This summer, I wrote about the disturbing friendship some friends of Israel seem to feel towards far-right Polish MEP Michael Kaminski, Dutch MP Geert Wilders and the English Defence League in Britain. My conclusion:
Israel is currently battling systematic attempts to delegitimize it. A favored tactic of its opponents is to paint Israel as a racist, apartheid country that discriminates against its Arab citizens and Palestinian neighbors. Israel simply cannot afford to be linked to real bigots, no matter how friendly they appear to be.
Well, it seems some people never learn. This week, the settler leaders have been hosting leaders of Europe's far-right:
"The parliament members on the tour in the Shomron region all battle Islamic extremism and the spreading of terror organizations in Europe, while explicitly supporting the state of Israel," [Shomron regional council chairman Gershon] Mesika said... "European countries must understand that without a state of Israel there is no one to stop the Muslim wave from eroding Europe, and without Judea and Samaria, Israel is unable to exist," Mesika added.
Well, he's right about one thing: the issue these leaders do care about is the Muslim populations in their countries. That is why they are interested in Israel: they know that their supporters at home will interpret friendship with Israel as opposing Islam; they want to goad their native Muslim populations, as the EDL does when its members wrap themselves at Israel flags in demonstrations; and they need friendships with Jews in order to defend themselves against charges of racism. This does not make them real friends of Israel, or of the Jews; Mesika and his buddies are just being used. And by some of the worst racists and antisemites out there.
Take a quick look at the biggest names on this particular tour. Austrian opposition leader Heinz-Christian Strache is the political heir to Jorg Haider. Israel actually withdrew its ambassador from Vienna in disgust when his party joined the government. Flemish politician Filip Dewinter is a leader of the controversial Vlaams Belang, has strong ties to neo-Nazi groups and has defended the Flemish collaborators with the Nazis (apparently they were just nationalists hoping for Flemish independence, so that's okay then).
I understand that it is tempting for the settler leaders to believe these people when they vow friendship, when friends in Europe seem so few and far between. Sometimes you do have to take your friends where you can get them. But not in this case.
Israeli settlers must ask themselves whether this motley crew - people connected to Nazis and antisemites - are really friends they want. What does it say about the settler leaders that they are willing to accept these people as their friends (very desperate, very naive)? And - even if some of the figures do seem to have genuine feelings for Israel, as Wilders, and some would argue Kaminski, do - do they really think that it will do them any long-term strategic good to be associated with Europe's most controversial politicians? Make no mistake, on the continent, this visit has been widely noticed.
Unfortunately, it's not just a few stupid settler leaders who are going to be tarred with this brush, but the entire settler movement; and, seeing as Israel right now has a right-wing government fighting against the settlement freeze, possibly the government and Israel as a whole (although no MKs, as far as I know, met with the visitors).
Kaminski; EDL; Wilders; Strache; Dewinter; and even BNP leader Nick Griffin. "Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are".
We need to shake off these people, fast, before the entirely unfair association between Israel's settlers and Europe's bigots begins to stick.