By Leon Hadar
Whenever The New York Times profiles Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National (FN) which is the third-largest political party in France, it always takes care to remind readers that her father and the founder of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, flirted with fascism and occasionally made anti-Semitic remarks.
Although the FN now includes Jewish members and has won the support of Jewish voters, Le Pen is still asked by media to distance herself from anti-Semitic sentiments and express her support for Israel.
The media also presses other leaders of right-wing political parties in Europe, that in many cases evolved out of radical nationalist and fascist movements, to unequivocally renounce anti-Semitism. After all, the shadows of World War II and the Holocaust continue to hang over Europe, and the views of politicians on these issues remain relevant topics of discussion.
Thus, the emergence of the radical nationalist movement Jobbik, described by critics as neo-fascist and anti-Semitic, as Hungary’s third largest political party, generated wide coverage in the European and American media. Similarly, after the anti-immigration Freedom Party in Austria, whose then-leader Jorg Haider once referred to the “decent employment policy” of Nazi Germany, emerged from the 1999 legislative election as Austria’s third largest party and joined the governing coalition, Western media warned of the re-birth of fascism in Austria. The Israeli government threatened to recall its ambassador from Vienna.
Yet, after the overthrow of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, and the coming to power of a new Ukrainian government, Israel’s ambassador in Kiev opened a “hotline” with Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist movement and paramilitary group, which joined the new government.
Ukraine’s Right Sector, which has been compared to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement, identifies itself with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought alongside the Axis forces in World War II.
But as political scientist David C. Hendrickson pointed out in the National Interest, The New York Times and other elite American media reported on the composition of the new Ukrainian government without mentioning that key cabinet portfolios were now in the hands of representatives of Right Sector and of the Svoboda party. Svoboda was founded in 1991 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine and adopted the “I + N” Wolfsangel logo, a symbol popular among neo-Nazi groups. Although the movement changed its name and abandoned the symbol, Svoboda has been described as anti-Semitic and sometimes as neo-Nazi by European newspapers and Jewish organizations.
One can only imagine what would have happened if political parties with the history and ideology of Right Sector or Svoboda had joined the Croatian or Slovak governments. The New York Times would have run front-page reports on neo-Nazi politicians occupying power in Warsaw or Bratislava, the US Congress would probably have considered punitive actions against the two countries, and Israel would have threatened the suspension of diplomatic relations.
Instead, the anti-government demonstrations at Kiev’s Maidan Square, that brought about the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and the appointment of a new government, were described in the American media as part of a liberal-democratic and pro-Western insurgency, driven by social media and led by “cool” students and yuppie types, aimed at distancing Ukraine from its Soviet past and pulling it into the European Union (EU). Only occasional reference was made to “right-wing extremists” who were supposedly trying to jump on the winning political bandwagon.
According to an investigation by the N + 1 magazine, as the protests continued, “some supporters of the protests began to worry that talk of right-wing groups was giving Maidan a bad name,” leading a group of Ukrainian, Russian, and Western scholars to circulate “a strange petition urging Western media outlets to stop talking about the right-wing groups.”
The direction of the American media coverage of Maidan and ensuing events is a combination of a historical approach to this and other political crises and intellectual laziness on the part of American reporters that discourage them from looking beyond the Good Guys vs. Bad Guys narrative.[…]