The New Anti-Semitism in Western Europe
Over the past two years the specter of anti-Semitism has spread over that part of peaceful, democratic, and law-abiding Europe that prides itself on the high degree of safety it affords its inhabitants. While anti-Semitism never fully disappeared from Europe's social and political scene after the Holocaust, the current upsurge stands out as exceptional in the number of incidents recorded and the insecurity experienced by the one million Jews who live in Western Europe. The new trend is characterized not only by an increase in anti-Jewish violence-arson against Jewish institutions, swastikas on synagogues, attacks on Jews in the street-but by what Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel's deputy foreign minister, has characterized as "ideological terrorism." What has been termed the "new anti-Semitism" first broke out in Western European countries in tandem with the "Al-Aqsa intifada" that began in September 2000. As we approach the second anniversary of that occurrence, it is appropriate to step back and reflect upon the causes, manifestations, and responses to this swelling of anti-Jewish hatred.1
The urgency of a response to this new strain of anti-Semitism prompted the government of Israel this year to establish an International Commission for Combating Anti-Semitism, with initial branches in Denmark, Belgium, and Austria. Britain's chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks warned that "anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe as a whole." He blamed Islamic extremists for "whipping up" sentiment against Jews in Britain and throughout the Continent. The rise of anti-Semitism has been all the more troublesome because it appears against a background of the resurgence of far-right political parties in a number of European countries.
Anti-Semitism in Europe, over the last two millennia, has been rooted in different causes that have changed in response to new political and economic circumstances. There had been the centuries-long hatred generated by the Church in branding Jews as "Christ-killers." The propagation of racist theories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries infused this longest hatred with new meaning. Jews were targeted because they were thought to be racially inferior. With the rise of ethnocentric nationalism in France, Germany, and elsewhere on the Continent, Jews, notwithstanding their best efforts to integrate into the national society, were characterized as "cosmopolitans," people who did not have the interests of the state at heart. Socialists condemned Jews on grounds that they were "capitalist exploiters" of the working class and those on the right attacked them for being "progenitors" of socialist and communist ideas. The so-called "new anti-Semitism" has little to do with these discredited causes.
An ironic and surprising aspect of the current upsurge is that manifestations of anti-Semitism are now more prevalent in Western Europe than in the Eastern European countries. Following the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s, far-right and populist parties in the former Eastern Bloc stoked feelings of anti-Semitism by holding Jews responsible for the imposition of Communist rule after World War II and for the emerging social ills that plagued their post-Communist societies. Jews were attacked as being foreign, unassimilable elements, despite their history in these countries for centuries. At the time, concern was voiced in the West that these countries might revert to their old Jew-hatred of the pre-World War II era. But these fears have, for now, been put to rest. The small Jewish communities that remain in Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, while not free of anti-Semitic threats, have been able to get on with their existence. To the extent that embers of anti-Jewish feeling continue to smolder in these countries, they are fanned by far-right and ultranationalist groups. Governments, on the other hand, have been vigilant against episodes of anti-Semitism, lest they put at risk their hopes of gaining coveted membership in the European Union.
In the past two years, hundreds of acts of violence have been perpetrated against individual Jews and Jewish institutions in Western Europe. Most of the acts of physical and verbal violence have been carried out by Muslim youths and young adults of Maghreb (North African) extraction. A steadily growing Muslim immigration across Europe has produced a continental Muslim population now estimated variously between 15 and 25 million.2 Hatred of Jews among them has been stoked by lurid accounts in Arab and European media of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. Israeli actions of self-defense against Palestinian terrorists, such as the operation in the Jenin refugee camp, are often described as genocidal in character.
The Israelis are the hateful Jews, and non-Israeli Jews are their supporters and, hence, in the eyes of many European Muslims, legitimate targets for violence. Anti-Semitism is the obverse side of the coin of anti-Zionism. Judeophobia is emerging under the cover of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel rhetoric. And through an inversion of language, the Israelis are compared to the Nazis, and the Palestinians are the victims of a "new Holocaust."3
Joining in this chorus of denunciation and hatred of Israel is the
influential left. The Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author Jose Saramago's
suggestion that Israel was guilty of re-creating Auschwitz at Ramallah is
symptomatic of the current mood. Amplifying these one-sided descriptions of
Israeli defensive measures against Palestinian terrorists are journalistic
accounts and editorials of many leftist and left-of-center newspapers that
denounce these actions as genocidal in character, while glossing over the murder
of Israeli citizens. These newspapers accept at face value Palestinian charges
of genocidal acts by the Israeli military, even when there is no evidence to
substantiate them. Standing in the background is the radical right, which can
only rub its hands in delight over the acts of violence that young Arabs-the
bugbear of the likes of France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and Austria's Jörg Haider-are
carrying out against Jews.
