How Europe’s far-right is using the Gaza war to whip up divisions against faith communities

The October 7 atrocities promise political gains for the far-right across Europe, which has been boosted by Geert Wilders' – aka the ‘Dutch Trump’ - gains in the Netherlands.

Right-Wing Watch

Veteran anti-Islam populist leader Geert Wilders’ dramatic gains in the Dutch elections this week sent shockwaves across Europe, where far-right ideology is on the rise. 

Known as the “Dutch Trump,” partly for his swept-back dyed hairstyle, but more so for his rants against immigrants and Muslims, which have included calling Moroccans “scum” and holding competitions for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Wilders has built a career from his self-appointed mission to stop an “Islamic invasion” of the West. Among his promises is to move the Dutch embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in a show of support for the Netherlands’ “close friend and the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

Nationalist and far-right leaders around Europe were quick to praise Wilders’ achievement. In France, Marine Le Pen said it “confirms the growing attachment to the defence of national identities.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, sent his praise, saying: “The winds of change are here! Congratulations.”

Since the Hamas attack on October 7, it has been suggested that these hard-right European leaders have been using the conflict to stir up divisions against faith communities. Accusations have been made that the demonisation of religious groups is a deliberate ploy by populists to promote their anti-immigrant agenda, and, ultimately, achieve their political goals. And, as so often with the far-right, the hypocrisy is astounding.

In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is expected to make her fourth presidency bid in 2027, has been on a mission, to, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes, “rebrand the extremist, antisemitic party she inherited from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

The Israel-Hamas war presents, according to the Haaretz report, “a glittering opportunity for Europe’s right-wing populists, where leaders like Orbán are pointing to their countries as sanctuaries for Jews and Christians.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen was repeatedly convicted of antisemitic hate speech. The founder of the then National Front party also played down the scope of the Holocaust.

Recognising the need to scrub the party’s image, Le Pen kicked her father out of the party and changed its name from the National Front to the National Rally. In an attempt to ‘cleanse’ her party further, on November 12, the leader attended a march in Paris against rising antisemitism in France. Her presence attracted a cacophony of criticism, with critics saying it was an attempt to leverage the Israel/Hamas war to make herself more palatable to mainstream voters. Critics also argued that despite growing political legitimacy, the once-pariah party has failed to shake off its antisemitic heritage.

French government spokesman Olivier Veran said that Marine Le Pen’s party “does not have a place” at what is dubbed as a “grand civic march.”

Through fears that the French way of life is being upended by a migrant – mainly Muslim – ‘submersion,’ Marine Le Pen has a long history of anti-Muslim hate speech. In 2015, she appeared in court for allegedly inciting racial hatred over comments that she made during a party rally in Lyon in 2010, when she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation.

Similar opportunistic hypocrisy over faith communities in the wake of the war in Gaza can be found within the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Founded in 2013, the AfD is known for its Euroscepticism, and for opposing immigration in Germany. Felix Flein, who was appointed as Germany’s antisemitism commissioner in 2018, has accused the AfD of condoning antisemitism and backing forces that have sought to downplay the Holocaust.

He accused the party of wanting to ban the kosher slaughter of meat. “If the AfD wants to curtail Jewish dietary laws, that is a threat to Jewish life,” Klein told DW.

But as Haaretz reports, the recent devastation in Gaza has resulted in the AfD seizing the moment to “shelve its antisemitism, at least in public, and unleash instead its unabashed Islamophobic agenda.”

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has shown just how confused the hard right can become about all those groups they hate. A recently unveiled billboard campaign raised concerns that the far-right Hungarian prime minister is returning to using antisemitic tropes to further his political goals at home.

In 2019, a controversial campaign funded by the Hungarian government, took aim at the Hungarian-American businessman George Soros (a familiar villain among the Right) and then-European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. The campaign prompted the commission to accuse Budapest of promoting a conspiracy theory.

Orbán appears to be returning to a familiar strategy, with the unveiling of a billboard showing Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, and Alex Soros, current chair of the world’s largest human rights funder, the Open Society Foundations, and son of George Soros. The slogan on the billboards, which are part of a so-called national consultation “on the defence of our sovereignty,” reads: “Let’s not dance to their tune.”

The new campaign has renewed concerns that the Hungarian government is promoting antisemitic narratives. Attila Ara-Kovács, a member of the European parliament from Hungary’s opposition Democratic Coalition party, warns:

“Orbán tried to undermine Juncker by linking him to Soros, now he’s trying to do that with Soros’ son and von der Leyen.”

“The European Commission led by von der Leyen is too soft” on Orbán, the parliamentarian said, adding that the Hungarian government’s behaviour was “antisemitic and anti-EU.”

Following the unveiling of the propaganda campaign against Soros, Orbán’s newfound solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people has been called into question, not surprisingly.

Over the past decade, Viktor Orbán and Benjamin Netanyahu have formed what has been described as a “fruitful political partnership.”

