US White House press secretary Sean Spicer has been the target of a media firestorm since his unfortunate remarks at a press briefing last week comparing Assad to Hitler, with Hitler coming out favorably.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons”…. “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”
(He later apologized.)
The remarks were clearly inaccurate, given that Hitler indeed used chemical weapons and deployed them against his own people. But whether or not Spicer was aware of that and simply misspoke, or is poorly informed on the history surrounding World War II, it provoked us at Migration Voter to reflect on recent similar “gaffes” from far-right politicians regarding the Holocaust.
I think France isn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv…. I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France.”
Vel d’Hiv is the shorthand for an event that occurred during the Holocaust when 13,152 French Jews were rounded up by French police at the direction of the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. France has taken responsibility for the atrocity in the past, but Le Pen implied this was hurting French pride, saying “France has been mired in people’s minds for years.”
And Germany’s far-right Euroskeptic party Alternative für Deutschland attracted a great deal of negative press following a speech in January by state leader of Thuringia Björn Höcke in which he discussed Germany’s dealing with their role in the Holocaust, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in central Berlin as “a monument of shame.”
“We Germans… are the only people in the world who have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital city.” “We do not need any more dead rites in this country. … We no longer need hollow phrases in this country, we need a living culture of remembrance, which brings us first and foremost into contact with the great achievements of our ancestors.”
One of the reasons why the press has seized on these comments is because they supposedly give the lie to the strong stances these parties have each taken against anti-Semitism. These promises of being pro-Jewish and against forms of anti-Semitism have been coupled with a focus on casting Muslims, especially Muslim immigrants, as a threat both to Jews and to the nations in general.
- Marine Le Pen of the Front National has promised numerous actions to target what she calls “Islamic fundamentalism”, proposing policies targeting mosques and Muslims (such as banning the hijab.) On the other hand, she has made conscious efforts to reach out to the Jewish community, banning anti-Semitic members of her party and sending FN party secretary Nicolas Bay on a goodwill trip to Israel. While there, Bay was interviewed by Haaretz (article behind paywall, but see Breitbart), where he made FN’s position clear: “[French Jews] understand that we’re the only ones who are clearly pointing to the source of the anti-Semitic attacks – the Islamists. Marine Le Pen has already said that the National Front is French Jewish citizens’ shield against these attacks.”
- AfD takes a similarly strong stance against Muslims and immigrants from Muslim majority countries, stating in their program that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and introducing numerous policies against Muslim religious dress and immigration to Germany, while stating “ The AfD does not concur with the view which regards the criticism of Islam as islamophobic or being derogatory.” They have also spoken out often against anti-Semitism, however. For instance, in a press release in 2016 their Federal Councilor wrote, “The thought of what many of the Muslim immigrants bring along is characterized by anti-Semitism and the rejection of Western values…. Anti-Semitism must have no place in Germany. Many Muslims are still unaware of this and represent a danger to our values and our community.”
In short, despite statements that could be construed as Holocaust revisionism, the officials of the Front National and AfD have consistently been outspoken against anti-Semitism, claiming that their policies, by excluding Muslims and fighting “Islamism”, will be the best safeguard for Jews in their countries.
The complication with this argument, that the press has so far failed to discuss as far as we know, is that a large number of the policies aimed at excluding Muslim religious practices and Muslim immigrants would inevitably also target Jews, as well as other religious minority groups.
Policies Targeting the Muslim Community that would affect the Jewish Community
Le Pen, for instance, promises to abolish dual citizenship (see presidential commitment number 27) for non-European holders of two passports. While this would no doubt affect a large population of French people with dual citizenship from Muslim-majority countries, she has stated that it would apply to Israelis as well. (Note, however, that we doubt this policy can go through as worded.)
In another example, Le Pen promises under the banner “Eradicate Terror and Break Up Islamic Fundamentalist Networks” that she will “ban foreign funding of places of worship and their personnel.” Although she explicitly mentions Islam in the title, her language clearly indicates (“places of worship”) this would apply to synagogues and Jewish religious activities (as well as other religious groups, presumably.)
Even more obviously, in her plan “to defend French unity and the national identity” Le Pen proposes constitutional and policy changes that would certainly apply to Jews, Muslims, and any other minority group.
It is difficult to parse what consequences these changes might have for religious minorities, but it would seem to change their constitutional status and ability to retain their own culture, if it differs from the majority culture. Commitment number 97 is particularly interesting, given Le Pen’s comments on France’s role in the Holocaust.
Additionally, Le Pen and FN have advocated for the elimination of any special religious dietary options in French public schools. In a 2014 interview, Le Pen outlined her position on the issue.
“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” Mrs. Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion [dietary options] to enter into the public sphere.”
This would eliminate any halal but also any kosher options. Therefore, if something banned by both Islam and Judaism – such as pork – was on the menu for that day, then pork is what Muslim and Jewish students would also be served.
Alternative für Deutschland
In zeroing in on policies they hope will fortify and promote German “high culture” (Leitkultur) and move away from multiculturalism, AfD also promotes ideas that would harm German Jews as collateral damage in their fight against Muslims. For instance, in their platform (pg. 46), they state that German culture is composed of three main sources: Christianity, “scientific and humanistic culture” and Roman law, and that multiculturalism poses “a serious threat to social peace and the survival of the nation-state as a cultural unit”. Judaism clearly lies outside of their three main pillars of German society- does it also form a threat that must be protected against?
Under the section “End foreign financing of mosques” there are some additional provisions that would be problematic for the Jewish community. AfD calls for a ban on foreign financing of mosques, the banning of any language other than German spoke during religious services, and for imams to get government permission before preaching in Germany. It is difficult to see how these laws could comport with the German constitution generally, but if they would they would necessarily have to apply to all religious groups. This would disproportionately impact Jewish communities as it would ban foreign (such as Israeli or American) donations to synagogues, ban speaking Hebrew, and require visiting rabbis to get permission. German Christian congregations are primarily German-funded, speak primarily German, and are led primarily by German priests, necessarily making the impact of such policies far stricter on religious minorities and immigrant groups.
Again, its worth noting that many of these policies, as stated in their party program, are completely in contradiction with German domestic law and European Union law. However, whether or not they can be achieved, they allow insight into the stated aims and goals of the party.
Why analyze “gaffes” when the policies are clear?
Like with Sean Spicer’s remarks, the Holocaust revisionist statements by Le Pen and Höcke sparked minor scandals and caused many people to ask: were these accidental gaffes, or intentional anti-Semitic messages to voters?
In the case of the FN and AfD, it isn’t necessary to get at the innermost hearts and minds of the party elite via their speeches, because we have access to their direct, stated goals and programs.
If voters are worried about anti-Semitism in populist parties out of concern for its implications for the Jewish community if these parties were to come to power, it is very clearly worth understanding that many of the policies that are meant to target Muslims will harshly affect Jews as well as other minority religious groups, especially those with numerous co-religionists in other countries. Laws restricting the ability to dress a certain way, eat a certain diet or connect with (and fundraise from) people in other countries will evenly impact any person of faith connected to a minority religious group.
Voters who are concerned about anti-Semitism because of the historical context of what happens when a minority religious group is demonized and cast as a threat to the people and their national identity do not need to look too far to see that these parties already do precisely this with Muslims. For some people, that’s part of their appeal. For others, it may be a good reason to weigh their vote carefully.