James Kirchick is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, journalist and author of The End of Europe: Dictators Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age [Yale, 2017]

In an article for The Australian, published on 17 August 2019, James Kirchick wrote: “One of the most profoundly disturbing and perplexing phenomena in the Western world today has been the rise of left-wing anti-Semitism. Nowhere is this societal cancer more visible than in the British Labour Party, which was taken over by the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn four years ago.” During a visit to Australia in August, sponsored by the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, James Kirchick addressed The Sydney Institute on Tuesday 20 August 2019 to discuss the issue of left and right extremism in Europe. Parts of the paper which follows have appeared in essay form in The American Interest, Tablet, and The Washington Post.

FAR LEFT AND FAR RIGHT POPULISM IN EUROPE


JAMES KIRCHICK

Across the West, apprehension over immigration and national identity are boosting the electoral fortunes of – and in some cases, bringing to power to – political forces hostile to the liberal world order. Support for such forces has been on the rise for several decades, though in key countries it is reaching a more critical mass for attaining power or blocking business as usual. In the United States, presidential candidate Donald Trump unexpectedly rode to victory by promising to deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall along the southern border. Trump’s radical departure from traditional GOP foreign policy nostrums on trade, international alliances, and Russia – that is, his repudiation of key-elements of the American-led liberal world order – has done little to dent enthusiasm among his supporters, who are willing to overlook or endorse his heresies because of his tough position on immigration.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump unexpectedly rode to victory by promising to deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall along the southern border.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the 2016 decision by the British people to leave the European Union, Marine Le Pen’s doubling of her father’s vote share in the 2017 French presidential election, the entrance of Alternative für Deutschland into the Bundestag and all 16 German state legislatures, and the formation of a populist coalition government in Italy between the far right Northern League and the Five Star Movement are all political expressions of deep frustration with establishments, including a belief by many that borders are too porous, that their countries are accepting too many immigrants (whether legal, illegal, or refugees), and that these newcomers are not assimilating quickly and thoroughly enough into native cultures. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has earned an international profile far out of proportion to that usually afforded the leader of a small, Central European country of just ten million people, and has done so solely due to his fierce criticism of what he characterises as an elite, cross-partisan, Brussels-based consensus in favor of mass immigration that thwarts the will of national publics across the continent.

Minister Viktor Orbán has earned an international profile far out of proportion to that usually afforded the leader of a small, Central European country of just ten million people

The rise of right-wing populism, at least in Europe, is in large part attributable to the nearly two million mostly Muslim, mostly male, migrants and refugees who entered the continent over the course of 2015-16 and to the perceived inability of European governments and the European Union to handle the influx. And while the numbers of these entrants to Europe has declined significantly in the time since then, the lingering after-effects of the deluge – namely, the sense that European governments had lost control, combined with a pessimism as to European societies’ ability to integrate so many newcomers – have had a profound effect on the politics of the West. According to the Spring 2018 Eurobarometer poll, Europeans list immigration and terrorism as the two most important issues facing the European Union, issues that have become increasingly intertwined in the minds of ordinary citizens, given the threat of Islamist terrorism and the Islamic faith of the majority of the migrants.

The rise of right-wing populism, at least in Europe, is in large part attributable to the nearly two million mostly Muslim, mostly male, migrants and refugees who entered the continent over the course of 2015-16

Since the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump in 2016, the world has been inundated with books, think tank reports, films and media analyses on the subject of populism and the threat it poses to liberal democracy. To the extent that it can be defined as a political tendency that demonizes any and all opposition to it as inherently illegitimate, populism is indeed a menace to liberal democracy, a constitutive element of which is pluralism—the belief that for a society to be decent it must make room for various perspectives, attitudes, and political formations.

But what if the phenomenon that is near-universally described as “populism” is not so much hostility to liberal democracy per se, but an expression of frustration that liberal democracy has not been democratic enough? What if populism is mainly being driven not by some desire to undo liberal democracy and replace it with autocracy, but by frustration with Western political establishments for not heeding the popular will on an issue of major importance to voters – that is, mass immigration?

What if the phenomenon that is near-universally described as “populism” is not so much hostility to liberal democracy per se, but an expression of frustration that liberal democracy has not been democratic enough?

The rise of populist politics in the West is often laid at the feet of the 2008 global financial crisis, and a range of economic factors – from the growing gap between rich and poor to declining wage growth – have all surely played a part in fanning the flames of populism on both the Left and Right. But in countries as diverse as Germany, Poland, and Sweden, the rise of populist political tendencies cannot be blamed on the usual suspect of poor economic performance; all three countries have posted impressive growth and low unemployment since the 2008 financial crisis. “The majority of academic studies over the past three decades have found that objective economic indicators such as income have only a weak effect or none at all when it comes to explaining the appeal of national populism,” observes Matthew Goodwin, an expert on European populism and a professor at the University of Kent.

My aim here is not to weigh the merits or morality of the liberal and restrictionist approaches to immigration. Immigration is ultimately a national competency, a realm best left to individual governments in consultation with their citizenries. While one can oppose restrictive immigration policies on an economic or humanitarian basis, there is nothing inherently illiberal in reducing immigration levels. The specific matter of asylum excepted, a liberal democracy does not have an obligation to open its doors to foreigners in the same way that it is obliged to protect the basic freedoms of its own citizens. What should concern all of us with a stake in upholding the liberal international order, however, is how opposition to mass immigration across the Western world is politically channeled. For what all of the aforementioned populist political leaders and movements share, in addition to their anti-immigration fervor, is skepticism if not outright opposition, to that order, as well as a positive disposition to its chief external threat: the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin.

My aim here is not to weigh the merits or morality of the liberal and restrictionist approaches to immigration.

In Europe, it is becoming increasingly apparent that mass immigration and the liberal order (and maybe even liberal democracy itself) are incompatible. So opposed to mass immigration are they that a large and growing number of citizens are voting for parties that, in addition to espousing anti-immigration views, also threaten to dismantle democratic institutions and their nations’ roles in upholding the liberal democratic order.

In Europe, it is becoming increasingly apparent that mass immigration and the liberal order (and maybe even liberal democracy itself) are incompatible.

When it comes to immigration, European policy, on both the national and supranational levels, has for years been engaged in a game of catch up with public opinion. In no case has this inability of the political class to meet the demands of the public had more momentous consequence than Brexit. Between 2000 and the vote for Brexit 16 years later, the percentage of voters who viewed immigration as a major problem increased from 7 per cent to 49 per cent, making it the voters’ most important issue. Yet this growing concern was not reflected in the formulation of public policy, providing an opening for someone like Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party to advocate for the wholesale departure of the UK from the European Union.

After the EU welcomed ten new member states from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004, the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of only three EU member states that chose not to avail itself of temporary immigration controls it could have placed on citizens from those countries. This decision may have made economic sense at the time, but, in retrospect, it was also decisive in pushing public opinion in the direction of leaving the European Union. Seven years later, a YouGov poll found that 67 per cent of the British public believed that immigration over the previous decade had been “a bad thing for Britain.”

This decision may have made economic sense at the time, but, in retrospect, it was also decisive in pushing public opinion in the direction of leaving the European Union.

Cognizant of these worries, the Conservative-led coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron promised to reduce immigration but proved either unwilling or unable to slow it down, to the point that immigration actually increased to a high of 330,000 people annually. It was in this context of repeatedly thwarted expectations that the Leave campaign’s mantra, “Take Back Control,” was so effective.

It is not just Britain where public and elite opinion on immigration have been out of sync. A 2017 Chatham House survey found that, in eight out of ten European countries, majorities opposed any further immigration from Muslim countries, precisely the same position Donald Trump announced, to great controversy, during his successful presidential campaign. Fifty-three percent of Germans, whose country was so widely lauded for its humanitarianism during the 2015 refugee crisis, agreed with Trump on this question.

Fifty-three percent of Germans, whose country was so widely lauded for its humanitarianism during the 2015 refugee crisis, agreed with Trump on this question.

Divergence between public and elite opinion on immigration is a phenomenon noticeable across Europe, according to political scientists Markus Wagner and Thomas M. Meyer, as “voter positions are generally to the right of mainstream party consensus, so that shifts to the right on immigration and on law and order are in fact shifts towards the median voter”. According to Chatham House, in no country polled did more than 32 per cent disagree with a complete ban on Muslim immigration.

Such statistics are no doubt dispiriting to those who believe in the inherent virtue and workability of multiculturalism. But if preservation of the liberal international order is the foremost concern of policymakers, more important than the morality of public attitudes about Muslim immigration is how politicians handle this undeniably widespread skepticism towards immigration’s purported benefits. Voters, simply put, want and expect stricter immigration policies. In an electoral democracy, they will get them either from mainstream political leaders (who support NATO, the European Union, market economies, an alliance with the United States, and other elements of the liberal order) or from far right demagogues who support none of these things. “It would be a major political mistake if liberals simply ignore or ridicule these fears,” writes Ivan Krastev of the anti-immigration sentiment rising across the West. His sentiment is echoed by European Council President Donald Tusk, whose native Poland is one of the European countries most hostile to immigration. Speaking of controversial efforts to partner with non-EU governments to limit immigration to Europe, Tusk put it bluntly: “If we don’t agree on them then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.”

Voters, simply put, want and expect stricter immigration policies. 

Despite the best intentions of its proponents, mass immigration is having a destabilising effect on European democracy by abetting populist parties hostile to both liberal democracy and the liberal world order. As these parties exploit the gap between public opinion and public policy, European political leaders increasingly face a dilemma: Should they sacrifice the stability of the liberal international order on the altar of a liberal immigration regime? To save liberal democracy from its illiberal antagonists, they will need to decouple the highly charged subject of immigration from those metrics – respect for checks and balances, adherence to the rule of law, protection of minorities, pluralism, freedom of the press, support for democratic alliances, a values-based foreign policy, and so on – that truly determine whether a nation is a liberal democracy and a contributor to the liberal world order. Japan is one example of a nation that has a highly restrictive (one might even say xenophobic) immigration policy but is nonetheless a liberal democracy and plays a productive role in maintaining liberal order. It is my contention that, if leaders who are genuinely committed to preserving this order ignore or dismiss popular opinion on immigration, they will lose ground to far right movements committed to neither.

Japan is one example of a nation that has a highly restrictive (one might even say xenophobic) immigration policy but is nonetheless a liberal democracy and plays a productive role in maintaining liberal order.

A compelling illustration of how not to handle the issue of immigration is Sweden, which touts itself as a “humanitarian superpower” and has accepted more migrants and refugees per capita than any nation in the world. This intake reached its height during the refugee crisis of 2015-16, when the Scandinavian country accepted more than 160,000 people, second only to Germany in terms of absolute numbers. Over the past five years, Sweden has taken in 600,000, an enormous number for a country of fewer than ten million.

Yet in recent years, migrants have been disproportionately involved in certain types of high-profile crimes, namely sexual assault, gang violence, grenade attacks, and car bombings. In addition, the unemployment gap between native Swedes and the foreign born is the second highest among members of the OECD, with immigrants three times as likely to be unemployed – a disparity due to the low educational achievement of most migrants and a lack of unskilled jobs in the highly advanced Swedish economy. “Sweden is statistically one of the worst countries at the integration of foreigners,” Aje Carlbom, a professor in social anthropology at Malmo University told the Financial Times. “Why? Mainly because this is a highly complex country where you can’t get a job without education. Many of those who come are uneducated – that is the main problem.”

Recall two years ago when President Donald Trump, at a campaign rally in Florida, implied that a terrorist attack had occurred in Sweden the previous evening. “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” he vaguely bellowed, the assumption that he was referring to some specific act of violence buttressed a few, rambling sentences later by his registering “Brussels,” “Nice,” and “Paris” in the same catalogue of places where unspecified bad things are “happening.” Trump’s use of two words in particular -“last night” – lent credence to the fear that he had invented a terrorist attack out of whole cloth, the better to justify his draconian immigration proposals.

Trump’s use of two words in particular -“last night” – lent credence to the fear that he had invented a terrorist attack out of whole cloth, the better to justify his draconian immigration proposals.

As the Twitter snarkery poured forth – hashtag #lastnightinsweden appended to all manner of posts alongside mention of banal activities and photographs of the verdant (yet uneventful) Swedish countryside – it soon became clear that Trump’s critics were behaving in bad faith. By “happening last night in Sweden”, Trump did not mean any specific event but rather was marking reference to a segment on the Fox News channel about rising crime related to that country’s generous intake of predominantly Muslim immigrants. “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump said, in his typical stream-of-consciousness style.

Of course, one shouldn’t shoot from the hip like this as President of the United States, because the entire world literally hangs upon your every utterance. Wars could erupt over misinterpreted statements or tweets. This is precisely the reason foreign policy analysts, like myself, got so bent out of shape over each and every Trump outburst that his supporters invariably explained away as mere “hyperbole” or “humour” (when not defending the man’s verbal diarrhea as “refreshing”). The vernacular of a reality television show star is quite different, to say the least, from that expected of the leader of the free world.

The vernacular of a reality television show star is quite different, to say the least, from that expected of the leader of the free world.

Trump’s later clarification about his comments did nothing to assuage critics, however, who simply doubled-down on their sanctimony. His complaints about immigration, they said, had about as much validity as his anger over a non-existent terrorist attack. For you see Sweden is a social democratic paradise and any insinuation that there might be serious problems related to mass Muslim immigration – clearly, in retrospect, what Trump was referring to when he said, “They took in large numbers” – is a sign of ignorance, racism, or worse. As if on cue, less than 48 hours after Trump’s comments, riots erupted in Rinkeby, an immigrant ghetto north of Stockholm where disturbances in 2013 made international headlines. “By and large, integration has been a success story there, save for incidents such as Monday night’s, which have taken place in highly segregated neighborhoods,” read a story in The Washington Post, emblematic of a mainstream media predisposition to treat as isolated these all-too-frequent events.

The entwined issues of Muslim immigration and integration in Sweden are more complicated than either multiculturalist Europhiles or alarmist anti-Muslim demagogues would have us believe. The knee-jerk reaction to Trump is instructive, neatly encapsulating how the former group unwittingly emboldens the latter.

