The Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised eyebrows last week by meeting, among other leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Orban has been accused of stoking anti-semitism yet pledged to Netanyahu that he would protect the Hungarian Jewish minority.
Raised eyebrows shot higher when Netanyahu was recorded saying to the Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian leaders that EU policy was “crazy”. “I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive,” he suggested, “Or if it wants to shrivel and disappear.”
There was an element of realpolitik in the wily Netanyahu’s comments. It is simply untrue that European survival depends, as he went on to claim, on its stance on Israel. But exploiting the resentment that nationalist Central and Eastern European leaders feel towards the cosmopolitan supranationalists of Western Europe makes sense. He can link their desire for sovereignty to his struggle against opposition to and criticisms of Israel.
Still, it is interesting how much these nations have in common.
This might be surprising. Supporters of Israel in Europe and America tend to be far more liberal than Israel itself. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) celebrates the United States as “a nation of immigrants” and opposes “bigotry, xenophobia, and nativism”. Commentary Magazine, which is such a reliable platform of pro-Israel sentiment that it attacks even the ADL’s mild criticisms of the Israeli government, is generally pro-mass migration to the US.
Israel, however, is restrictionist. First and foremost, is a Jewish state. Jews can migrate to Israel; others are less welcome. Barriers surround its borders to keep out not only Palestinian terrorists but African immigrants. Illegal immigrants are forced or at least bribed to leave. Throughout the Syrian civil war Israel has refused to accept refugees.
Israeli nationalism, then, is comparable to Eastern European nationalism. These nations share a belief in their dominant cultures, and suspicion towards external influences. They resist international criticism of their policies and assert their right to self-determination. To that extent they are natural allies and likely to defend each other against opposition.
Western governments should be careful not to alienate allies with gratuitous intrusion. Their influence has waned and should be utilised effectively.