Category Archives: Hungary

Convenient Demonologies: Stopping Migrant Caravans

President Donald J. Trump has been engaged with berating human caravans, a spectacle that might have been odd in another era.  At first instance, it all seems fundamentally anachronistic, a sort of history in reverse.  It was, after all, the caravan packed with invasive pioneers that gave the United States its distinct frontier identity, moving with relentless, exterminating purpose in ultimately closing it.

On October 19, some 7,000 Central American migrants, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, made an attempt to cross the bridge between Guatemala and Mexico. “Una necesidad nos obliga,” came the justification of a 20-year old man to the Washington Post.  The ultimate destination for most: the United States.

Such a necessity does not merely apply to states in social and political decay.  Honduras has historically been an eviscerated client state, its politics those of a marionette of Washington’s interests.  In similar fashion, Guatemala continues to bleed before the preying involvement of Washington in its history.  The US-owned United Fruit Company craved gangsters for capitalism, and the Central Intelligence Agency obliged in protecting its assets, assisting the overthrow of the Arbenz administration in 1954.

The Mexican authorities made various attempts to repel the human stream with violent though modest success.  With the November mid-term elections looming, this small group became electoral dynamite for Trump.  It gave him a chance to militarise matters, announcing the deployment of 5,200 troops to the US-Mexico border.  (Some 5,600 have currently taken their positions.)

The language of General Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, in describing the proposed plan, resembled a description of an armed operation against an elevated enemy. “Our concept of operations is to flow in our military assets with a priority to build up southern Texas, and then Arizona, and then California.”

In the words of the previous US president, Barack Obama, “They’re telling us the single most grave threat to America is a bunch of poor, impoverished, broke, hungry refugees a thousand miles away.”  Film director Spike Lee, presenting his latest effort, BlacKkKlansman, at the Los Cabos International Film Festival in Mexico, was even more unvarnished.  “Agent Orange was on the campaign trail for his fellow gangsters and stirring his base by saying the migrant caravan was his invasion.”

If there is something that tickles and engages the populist sentiment, Trump is up for it.  His “base”, as it were, is up for rocking, chilling and entertaining.  Obama might accuse Trump of being a fan of the “political stunt”, but that is the essence of this administration, a sequence of aggravated rehearsals that have distracted when needed and enraged when required.

Some of these ploys have gone beyond the category of temporary fancy.  Senior policy advisor Stephen Miller had demonstrated that policies of indignation can have purchase at chance moments.  While Trump is always bound to claim copyright over such ideas, it was Miller who proved influential in sketching the selective Muslim ban and the head-scratching policy of separating children from parents at the border.  Immigration is being larded with further, stifling regulations with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming that a mere 30,000 refugees for resettlement will be accepted by the US in 2019.

Such cruel exercises are the stuff of modern reactionary politics, notably from governments wishing to remove the clammy hand of international law upon them.  Refugees, the outsiders, the marginalised, are ideal fodder to mince and grind.  It is the language of Australian Prime Minister John Howard who, in the federal elections of 2001, insisted that the island continent would become an impregnable fortress against the undesirables coming by sea.  He illustrated this fact by deploying, much in the Trump manner, soldiers against refugees stranded at sea in August 2001.  “We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination.”  Given Australia’s lethal natural barriers, the remarks were as incongruous as they were fictional.

It was a policy twinned with the feather brained notion, ruthlessly exploited, that terrorist operatives might sneak their way to Australia on leaky vessels, avoiding more salubrious options.  As Australia’s defence minister Peter Reith brazenly asserted at that time, such boat arrivals “can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities”.  Howard himself added taste to the fear: “you don’t know whether they have terrorist links or not,” he suggested rather casually to Brisbane’s Courier Mail.

Trump would have approved of such laxity, having himself claimed, with an approach immune to evidence, that there might well be “unknown Middle Easterners” heading to the US in these migrant caravans.  When probed on the matter by CNN’s now bedevilled Jim Acosta, Trump twisted slightly. “There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be.”