Anti-Semitic Manifestations in Various European Countries
A selective country-by-country survey of some of these criminal events provides a chilling picture of the scope and ferocity of anti-Semitic violence that is playing out in European cities.
In Belgium, a focal point of significant anti-Jewish activities, a gang attacked the chief rabbi of the Consistoire Central Israelite de Belgique in December 2001 as he was leaving a restaurant in Anderlecht accompanied by a friend. The attackers, five youths of apparent North African extraction, assaulted them, calling the rabbi and his friend "dirty Jews," and spitting in their faces. On September 2, passengers landing in Brussels on a joint El Al-Sabena flight found swastikas and anti-Israel hate messages smeared on their luggage. A synagogue in Antwerp was firebombed, as was one in Brussels. Belgium's pro-Palestinian stance and the ongoing court case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (which an appeals court has recently thrown out) have added fuel to the flames of hatred toward Jews.
In Britain, the London Express reported, "race-hate attacks on the Jewish community have soared." The police reported at least fifteen anti-Jewish episodes in April, including eight physical assaults on individuals, synagogues daubed with racist slogans, and hate mail sent to prominent figures among the nation's 300,000 Jews.4 And in July, in what British police termed a "racially aggravated attack" against the Swansea Hebrew Congregation in South Wales, vandals tore up Jewish holy scrolls, smashed windows, and set fires. This attack came only six weeks after a similar attack on a north London synagogue that sparked alarm that the anti-Semitic violence rising in other parts of Europe was spreading to Britain, home to some two million Muslims. Like other such attacks carried out in the dead of night, it was not clear whether the attack on the Welsh synagogue was the work of Muslim groups or individuals or was racially inspired.
Scandinavia, justly praised for its cordiality to Jews in the past, has recently witnessed both threats and violence against Jewish persons and institutions. In Denmark the Jutland Posten, a widely circulated newspaper, carried a radical Islamist group's offer of a reward of 250,000 Danish kroner (approximately $35 thousand) for the murder of a prominent Danish Jew. The head of the Danish Jewish community subsequently reported receiving threatening telephone calls and having his tires slashed. On the Sabbath before completion of this article, the Copenhagen synagogue was vandalized and anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on its walls. In Sweden, a program aired on pubic television declared, regarding the Holocaust, "It's not so terrible to be a victim; it granted the Jews their state." Within the space of five days in April, thirty telephone threats were made against Jewish communal institutions in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. In Finland, eggs were thrown at the Helsinki Jewish community building in May. In the same city, a Jewish café owner was stabbed by three passing Arabs on August 12.
Germany, too, has witnessed a spate of troubling acts of physical and verbal violence against Jews. In a grim reminder of the Holocaust, Jews in the German town of Herford found the words "Six million is not enough" scrawled on the walls of their synagogue. Jewish memorials in Berlin were defaced with swastikas, and a synagogue was daubed with the words "Six Million Is Not Enough. PLO."5 Orthodox Jews strolling on Berlin's Kurfuerstendamm, the middle of the city's shopping district, were assaulted. While these and other attacks were taking place, anti-Israel demonstrators, made up of young Muslims and Germans from an assortment of left-wing organizations, were holding marches with placards that read "Stop the Genocide in Palestine."
A link may be found between the murderous hatred of Jews and the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. German police in July were investigating the activities of a former religious leader in Hamburg, known only by his surname al-Fazazi, who preached an unusually heated stream of anti-Western and anti-Jewish invective at the city's Al Quds mosque. Mohammed Atta, the presumed organizer of the attacks and the pilot of one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center, attended the mosque as did other members of the Hamburg cell. Al-Fazazi said that "Christians and Jews should have their throats slit," and called on followers to "fight the Americans as long as they are keeping Muslims in prisons," according to videotaped sermons seized by the police.6
In Portugal, in July, the Lisbon synagogue was vandalized and sacred objects scattered on the floor. In Spain the door of a synagogue in Seuta was set ablaze, leaving char marks. Outside the synagogue in Madrid, a group of twenty skinheads demonstrated, shouting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slogans.
Swiss Jews, too, have seen their share of verbal and physical abuse. In Lausanne, a Jew wearing a skullcap was physically attacked, another was told to "go back to Israel," and the woman principal of the Jewish school had water dumped on her from above as she entered the school. An 18 mm. gun shell was found near the entrance to the Beit Ya'akov Synagogue in Geneva, and in separate incident, the gate of the same synagogue was broken. The window of the Guirsa School in Geneva was smashed. All of these incidents occurred within one month-April.