The knee-jerk reaction to Trump is instructive, neatly encapsulating how the former group unwittingly emboldens the latter.

The experience of immigration to Sweden, which peaked four years ago at the height of the European migrant crisis, is not the wholly positive picture painted by media and political elites. That the country’s admirable desire to help would exceed its ability to do so, however, finally dawned in November of 2015, when the left-wing deputy prime minister tearfully announced that her government could no longer process any more refugees due to a simple lack of resources. Two months later, Sweden announced it would have to deport some 80,000 people.

It is not just the numbers of people that have overwhelmed Sweden but also, for lack of a better word, the type. About 22 per cent of Sweden’s population is composed of foreign-born and second-generation immigrants. Yet according to a new book by Tino Sanandaji, a Swedish economist of Kurdish Iranian origin, 53 per cent of the people in Sweden with long prison terms and 54 per cent of the unemployed hail from this demographic. Furthermore, 71 per cent of cases of child poverty exist in households of a foreign background and 76 per cent of gang members are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. According to Swedish journalist Tove Lifvendahl, “A parallel society is emerging where the state’s monopoly on law and order is being challenged.” In other words, Rinkeby is a “no go zone,” which, according to the great and the good, don’t exist. And lest there be any confusion, the foreign-born inhabitants of these neighborhoods are not Finns.

71 per cent of cases of child poverty exist in households of a foreign background and 76 per cent of gang members are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. 

“This type of criminality has become part of everyday life,” a local politician of Turkish descent recently wrote of the violence in Rinkeby. “The police don’t have control over the area. That’s not fake news.”

Talking honestly about such facts is very much a taboo in Swedish society; there’s even a term – åsiktskorridor, meaning “opinion corridor” – to describe the self-imposed code of silence adopted by the press and political elite. “When Swedish media reported that the overwhelming number of suspects in [the 2015 mass sexual assaults in Cologne] were migrants, it was a break with established guidelines: Unlike in Germany, media in Sweden only rarely report the ethnicity of suspected or even convicted criminals,” writes the Swedish journalist Paulina Neuding. She reports of a chill in Swedish society, with fewer women visiting community pools and other public venues due to a spate of sexual assaults by migrant males. Conspicuously missing from the strident defences of Sweden’s multiculturalist experiment is any perspective from the Jews of Malmö, those few who are left, anyway.

She reports of a chill in Swedish society, with fewer women visiting community pools and other public venues due to a spate of sexual assaults by migrant males.

Which brings us to the violent riots which erupted in that city nearly two years ago after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, when some 20 masked men descended upon a synagogue throwing Molotov cocktails as a youth group huddled in the basement, and a day prior, hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in the streets shouting things like, “we want our freedom back and we’re going to shoot the Jews”. Many in the cognoscenti tried to pin this violence on the American president and not the perpetrators. Presumably, Trump was also the cause of the mobs waving Hezbollah flags and shouting exterminationist slogans within walking distance of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

But let’s get real: Sweden’s problems have zero to do with Donald Trump. As Freddy Gelberg, a spokesman for Malmo’s beleaguered Jewish community, tells one local news outlet, “We are careful. You don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck or other Jewish symbols.”

Donald Trump is not to blame for Muslims re-enacting Kristallnacht on the streets of Amsterdam. Neither is Israel. Europeans are. In particular, Nazi Germany’s attempt to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem” has been followed by decades of nauseating indulgence of Arab and Muslim fantasies about wiping out Israel, and the assumption that every adverse development in the mostly one-sided “peace process” between Israel and the Arab world, and every real or imagined indignity visited upon any Palestinian by any Israeli – Arab offences against Palestinians or other Arabs don’t count – is a natural reason for people to attack and murder Jews anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Donald Trump is not to blame for Muslims re-enacting Kristallnacht on the streets of Amsterdam


Encouraging poor and disenfranchised Muslims to stew in hate propaganda so as to direct their resentments away from their lazy and corrupt rulers and towards “Zionists” is a threadbare trick that only people hardened by centuries of colonial administration could continue to play, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. Europe has grown rich through such grotesqueries, which also provide a convenient safety-valve for the social and economic dissatisfactions of the continent’s underclass along with a self-administered dose of exculpation for the mass extermination within living memory of the vast majority of Europe’s Jews in gas chambers and before firing squads.

Yet to obfuscate the ways in which Muslims are actually attacking Jews in Europe and the Middle East, fueled by hate-propaganda produced by other Muslims, is to engage in an equally dangerous species of denialism. Events such as those in Malmo and Berlin should spark a long-overdue, honest conversation about anti-Semitism in Europe, the sources of which people are too afraid to talk about – but should. The rise of nationalist movements across the continent in recent years has led many to assume that the far-right is mainly responsible for resurgent anti-Semitism. But the facts indicate that assumption is false: Anti-Semitic harassment in Europe is predominantly Muslim in origin, with leftists coming in a strong second place.