Trump’s language of the demonised caravan is also the language of a host of European leaders who have decided to dust off chauvinistic sentiments long held in the archive and ignore any central, humanitarian approach to refugees.  At work here is a species of depraved transatlantic consensus on cruelty propelled by strongman bullying.  Hungary’s Viktor Orbán fantasises about Muslim hordes in an Ottoman invasion redux, a positioning that elevates himself as defender of the West against Islam and the dark forces of the barbaric East. “We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees,” he snorted in an interview with Bild in January this year.  “We see them as Muslim invaders.”

Other states contemplate a further entrenched, barbed wire approach, finding much value in shirking or adjusting the refugee resettlement quota.  Poland can add itself to Hungary in that regard, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stating his position plainly to Radio Poland in January that “we will not be allowing migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to enter Poland.”  Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are not far behind.

Like his Australian and several European counterparts, Trump has deployed the instruments of violence and demonization against refugees with a degree of commitment and, it must not be forgotten, success.  It also supplies a fitful reminder how criticising him for doing so remains a more difficult exercise, given the number of states which have gotten a cold regarding refugees.  A certain villainy against humanity has taken hold.

Terrorist Methods in Ukrainian Foreign Policy?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Péter Szijjártó was added to the database of the Ukrainian doxing site “Mirotvorets” (Peacekeeper). This has come as a reaction from Kiev to the alleged attempts of the Hungarian top diplomat “[to undermine] Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity: direct threats of an armed attack on Ukraine”.

Shortly before the publication of his profile on the extremist website Mr. Szijjártó held a press conference in Budapest on September 23, 2018. Talking on the agenda of the upcoming bilateral meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General assembly he said that not only the rights of the Hungarian national community in Ukraine are in danger, but the community itself is in a state of disenfranchisement. He explained that its members had been stripped of the right to study in their native language, to hold Hungarian cultural events and the operations of Hungarian language media had also been made impossible.

According to the Hungarian minister the Ukrainian secret services have begun pestering certain members of the Hungarian national community, calls for action against people with dual citizenship are now openly appearing on various websites, Hungarian diplomats are suffering regular insults, and people who are linked to the foundation that is involved in the economic development program being financed by the Hungarian government have been “invited for questioning” on several occasions. Moreover, Ukraine went further than ever before in contravention of all of the existing rules of diplomacy, a secret service operation was conducted at one of Hungary’s consulates in Ukraine, at the representation of a NATO member state and on Hungarian territory.

On September 30, 2018 Tamás Menczer, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told at a press conference that anti-Hungarian attacks in Ukraine are occurring with the involvement of the administration and state. He pointed out that the head of the foreign minister’s security team had been informed of Mr. Szijjártó’s inclusion on the list on the Ukrainian extremist website, and the required measures had been taken.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin (L) and Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Péter Szijjártó

It couldn’t have been otherwise. The “Mirotvorets” website, linked with Ukrainian parliament member, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko, was created in 2014 for searching the identities of Donbass militiamen and their supporters. According to Benjamin Moreau, the deputy head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, the website violates the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. The website blacklists all those suspected of what its editors regard as crimes against Ukraine’s national security.

Speaking at a panel discussion titled “Threats to Freedom of Speech in Ukraine” held by Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists in Kiev in March this year Moreau noted that some banks refuse to provide financial services to the people who have been added to “Mirotvorets”. Moreau emphasized that the mission had been monitoring the investigation into the murder of two journalists, Pavel Sheremet and Oles Buzina. The Ukrainian journalist and writer Oles Buzina was killed in Kiev right after his profile was published on the extremist website. Moreau also noted that the presence of a large group of extremists at the trial on Buzina’s murder had made a very negative impression on the mission’s members and urged the law enforcement agencies to take measures to ensure the judicial independence.

On September 25, 2018 “Mirotvorets” published personal data of Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Now the time has come for the Hungarian minister. Is it a kind of a new line in the Ukrainian foreign policy? It seems that the Kiev authorities think that their methods work or they believe in their impunity.

Our Broken System has no “Moderate” Devotees

Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide. But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?

Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.

She observed:

There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.

Ostensibly pitted against Merkel is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.

Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.

He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.

Family feud

But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?

In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.

What do I mean?

Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.

In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.

Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.

International order

Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.

Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.

The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.

A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.