In a special report on the Israeli and Hungarian prime ministers, Haaretz describes the parallels between the two men as “astonishing.” It informs how the pair have known each other for over a decade, sharing a web of political contacts and advisers reaching from Jerusalem to Washington.

“They have given each other advice on political messaging – including on what phrases to use in speeches,” said one senior Israeli official.

The roots of Orbán’s strong bond with Israel and its prime minister have been scrutinised in the wake of the current conflict in the Middle East. In a report on the relationship between the two leaders, Balkin Insight argues: “Hungary’s solidarity with Israel may seem contradictory in light of its propaganda against US billionaire Soros and the historical antisemitic figures in the Fidesz party’s intellectual milieu.”

Rafaela Dancygier, a Princeton University political scientist, has voiced similar concerns, warning that the Hamas October 7 atrocities promise political gains for the far-right across Europe.

“They allow these parties to demonise Muslims in Europe and to advocate for severe immigration restrictions – which they have been doing all along, but now just with added ammunition,” she explains. But there is a twist.

“To some, the far right now appears more respectable than the far left,” where several prominent figures have hailed Hamas’ October 7 massacre, or at least cast it as legitimate resistance,” she says.

In Britain, where, as we know, a cohort of right-wing Tory MPs stand beside Viktor Orbán (Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh quite literally at a gathering in Budapest), similar hypocrisy involving earlier demonisation and recent lauding of faith communities among the Right, has been evident in recent weeks.

In the strange topsy turvey post-October 7 world, traditional homes of anti-semitism have now taken up the pro-Israel cause.  The Daily Mail, for example, backed Hitler and Mosley in the 1930s and opposed Jewish immigration. For the Mail in 1930, Hitler, his party and their success, represented the “birth of Germany as a nation.” In 1934, the newspaper ran with the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in an article celebrating Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The piece was authored by Lord Rothermere, the then owner of the Daily Mail, who praised Mosley and the Blackshirts, seeing them as the correct party to “take over responsibility for [British] national affairs.”

Since the recent conflict in Gaza broke out, the same newspaper has been decidedly pro-Israel, with reports elevating pro-Israel rallies, while deriding the pro-Palestine ‘mob.’ Sharing similar language as the former home secretary Suella Braverman, the right-wing papers seized on the pro-Palestine marches, presenting them as a symbolic attack on British values.

And look who the Express gunned for this week… George Soros, the same figure targeted by Vitkor Orban’s new campaign which has sparked concerns that the Hungarian government is promoting antisemitic narratives. The Express’ ‘exclusive’ report takes aim at Soros’ apparent funding of openDemocracy, and backing of a recent “Break Up of Britain?” conference in Edinburgh.

Sadly, in Britain, which is home to a successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, both antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes have risen since October 7, as they have around the world.

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk warns against the “inflammatory, toxic and hateful rhetoric” that has been “used by political leaders.”

Thankfully our home secretary was, eventually, sacked for what was seen as provoking far-right hostility by using incendiary terms like ‘hate marchers’ and ‘mobs.’ But her inflammatory narrative lives on within right-wing political and media circles.

It could be argued that right-wing factions are being noisily pro-Israel to deliberately create divisions and chaos inside Labour. A ploy which seems to be working.

As we know, the Tories’ ratings in the polls are dismal, but as Haaretz argues in a report on how the Israel/Hamas war is rattling British politics, the conflict is “far more resonant and convulsive for the riding-high-in-the polls Labour.”

In resolutely resisting demands for a ceasefire from his own constituencies, instead calling for a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities, Starmer has been hit by an internal rebellion, with eight frontbenchers resigning over his position.

Naturally, the right-wing press has seized the opportunity to exaggerate Labour’s divisions over Gaza. ‘Shots fired Sir Keir Starmer civil war erupts as Sadiq Khan and Anas Sarwar join Labour MPs defying him by calling for a ceasefire,’ was a recent headline in the Sun.

The damage done to Britain over 13 years of Tory rule is undeniable, and the Gaza war does offer a distraction from the Tories’ appalling governance. More cynically still, it could be argued, it gives them the chance to demonise Muslims, who historically have been more likely to vote Labour.

Europe’s far-right may have been given a boost by Geert Wilders’ gains in the Netherlands, but strangely, Britain, where neofascism does not have widespread appeal, could emerge as a model against the populist tide.  Maybe, just maybe, the sacking of a hard-right home secretary, shows that a more centrist tradition in the Conversative Party still just about breathes. That, together with people’s continued support for the right to protest, might mark a slight turn in the tide. At least we can live in hope.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Tory press glorify Hunt’s ‘cynical’ tax cuts

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement dominated the front pages this week and if you paid too much attention to the Tory newspapers, you could be mistaken in thinking that he was on the side of working people.

‘New Year’s Wayhey,’ splashed the Sun. ‘We’ve delivered on triple lock to protect you,’ effused the Express. ‘Biggest tax cuts since the 1980s,’ raved both the Mail and the Telegraph, seizing the words spoken by Hunt during the statement.

