LONDON — A day barely goes by in the British press without a story about Nigel Farage, the leader of the far-right UK Independence Party, or UKIP. Even more so since the party’s success in recent by-elections that were held after two Conservative MPs — from the party of Prime Minister David Cameron — defected to UKIP.
Often photographed with glass of beer in one hand, cigarette in the other and leaning against a bar, Farage used to be thought of with a fair amount of hilarity. But he has been able to build UKIP from a joke party to a political force the mainstream parties are having to take seriously. And he’s done it by appealing, with great charm, to many voters’ gut instincts against immigration and Britain’s membership in the European Union — even though he is himself a member of the European Parliament.
Earlier this month, Farage went on a London radio station phone-in to speak out against anti-Semitism, for whose rise in Britain and Europe he blamed Muslims. He had, he said, “detected quite a sharp rise in anti-Semitism, not just in this country, but across the rest of Europe too. What’s fueling it is that there are many more Muslim voices, and some of those Muslim voices are deeply, deeply, critical of Israel. In fact, some of them even question the right of Israel to exist as a nation.”
‘I feel that we’re not being strong enough at times in defending the rights of the Jewish people to have a homeland because we worry that we’ll offend another group of people in the country’
Farage went further, accusing Prime Minister Cameron’s government, in this context, of “always being frightened to say something for fear of causing offense to someone else.”
He said Israel and Jews “often get conflated.” Nevertheless, he said, “I feel that we’re not being strong enough at times in defending the rights of the Jewish people to have a homeland because we worry that we’ll offend another group of people in the country.”
Exploiting a certain fear of “the other,” UKIP’s leader may have been hoping to get Jewish votes in next May’s general election. As if to underline this, Farage made an appearance at a UKIP Friends of Israel meeting at Westminster last week.
But when asked via a series of written questions by this reporter of what he thought Britain ought to be doing in practical terms to support Israel, and how UKIP would deal with the renewed rise in the anti-Semitism, the office of Farage’s party at the European Parliament in Brussels had no response.
Perhaps someone in UKIP woke up to the fact that Farage’s financial lifeline in Brussels runs through Robert Iwaszkiewicz, a far-right Polish member whose party’s founder has highly controversial views on the Holocaust.
An unholy alliance
Farage’s Eurosceptic bloc in the European Parliament is called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). Of the 48 members of the European Parliament registered with EFDD, more than half are UKIP members, but European parliamentary groups are required to have at least 25 MEPs from seven different countries to maintain funding.
When a Latvian member of the EFDD resigned in late October, Farage stood to lose about £1 million ($1.56 million) a year in funding.
To save his bloc, Farage signed an alliance with the Polish Congress of the New Right, a party which even France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen has rejected as too extreme. Congress of the New Right founder Janusz Korwin-Mikke has been widely quoted in the media for saying that “Adolf Hitler was probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated.”
The deal, approved by Korwin-Mikke, allowed Polish Congress MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz to replace the Latvian and thus permit Farage to continue claiming the EU funds.
Post-alliance, a triumphant Farage stated, “EU Federalists will be sitting in a corner somewhere slowly rocking, muttering the words ‘please make the Eurosceptics go away’ over and over.”
In an October interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Korwin-Mikke spoke of a “Holocaust industry.” He said: “If someone tries to get property which doesn’t belong directly to him, he should not get it. We are against returning property that belonged to one Jew, to another Jew. It is a Holocaust industry.”
“Jews are very talented people and therefore are our worst enemies because they are talented Communists. That is why the Poles have a specific image of Jews. They don’t know the real Jews, only the Communist ones who stayed here,” said Korwin-Mikke.
In reaction to Korwin-Mikke’s statements, Rafal Pankowski, an executive member of the Polish anti-racist group Never Again, told the Guardian, “The Congress of the New Right’s leaders and leading members have often used anti-Semitic stereotypes in their discourse and used the phrase ‘Jewish Communism’ many times in speeches and articles.”
Farage’s new member, Iwaszkiewicz, has not sought to distance himself from or repudiate his party leader’s views.
Unsurprisingly, the Farage-Iwaszkiewicz alliance doesn’t sit well with British Jewry.
‘For UKIP to choose such a figure as Robert Iwaskiewicz as a bedfellow – apparently for money – is beyond belief’
Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council, a charitable umbrella organization, recently held talks with one of UKIP’s two ex-Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell, who assured the JLC that his support for Israel remained strong even though he now sits in the House of Commons with UKIP. But the Board of Deputies of British Jews, elected representatives from UK Jewish communities, refused to join the talks in protest at UKIP’s continuing association with the Polish party.
“For UKIP to choose such a figure as Robert Iwaskiewicz as a bedfellow – apparently for money – is beyond belief. Nigel Farage has some very serious questions to answer, he has placed in issue the credibility of UKIP,” Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush told the Jewish Chronicle.