Towards the abyss

The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.

As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.

The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.

Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.

The system is broken

We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.

The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.

The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.

Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.

Squaring the circle

This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.

The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.

Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.

Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.

What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.

The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.

The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.

Common Enemy: Why Israel is Embracing Fascism in Europe

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, visited Israel on July 19, where he met Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials. Orban’s visit would have not required much pause except that the Hungarian leader has been repeatedly branded for his often racist, anti-Semitic remarks.

So why is Orban wining and dining with the leaders of the so-called ‘Jewish State’?

The answer does not pertain only to Orban and Hungary, but to Israel’s attitude towards the rapidly growing far-right movements in Europe, as a whole. Netanyahu and Zionist leaders everywhere, are not just aware of this massive political shift in European politics but are, in fact, working diligently to utilize it in Israel’s favor.

On his visit to Israel, Orban asserted that Hungarian Jewish citizens should feel safe in his country, an odd statement considering that it was Orban and his party that deprived many Jews and other members of minority groups of any feeling of safety.

Still, Netanyahu has welcomed Orban as a “true friend of Israel” and Orban called on his European counterparts to show more support for Israel. Mission accomplished.

Netanyahu had visited Budapest in July 2017, but that supposedly ‘historic’ visit did nothing to change Hungary’s official discourse, dotted with racism and anti-Semitism. In fact, in March 2018, Orban derided Jews, focusing his criticism mostly on Jewish financiers such as George Soros.

At an election rally campaign, Orban said, “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

It is well-known that Israel and Zionist leaders are quite selective in manipulating the definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ to serve their political agendas, but Israel’s attitude towards the racist far-right movements in Europe takes this truth to a whole new level.

Indeed, the ‘special relationship’ between Netanyahu and Orban is only the tip of the iceberg. For years, Netanyahu’s Israel has been ‘flirting’ with radical right movements in Europe.

The unmistakable Israeli strategy, of course, has its own logic. Israeli leaders feel that Europe’s move to the far-right is irrevocable and are keen to benefit from the anti-Muslim sentiment that accompanies this shift as much as possible.

Moreover, the EU’s resolve to label illegal settlement products and refusal to heed calls for moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is pushing Netanyahu to explore these new routes.

During his previous visit to Hungary, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met with leaders from the so-called Visegrad-4, which includes Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

On that visit, Netanyahu hoped to find new channels of support within the EU, through exerting pressure by using his new-found allies in these countries. In an audio-recording obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu chastised Europe for daring to criticize Israel’s dismal human rights record, illegal settlement policies and military occupation.

“I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said.

Netanyahu’s arrogance is unbridled, especially as the censure is emanating from a leader who represents an ethno-nationalist state, which has just recently canceled any reference to ‘democracy’ in its newly-issued Jewish Nation-state Law.

The new ‘basic law’ defines Israel by an ethnic identity, not any democratic values. Netanyahu is now closer to Europe’s far-right racist groups than to any liberal democratic model, thus the ongoing flirting between Israel and these groups.

In fact, the term ‘flirting’ is itself an understatement considering that Israel’s ties with various far-right, neo-Nazi and fascist parties in Europe involve high-level political coordination and, in the case of the Ukraine in particular, the actual supplying of weapons.

Human rights groups recently petitioned the Israeli High Court to stop Israel’s export of weapons to neo-Nazi groups.

The Israeli-far-right embrace almost touches every single European country, including Italy and Germany, whose history of Nazism and Fascism has wrought death and misery to millions.

In Italy, the connection between Italian far-right parties and Israel goes back to the early 2000s, when post-Fascist leader, Gianfranco Fini, labored to rebrand his movement.

Initially, Fini was the leader of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), which saw itself as the “heir to the Fascist Party”.

The rebranding of the party required a trip by Fini to Israel in 2003, after changing the name of his movement to the ‘National Alliance.’ Interestingly, in his highly-touted visit, Fini was accompanied by Amos Luzzatto, the head of the Italian Jewish community.

Unsurprisingly, far-right leader, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s current Interior Minister, went through the same political baptism by Zionist Israel – as Orban and Fini also did – by paying a visit to Tel Aviv in March 2016 to launch his political career and declaring his undying love for the Jewish State.