Events such as those in Malmo and Berlin should spark a long-overdue, honest conversation about anti-Semitism in Europe, the sources of which people are too afraid to talk about – but should.

“For many years, being Jewish in Denmark was not a problem,” a middle-aged Danish woman told the pollsters. “In this millennium, we have started to see threats, offending statements and [a] terrorist attack against persons characterised as Jews. The majority of these have been initiated by people of a Muslim background.” A man in his late 30s, also from Denmark, relates that, “One of the fundamentally biggest problems for Jews in Denmark is that we do not dare visibly show our Jewish identity in public, at school, at the gym, etc. for fear of anti-Semitic statements, unfortunately, in particular from our Muslim neighbors.” Being Jewish in Europe today sounds a lot like being gay not so long ago: a mandatorily closeted existence.

Being Jewish in Europe today sounds a lot like being gay not so long ago: a mandatorily closeted existence.

  

And yet for all their valid concerns about Muslim anti-Semitism, European Jews are not cottoning on to the anti-Muslim bromides on offer from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Le Pen, Dutch populist Geert Wilders and other right-wing nationalists who cast themselves as genuine friends of the Jewish people. Mindful that bigotry against one minority invariably leads to bigotry against others, 72 per cent of European Jews “express concern about increasing intolerance toward Muslims”; that is, they sympathise with the plight of the religious group from which the plurality of anti-Semitism, and all of the murderous anti-Semitism, originates.  

That this data is self-reported – that many European governments decline to publish statistics about the nature of the Jew-hatred they’re dealing with – indicates a reticence to discuss the role of Islam and Muslim immigration in the proliferation of anti-Semitism on the continent. Sometimes, as in the case of a 2014 firebombing of a synagogue in Germany, which a judge ruled not to be a hate crime but an act of political protest, authorities refuse to acknowledge the problem even exists.

Sometimes, as in the case of a 2014 firebombing of a synagogue in Germany, which a judge ruled not to be a hate crime but an act of political protest, authorities refuse to acknowledge the problem even exists.

The danger of governments and the press continuing to deny the reality of violent anti-semitism, and of the real dangers posed by large numbers of migrants from Muslim-majority countries without any real effort or ability to acculturate them to Western social and political norms, while blaming “the far right” and “neo-Nazis” alone for anti-semitism and attacks on Muslims, should be plain to any thinking person. While attempts to edit reality can make believers in Europe’s failed multicultural experiment feel better, they actually increase the power of the political movements they claim to abhor. Cordoning off discussion of “sensitive” topics from the realm of respectable debate is a large part of the reason why the second biggest party in Sweden is one with roots in the neo-Nazi movement and why a far right party has entered the German Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s.

In 2012, the European Fundamental Rights Agency asked Jews across Europe about their personal experiences of anti-Semitic incidents. Jews in France, Sweden, Germany and the UK overwhelmingly reported Muslims as the perpetrators. According to an analysis of the poll commissioned by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities and the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo, “Attitude surveys corroborate this picture in so far as anti-Semitic attitudes are far more widespread among Muslims than among the general population in Western Europe.” Practically all anti-Semitic murders (Paris 2006Toulouse 2012Brussels 2014Paris 2015Copenhagen 2015Paris 2017) in Europe have been committed by violent Islamists claiming to act in the name of Islam – and been applauded by countless Muslims worldwide on social media sites. And in all cases but Germany, the second-most frequent perpetrators of anti-Semitic harassment were reported to be leftists.

Practically all anti-Semitic murders (Paris 2006Toulouse 2012Brussels 2014Paris 2015Copenhagen 2015Paris 2017) in Europe have been committed by violent Islamists claiming to act in the name of Islam

Last year, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights launched its second survey on anti-Semitism. Interviewing some 16,500 individuals across 12 member states, it touted itself as “the biggest survey of Jewish people ever conducted worldwide.” According to “respondents who experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment in the past five years,” 30 per cent of the perpetrators were Muslim, 21 per cent were people espousing a left-wing view, and only 13 per cent expressed a right-wing view. 

The survey’s most arresting discovery is that a third of respondents have considered emigrating from Europe because they no longer feel safe there as Jews. A similar number say that they “at least occasionally avoid visiting Jewish events” out of fear for their personal safety. This problem is particularly acute in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish (and Muslim) population, where a slow-motion exodus has been underway since the deadly 2012 Islamist attack against a Jewish school in Toulouse took the lives of seven people, including a rabbi and his two children, aged 6 and 3. Subsequently, a pair of brutal murders (of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll and 67-year-old Sarah Halimi) shocked the world, and less severe anti-Semitic attacks on Jews are a near-daily occurrence in major French cities. Emigration is also increasingly on the minds of Jews in Britain, where 40 per cent say they would “seriously consider” leaving the country if Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-Semitic leader of the Labour Party, were to become prime minister.