In Italy, which formerly had been spared the kind of anti-Semitic violence that has visited France and Germany, vandals in July desecrated a historic cemetery in Rome.7 Troubling to Jews has been the outpouring of anti-Israel propaganda on state radio and television, lamenting the deaths of Palestinians while glossing over Israeli deaths. La Stampa, the liberal daily, resurrected the oldest Christian anti-Semitic canard: the Jew as Christ killer. A cartoon depicted the infant Jesus looking up from his manger at an Israeli tank and pleading: "Don't tell me that they want to kill me again."8
Not surprisingly, hyperbolic journalistic condemnation of Israel appears to be reviving hateful caricatures of Jews among Italians, in a country traditionally free of animosity toward its tiny Jewish population of 35,000. A poll conducted by the prestigious newspaper Corriere Della Sera in January 2002 showed that in the course of 2001 there had been a sharp increase in animosity toward Jews in comparison with figures for the year before.9 In 2001, 23 percent of those polled said that "Jews are unpleasant and evoke distrust" as opposed to 14 percent in 2000. Of those asked, 44 percent were of the opinion that Jews should stop presenting themselves as victims of the Holocaust as opposed to 35 percent the year before. Italian political commentators attributed the rise in anti-Semitism as a consequence of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians since the outbreak of the intifada.
Speaking out against the hypocrisy of slanted Italian journalism, writer Oriana Fallaci published a scathing condemnation of the media, the church, and the left in the weekly Panorama on April 12, 2002. Her words had the ring of a latter-day J'Accuse:
I find it shameful... that the government-controlled television stations contribute to the revival of anti-Semitism by crying over Palestinian deaths only, minimizing the importance of Israeli deaths, speaking in a brisk and dismissive tone about them...
I find it shameful, and I see in all of this the growth of a new Fascism, of a new Nazism-a Fascism, a Nazism, so much more malevolent and repulsive because it is conducted and nourished by those who hypocritically play the part of the good guys, the progressives, the communists, pacifists, Catholics and even more, the Christians, who have the gall to call those like me who shout truth at them a warmonger.
Fallaci's fiery indictment was all the more striking because of her history
as a controversial left-leaning journalist.
In no other country in Western Europe have physical and verbal attacks against Jews and Jewish community life been more intense and sustained than in France. A recently published book by the Union of Jewish Students of France and the human rights group, SOS Racism, placed the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country between September 1, 2000, and January 31, 2002, at 405, which they describe as the greatest surge of anti-Semitism in France since World War II. These are part of what one French Jewish leader has described as the "daily acts of anti-Semitism" taking place in France today.
This violence has been directed against individual Jews and Jewish institutions. One of the more sinister forms has been the torching of synagogues, making Jewish houses of worship fair game for the practitioners of the "new anti-Semitism."10 On October 3, 2000, only weeks after the Al-Aqsa intifada was set in motion, the synagogue of Villepinte, a suburban neighborhood of Paris, was set on fire and virtually destroyed, the first such case since the Middle Ages. Following Villepinte, four more synagogues in the greater Paris area were burned. Anti-Jewish violence, which tracked the violence in the Middle East, subsided following these attacks, but flared up again following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11 that generated no small amount of pride among many French Muslims. The spring of this year witnessed a recrudescence of the violence following the forceful penetration of West Bank towns by the Israeli army in response to the Palestinian terrorist attack on Jews celebrating the Passover Seder in Netanya that left 29 dead and many injured.
In April of this year, the Or Aviv Synagogue in Marseilles was burned to the ground, the sixth attack on a Jewish religious site in France in less than a week. The synagogue, with its library, prayer hall, and classrooms, was built by Jewish families from North Africa who came here in the 1960s. In Lyon, twelve masked and hooded men crashed two cars through the front gate of a synagogue, then rammed one of the vehicles into the temple's prayer hall and set it afire. At Bondy, a suburb of Paris, hooded thugs attacked the local Jewish soccer team, leaving one member so severely beaten that he required hospital treatment. Numerous incidents have been reported of attacks on individuals or small groups of Jews on their way to or from synagogue. The list of attacks could be expanded.