The same scenario is being repeated in Germany where the far-right party – Alternative for Germany (AfD) – has risen in ranks to the point that it nearly toppled a government coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

AfD has more in common with Israel than the common anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views. The party which is “derided for anti-Semitic, xenophobic views redolent of the Nazis is also staunchly supportive of Israel,” reported the Times of Israel.

Last April, the anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic German party, enthusiastically began a campaign pushing for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite Merkel’s views to the contrary.

The story, however, does not end there. What began as Israeli flirting with far-right racist movements is now Israel’s official policy towards Europe. The same story, with different actors and names can be found in Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe), Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) and virtually everywhere else.

It remains to be seen how Israel’s embrace of fascist Europe will bode, both for Israel and the European Union. Will the EU “shrivel and disappear”, or will Israel be finally exposed for what it truly is, an ethno-nationalist state with no interest in true democracy in the first place?

How Israel helped to revive Europe’s Ugly Ethnic Nationalism

Polarisation within western societies on issues relating to migration and human rights has been intensifying over recent weeks and months. To many observers, it looks suspiciously as if an international order in place since the end of the second world war – one that emphasised universal rights as a way to prevent dehumanisation and conflict – is rapidly unravelling in Europe and the United States.

In the past few weeks in Donald Trump’s America, it has emerged that thousands of migrant children have been snatched from their parents while trying to enter at the southern border, with some held in cages; the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of border officials to bar entry to Muslims from proscribed countries; and the Trump administration has quit the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, a key institution for monitoring human rights violations.

Meanwhile, far-right parties across Europe have ridden to electoral success on the back of mounting fears at a wave of migrants displaced from North Africa and the Middle East by wars and famines. Joining the trenchant anti-immigration stances of governments in Hungary and Poland, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has turned away boatloads of migrants from his country’s ports. He called last month for the European Union to “defend its border” and deny access to human rights groups, while also threatening to cut his country’s budget to Europe unless action was taken against migrants. Salvini is among the Italian politicians demanding the expulsion of the Roma minority.

Other European governments led by Germany, fearful of internal political instability that might undermine their continuing rule, called a hasty summit to consider options for dealing with the “migrant crisis”.

And casting a long shadow over the proceedings is Britain’s efforts to negotiate its exit from the EU, a blow that might eventually lead to the whole edifice of the European project crumbling.

Two ideas of citizenship

These are not random events. They are part of a quickening trend, and one that signals how an international order built up over the past 70 years and represented by pan-national institutions like the United Nations and the EU is gradually breaking down.

While the evidence suggests that there is no particular migration crisis at the moment, there are long-term factors that readily provoke populist fears and can be readily exploited, especially over the depletion of key global resources like oil, and environmental changes caused by climate breakdown. Together they have stoked resource conflicts and begun to shrink world economies. The effects are ideological and political shockwaves that have put a system of long-standing international agreements and norms under unprecedented strain.

The emerging struggle faced today is one that was fought out a century ago in western Europe, and relates to differing conceptions of citizenship. In the early 20th century, Europe was riven by ethnic nationalisms: each state was seen as representing a separate biological people – or in the terminology of the time, a race or Volk. And each believed it needed territory in which to express its distinct heritage, identity, language and culture. In the space of a few decades, these antagonistic nationalisms tore Europe apart in two “world wars”.

At the time, ethnic nationalism was pitted against an alternative vision of citizenship: civic nationalism. It is worth briefly outlining how the two differed.

Civic nationalists draw on long-standing liberal ideas that prioritise a shared political identity based on citizenship inside the stable territorial unit of a democratic state. The state should aspire – at least in theory – to be neutral towards ethnic minorities, and their languages and cultures.

Civic nationalism is premised on individual rights, social equality and tolerance. Its downside is an inherent tendency to atomise societies into individuals, and cultivate consumption over other social values. That has made it easier for powerful corporations to capture the political system, leading to the emergence of neoliberal capitalist economies.

Minorities scapegoated

Ethnic nationalists, by contrast, believe in distinct peoples, with a shared heritage and ancestry. Such nationalists not only resist the idea that other groups can integrate or assimilate, but fear that they might weaken or dissolve the ties binding the nation together.

