I’m unsure how to think about the results from the European elections – in particular, what to think about the BNP’s capture of two seats in the European Parliament.
On the one hand, it seems a dark day for Europe. Two British racists, from a neo-fascist party, will have new access to funds and free publicity, along with a modicum of influence (together with like-minded groups) over policy-making in the European Union. They will join with other racist and xenophobic parties – the anti-Gypsy Hungarian party, Jobbik, who gained 15% of their vote, far-right groups from Romania and Italy (10% of each of their national votes), the anti-Muslim party in Holland (15% of the vote), as well as Austrian nationalists...an unlikely band of brothers-at-heart who in any other context would probably be at each other’s throats. So, from this point of view, the BNP’s success can be linked to a larger and worrying strain of intolerant, fear-fuelled nationalism that is rippling through Europe.
On the other hand, the BNP’s share of the UK vote was still only 6.26% (4.94% in London) – in the midst of this grim recession, and in spite of the tide of anti-immigrant prejudice spilling from the pages of the Daily Mail (and other papers) for the last few years. I’m not sure I have much faith in the alleged ‘tolerance’ and ‘common sense’ of the British public, but until the next election here in the UK there are as yet no BNP MPs (although there are a scattering of local councillors in specific deprived areas of the UK). In other words those who do bother to vote have, this time round, overwhelmingly rejected this hate-filled political party. (In 1930, Hitler won 107 seats out of 577 in the German parliament on 18% of the vote, having trebled their percentage of the vote in 2 years).
And even the news from the Continent seems contradictory. Jean-Marie le Pen’s National Front in France lost 4 of its 7 European seats. And in Belgium, the Flemish separatist-nationalists lost half their votes. Maybe other ethnocentric-rightist parties are picking up these votes: UKIP’s vote ended up larger than Labour’s – but it’s hard to know how to interpret all this anti-European voting.
As a passionate pro-European I know that I feel saddened by it. And as a cosmopolitan Jew – not rootless, but glad to be British and glad to be part of a larger European identity – I feel doubly saddened by it. That the Jews of Europe have traditionally celebrated their multiple identities – as Jew, as committed to their land of domicile, and as committed to a trans-national culture of creative human endeavour – is a theme I will leave for another time.
Jewish identity; patriotism; internationalism – these have existed in creative tension in Jewish lives and hearts for the last two centuries. This multi-dimensional sense of identity might cause, has caused, confusion, dismay, or worse, to the ‘outside’ world, the Gentile world. And to us Jews it has been, yes, sometimes problematic, and unsettling - this challenge of holding together disparate parts of our identity - but at its best this cross-fertilisation has been integral to Jewish creativity: in the arts, in music and literature, in the sciences, in philosophy, and religiously, and in the human and social sciences - across the whole spectrum of Jewish endeavour. Living our lives in different worlds , in different dimensions - material and spiritual and intellectual and emotional – this has been the ennobling, disturbing, (sometimes disruptive), Jewish diasporic contribution to European life over the last two centuries.
And in and of this longer perspective, and within this larger perspective, the BNP know nothing, and are nothing.
But we will keep an eye on them.
(June 10th 2009)