Unlike in the United States, where a continuous police presence near a synagogue is exceptional, such a safety measure is a common sight in cities in Western Europe. Protection of synagogues, important as it is, is not, however, the same thing as suppression of criminal behavior. According to the French police, most of the perpetrators of the violence are youths of North African extraction "without ideology, motivated by a diffuse hostility to Israel, exacerbated by the media representation of the Middle East conflict ... a conflict which, they see, reproduces the picture of exclusion and failure of which they feel victims in France." Left out of this analysis is the sense of hatred toward Jews that pervades these youths and large numbers of Muslims in France. Why, it should be asked, do these same Arab/Muslim youths respond with indifference to massacres of Muslims in Chechnya by the Russian army, or to the massacre this past spring of hundreds of Muslims by Hindus in rioting in the western Indian state of Gujarat? While sympathy for the Palestinian cause by French Muslims is legitimate, it does not carry a license for assaulting Jews, attacking synagogues, or stoning buses carrying Jewish students. However unhappy Jews may be with Palestinians, they have not resorted to burning down European mosques. Attacks against Jews and torching of synagogues are a stark reminder of what took place in Nazi Germany.
Not a few political analysts have argued that the perpetrators of violence are disaffected youths living in the economically depressed neighborhoods that ring large French cities, places where education and employment opportunities are lacking. They are, according to one study, "not natives protecting the ideal of 'Frenchness' from Jewish contamination but members of another immigrant minority group whose own place in French society has been frequently questioned." 11
The implication is that if more jobs and education were made available to these youths, they would turn away from perpetrating violence against Jews. Such a conclusion, however, fails to answer the question why these youngsters were attacking Jews and synagogues and not directing their violence against government institutions that could effectively lower barriers to their integration into French society. The current wave of Muslim rage against Jews, there can be little doubt, is closely linked to the intifada and has little to do with the real discrimination these youths face in their daily lives.
Stoking the flames of this Judeophobia is the hostile and crude characterization of Jews that is the daily fare in the Arab/Muslim media. Jews are described in the most lurid terms, as the devil incarnate, as people who draw blood from Christian children in preparing matzohs for the Passover holiday-the old Christian blood libel-and as grasping capitalists out to dominate the world by foisting globalization on economically weak Muslim countries. A new twist in this hateful propaganda portrays the Mossad in league with extreme right-wing elements in the United States as responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center. "Proof" for this is adduced from the lies emanating from the Arab/Muslim television and press claiming that the Mossad warned all Jews working in the WTC to stay at home on September 11. With these fabrications taken for truths, it is not surprising that Arab youths join in chanting "Mort aux Juifs," "Death to the Jews."
Troubled as French Jews were by the crescendo of anti-Jewish attacks, they were more concerned by the pusillanimous response of those in power in France to the violence.12 The ruling parties of the political left and the right, trade unions, the mainstream media, and the Catholic Church have failed to treat the situation with the seriousness it deserved. Jews remember the outpouring of support at the time of the Rue Copernic Synagogue bombing and the Goldenberg murders in the 1980s. President Francois Mitterand and then opposition leader Jacques Chirac led a march of scores of thousands of French men and women to protest the desecration of the ancient Jewish cemetery in Carpentras. Sadly, those who marched when anti-Semitic venom emanated from the radical right fall silent today in the face of attacks by Arabs against their compatriots of the Jewish faith.
The political class, which trumpets its anti-racism tradition loudly, had, until recently, been largely silent about the surging anti-Semitism. Neither President Chirac, a Conservative, nor Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, visited any of the torched synagogues. In November 2001, French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine told the American Jewish Committee that assaults on Jewish institutions were the acts of "a minute population" of youths of Algerian descent and stressed that "all French people today are appalled by anti-Semitism." President Chirac, who, for a long time, was in a state of denial about the violence, insisted in public that "there is no anti-Semitism at all in France."13 The mainstream press, with few exceptions, also failed to address the problem seriously until the end of 2001, thereby heightening the sense of isolation felt in the Jewish community. Despite the widespread violence, there were few arrests by the police, and those brought to court were let off lightly. Burning down synagogues, assaulting Jews, and stoning buses carrying Jewish schoolchildren were all treated as forms of youthful delinquency. Such an approach has merit for French politicians, in the words of the philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff, "to dissolve the anti-Jewish acts in a rising tide of delinquency." Some French Jews, notably Theo Klein, have given the government cover by minimizing the danger or subsuming it under a general surge in crime.
The message coming across to French Jews was that they, citizens of France, could be attacked with virtual impunity by members of the Arab community for the actions of the Israeli government. In an article of January 16, 2002, entitled "A New Anti-Semitism?" University of Paris professor Eric Marty neatly captured the problem facing France's Jews.14 He suggested that the Jews are once again dhimmis (protected second-class citizens under Islam). "They are tolerated subjects ...but mistreated as perpetual hostages to the political necessities of the moment," he noted. "... there has been no voice of political authority ready to say simply that ... regardless of the policies of Israel, there is nothing that can justify a policy of terror against Jews.... Individual or group violence against the Jews of France could never have gone so far without the perception that, even if not authorized, there has at least been a certain indulgence or understanding.... This violence enjoys a double impunity: practical impunity: there have been few arrests; moral impunity: media banalization and euphemism."
The "political necessities" that Prof. Marty alluded to were, no doubt, the impact that the Muslim vote could have on the upcoming presidential election pitting Conservative Party president Chirac against two main contenders, Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front Party. The accepted number of Muslims in France is about six million. The Jewish community of France, the largest in Western Europe, numbers between 600,000 and 700,000. Whereas Jews account for slightly more than one percent of France's population of sixty million, its fast-growing Muslim population accounts for close to one of every ten Frenchmen. Only about half of France's Muslims, however, are citizens.15 This percentage is certain to grow, given the large number of children in Muslim families. These numbers have much to do with the spiraling rise of anti-Semitism and the official denial of it. Many Jews suspect that government timidity in dealing with the violence has stemmed from a calculated attitude not to offend Muslim voters. An internal Socialist Party memorandum leaked to the press at around the time of the election recommended a firm pro-Palestinian stance as a way to win over French-Arab votes, lending credence to this thinking. 16
The government showed signs of taking note of the situation when Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations of France, called on the political leadership to recognize the seriousness of the anti-Semitic violence that has targeted Jews. Changing its complaisant attitude toward the violence, a growing segment of the mainstream press warned of the growing anti-Semitism. On February 19, Le Monde ran a damning cartoon in which a policeman, standing in front of six burned-out synagogues, asks his captain: "How many do we need in order to start mentioning anti-Semitism?"17
Since President Chirac's overwhelming victory in the second round of voting
over far-right candidate Le Pen, he has appeared to strengthen the resolve of
the government to suppress attacks against Jews. Conservative prime minister
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, at a somber ceremony at the Square of Jewish Martyrs,
marking the sixtieth anniversary of France's roundup of Jews sent to Nazi death
camps, vowed that to "take all necessary measures so that these aggressions
which insult our country cease." Those who commit such acts, he vowed, will be
hunted down "relentlessly" and punished. How resolutely this pledge will be
carried out by the authorities will be watched closely by Jewish leaders and the
many non-Jews who will have no truck with anti-Semitism. There does seem to have
been a decline in anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, perhaps in response to
the government's taking a clear stand.
What Has Changed in the Current Situation
The unprecedented violence has frightened the Jews of Western Europe. The lifestyle that European Jews have taken for granted as citizens of countries where human rights and the rule of law were the norm has been challenged. Many Jews now think twice before walking in the street with a kippa, or wonder whether it is safe to stroll in the neighborhood following synagogue services on the Sabbath. Attacks against synagogues that house Hebrew schools, they now fear, put their children at risk. There are reports that the violence has taken on added dimensions by spawning numerous incidents of discrimination in schools and the workplace.
While no one suggests that an organized force, let alone a government, is behind the violence, many Jews share a lingering fear that governments may slight their interests in the quest for larger political gains. Demonstrations by Arabs, often joined by recognizable activists of the left, carrying placards labeling "Sharon the New Hitler," and shouting "Mort aux Juifs," are creating a climate of fear that could spiral out of control. Such a climate is being abetted by the one-sided condemnation of Israel and the failure of these same governments to condemn atrocities committed against Israelis. By their unbalanced, strongly pro-Palestinian line in the Middle East conflict, Western European governments have given a pass to those who wish to play out the intifada on the streets of Paris, Antwerp, Madrid, and Berlin.
In the post-World War II era, the venom of anti-Semitism was spread by far-right and neo-Nazi groups. Because of growing concern over the increase in foreigners, particularly Muslims, and a rise in crime, the far right has been able to make a comeback in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, and Denmark. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once referred to the Holocaust as "a detail of history," rocketed to prominence by reaching the final round of France's presidential election. Far-right parties in Austria, Italy, and Denmark, not a few of whose members harbor hostile attitudes toward Jews, have done well at the polls in recent years, some even joining ruling coalitions. There is no evidence, however, that deep-seated anti-Semitism associated with the far right of the 1930s is about to return. Attacks against Jews have, overwhelmingly, been associated with Muslim youths, not with white supremacists drawn to Le Pen's cause. This point has been made by Gilles William Goldnadel, author of The New Breviary of Hatred. Goldnadel warned that French anti-racists were barking up the wrong tree in making Le Pen out to be the focal point of today's anti-Semitism.18
Le Pen's silence on the recrudescence of anti-Semitism has to be seen as a tactical move, not representing a change in his or his followers' attitudes toward Jews. The party abounds in Holocaust deniers and others who have a pathological hatred of Jews. But as long as Arabs, for whom Le Pen has never concealed his contempt, are attacking Jews, he has little reason to make his voice heard.