Ethnic nationalists therefore accentuate an imagined collective will belonging to the dominant ethnic group that guides its destiny; emphasise threats from external enemies and subversion from within by those opposed to the values of the core group; encourage the militarisation of the society to cope with such threats; and anxiously guard existing territory and aggressively seek to expand borders to increase the nation’s resilience.

Even before Europe’s two great wars, most western states were a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalist impulses. But in a political climate of competition over resources and paranoid vigilance against rivals that prevailed before the second world war, especially fears among western elites about how best to counter the growing threat of Soviet Communism, ideas associated with ethnic nationalism tended to dominate.

It was for this reason that ethnic minorities – especially those such as Jews and Roma whose loyalties to the core nation were considered suspect – found themselves scapegoated and faced rampant discrimination. This took different forms.

In Britain, ethnic nationalism contributed to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a document proposing that British Jews be transplanted to the Middle East. In part this was a colonial project to create an outpost of Jews in the Middle East dependent on British favour for their security. But as noted by Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the British cabinet at the time, the Balfour Declaration had strong anti-semitic overtones, reinforcing the idea that Jews did not belong and should be relocated elsewhere.

Ethnic nationalism in France was evidenced by the notorious Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish captain in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason in 1894 for leaking military secrets to Germany. In fact, as it later emerged, another French officer was responsible for the leak, but the military preferred to falsify documents to ensure that blame rested with Dreyfus.

And in Germany, racism towards minorities like Jews and Roma culminated in the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s and a short time later a policy of mass extermination that claimed the lives of many millions.

Rebuilding a post-war Europe

After the devastation of the second world war, western Europe had to be rebuilt, both physically and ideologically. With the dangers of ethnic nationalisms now apparent, greater emphasis was placed on civic nationalism.

This trend was encouraged by the US through its Marshall Plan, an economic recovery programme to reconstruct western Europe. The US wanted a united, peaceful Europe – its ethnic antagonisms a thing of the past – so that a culture of individualism and consumerism could be fostered, guaranteeing an export market for American goods. A US-dependent Europe could also be relied on as a bulwark against Washington’s chief ideological rival, Soviet communism.

By the end of the 20th century, these developments would lead to the emergence of a common market, later the European Union, a single currency and the dropping of border controls.

At the same time, in the immediate post-war period, it was decided to put safeguards in place against the recent slaughter. The Nuremberg Trials helped to define the rules of war, and classed their violations as war crimes, while the UN’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions began the process of formalising international law and the concept of universal human rights.

All of that post-war order is now unravelling.

Bucking the trend

Israel was established in 1948, the year of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, which was itself intended to prevent any return to the horrors of the Holocaust. Israel was presented as a sanctuary for Jews from a depraved Europe that had been overrun by aggressive racial ideologies. And Israel was extolled as a “light unto the nations”, the political fruit of the new international legal order to promote the rights of minorities.

But paradoxically, the “western” state that most visibly bucked the trend towards civic nationalism in the post-war period was Israel. It stuck rigidly with a political model of ethnic nationalism that had just been discredited in Europe. Today Israel embodies a political alternative to civic nationalism – one that is slowly and increasingly helping to rehabilitate ethnic nationalism.

From the outset, Israel was not what it appeared to most outsiders. It had been sponsored as a colonial settler project by western patrons that variously included Britain, the Soviet Union, France and, latterly, the US. Set up to be an explicitly “Jewish state”, it was built on the ruins of the native Palestinian people’s homeland after a campaign of expulsions historians have characterised as “ethnic cleansing”.

Israel was not the liberal democracy claimed in its campaigns of self-promotion, known as hasbara. In fact, far from being an antidote to ethnic nationalism, Israel was decisively a product – or more specifically, a mirroring – of this form of nationalism.

Israel’s tribal ideology

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

Making racism respectable

Israel preserved the model of ethnic nationalism and is now seeking to help make it respectable again among sections of western public opinion.

Just as historically there were different varieties of ethnic nationalisms in Europe, so there are among the popular and political movements in Israel.

At the most disturbing extreme of the spectrum are the religious settlers who have actively taken up the task of once again uprooting the native Palestinian population, this time in the occupied territories. Such settlers now dominate the middle ranks of the Israeli army.

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

The ‘danger’ of intermarriage

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.”

An ethnic fortress

But the problem is not restricted to the prejudices of individuals and communities. It has state sanction, just as in Europe a century ago.

That can be seen not only in rampant institutional racism in Israel – some 70 laws that explicitly discriminate based on ethnic belonging – but in Israel’s obsession with wall-building. There are walls sealing off Gaza, and the densely Palestinian-populated parts of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In another indication of the ethnic fortress mentality, Israel has built a wall to block the entry of African asylum seekers through the Sinai peninsula as they flee wars. Israel has been deporting these refugees back to Africa – in violation of international conventions it has ratified – putting their lives in danger.

And while western liberals have grown exercised at the separation of children from their parents by the Trump administration, they have ignored decades of similarly brutal Israeli policies. In that time, thousands of Palestinian children have been seized from their homes, often in night-time raids, and jailed in trials with a near-100 per cent conviction rate.

Extrajudicial violence

Throughout its history, Israel has glorified in its military prowess and brazenly celebrated a tradition of extrajudicial violence against opponents. That has included practices such as torture and political assassinations that international law seeks to prohibit. The sophistry used by Israel to defend these actions has been enthusiastically taken up in Washington – in particular, when the US began its own programmes of torture and extrajudicial murder after the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Israel has ready-made rationalisations and specious soundbites that have made it much easier to sell to western publics the dismantling of international norms.

The upending of international law – and, with it, a reversal of the trend towards civic nationalism – has intensified with Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza over the past decade. Israel has subverted the key principles of international law – proportionality, distinction and necessity – by hugely widening the circle of potential targets of military action to include swaths of civilians, and using massive force beyond any possible justification.

That has been graphically illustrated of late in its maiming and killing of thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters for being supposedly too close to the perimeter fence Israel has built to encage Gaza. That fence simply delimits the Palestinian land occupied by Israel. But in another success for Israeli hasbara, western reporting has almost universally suggested that the fence is a border Israel is entitled to defend.

Israeli expertise in demand

Israel’s expertise is increasingly in demand in a west where ethnic nationalisms are again taking root. Israel’s weapons have been tested on the battlefield, against Palestinians. Its homeland security systems have proven they can surveill and control Palestinian populations, just as western elites think about their own protection inside gated communities.

Israel’s paramilitary police train and militarise western police forces needed to repress internal dissent. Israel has developed sophisticated cyberwarfare techniques based on its efforts to remain a regional superpower that now satisfy the west’s politically paranoid atmosphere.

With an abiding aversion to the Communist ideology of their former Soviet rulers, central and east European states have led the move towards a renewal of ethnic nationalism. Civic nationalism, by contrast, is seen as dangerously exposing the nation to outside influences.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader, who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

For leaders like Orban, Israel has led the way. It has shown that ethnic politics is not discredited after all, that it can work. For Europe and America’s new ethnic nationalists, Israel has proven that some peoples are destined for greatness, if they are allowed to triumph over those who stand in their way.

It will be a darker, far more divided and frightening world if this logic prevails. It is time to recognise what Israel represents, and how it does not offer solutions – only far greater problems.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen

A recent European Council summit in Brussels was meant to articulate a united policy on the burgeoning refugees and migrant crisis. Instead, it served to highlight the bitter divisions among various European countries. Considering the gravity of the matter, Europe’s self-serving policies are set to worsen an already tragic situation.

True, several European leaders, including Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, went home to speak triumphantly of a ‘great victory’, achieved through a supposedly united European position.

Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, used more derogatory terms in explaining his country’s new policy on refugees and migrants.  “They will only see Italy on a postcard”, he said, referring to refugees who have been arriving in Italy with the help of humanitarian rescue boats.

The first of these boats, carrying over 600 refugees and economic migrants, the Aquarius, was sent back on June 11, followed by another, carrying over 200 refugees. When Italy carried out what then seemed like excessive action, the decision erupted into a massive political controversy between Italy, France, Spain, Malta and others.

