Readers who take the time to send their questions, praise, and even criticism to our Inbox perform a great service to the editorial board and our staff of talented writers.
While readers can and do get upset if they don’t see their letters published, sometimes we just don’t have the space. On other occasions, the letters are so incisive, they require the writer or editor to go back to the drawing board and either question some of their original assumptions or do further research.
That’s exactly what happened to me on Sunday, when I received a letter from a reader, Michael Hoffman, who grew up in Sweden and questioned the propriety of my recent interview — A Few Minutes With…Kent Ekeroth, a member of a far-right political party in Sweden. Mr. Hoffman wrote as follows:
“The Swedish Democrats is a far-right racist party which is becoming more popular lately due to its opposition to Sweden’s liberal immigration policies and the fight against Islamization of Swedish society. The party he represents is a racist party with anti-Semitic undertones. The party is anti-schechitah and has on its agenda (under the guise of animal welfare) the total ban of imports of shechted kosher meat, and also, the party wants to outlaw circumcision of boys that are under-age, meaning that circumcision would be allowed only for men above the age of 18 who have chosen to have the procedure done. Is this the kind of person that should be given a platform in Mishpacha?
He raises a valid point. There is genuine debate as to whether the far-right parties that are rising in Europe are “good” or “bad” for the Jews.
Far-right parties have fascist roots, like the Nazis did in Germany. Many of Europe’s far-right parties today have members who are openly neo-Nazi, or neo-Fascist, and rose to prominence riding anti-Semitic sentiment, which has since been supplanted by anti-Islamism. Since radical Islam is clearly a major threat in today’s world, some Jews have taken solace that such parties will help them to fight a common enemy. Other Jews wouldn’t get near these parties, for fear that if the radical Islamic threat should be defeated, or abate, the parties will quickly return to their anti-Jewish roots.
We touched on this issue about three months ago in a short Jewish Geography piece written by Jean-Yves Camus, our correspondent in Paris, a renowned expert on European right-wing groups.
I asked Mr. Camus his opinion of Mr. Hoffman’s contention. He says that he, too, gets criticism for interviewing far-right politicians. While noting that the Swedish Democrats have dropped the neo-Nazi militants from their party and ceased their anti-Jewish propaganda, Mr. Camus does not trust their new course, yet he feels that Ekeroth is sincere and should be entitled to have his views known within the Jewish communities in Sweden and abroad.
Taking the opposite approach was one of my highly placed sources at a leading European Orthodox Jewish organization.
He told me that he generally opposes giving these groups a platform if doing so would make them appear more mainstream and thus more electable.
He contends that the litmus test for an Orthodox publication should be tactical rather than ideological. He would pose the following questions:
How does the local Jewish community relate to them? Do they refrain from contact because they pose a direct danger to Jews or because official acceptance of them would demobilize support for the Jewish community? In the current climate, is it politically dangerous for the Jewish community to be seen as allied with them? If so, one must be wary of taking stances abroad, which could directly impact negatively on local Jews.
Taking these expert opinions into account, the question I now pose to myself is, would I interview Mr. Ekeroth, and others like him again?
Certainly, each case has to be considered on its own merits or demerits.
I don’t think that I would have taken the party’s internal stances on shechitah or circumcision into account. In Sweden, the law banning shechitah was instituted more than fifty years before the Swedish Democrats came into existence. I would expect that most political parties, right, left or center would support such a longstanding law, or else they would have repealed it by now. Similarly, I would not refrain from interviewing a Democrat just because his party takes abhorrent stances on issues of family values.
On the other hand, it behooves us to always keep in mind the impact our words may have on our fellow Jews who live under great duress in countries where the political climate, and even significant segments of the population, are hostile to us.
Will our interviews and news reports help or hurt them? Will it give them chizuk, or make them more fearful?
These are weighty issues and considering the pen can be mightier than the sword, we always have to remember the dictum of our Sages that a wise man is one who is prescient.