Next Monday, Jerusalem will host the annual summit of the Visegrad group, consisting of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic; its decision to do so has brought criticism from those who feel that the Jewish state should not be associating itself with the right-wing leaders of Hungary and Poland, whose positions have sometimes put them at odds with local Jewish communities. Similar concerns are bound to recur as right-wing populist parties gain influence in Europe, even as these very parties are making efforts to rid their ranks of anti-Semites and show their support for Israel. To Gol Kalev, the Netanyahu government has acted wisely by responding in kind to offers of friendship from these groups and their leaders:
As anti-Israel activism becomes entrenched on Europe’s political left, the rise of European far-right parties could present an opportunity for Israel, since those parties are explicitly nationalistic themselves and unashamedly defend the idea of the nation-state. . . . Faced with this dichotomy—EU leaders expressing concern about Israel reaffirming itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while right-wing populist parties strongly embrace this model—there is a growing view that rather than lean against a splintered reed, Israel needs to recognize the shift in the European electorate and align itself with the emerging political movements that will defend rather than denigrate the country.
Even so, there remains a built-in tension between Israel’s rapprochement with the far-right and the interests of world Jewry. [For instance], French Jews feel imperiled by the expansion of the yellow-vest protests, which are reportedly being encouraged by Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, National Rally, [until recently, the National Front]. The protesters broadly refer to Emmanuel Macron as “President Rothschild,” and some banners have displayed overt anti-Semitic slurs. Indeed, the Chabad house in Paris temporarily closed due to the perceived danger from protesters.
This sort of tension between the interests of Israel and diaspora Jews is not new. In fact, it has existed since the inception of Zionism. But just as Theodor Herzl recognized that preventing the democratic election of [the anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna in 1896] would only further inflame the anger of far-right voters, it is clear today that Israel boycotting right-wing parties will not reduce the danger to Jews from right-wing populism, just as boycotting left-wing parties will not reduce the danger from European left-wing populism.