Not wild about Wilders? Populists’ anti-Islam message has European Jewish leaders worried

27 10 2010

From JTA:

BERLIN (JTA) — Geert Wilders, the rock star of European politics, is riding the crest of a populist tsunami.

As the pro-Israel founder of Holland’s Party of Freedom lets loose recently in Berlin, shouting that Islam is a threat to Germany’s identity, democracy and prosperity, his audience of 500 reacts with an evangelical zeal, offering big-time applause and standing ovations.

“Stand by the side of those who are threatened by Islam, like the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens,” he exhorts the crowd.

This isn’t a Jewish event, though a guest speaker is former Israeli Knesset member Eli Cohen of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party.

Ethnic Germans comprise much of the crowd Oct. 2 at the Hotel Berlin. Their chief bugaboo? The failure of Muslims to fit in to mainstream society.

Someone, in this case Wilders, has allowed them to vent their frustration (critics would say racist views). And for the crowd, having an Israeli join them seems to make things more kosher, as the anti-immigrant rhetoric has been associated typically with far-right extremists.

Wilders’ dismissal of “so-called ‘Islamophobia,’” as he calls it, also supports those who say the real problem is Muslim anti-Semitism.

In recent weeks several populist parties — including Wilders’ — have gained parliamentary seats or ministry positions in European countries. Even mainstream leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have decided to weigh in on “the Muslim integration problem.”

Pure politics, critics say.

So why are so many Jewish leaders in Europe not wild about Wilders and his ilk?

Populists “want a Sweden for the Swedes, France for the French and Jews to Israel,” says Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress.

“Islamism certainly is a danger to the Jews and to Western democracy,” offers Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The way to fight [Islamists] is not, however, to demonize and ostracize all Muslims.”

Read the rest.

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