Friday, April 11, 2008

The BNP, the far right, and Israel

The Guardian reported yesterday that the BNP is "trying to shed its antisemitic past as part of a drive to pick up votes among London's Jewish community". Plainly, this is misleading. The BNP have no more abandoned antisemitism than they have abandoned their phantasmagoric goal of a 'white Britain'. One example of evidence for The Guardian's claim is that the BNP website is described by a (disapproving) representative of the Board of Deputies as "one of the most Zionist on the web - it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel". More on that in a second. It also cites the BNP's own claim that there is "a growing dialogue between senior members of the Jewish community and the BNP". Supposing this were true, it wouldn't actually mean a great deal. The BNP is anti-trade union, though it says the opposite in some of its literature, and though it has trade unionists as members. It is homophobic, though I am sure that one of their recent candidates was a lesbian (and a trade unionist!). The BNP's London mayoral candidate Richard Barnbrook, though claiming that homosexuality is 'unhealthy', is reported as saying that you can be gay 'behind closed doors'. Of course, that isn't intended to woo gay and lesbian voters, but to soften the BNP's fascist aura for right-wing voters. In reality, BNP candidates regularly try to crack down on gay rights whenever elected. In public its candidates vaunt law and order, and in private they are often criminal scumbags. You could go on and on: subterfuge is structural to fascist politics in a way that it isn't for conventional bourgeois politics.

The current posture of the Nazis is in one sense a result of a few years of re-orientations in BNP propaganda. A few years ago, Searchlight magazine quoted the BNP chairman Nick Griffin addressing a Ku Klux Klan rally. In it, he told the audience that they should learn to speak the language of public relations. The slogan, 'freedom, security, identity, democracy', provided a soft packaging for a set of fascist policies, he explained. And, what is more, "no one can touch you for it". However, there's a lot more going on than that. In a 2005 interview with the right-wing Zionist website, Think-Israel, Griffin averred that the thesis of Bat Ye'Or about Eurabia was correct, and that the real threat was a plot by the French elite to Islamify the European continent. (The article also exulted that the BNP had a Jewish office-holder, namely then councillor Pat Richardson. It did not mention that while Richardson urged her voters to believe that the BNP is not antisemitic, her friend Tony Lecomber had been sentenced to three years in prison for participating in an antisemitic assault by a BNP gang). This tendency came particularly to the fore during the Lebanon war, in which the BNP explicitly backed Israel, I think for the first time. Griffin described the new regime as "moderately and prudently more sympathetic to the Israeli side", albeit the fascists are not inclined to be bewitched by a "Jewish mystique", whatever that is.

As cynical as this is, it is not just a cynical ploy on the fascists' part. It is true that part of Griffin's argument is that fascism will do better electorally if it drops the public ranting about Jews and focuses on Islam. And that is unmistakeably the case: the media are happy to collude in the venomous demonisation of Muslims; politicians from centre-left to hard right find it a convenient talking point; public opinion is much more prepared for an anti-mosque campaign than an anti-synagogue campaign; etc. But it also attests to an ideological shift which has taken hold of far right parties across Europe, a process which began long before 9/11. Pim Fortuyn had railed "Against the Islamicization of Our Culture" in 1997, and in August 2001 declared himself "in favour of a cold war with Islam". Le Pen's campaigns in the 1990s were often directed against Arabs and Muslims, and the supposedly pro-Arab Jacques Chirac, and he is no supporter of France's traditional Gaullist foreign policy. Although Le Pen has often made anti-semitic statements, when asked by Haaretz in 2002 if he understood Israel's plight, he reminisced about the good old days of colonial war, saying:

"Certainly. After all, I got a similar reaction during the war in Algeria, when I served in General Massu's 10th division. We were called upon to fight the terrorism of the FLN (the Algerian nationalist movement that fought against French colonialism). The intelligentsia at home criticized our actions. It's very easy to criticize from the armchair in the living room. I completely understand the State of Israel, which is seeking to defend its citizens."

The Austrian fascist Joerg Haider's campaign against Muslims had started in the early 1990s, not in 1999 when his party received 27% of the vote and was included in the national government, while Swedish NDP leader Ian Wachmeister asserted in 1993 that in his Sweden "there will not be many mosques". The Belgian Vlaams Belang has long been focused on generating anti-Muslim sentiment. In Italy, Gianfranco Fini's Mussolini-venerating fascist bloc are pro-Israel and reserve their most profound contempt for Muslims and gypsies. And in the UK, racism against 'Asians', exploited by the Nazis in the 2000 riots, has easily shaded into racism against Muslims.

This is partially due to the changing composition of Europe's immigrant communities, although in France it is related to the colonial era and the Algerian war of independence during which time the French far right publicly shed anti-semitism for the first time, as the OAS pursued an alliance with Israel and with Jewish residents of French Algeria. In the main, however, I think it is simply to do with a different global polarities. Fascists considered the USSR the culmination of a Jewish plot, or rather the first of many, and Israel could easily be integrated into that conspiratorial framework. The Soviet Union having been decisively finished off as a result of its own entropy, the main geopolitical foes of the fabled 'Anglo-Saxon civilization' to which the fascists cleave are states and movements whose legitimacy is wholly or partially derived from Islam. There is therefore no reason why the far right shouldn't back Israel, especially since Israel knows how to get things done. Why should a fascist find anything obnoxious about the policies of Avigdor Lieberman or Ehud Barak? What should offend them about racial supremacy? Ethnic cleansing? Why, they would understand the efforts to deny it or excuse it better than anyone! They probably empathise with the blood-and-soil nationalism that underpins Zionist ideology. After all, the idea that the Jews are not merely a single biological entity but a single ecological one, a people who belong to a determinate geography suffused with sacred power, is one that every antisemite in the world can appreciate.

The BNP aren't alone in their current manouevering. The Belgian far right is strongly pro-Israel and has been pitching for the Jewish vote. Despite Joerg Haider's long-standing anti-semitism, he and his party are more than happy to court Israel. Le Pen has been trying to use Islamophobia to get a sector of French Jews to back him. Just because this isn't a sudden outburst of philosemitism doesn't mean that the strategy can't work. It doesn't matter if large numbers of Jewish voters don't bite, although some may - reactionary voters who might otherwise be put off by explicitly anti-Israel politics will respond to the message.