Anti-Semitism in Europe: A Growing Danger Lawrence Grossman
â€œ Nearly one-third of European Jews have considered emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country.â€? EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (2012)
Lawrence Grossman is AJC Publications Director
International Holocaust Memorial was marked across Europe on January 27, the date of Day Auschwitz’s liberation. There were somber memorial gatherings, scholarly symposia and statements by political and religious leaders pledging to prevent anything like the Holocaust from ever happening again. The night before, however, a scheduled anti-government march in Paris quickly turned into an anti-Semitic rally. Thousands—police reported 17,000, the organizers 100,000—were in the crowd, an unknown number of them shrieking anathema on the Jews: “Jews, France is not yours!” “Jews, get out of France!” “Israel out of Europe!” “Piss off Jew, France is not for you!” Observers noted that those chanting against the Jews were predominantly young. Many were clearly of Arab or African background, and others, who were white, appeared to be right-wing skinheads.
Watch this chilling video clip.
Click on the images throughout this report for more information.
European Anti-Semitism Clearly, neither the historical fact of the Holocaust, which demonstrated that anti-Semitic rhetoric could lead to mass slaughter, nor International Holocaust Memorial Day, created to etch that truth into public consciousness, had eliminated rabid Jew-hatred from the continent of Europe.
“I thought that the memory of the Holocaust would shame those boasting anti-Semitic opinions. I was wrong.”
E l i e W i e s el
Equally worrisome, at the highest European leadership level at least one prominent voice sought to divest Holocaust memory of its specifically Jewish resonance and transform it into a boilerplate plea for tolerance. “We honor every one of those brutally murdered in the darkest period of European history,” said Lady Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, on Holocaust Memorial Day. “It is an occasion to remind us all of the need to continue fighting prejudice and racism in our own time.” No mention
of Jews, airbrushing away the Nazi fixation on eliminating the Jewish people—the very essence of the Holocaust—and in the process ever so subtly reducing the shocking display of anti-Semitism on the streets of Paris to the dimensions of garden-variety prejudice. To be sure, nowhere in Europe have Jews been deprived of their civil rights or their livelihoods. Yet they worry about a rising tide of antiSemitism. The EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) issued a report last November of Jewish perceptions and experiences in eight countries that collectively contain more than 90% of the EU’s Jewish population. Two-thirds of the Jews said that anti-Semitism was a serious problem, and three-quarters believed that it had gotten worse over the previous five years. A quarter of the respondents had experienced anti-Semitic harassment of some kind—primarily verbal, in the mail or over the internet—though only 4% had been subjected to physical violence. More than three-quarters of the Jews who had been harassed did not contact the police, believing that it would do no good. Close to 40% do not go out of their houses wearing symbols of their Jewishness for fear of trouble, and 23% said they stay away from Jewish events for the same reason. Nearly a third of the sample said that the rise of anti-Semitism had made them consider emigration. The FRA report showed particularly high rates of Jewish concern in France, Belgium and Hungary.
62% of Jews feel they are
always or frequently blamed for something done by the Israeli government.
58% of Jews believe the Arab-Israeli conflict has impacted their safety.
60% of Jews worry about being physically attacked because they are Jews.
Nearly 50% of Jews avoid wearing items in public that would identify them as Jewish.
91% of Jews feel
anti-Semitism in the country has increased in the past five years.
42% of Jews have heard or seen
statements by non-Jews alleging that Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes.
All statistics above are derived from a survey conducted in 2012 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. Click on the images above for illustrative stories from each country.
Why is Anti-Semitism resurfacing in Europe precisely now?
There are a number of reasons. One is the massive influx of Muslimsâ€”six million live in France alone, ten times the number of Jews there. Also, the fading hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are widely blamed on Israelâ€™s continued control of and building on the West Bank, and local Jews are seen as Israeli surrogates. And the economic downturn that began in 2008 has hit certain countries especially hard, triggering a feeling of helplessness among the
ow? n y Wh im Musl
poor and unemployed, encouraging the search for scapegoats, and providing opportunities for demagogues. Anoth-
er factor of immense importance is the proliferation of ing Grow tion la digital and social media. Extremists who would have popu opes ed h h s i n East Dimi had no impact when people got their news in print or iddle M r fo e on radio or television can now reach millions via their peac nturn dow c i om websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube. Econ ital g i d of edia Rise cial m o s and
Since neo-Nazism is a fringe phenomenon in Europe, where is this anti-Semitism coming from?
While Nazi policies against the Jews were the most devastating and far-reaching ever devised, the history of anti-Semitism in Europe shows great variety and complexity. Targeting Jews has served many different purposes over the years. The very term “anti-Semitism,” for instance, was coined in 1879 to denote a new form of opposition to Jews not rooted in Christianity, but rather in the Jews’ alleged control over the economy and the government. At various times, Jew-haters have said that Jews are clannish or money-hungry or killed Jesus, that they are the bearers of capitalism, of modernity, of socialism or communism, that they are disloyal to their government, undermine civilization, plot—as Elders of Zion—to take over the world, or to racially pollute the populace. The specific arguments of anti-Semites tell us more about their fears and insecurities than about the Jews. Today as well, anti-Semitism in democratic Europe comes in a number of varieties, some transparent, others more subtle. Four distinct forms of the phenomenon are readily discernable. And despite ideological differences, those espousing the different anti-Jewish causes will sometimes cooperate with each other against the common enemy.
