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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2000 /1 Adar I, 5760

Don Feder

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Danger of ceding the immigration issue to demagogues -- THE RISE OF JOERG HAIDER, whose Freedom Party became part of an Austrian coalition government sworn in on Friday, demonstrates what can happen when legitimate politicians cede the immigration issue to clever demagogues.

The son of Nazis, Haider insists he's a reform-minded democrat. But every so often he says something nice about the nightmare years (the Waffen S.S. were "decent people of good character"), lapsing into a comic-opera goose step.

Still, his party didn't come in second in voting last October because Austrians long to go back to the beer hall. Unlike Berlin, neo-Nazis do not march in the streets of Vienna and the homes of Turkish migrants aren't firebombed.

By exploiting reasonable concerns about immigration, the Freedom Party went from 5 percent of the national vote in 1986 to 27 percent in 1999. If there's another election anytime soon, it would probably come in first. Israel, which is in the process of handing over a sizable chunk of its territory to Yasser Arafat (whose official press reads like Der Stuermer), frets about the Freedom Party but is nonchalant about a Palestinian state on its doorstep.

Socialists who dominate the European Union are outraged and propose a diplomatic boycott of Austria. Opposition to open immigration threatens their dream of a Europe without borders or nationalities, ruled by an international bureaucracy.

If Austrians balk at this, they are not alone. Within days of Haider's electoral triumph, the anti-immigration People's Party came in first in Swiss parliamentary elections.

Throughout Western Europe, there is rising resentment to Third World immigration and the crime, poverty and lessening of national identity that follow in its wake.

Milan is famous for its cosmopolitanism. But with 100,000 illegal aliens living in the northern Italian city, and as many as 1,200 illegals landing daily on the shores of southern Italy, the welcome mat is threadbare.

Foreign gangs fight turf wars over drugs and prostitution. (The country's largest newspaper estimates that over 80 percent of Italy's prostitutes are foreigners.) A public backlash has given the anti-immigrant Northern League control of four provisional governments.

Socialist parties feel the sting of resurgent nationalism. Last year, when newly elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder proposed liberalizing Germany's immigration laws, the opposition Christian Democrats swept to power in the German state of Hesse.

Americans, too, cast fearful glances at their porous borders. A substantial majority believes that instead of a melting pot fusing immigrants with the dominant culture, it's America that's dissolving. In a September 1999 Pew Research poll, 72 percent strongly favored new restrictions on immigration.

Pat Buchanan, candidate for the Reform Party nomination, warned that if America continues on its current course "it could rapidly become a country with no common language, no common culture, no common memory and no common identity."

According to the Census Bureau, America now has 25.8 million foreign born (almost 10 percent of the population), more than at any point in our history. Many are hard-working, patriotic Americans. But many more have no desire to assimilate.

In 1970, 58 percent of immigrants who'd lived here 10 to 14 years had become citizens. Despite dumbed-down citizenship tests and ethnic lobbies eager to increase their influence, by 1997, that figure had fallen to 30 percent. Fewer and fewer immigrants feel any affinity for America. Democrats, whose party is driven by alienated minorities, embrace the alien tidal wave.

Other than a ritualistic recitation of their opposition to illegal immigration, Republicans hide from the issue. When the town of El Cenizo, Texas, adopted Spanish as its official language and threatened to fire municipal employees who cooperate with the INS, Gov. George Bush couldn't bring himself to condemn either action.

Buchanan is the only potential presidential candidate of any party who's willing to face reality.

When sensible people wonder whether America will end up looking like the U.N. General Assembly (without simultaneous translations), the establishment cries "racist" and "xenophobe." This impedes a rational discussion of a matter on which our national future hinges and gives fringe parties an opportunity to claim the issue as their own.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate