JERUSALEM – Israel has been welcoming some rather peculiar visitors of late. The Dutch populist, Geert Wilders, is a frequent caller, telling sympathetic audiences that Israel is on the front line of the Western war against Islam. And, in December, a delegation of European far-right politicians toured Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank, pleasing their hosts by reassuring them that this was “Jewish land.”
Some of these “friends of Israel” represent political parties whose supporters, to put it mildly, have not traditionally been noted for their fraternal feelings towards Jews. Heinz-Christian Strache, for example, leads the Freedom Party of Austria, which began, under its late leader, Jörg Haider, by actively courting former Nazis. “More strength for our Viennese blood,” one of his election slogans, gives an idea of Strache’s typical tone. His Belgian colleague, Filip Dewinter, represents a Flemish nationalist party tainted by wartime collaboration with the Nazis.
To be sure, nowadays even right-wing politicians in Europe are careful not to sound openly anti-Semitic. Wilders, for one, is ostentatiously philosemitic, and all the New Rightists like to stress the importance of what they call “Judeo-Christian values,” which must be defended against “Islamofascism.”
Leftist and liberal critics of Israeli politics like to point out that anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism. But it is just as true that being a friend of Israel is not necessarily the same thing as being a friend of the Jews.