European MPs visit the Samaria region
European MPs visit the Samaria regionIsrael news photo: Samaria Regional Council

A show of support for Israel's settlements in Judea and Samaria by a delegation of right-wing European politicians has led to a highly charged yet fascinating debate between left-wing and nationalist spokesmen in Israel.

Samaria spokesman David Ha'ivri sees the European Right's support for settlements as “a revolutionary opportunity” for Israel and is already planning a follow-up visit to Europe, including joint appearances with the right-wing European politicians.

In Left-wing Ha'aretz, Adar Primor blasted the Europeans' visit and the reasoning behind it. In an article titled “The unholy alliance between Israel's Right and Europe's anti-Semites,” it mocked the Israeli nationalists who “believe they have tamed this bunch of extremists they brought over from Europe” but warned that the Europeans “have not genuinely cast off their spiritual DNA, and in any event, they aren't looking for anything except for Jewish absolution that will bring them closer to political power.”

“Filip Dewinter, a member of the delegation, is a leader of the Vlaams Belang party, a successor to the Flemish National Movement, many of whose members collaborated with the Nazis,” wrote Primor. “Among its current members are a number of Holocaust deniers. Dewinter himself moved about in anti-Semitic circles and has ties to European extremist and neo-Nazi parties. In 1988, he paid his respects to the tens of thousands of Nazi soldiers buried in Belgium, and in 2001, he opened a speech with an oath used by the SS.”

Primor had worse words for Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria's Freedom Party. “If Jorg Haider was 'Hitler's spiritual grandson,' then Strache is his extremely illegitimate great-grandson. His grandfather was in the Waffen-SS, and his father served in the Wehrmacht. As a university student, Strache belonged to an extremist organization from which Jews were banned, hung out with neo-Nazis and participated in paramilitary exercises with them. Commentators in Austria say that Strache is trying to copy Haider but that he is less sophisticated and ultimately more extreme than his role model.”

Ha'ivri headed for Europe?
Ha'ivri, one of the settler movement's most prominent representatives on the world media stage, was unfazed by the leftist riposte. “If these European leaders – with their ties to anti-Semitic groups and their past – come around and declare that Israel has a right to exist securely in all of the areas under our control, and that Europe has a moral responsibility because of the crimes of their past, then I believe that we should accept their friendship,” he told Israel National News.

“Their statements are the strongest possible tool in the war against antisemitism,” Ha'ivri contended. “No skinhead cares what [Anti-Defamation League Chairman] Abe Foxman has to say, but if Filip Dewinter and Heinz-Christian Strache make these statements they will have real impact. For that reason I am considering appearing with them in their countries for pro-Israel rallies. I think that it is worth the risk of being defamed by Ha'aretz and the like if we can cause a shift in the European nationalist movements, moving them away from their traditional Jew-hatred and bringing them closer to appreciation of Zionism. I don't think that I am naive to feel that this is a revolutionary opportunity.”

“I agree that we should be careful,” Ha'ivri added on his Facebook page. “The Left on the other hand will never let up; they will use fascist tactics and brand us as fascists. Their historic heroes [Chaim] Arlozorov and [Rudolf] Kastner actually collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. But the Left never excused Avraham Stern ('Yair') for exploring the option of working with the Germans against the British before the Holocaust began.”

Arlozorov, Kastner and Stern are well known figures from Israel's pre-statehood and early statehood era. Labor party functionary Arlozorov was killed by unknown assassins in 1933, Lechi underground leader Stern was murdered by British authorities in 1942 and prominent Hungarian Jewish leader Kastner was shot dead by a Holocaust survivor in 1957.

The debate between Israel's left wing and right wing over the subject of the European Right is as old as Israeli politics. While the Left tends to despise all things nationalist, including Jewish nationalism, the Right tends to differentiate between anti-Jewish nationalism and other forms of nationalism.

However, cooperation with politicians from right-wing European parties is a subject of controversy within the Israeli nationalist camp as well. According to Ha'ivri, no Knesset member would meet with the European parliamentarians when they visited the Knesset. Even MK Michael Ben-Ari, who hails from the same ideological camp as Ha'ivri, avoided meeting them.