Emigration is also increasingly on the minds of Jews in Britain, where 40 per cent say they would “seriously consider” leaving the country if Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-Semitic leader of the Labour Party, were to become prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, given the leadership profile of the country’s official opposition, left-wingers are responsible for a full quarter of anti-Semitic harassment in the United Kingdom, more than twice that of right-wingers and exceeded only by those whose views or religious background the victims could not describe. In Germany, where the absorption of over 1 million mostly Muslim migrants has propelled the nationalist Alternative für Deutschland into becoming the country’s third-largest political party, sparking fears of a right-wing revival in the historic home of national socialism, 41 per cent of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic harassment are reported to be Muslim and just 20 per cent right wing. 

Those tempted to look favorably upon the AfD for its tough stance on Islamism should be wary: While the AfD’s main scapegoats are Muslims, Jews aren’t far behind. This being Germany, however, AfD leaders must couch their anti-Semitism in ways that skillfully skirt the country’s stringent hate speech laws. Their anti-Semitism has thus taken the form of historical revisionism and attacks on Germany’s remembrance culture. The most fearsome example was a speech delivered by a regional party leader, rather fittingly, in a Dresden beer hall. “They wanted to cut off our roots and with the re-education that began in 1945, they nearly managed,” Björn Höcke declared about the Allies who occupied postwar Germany. “Until now, our mental state continues to be that of a totally defeated people. We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” he said, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which occupies an entire city block in central Berlin. Another AfD member set to enter parliament, Martin Hohmann, was expelled from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union in 2003 after delivering a speech wherein he disputed the notion that Germany is a “nation of perpetrators” by arguing that one could say the same about the Jews, who, after all, played a disproportionate role in the Bolshevik Revolution.

We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” he said, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

In 2017, party leader Alexander Gauland, another former CDU man, declared that “we have a right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.” (He had previously suggested that the country’s Turkish-born Commissioner for Immigration, Refugees and Integration be “disposed of” in Anatolia). After his party’s 2017 election victory, Gauland vowed to “hunt down” Merkel and her government, the German version of “Lock her up!” Throughout the campaign, supporters at AfD rallies cried that Merkel was a “traitor to the people,” a volksverräter, an elemental term of the Nazi “stab in the back” theory. Gauland has also referred to the Nazi era as but a mere “bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history”. To top it off, the party is anti-American, anti-NATO, and pro-Putin.

The success of the AfD complicates a major assumption about right-wing populism: That it is driven by economic distress. Unlike neighboring France, where decades-long, structural unemployment of ten per cent or higher has long provided a base of “left out” supporters for the National Front, Germany’s economy has been booming for years. When the AfD was an anti-Euro protest party, it barely registered. The drivers of its popularity are the twinned issues of immigration and national identity.

The success of the AfD complicates a major assumption about right-wing populism: That it is driven by economic distress.

The inability – real or perceived – of mainstream European political leaders and parties to control immigration and alleviate its negative consequences has simultaneously decreased popular backing for the European project and increased support for parties once deemed extremist. Neither of these developments bodes well for the future health of the liberal world order, which depends upon a strong, coherent European Union governed by mainstream parties committed to the Transatlantic alliance with the United States and a values-based foreign policy. Opposition to immigration correlates strongly with opposition to European integration, as membership in the European Union is increasingly perceived as entailing the opening up of a country’s borders to migrants not just from within the bloc but from outside Europe as well. In turn, voters are increasingly willing to overlook the illiberal tendencies of anti-immigration parties, a dangerous development.

Opposition to immigration correlates strongly with opposition to European integration, as membership in the European Union is increasingly perceived as entailing the opening up of a country’s borders to migrants

Additionally, opportunistic political leaders have been able to exploit the issue of immigration to advance broader, illiberal agendas. Take the Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Most of the international criticism directed at Hungary over the past nine years has focused on domestic indicators such as the rule of law, separation of powers and press freedom. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been remarkably blunt about his designs for Hungary, citing China, Russia and Turkey as models. Last April, after an election widely deemed free but not fair, he sounded a triumphal note, declaring that “the era of liberal democracy is over.”

Since Orban won re-election, however, his behavior has called into question – not only his democratic bona fides, but also his basic trustworthiness as an ally of the United States and member of the democratic Western world. Increasingly, Hungary is behaving like a rogue state.

Consider the actions that Orban and his Fidesz Party government have taken in the past year. At a recent meeting of NATO foreign ministers, the Hungarian envoy did his best to sabotage any improvement in relations between the Western alliance and Ukraine. As its excuse, the Budapest government is using a recent language-law reform in Ukraine that allegedly threatens the Hungarian-speaking minority. By exploiting such a frivolous issue to obstruct NATO support for Ukraine – whose land Russia seized in the first armed territorial annexation on the European continent since World War II – Hungary is doing Moscow’s bidding.