In other Western European countries where the far right has recently made impressive gains, there is no common policy toward Jews and Israel. Pim Fortuyn, the assassinated leader of the Netherlands' far-right party, had a positive attitude toward Israel. He was not like Jörg Haider, acknowledged leader of Austria's Freedom Party, who has a soft spot for former (or neo) Nazis or makes embarrassing sojourns to Iraq. Haider made several visits to Baghdad, where he met with leading officials of the government in what he described as a "humanitarian" mission to help sick children.
Haider, too, is not easy to place in matters having to do with to Austria's tiny Jewish population of about 15,000. Normally silent in regard to Jews, he broke new political ground by attacking the head of the country's Federation of Jewish Communities in last year's municipal election in Vienna in an attempt to prop up the sagging fortunes of his party. The tactic backfired and his Freedom Party suffered a serious defeat at the polls; Haider was later forced to apologize to Ariel Muzicant, the head of the Federation, as part of a judicial settlement.19 Despite his failed electoral gambit, his party has gone along with the parliamentary consensus of the last few years to provide a modicum of compensation to Austrian Holocaust survivors.
Today, it is the political left and much of the intellectual elite of Europe who, along with Muslims, are the fount of the pernicious anti-Israel sentiment sweeping across the Western half of the Continent. They are aided by the left-leaning media, whose slanted reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict and vicious anti-Israel editorials have given the Arab violence against Jews a kind of legitimacy. The Guardian, for example, wrote that Israeli military actions in Jenin were "every bit as repellent" as the terrorist attacks of September 11 against the United States. Many publications of differing political stripes accepted at face value the Palestinian accusations of massacres and atrocities. The day after the deadly Palestinian attack at Hebrew University, which left nine dead, including five Americans, and scores injured, the Guardian saw fit to publish an editorial attacking Israel for what the paper called "random, vengeful acts of terror" against Palestinian civilians during the reoccupation of the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin last spring. This despite a United Nations report that dismissed Palestinian claims that Israel had massacred civilians there. Martin Sieff of United Press International, surveying press accounts of Israel's reoccupation of Jenin, following a week of suicide bombings that left 33 Israelis dead and several hundred injured, accused West European newspapers of a "wild and remarkably uniform hysteria." 20 In Italy, L'Osservatore Roman, the Vatican daily, wrote that Israel was engaging in "aggression that turns into extermination."
These overwrought journalistic denunciations of Israel have given rise to
much of the Judeophobia that plagues Western Europe today. A close fit has
developed between the demonization of Israel they preach and anti-Semitism.
Mario Pirani, an Italian journalist who writes for the left-leaning La
Republica, underscored the relationship between this strident pro-Palestinian
attitude and anti-Semitism: "Public opinion among part of the left wing is very
pro-Palestinian and very confused. They think they are not anti-Semitic, but in
reality they slide toward positions of real anti-Semitism, and that is very
dangerous. They don't understand that Israel's very survival is at stake."
Why the Left Denounces Israel
Those Europeans who march with the Palestinians are drawn from the Socialist and Green parties, neo-Communists, antiglobalists, and trade unionists. In Barcelona, where some 10,000 turned out, trade unionists, nongovernmental organizations, and members of assorted political parties demonstrated against Israeli "genocide" against the Palestinian people and burned the Star of David. In Brussels, which has been the scene of a number of anti-Israeli rallies, members of the Socialist and Green parties, along with the Catholic Pax Christi movement, joined with Arabs in denouncing Israel.
What is it about the Jewish state and Zionism that so exercise people who sit astride the left of the political spectrum? Few if any of them have taken to the streets to denounce the gangster-like rule of Robert Mugabe, who destroyed the rule of law in Zimbabwe and arrested, intimidated and murdered his political opponents. Nor have they protested against the decades-long civil war in the Sudan, which has claimed millions of lives. Nor do they seem to care about the growing slave trade being carried on by Muslims in that war-wracked country. The left, because of its embrace of the Palestinian cause, has turned a blind eye to the cronyism and corruption that are endemic in Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. It has failed to raise questions as to why Arafat walked away from the generous peace terms offered by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak that would have given 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians and allowed the Arab-populated areas of East Jerusalem to become the capital of the new Palestinian state. Nor has it condemned the indiscriminate violence against innocent Israeli citizens. The embrace, as the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut observed, "is not shaken but reinforced by the indiscriminate violence of Palestinians."
