillo, came in second in the European Parliamentary elections. Grillo seems to have a problem with Italy’s Jews. He has complained that Jews in Hollywood are out to get the outspoken actor Mel Gibson, and that a “Zionist lobby” controls information. He’s also said finds Israel “frightening”. In the past, the Five-Star Pary’s whip has also praised fascism and Mussolini. Italy’s openly xenophobic Lega Nord came in third, garnering five seats in the European Parliament.
Recent polls have found shockingly high levels of anti-Semitism in European countries. Greece, for instance, despite being home to a miniscule Jewish population – approximately 5,000 Jews out of total population of five million – has rates of anti-Semitism as high as Saudi Arabia: 69% of Greeks admit to holding anti-Semitic opinions.
An upsurge in violence has accompanied soaring rates of anti-Jewish sentiment. During the four days of the European Parliamentary elections alone, at least two violent attacks targeted European Jews. On May 24, 2014, a gunman entered a Jewish museum in Brussels and shot to death four people. The next day, two Jewish brothers, aged 18 and 21, were attacked in the Paris suburb of Creteil and beaten with brass knuckles.
Amid this backdrop of fear and intimidation, social media resounded with anti-Semitic tropes as well. The week before the European Parliamentary elections, Twitter in Spain exploded with anti-Semitic comments, as thousands of fans posted angry, anti-Jewish messages following Real Madrid’s loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in a European basketball final. Soon after the elections concluded, another European Jewish community got a taste of the visceral anti-Semitic feeling that’s growing across Europe when a flurry of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter followed the death of Malcolm Glazer, the Jewish owner of the Manchester United football club, in Britain.
A recent poll showed that over a fifth of European Jews are afraid to attend Jewish event, and a third of European Jews are currently considering emigrating. The head of the European Jewish Congress has called the future of Jewish communities in Europe “untenable”.
The recent European Parliament elections were indeed an earthquake: an alarming reminder that unchecked demonization of Jews and the Jewish state have a real effect that they help foment anti-Semitism and political extremism.