Tories (and Netanyahu) cosy up to the European far right

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Deutsche Welle

JVL Introduction

David Rosenberg continues his exposure of Tory support for the far right in Europe – and the Board of Deputies of British Jews cosying up to the Tories despite the antisemites they consort with.

Don’t be disappointed, get angry!

David Rosenberg, davesrebellion
14 September 2018

Even if you feel internationally minded, and you like to move in cosmopolitan circles, here is a group of people you might choose not to socialise with: Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Italy’s League, Ukip, the French National Front, the Sweden Democrats, and Austrian Freedom Party. The common factor among all of them is of course that commentators regularly refer to them as “extreme right”, “far right”, or “right wing populist”.  The last three have a further similarity. They all have their roots in post-war pro-Nazi circles formed by people either didn’t think the Holocaust happened or that it was no bad thing. But they have sought to rebrand and present themselves now in a more respectable way. Nevertheless, they are still described by commentators as “far right” especially for their extreme nationalism and very negative attitudes towards migrants.

Jewish Antifascist Action Stickers. Jewdas

These are also the main unsavoury groups that Tory MEPs had no scruples about lining up with, in a whipped vote, to defend the populist Hungarian regime, led by Viktor  Orban from censure and possible sanctions. Like those movements listed above, his regime draws support from those who appreciate its Islamophobic and viciously anti-migrant and refugee rhetoric and actions, and are equally happy when he adds open antisemitism and anti-Roma prejudice to the mix.

You could say that this hasn’t gone down too well with some of the Tories’ loyal supporters. Marie Van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who just a couple of weeks ago was telling an Israeli news channel that the Conservative Party has “always been very friendly to the Jews”, (pause for hollow laugh) issued a statement yesterday that fell short of “condemnation”, but nevertheless expressed “disappointment”, and found it “concerning” that Tory MEPs voted to support Hungary in this vote.

Clearly Van der Zyl cares about the sensitivities of the Tories much more than she does about those sitting in power in Hungary. She didn’t mince her words about them: she attacked Orban’s description of migrants as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” and decried his “vivid antisemitism” expressed in a “relentless campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.”

I am rather hoping she will copy this statement to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who recently hosted his good friend Viktor Orban on a state visit, but never seems to draw any official criticism from the Board, whether for his apartheid policies within Israel, repression in the West Bank and Gaza, or his very cosy alliances with far right governments. It’s a funny old world.

On the day before the vote happened, Orban arrived in Strasbourg later than scheduled, and then made a bullish speech saying Hungary was being punished simply for not becoming a “country of migrants”. He reminded MEPs (and no doubt the minority populations in their countries, such as Muslims and Jews,) that Hungary had been part of the “family of Christian nations for a thousand years.” Appeals to Christianity and defence of the Christian family are going down well with white working class voters in central and eastern Europe.

Our Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, regularly stretches credulity when claiming anti-racist credentials, and she knows it, do, but what does she do when she sees her MEPs taking the side of the racists and fascists? She refuses to take any responsibility for the way her MEPs were voting to defend such a man, and such a regime.

Britain's Prime minister Theresa May attends the One Planet Summit at the Seine Musicale center in Boulogne-Billancourt

She insists it is nothing to do with her. But who then is it to do with? Her predecessor David Cameron clearly had enough authority to remove the Tory MEPs from the Euro group they previously inhabited, and place them in a new group (Conservatives and Reformists) that the Tories were fashioning together with the Polish Law and Justice Party. Why doesn’t she have the same authority? And if not now when? (in the words of someone probably dismissed by Orban as “not national, but international… not generous but vengeful.”)

While any distance that appears between the Board of Deputies and the Tories, over matters of antisemitism and other forms of racism, is welcome, it is hard not to notice a very stark contrast between the gently expressed “disappointment” with their “friends”and the much more strident, even rabid attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when allegations of antisemitism surface. He is incidentally believed to be responsible and castigated for every person around the globe who says something stupid but claims to be a Corbyn supporter. She gets away with saying that the Conservative Prime Minister has no say on what Conservative MEPs do.

And while Labour’s press team have rightly contested allegations of antisemitism where any hard evidence is wanting, these real and verifiable links between the Tories and antisemitic and Islamophobic parties in Europe are plain for all to see.

Even apart from the way the Tories’ MEPs voted to defend Hungary, they (with their partners in crime, the Polish Law and Justice party) are also guilty of welcoming  the Sweden Democrats into the Conservatives and Reformists Group  and of using this group to build alliances with a range of ultra nationalist, populist, far right parties that stretch back several years, with none of the media establishment batting an eyelid.

A previous slightly left-leaning president of the Board of Deputies, Vivian Wineman, expressed concern in 2010 about David Cameron’s decision to link with the Polish Law and Justice Party in founding the Tories’ current Euro Parliament group. Unfortunately that seems to have been the very last time the Board commented negatively on Tory behaviour and alliances in Europe. There is really no excuse for the Board of Deputies’ shameful silence that has persisted until this week’s events. And there are certainly no excuses now, having expressed concern, for the Board of Deputies not to demand some action by the Tories now that the vote has taken place .

It was discontent with the Board having the temerity to speak out in 2010 that led a group of Jewish businessmen and professionals to announce the formation of the (unelected) Jewish Leadership Council as a rival source of authority in the Jewish community.That Jewish Leadership Council, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who all enthusiastically waded into rows over Jeremy Corbyn and alleged antisemitism have been strangely quiet since the Tories lined up with some of the ugliest right-wing forces in Wednesday’s vote in the European Parliament. Maybe it has been a Jewish holiday that I didn’t know about where you are not allowed to criticise Tories – or maybe it is just the case that their concern about antisemitism is more politically selective, and they certainly haven’t wanted to upset either the Tory Party or their friend Benjamin Netanyahu.

Labour meanwhile, in keeping with its traditions, has reiterated its opposition to all racism. Its MEPs voted unanimously against Hungary this week, with the same determination that their MPs in Westminster, led by Diane Abbott, David Lammy and Dawn Butler, are chasing down  the treatment of minorities and migrants in Britain, be they the shamefully treated and destitute citizens of the Windrush generation or the brutally treated inmates of immigration detention centres.

At least momentarily our national debate over racism, which has taken some very weird pathways recently, has returned to normal and we can see all too clearly who is on which side.