Their reports of course made no reference to reactions by the unions, which all agreed that it was a politically motivated attempt to bolster the party’s dismal poll ratings while noting how investment in public services – which are on their knees – failed to get a mention.

In fact, the whole budget depends on five years of projected public expenditure cuts for ‘unprotected’ services which includes universities, local government, environmental protection, and above all, welfare.

UNISON leader Christina McAnea summed the Statement up in a few words: “A cynical ploy that won’t fool the public.”

As the poor souls working on the news desks at the right-wing press were under orders to conjure up captions that sold the Statement as something for ordinary people to celebrate, the liberal press offered more truthful analysis. ‘Biggest tax cuts since 1980s’: Who are they kidding?’, asked the Independent’s front page, while the Guardian called the cuts for their timing, saying: “Hunt reveals £20bn in tax cuts as Tories move on to election footing.”

But for Camilla Tominey, the Telegraph’s associate editor, Hunt has pulled a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ in a ‘belated bid to cast a new spell on voters.’

“An impressive feat of prestidigitation,” the PM and Chancellor have performed in “taking the fight to Labour – at last,” Tominey argued.

The bid to cut taxes has long been driven by the right-wing media, and internal Tory dynamics. Who can forget the front page of the Daily Mail following the disastrous Truss/Kwarteng mini budget. “At last, a TRUE Tory budget,” the newspaper gushed.

And we know where the impetus behind Truss’s ‘growth’ strategy came from – a network of think-tanks closely connected to Truss and her advisors. It also left the right-wing, Truss-loving media eating its words.

Only time will tell whether the triumphant claims made in the Tory press this week that Hunt has ‘waved his magic wand’ in the bid to woo voters, will bear any truth.

But given the crisis within the NHS, and with the nation’s schools literally crumbling, perhaps the public would like to see taxes increase so more can be spent on public services? A poll in the summer of 2022 when both Truss and Sunak were promising tax cuts during the Tory leadership race, suggested as much.

You can’t help but feel that Hunt’s bid to revive the Tories’ election chances will prove futile and this week’s grandiose headlines will leave the right-wing press eating their words, again.

As Chris, a 68-year-old from Manchester, told Right-Wing Watch: “Cheers for the pension rise Mr Hunt, but I still won’t be voting for you.”

Woke-bashing of the week – ‘Anti-woke’ columnist fails to gauge mood of country while inciting yet more hatred towards Palestinian cause

“If you ever wanted more evidence that Westminster is dangerously disconnected from the rest of the country, look no further than the events of last week,” wrote Matt Goodwin for the Daily Mail.

If you ever wanted more evidence of a ‘visible scholar on the hard right,’ as the New Statesman’s Oliver Eagleton described him, getting the current mood of the country wrong in another depressing bid to whip inflammatory rhetoric and hate towards the ‘woke Left,’ and those who support the Palestinian cause, then read the rest of Goodwin’s column.

In the op-ed, entitled: ‘The woke Left and extreme Islamism have joined forces to try and reshape society around values that are deeply divisive and unBritish,’ Goodwin, a professor of politics, argues against the sacking of Suella Braverman.  Most people in Britain are ‘absolutely convinced’ that our borders of ‘out of control,’ as “an assortment of activist lawyers, pressure groups and unelected judges, cheered on by the radical woke Left, blocked the only thing that might deter people against entering the country illegally,” he wrote.

“With Braverman gone, no frontline politician is left to voice the concerns of the vast majority of voters on issues such as immigration, multiculturalism and the breakdown of our borders.

“Nor is there anyone who will take on the two big threats that are rapidly undermining our shared identity, history, values and culture. And what are these threats to Britain, exactly?,” he asked, before pointing to the “hundred or so rallies held across the country as part of the ‘Palestinian Day of Action.’

Since when was calling for a ceasefire and peace considered ‘unBritish’ and against British values’? Adding to the insult is the fact that the majority of pro-Palestine marches in Britain have passed off peacefully, and it’s been far-right counter protestors who have predominantly caused disturbance, incited by the type of language Goodwin is using to frame his argument.

But for Goodwin, who has previously spewed out anti-woke insults, having condemned the ‘woke BBC’ for apparently suggesting much of the country want to see our borders flung open,” recent events are an example of, “The woke Left and radical Islamism are not just feeding off one another but are, together, undermining British values that have prevailed for centuries.”

Not only is coupling the ‘woke Left’ and ‘radical Islamism’ deliberately provocative and potentially inciteful, despite not really making sense, but the article fails to acknowledge the true mood of the country. Polling shows that most people (57 percent to 20 percent) think the sacking of Braverman was the right thing to do. That’s true even among Tory voters, though to a lesser extent (44 percent to 39 percent). Goodwin also ignores that the majority of people in Britain want to see a ceasefire in Gaza, as polling also shows, AND how the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the deportation of immigrants to Rwanda, has been widely praised in Britain.

Seemingly void of any fact-checking practices, it’s no wonder Wikipedia once voted to ban the Daily Mail as a reference on its site, citing a reputation for ‘poor fact checking and sensationalism.’

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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