Where is this anti-Semitism coming from? Nationalist Movements
Arab and Muslim Population
Most similar to the prewar anti-Semitic groups are the extreme nationalist political movements that spew xenophobia and hint darkly at Jewish control of their countries. The most significant of these are the Jobbik party in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece.
In Western Europe, much of the antagonism to Jews comes from certain elements in the growing Arab and Muslim population, which is itself the victim of discrimination on the part of the majority society. In the FRA report, 27% of Jews who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment said the perpetrators had “Muslim extremist views,” more than any other group cited.
Jobbik has gained entry into the European Parliament, and in the last Hungarian elections espoused a strongly anti-Roma agenda. It drew inspiration from the fascist Arrow Cross movement of World War II and brought anti-Semitic invective into the halls of Parliament. In Greece, the Golden Dawn party exploited the economic crisis to draw support and folded antiSemitic conspiracy theories into its thuggish agenda. Despite a government crackdown that has declared the party a criminal enterprise, its leaders are reorganizing it under a new name in order to run again in coming elections. Significantly, its anti-Jewish message is hardly confined to the extreme right: a leader of the main opposition party of the left, Syriza, recently charged that the prime minister, in cooperation with world Jewry, was planning “a new Hanukkah against the Greeks.”
It is people of Arab and Muslim origin who constitute much of the mass following for Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the black comedian in France who has become the public face of antiSemitism in that country and beyond, and whose “Quenelle” gesture has become an anti-Semitic calling-card. There are disturbing indications that elements of the extreme right wing in Western Europe, who generally oppose the influx of Arabs, are ready to make common cause with them against alleged malign Jewish influence. Dieudonné himself, for example, is on excellent terms with the xenophobic Jean-Marie Le Pen, who famously described the Holocaust as a mere “detail” of history.
Opposition to Jewish Religious Practices
Antagonism toward Jews in Europe because of their real or purported association with Israel encompasses a much broader sector of the population than just the Muslim community. Local Jews are often held responsible for the policies of the Israeli government, such as construction activity in the West Bank settlements and security-based restrictions on the movements of Palestinians. These and other Israeli measures are imputed to European Jews, creating pressure on them to explicitly distance themselves from Israel or suffer the consequences.
There are organized movements in Europe to severely limit or ban two Biblically-based Jewish religious practices, kosher slaughter and infant circumcision.
Europeans who engage in such Israel-bashing, or who go further and question the legitimacy of Zionism and the Jewish state, will often indignantly deny they are anti-Semitic. But singling out Israel for condemnation when other countries get a free pass for far worse actions suggests anti-Semitic bias, whether conscious or not. As the Belgian writer Jean Amery put it, â€œanti-Zionism contains anti-Semitism like a cloud contains a storm.â€?
Several countries have outlawed kosher slaughter, Poland being the most recent. The anti-circumcision cause made headlines in Germany when a local judge ruled against the practice, and action by the federal parliament was needed to override the decision. Those working against kosher slaughter and circumcision claim to be doing so for laudable reasons: preventing unnecessary pain to animals, in the first case, and avoiding bodily mutilation when the subject is too young to give consent, in the second. Whatever their motives, they are surely aware that what they advocate would raise serious obstacles to the practice of Judaism, and make their countries far less hospitable to Jewish life. Indeed, restrictions on these rituals threaten Islam as well, which requires halal slaughter and circumcision. Ironically, while European Muslims are often the source of anti-Jewish agitation, on this score Muslims and Jews are in the same boat, facing serious challenges to the exercise of their respective faiths. And even if those pressing for legal bans on these practices are not motivated by antagonism toward Judaism or Islam, the heated public discussion they have triggered frequently evokes strongly anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Addressing the Issue There is no simple solution to this complex problem, only multiple strategies to address its varied manifestations. Government leaders must speak out forthrightly against anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric, and strictly enforce laws against hate speech whether delivered in person, in writing or on the internet. At the same time— LD SHOU T A H W ? E BE DON ut and this is no easy matter—care must be taken to avoid makpeak o s t s u rs m ing anti-Semitic leaders into heroes and martyrs in the eyes s Leade he law force t
fety the sa e r u s n E of curity ns and se stitutio in h is Jew etter Offer b f ation o explan m and Zionis us religio Jewish es practic
of their followers. Municipal, regional and national lawenforcement agencies should inform the public that they will carefully monitor and fully investigate all complaints of anti-Semitic harassment, and prosecute the guilty parties to the fullest extent of the law. In 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) issued a Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which sought to clarify connections between some types of opposition to Israel and anti-
Semitism. It was subsequently adopted by the U.S. Department of State and by Parliamentary Commissions in Canada and the UK. It stated that while criticizing Israel in the same ways other countries were criticized was perfectly legitimate, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” imposing double standards on Israel “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” imputing “symbols and images associated with classical anti-Semitism” to
Israel, comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel” cross the line into anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, FRA, the successor agency to the EUMC, has dropped the definition from its website along with other EUMC documents. But its usefulness is still undeniable, and it should continue to be used.
“I call upon all the people in this country to show their civil courage and ensure that no form of anti-Semitism is tolerated.”
G e r m an C h an c ello r A ngela Me r k el
In addition, Israel and pro-Israel organizations must do a better job of interpreting Zionism and the policies of the State of Israel to the people of Europe, while international Jewish groups should similarly explicate the religious significance of infant circumcision and the kosher laws, and show that the alleged harm they cause is negligible if not illusory. And while neither economic and social dislocation nor political grievances can possibly justify acts of bigotry, policies that ease the acculturation of Arab and Muslim residents into their societies and serious movement toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also help reduce manifestations of anti-Semitism in Europe.
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