Fashionable Fascism?

Jewish Light Editorial

The headline for this editorial is in no way intended to make light of the alarming rise of extremist candidates around the globe. Like a long-dormant weed the extreme right has sprouted in once-solid democracies, and we’re no exception here in America. 

In France, Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right National Front Party seems poised to win substantial votes in the upcoming presidential election. The National Front was founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was expelled from party leadership when he refused to stop denying the Holocaust and engaging in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric. 

France is hardly alone in Europe with these trends. In Austria. after a bitter year-long campaign for the presidency, Norbert Hofer, a leader of the far-right Freedom Party, founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, only closely lost the election to Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader. The fact that Hofer came close to winning the presidency in Austria, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, has been described in a JTA story this week as “proof of (Austria’s) failure to address its Nazi past. 

In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party, which uses a swastika-like symbol as its party logo and whose members openly give the stretched arm salute of the Nazis and Fascists, won several seats in the Greek Parliament before efforts were made to oust them. 

While these nations are exhibiting some of the most onerous trends, the ultra-nationalist, xenophobic wave is flooding the world in myriad ways and places. Take Great Britain, for instance, where in the recent Brexit vote a majority of voters supported the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The vote has been interpreted as not only being of a piece with the rise of populism and distrust of longstanding institutions, but with hatred and blame being cast toward minorities and immigrants. 


In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced her candidacy for a fourth term, but she is facing fierce opposition from a variety of ultra-nationalist parties and movements.  Germany has engaged in a decades-long effort to educate its population on the dangers of Nazism, but the far-right Alternative for Germany, for instance, enjoys about 13 percent of the vote, according to numerous polls. 

In our own country, the so-called “alt-right” movement has elements that reflect similar sentiments to the examples from Europe. David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, injected himself repeatedly into the presidential campaign. A shocking gathering of white nationalists, including the notorious Richard Spencer, held a meeting just blocks away from the White House last month in which well-dressed men in suits and ties spouted Nazi-like slogans and providing the Third Reich stiff-armed salute. 

Along with these recent developments, there has been an increase in hate crimes targeting blacks, Jews, Muslims, Latinos and other minorities, according to the Anti-Defamation League and FBI in their annual surveys of such crimes. 

Elected officials who have benefitted from the votes of such immoral voices may or may not themselves hold such views — one should not be quick to make assumptions. It is, however, every leader’s responsibility to renounce hatred and bigotry at every level, and to ensure sincere and genuine efforts to combat them. 

Bias, bigotry and hate are not limited to the far right, of course, and they should be called out wherever and whenever they exist. But a vast preponderance of the political movements that are amplifying xenophobic trends around the world at this particular time are indeed emanating from that place on the political spectrum. 

The nationalistic voices rising to power are stressing national order and control, blaming the “other” (whoever that happens to be in a given country) and driving wedges between majorities and minorities, in ways that are most reminiscent of ultra-rightist movements of the past.

Failure to speak out against hateful movements in their infancy in Europe in the 1930s allowed such groups to evolve into political parties that plunged Europe and later the world into World War II, in which 50 million people died. This week, as we note the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, let us do all within our power to denounce and vigorously oppose the modern incarnations of the people and movements that emboldened those past horrors. 

Silence and inaction are not options for any of us.