Broadly sympathetic to Israel in the early years of its existence, the left turned with a vengeance against Israel after the Six-Day War, when it conquered Arab lands. Little did it matter to the left that Israel was prepared to return almost all these lands to the Arab countries that went to war against it in exchange for peace. A victorious Israel was now depicted in the most lurid terms as a colonial power with imperialist ambitions that trampled under foot the Palestinian people. For many in Europe, with its centuries-long tradition of anti-Semitism that kept Jews in a position of powerlessness, the image of a Jewish state emerging victorious was too much to stomach. Cast as underdogs, the Arabs quickly won the sympathy of the left. What made this flip-flop easy was the role the Soviet Union played as the ally of Egypt and Syria, while Israel was portrayed as the lackey of the United States. The European left, with a long history of genuflecting before the Soviet Union, turned on Israel. Once it was cast as a pariah state by Moscow, it was natural for much of Europe's left to fall in line. Today, even with the Soviet Union gone, the left still uses language out of the Cold War lexicon, referring to Israel as a "colonialist," "imperialist," and an "occupying power."
Yet another factor is the left's congenital anti-Americanism. Israel's close ties with the United States, based on common strategic interests and shared democratic values, have served to intensify the negative feelings toward Israel. As the British columnist Polly Toynbee has written, "Ugly Israel is the Middle Eastern representative of ugly America." Israel, moreover, is the very antithesis of the tier monde, or Third World, which remains so dear to Europe's left. This impoverished world, many of whose countries continue to be ruled by dictatorial or authoritarian governments, remains far more comfortable to the patronizing mindset of the left than an industrially and agriculturally advanced Israel, which embraces the very democratic values that hold sway in Europe. Israel's support of open markets is yet another factor that provokes the ire of the left, which is squarely against globalization of trade. Can it be that Israel is an anathema to the left because it threatens its ideological illusions?
Using its considerable political muscle, the left has campaigned hard to make Israel into a pariah state. Europe's academe, heavily influenced by the left, circulated two petitions signed by hundreds of professors, one calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions and the other calling on the European Union to deny grants to Israeli universities and scientific institutions. Why Israeli academics or institutions of higher learning were singled was not made clear; presumably because they were tacitly associated with the Palestinian "genocide." Among the hundreds of signers of the petitions were scholars from virtually every university on the Continent, including the Oxford geneticist Richard Dawkins. Several academics, including Dawkins, recently withdrew their support for the boycott following the decision of an Egyptian-born professor, Dr. Mona Baker, in Manchester, England, to dismiss two Israeli scholars from the board of two journals she publishes-for no other reason than that they were Israeli.21
In justifying her action, Dr. Baker, who deplores the existence of the State of Israel, argued that many academics signed the petitions saying that it "has gone beyond just war crimes…. Many of us would like to talk about it as some kind of Holocaust." With these words, she encapsulated the thoughts and words of those on the left who invert the language of the Holocaust to portray Israelis and Jews as evil incarnate. Jews and Israelis are made out to be the Nazi victimizers and the Palestinians their victims. Identifying Jews with the ultimate enemy, the Nazis, they superimpose the swastika over the Star of David. Perhaps the motivation behind this is to lighten the burden of guilt for the Holocaust and to atone for Europe's colonial and imperialistic past by casting Israel as the sole remaining colonial power. If Israel can be shown to be capable of oppressing minorities and committing "war crimes," then the buried guilt of the European perpetrators and collaborators in Hitler's Final Solution can be assuaged.