However, the pandemonium has subsided since then, as Italy’s Conte declared that, following the Brussels summit, his country ‘is no longer alone.’

What Conte, who presides over a populist, right-wing government, meant is that his country’s unwelcoming attitude towards refugees is now gathering greater European consensus.

The debate over refugees and migrants has reached the point that it has become a source of political instability in countries like Germany. The latter is not considered a ‘frontline state’, as in countries that are likely to be the first destination for refugees escaping war or poverty at home.

Austria and other countries are also caught up in the crisis, each with its own angry constituency to appease.

On paper, representatives of European countries did, in fact, reach an agreement. The real problem ensued as soon as delegations returned to their respective countries.

Despite opposition from Poland and Hungary, and Italian threats to ‘veto’ any text that is not consistent with Italian priorities, the Council agreed on four main points:

First, the establishment of disembarkation centers outside European territories, to be stationed mostly in North Africa. At that early stage, economic migrants would be separated from political asylum seekers.

This first stipulation is made hollow simply because, as the Guardian reports, “no North African country has agreed to host migrant centers to process refugee claims,” in the first place.

Second, Europeans agreed to strengthen borders control through the Frontex system.

Aside from the questionable tactics of this pan-European border police, this system has been in use for years and it is difficult to imagine how ‘strengthening’ it will translate into a more efficient or humane border control system.

Third, the Council called for the creation of ‘controlled’ refugee and migrant processing centers within Europe itself, like the North African non-existing centers, to quickly separate between refugees fleeing strife and economic migrants.

This clause was offered as a ‘voluntary’ step to be exercised by any state as it sees fit, which, again, will hardly contribute to a united European policy on the issue. Yet, despite the voluntary nature of this provision, it still stirred a political controversy in Germany.

Soon after the Council issued its final statement, Horst Lorenz Seehofer, Germany’s Interior Minister, threatened to quit Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

The German Chancellor is now under dual pressure, from within her fractious coalition, but also from without, a massive political campaign championed by the far-right party, the ‘Alternative for Germany’. In fact, the latter group’s popularity is largely attributed to its anti-immigrant sentiment.

A compromise was reached, calling for the establishment of migrant ‘transit centers’ at the German-Austrian border. However, instead of resolving a problem, the decision created another one, propelling a new controversy in Austria itself.

Austria, which also has its own populist, anti-immigrant constituency to placate, fears that the proximity of the German ‘transit centers’ would force it to receive Germany’s unwanted refugees.

“If Berlin introduced national measures, which would have a chain reaction, it could mean that Austria would have to react,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz commented in a press conference. The magnitude of this ‘reaction’ is, of course, to be determined later, depending on the nature of counter-pressure emanating from Austria itself.

Austria has, in fact, already threatened to shut down the Brenner Pass, connecting Italy and Austria.

The fourth, and last, decision by the European Council called for the boosting of North African economies and offering training for Libya’s coastguard.

As altruistic as the last stipulation may sound, it is, indeed, the most ridiculous, especially since it was placed on the agenda with French enthusiasm. Even if one is to ignore France’s colonial history in Africa – grounded in the notion of usurping African resources under military threat – one can hardly ignore the current role that Emmanuel Macron is playing in the current Libyan conflict.

Various media reports suggest that Macron’s government is carrying on with the legacy of intervention, initiated by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, most notably in the military intervention of March 2011.

Libya, a failed state par excellence, is now fighting proxy wars in which France and Italy are the main players.

Bearing that in mind, it would be absurd to suggest that Macron is keen on respecting the sovereignty and supporting the economies of Libya and other North African nations.

Considering Europe’s past failures and foot dragging on the issue of refugees, it is hard to imagine that one of Europe’s greatest challenges is to be resolved as a result of the Brussels summit and its lackluster ‘agreement’.

Europe continues to view the refugee crisis in terms of security, populist pressures and national identity, as opposed to it being a global humanitarian crisis invited by wars, political strife and economic inequality, of which Europe is hardly innocent.

As long as Europe continues to operate with a skewed definition of the crisis, the crisis will continue to grow, leading to far dire consequences for all of those involved.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article