At a recent meeting of NATO foreign ministers, the Hungarian envoy did his best to sabotage any improvement in relations between the Western alliance and Ukraine.

Nor is this the first time that the Hungarians have done so. In late November, Hungary denied a US request to extradite a pair of Russian arms dealers who had attempted to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Mexican drug cartels. Instead of handing over the father-and-son weapons traffickers to a fellow NATO ally, Orban’s government allowed the men safe passage back to Russia.

Though Hungary formally supports European Union sanctions on Russia, Orban has been the most vociferous internal critic of the measures, frequently calling for them to be dropped. At a time when Europe has shunned Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggression against Ukraine and manifold other abuses, the Russian leader has made multiple, friendly visits to the Hungarian capital, where Orbán has embraced him. Today Hungary is considered by some in the intelligence world to be the main conduit for Russian influence-peddling within the Western alliance. “There is tremendous concern that Russia is basically using Hungary as an intel forward operating base in NATO and the EU,” a former official at the US Embassy in Budapest told Politico in 2017.

Orban has largely gotten away with all of this by skillfully appealing to conservative politicians, activists and intellectuals across the Western world with an anti-immigration, anti-E.U. mantra, and it is this message that has attracted Trump’s favor. Steve Bannon, Trump’s ex-consigliere and a longtime admirer of Orban, once referred to the Hungarian prime minister as “Trump before Trump”.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s ex-consigliere and a longtime admirer of Orban, once referred to the Hungarian prime minister as “Trump before Trump”.

But genuine conservatives, those who still believe in old-fashioned values such as limited government, individual rights and the rule of law, shouldn’t be fooled: Viktor Orban is not a democrat and he is working against America’s traditional interests in Europe.

Across Europe, the failure to control external immigration and the inability to fully integrate newcomers risk elevating into power parties that are not only nativist but also opposed to the liberal world order. To be sure, populist parties often exaggerate the downsides of immigration and scapegoat immigrants as terrorists and criminals. But to echo Ivan Krastev’s warning, “In democratic politics, perceptions are the only reality that matters.” If a perception exists among European voters that mainstream political leaders are unable or unwilling to control immigration, and if this perception festers, then political forces that would upset Europe’s postwar political, economic, and security settlement will gain strength.

Unfortunately, many European elites and commentators are taking the opposite tack, establishing a totalising, and false, dichotomy between proponents and opponents of liberal immigration policies that correlates perfectly with a dichotomy between proponents and opponents of liberal democracy itself. According to Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman, because “mass migration into Europe is unstoppable”, there today exists a “battle between nativists and liberals,” with the former waging an “all-out war on democracy and on migration” – as if a “war” on migration (by which Rachman presumably means a reduction in the numbers of immigrants) were in any way akin to dismantling democracy. A Politico op-ed by the Swedish Moderate Party MEP Anna Maria Corazza-Bildt that called upon the EPP to expel Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party was consumed almost entirely with complaints about his migration policies – policies which, however upsetting they are to Corazza-Bildt, are democratically legitimate and popular with the vast majority of Europeans, never mind Hungarians.

many European elites and commentators are taking the opposite tack, establishing a totalising, and false, dichotomy between proponents and opponents of liberal immigration policies 

In this age of noisy populist movements, many commentators tend to see anti-immigration sentiment as a threat to democracy itself. In Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury associates Trump and Brexit, phenomena largely driven by opposition to immigration, as part of a “nationalist, populist or even fascist tradition of politics.” in his new book, Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy, Sasha Polakow-Suransky argues that restricting immigration inevitably leads to the death of democracy itself. “What if, in reaction to the challenges of mass migration, liberal democracies abandon their constitutional principles and adopt exclusionary policies that erode their long-standing commitment to human rights?” he asks. “There could come a day when, even in wealthy Western nations, liberal democracy ceases to be the only game in town.”

“There could come a day when, even in wealthy Western nations, liberal democracy ceases to be the only game in town.”

But do these arguments really make sense? The conflation of liberal values (in the classical sense of the term) with a liberal stance on immigration mistakes a policy preference (one I happen to share) for a first principle. An economic migrant wanting to enter a country does not have a “right” to do so in the same way that a citizen of that country has a right to free speech. If 99.9 per cent of a country’s population wanted to abridge the free speech rights of a particularly unpopular citizen, or deny him legal representation before a court of law, it would be a clear violation of liberal democratic principles to follow through on their desires.

The same can hardly be said of policies that restrict (or even shut down entirely) immigration. A liberal immigration regime is not a prerequisite of a democratic society, yet such a society is almost unimaginable without press freedom, judicial independence or representative government. If anything, it is the failure of elites to recognise this distinction – and not restrictions on immigration – that may ultimately lead to the death of democracy.