The unrestrained anti-Zionist rhetoric has generated in its wake strong ripples of anti-Semitism, which has become acceptable in polite company. In Germany, Jurgen Möllemann, a ranking official of the Free Democrats, openly defended Palestinian violence against Jews: "I would resist too, and use force to do so ... not just in my country but in the aggressor's country as well." One commentator writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung observed: "It's been a long time since the hatred of Jews-once disguised as anti-Zionism-has been as socially acceptable in Germany as it is today."22 Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer found it necessary to remind his countrymen, "The extent to which we succeed in supporting and promoting the life and well-being of Jewish communities in Germany is also a yardstick of our ability to create an open and tolerant society. For that reason, each and every instance of anti-Semitism is not only a threat to Jews in Germany, but also to our society and democracy as a whole."23
Less inhibited were the remarks heard in British social and intellectual
circles. Hillel Halkin, in his February 2002 article in Commentary, quoted the
columnist Petronella Wyatt: "Since September 11, anti-Semitism and its open
expression have become respectable at London dinner tables." It was at one of
these dinner tables that the French ambassador referred to Israel as "that
shitty little country." The ambassador went on to wonder, "Why should the world
be in danger of World War III because of those people?" Remarkably, the
ambassador was never recalled nor reprimanded by his superiors in Paris. One
wonders what the reaction in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have
been had the ambassador made a similar reference to Saudi Arabia or Iraq, the
latter a country that stands accused of producing weapons of mass destruction,
gassing thousands of its own people, and invading a sister Arab state. Last
autumn A.N. Wilson, the highly regarded British biographer and novelist
"reluctantly" announced in the (London) Evening Standard that Israel no longer
had the right to exist. Wilson did not indicate what might happen to the
country's five million Jews. Recently he accused the Israeli army of "poisoning
the water supplies" on the West Bank, a time-honored European canard, traceable
to the fourteenth century, to justify the mass murder of Jews. Wilson and his
fellow like-minded intellectuals have never raised a voice of protest over the
conflict raging in the Congo, rightly called Africa's World War, a war that has
already claimed 2.5 million victims.
Not Exactly New Anti-Semitism
What is referred to as the "new anti-Semitism," which resonates so powerfully in Western Europe today, is not exactly new. Arab attacks against Jews occurred during and after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to root out the PLO, which had been using the country as a platform to shell Israeli towns and settlements. What is different about today's Arab violence is its scope and intensity. European governments and much of the media have to ask themselves whether by taking a one-sided position on the Israel-Palestine conflict they have not abetted violence against the Jews living in their midst. A more balanced Middle East policy by itself is unlikely to stop the rampages of Arab youths against Jews and synagogues. The authorities must demonstrate an unshakable resolve that such violence will not be tolerated. In the absence of a firm response to the "new anti-Semitism," there exists the real possibility that it can take on a life of its own.
History has demonstrated that once the germ of a new form of anti-Semitism takes hold in Europe, it becomes extremely difficult to eradicate.
August 12, 2002
Murray Gordon is an adjunct professor at Villanova University, Villanova,
Pennsylvania, and author of numerous studies for the American Jewish
1 Three excellent articles in Commentary magazine during the 2002 publishing year reflected on the rising tide of European anti-Semitism: Hillel Halkin. "The Return of Anti-Semitism," February 2002; Gabriel Schoenfeld, "Israel and the Anti-Semites," June 2002; and Michel Gurfinkiel, "France's Jewish Problem," July-August 2002.
2 The figure of 15 million Muslims in Europe is cited by the New York Times, December 8, 2001, p. B5. A total estimated population of 23.6 million is cited in Ceri Peach and Gunther Glebe, "Muslim Minorities in Western Europe," in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 18:1 (New York: Routledge, 1995).
3 Halkin. "The Return of Anti-Semitism," p.32.
4 Schoenfeld, "Israel and the Anti-Semites," p. 14.
6 New York Times, July 16, 2002, p. A3.
7 New York Times, July 19, 2002, p. A6.
8 Schoenfeld, "Israel and the Anti-Semites," p. 16.
9 The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism, January 24, 2002.
10 Gurfinkiel, "France's Jewish Problem," pp. 39-40.
11 Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Jonathan Laurence, "Anti-Semitism in France," Foreign Policy Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, May 14, 2002. Internet firstname.lastname@example.org.
12 Christopher Caldwell, "Liberte, Egalite, Judeophobie," The Weekly Standard, May 16, 2002, p. 22.
13 Marc Perelman, "French Jews Decry Apathy over Rise in Anti-Semitism," Forward, February 8, 2002, p. 6.
14 Le Monde, January 16, 2002.
15 Nick Spicer, "A Search for Islam a la Francaise," Christian Science Monitor, July 15, 2002, p. 6.
16 Dreyfus and Laurence, "Anti-Semitism in France," p. 1.
17 Gurfinkiel, "France's Jewish Problem," p. 41.
18 Caldwell, "Liberte, Egalite, Judeophobie," pp. 21-22.
19 American Jewish Year Book 2001 (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2001), pp. 397-400.
20 Richard Bernstein, "An Ugly Rumor or an Ugly Truth," New York Times, August 4, 2002, p. 14, Week in Review section.
21 New York Times, July 11, 2002, p. A10.
22 Schoenfeld, "Israel and the Anti-Semites," p.16.
23 Joseph Fischer, "Deutschland, deine Juden," FAZ, May 11,