U.S. Politicians Warmly Greet Reactionary Dutch Islamophobe
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The IFPS's vice president Paul Belien is married to Vlaams Belang MP Alexandra Colen, and has been a fierce defender of the party against its critics.
And in 2007, Hedegaard and Belien -- along with IFPS board members Bat Ye'or, Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, and Sam Solomon -- appeared with VB leader Filip Dewinter at the CounterJihad conference in Brussels. Although "the VB did not organize the conference, it provided an important part of the logistics and the security of those attending," according to Belien.
These VB ties among some of Wilders's most important backers may raise difficulties for the politician, who has taken care to differentiate himself from far-right leaders such as Jean-Marie Le Pen of France and the late Joerg Haider of Austria. In particular, they may complicate his efforts to market himself to mainstream Jewish groups, which have traditionally been suspicious of the European far right due to its reputation for anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies.
"My allies are not Le Pen or Haider," Wilders told the Guardian in 2008. "I'm very afraid of being linked with the wrong rightist fascist groups". However, this past December he told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that he would consider an alliance with the VB.
The VB is the successor to the Vlaams Blok, the Flemish secessionist party that was banned by Belgian authorities in 2004 for violating the country's racism and xenophobia laws.
The party's defenders reject the characterization of the VB as far right or neo-fascist. "The implication that Vlaams Belang is somehow neo-Nazi or racist is salacious," Geller told IPS. "They are the only party in Belgium that is staunchly pro-Israel."
VB leaders have insisted that their party is philo-Semitic and free of neo-Nazi elements, but Belgian Jewish groups have criticized the party for failing to sufficiently dissociate itself from Nazi sympathizers and other extremists.
The party's outreach to Jews has also been hindered by the December 2008 conviction of senior VB leader Roeland Raes on charges of Holocaust denial.
The party has drawn a great deal of criticism even from figures known for being outspoken critics of Islam. Former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, now a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, has called for the VB to be banned, saying that "it hardly differs from the Hofstad [terrorist] group" and that its "way of thinking will lead straight to genocide."
Charles Johnson of the widely-read conservative blog Little Green Footballs has been a particularly harsh critic of the VB, which he calls "neo-fascist." He has also warned of "the incredible amount of support for the Vlaams Belang among U.S. white power and neo-Nazi groups."
While no one is accusing Wilders or his backers of anti-Semitism, the VB connection illustrates the difficulties involved in forging a transatlantic coalition against Islam. Many of the most influential critics of Islam in the U.S. are neoconservatives, such as Pipes and Gaffney, who are also strongly pro-Israel; by contrast, anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe is often manifested in far-right parties whose views are anathema to much of the U.S. population, particularly Jews.
Wilders's success and influence will likely depend on how well he can straddle the two camps, retaining his popular base of support in Europe while cultivating right-wing elites in the U.S.
Thursday's event at the Senate was an important step for Wilders, and may have helped legitimize him in the eyes of U.S. conservatives. Sen. Kyl, who hosted the event, shares with Wilders a hard-line stance on immigration issues; he is also an honorary co-chairman of the neoconservative organization Committee on the Present Danger.