Leaders such as Trump, Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orban should worry supporters of liberal democracy not for their opposition to immigration but rather because they are hostile to basic liberal values, including pluralism, a free press, separation of powers and democratic alliances. Immigration policies widely derided as “populist” (which, in the US context, can include the mere enforcement of existing immigration law) are actually quite popular. (They often also happen to be legal.) There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic, for example, in Trump’s travel ban, falsely dubbed a “Muslim ban” by activists in spite of its inapplicability to the vast majority of the world’s Muslims. What “erodes our democracy” is not Trump’s ban – however misguided – but criminalising the policy preferences of a democratically elected president.

There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic, for example, in Trump’s travel ban, falsely dubbed a “Muslim ban” by activists in spite of its inapplicability to the vast majority of the world’s Muslims.

Progressives who seriously want to defend liberal democracy should stop condemning those who disagree with them on immigration. Uncritical support for wide-open borders is a major reason for the collapse of social democracy in Europe, as traditional center-left voters have flocked to populist, anti-immigration parties, which are often the only ones offering reasonable limits on immigration.

But the conflation of liberal immigration policy with the liberal world order is becoming a disaster for both. One risk of associating liberal immigration policies with both the liberal world order and its component parts (of which the European Union is a major one) is that it can taint the latter in the minds of voters. It also plays right into the hands of proto-authoritarians like Orbán, who has instrumentalised widespread anti-migration sentiment into hostility against liberal democracy writ large. “Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration,” he said in the summer of 2018, as the European Union debated various migration policy proposals. Contra Orbán, liberal democracy is not inherently “pro-immigration.” But given the rhetoric and behavior of many of its leading practitioners, it’s not hard to see why many voters would fall for this simplistic rendering.

If the European debate over migration is framed as one between the Willkommenskultur of Angela Merkel and the harsher position adopted by Viktor Orbán and his ilk, then it is the latter, unfortunately, who will win. The optimal immigration and refugee policy – one that balances a commitment to humanitarian concerns with an alertness towards the negative consequences that high numbers of poorly educated migrants from vastly different societies can bring – lies somewhere in between. But for that policy to be achieved, the terms of the immigration debate have to change. In the words of Ahmed Mansour, an immigrant to Germany, the conversation in his adopted land has become one between the “overly tolerant and panic-mongers”. Out of a desire not to aid the far right, many Germans choose to ignore issues like migrant criminality and attack anyone who does draw attention to them as crypto-fascist. “I would like to hear criticism of Ms. Merkel’s refugee policies from places other than the AfD. I want to hear it from the centre of society, too. Differentiated. What did Germany get right in 2015? What did we get wrong? Differentiation has eluded us because the fear of serving those on the Right has become so great that we wind up doing so anyway by making the issue taboo.”

for that policy to be achieved, the terms of the immigration debate have to change.

The task for Europe’s centrist parties on matters of national identity and immigration, then, must be to better represent the views of their constituents. This is a particular duty of Center-Right and Christian Democratic parties, whose traditional role in postwar Europe has been the articulation of a healthy patriotism and national sentiment. In many European nations, large pluralities or even majorities believe that most immigrants coming to their country are not refugees or asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution (in which case Europe has a legal duty to shelter them) but rather economic migrants. Considering the 2016 statement by EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans that 60 per cent of the people entering the bloc at the time were indeed economic migrants, they are not wrong in this assumption. Political leaders must therefore be more discriminating in how they apply the terms “refugee” and “economic migrant,” as a continued blurring of the clear, legal distinction between the two will only play into the hands of populists who would completely deny entrance to both.

Political leaders must therefore be more discriminating in how they apply the terms “refugee” and “economic migrant

The vast majority of Europeans want drastic decreases in immigration. Eventually, they are going to get it. (Indeed, the British people already have, and did so via a political means in a way that was once considered inconceivable – voting to leave the European Union.) Who will deliver this policy goal to them? Voters don’t necessarily support populist parties’ worrisome views on Russia, judicial independence, press freedom or NATO, but they tend to give much higher priority to concrete, migration-related issues (including crime and national identity). 

Addressing popular concerns about the consequences of immigration, such as the pace of cultural change, doesn’t mean that those of us who favor immigration must automatically approve sealing off all borders. It does mean that we need to make some serious concessions. For if every move to restrict immigration (like abolishing the visa lottery in the United States, whereby tens of thousands of applicants are randomly given citizenship every year, regardless of their skills or ability to assimilate) or to strengthen borders (like building a wall along the southern US border) or to discourage further migratory waves (such as those employed by Denmark) is portrayed as a concession to fascism, then the only people who benefit will be fascists. Liberal democracy has enough enemies at the moment. Liberal democrats should stop making new ones.

Addressing popular concerns about the consequences of immigration, such as the pace of cultural change, doesn’t mean that those of us who favor immigration must automatically approve sealing off all borders.

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