On April 19, the Corfu synagogue, in Greece, was burned. How many Jews live in Corfu today? One hundred and fifty. How many Jews live in Greece? Eight thousand, or about 0.8% of the population. For some, it seems these figures are still far too high. Two other synagogues were burned in Greece during the past year. Anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls are spreading all over the country.
What happened in Greece is happening everywhere across the European continent.
During the last decade, synagogues were vandalized or set on fire in Poland, Sweden, Hungary, France. Anti-Semitic inscriptions are being drawn on building walls in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Rome. Jewish cemeteries are being ransacked. Jews are being attacked on the streets of most major cities on the continent. In the Netherlands, the police use "decoy Jews" in order to try arrest the perpetrators red-handed.
Jewish schools are being placed under police protection everywhere, and are usually equipped with security gates. Jewish children in public high schools are bullied; when parents complain, they are encouraged to choose another place of learning for their children.
In some cities people are selling their homes at any price and leaving.
In some cities such as Malmö, Sweden, or Roubaix, France, the persecution suffered by the Jewish community has reached such a degree that people are selling their homes at any price and leaving. Those who stay have the constant feeling that they are risking their lives: they must be extremely streetwise and carry no sign showing who they are. In 1990, approximately 2000 Jewish people lived in Malmö; now there are fewer than 700, and the number is decreasing every year.
Jews now, in fact, have to be streetwise in all European countries: men wearing a skullcap usually hide it under a hat or a cap. Owners of kosher restaurants located on avenues where protests are organized close their facilities before the arrival of the participants -- even if the protest is about wages or retirement age. They know too well that among the demonstrators, there will always be some who will express their rage at the sight of a Jewish name or a star of David on a store front. In Paris, on Labor Day, May 1st, in front of a Jewish café on Avenue of the Republic, several hundred demonstrators stopped and began to boo "Jews" and "Zionists." A man coming out of the café was assaulted until police officers arrived on the scene.
A few weeks ago in Norway, when Alan Dershowitz was banned from giving lectures on the conflict in the Middle East, the professors who supported the ban used anti-Semitic stereotypes in their remarks. What happened to him is now commonplace. In many universities in Europe, giving lectures on Jewish culture has become risky, and giving lectures on Israel anywhere -- without being clearly « pro-Palestinian » - is even more risky, or impossible: Once the event is announced, the organizers and the lecturers immediately receive explicit death threats by mail or by the internet. The day the lecture takes place, "anti-Zionists" organize violent protests, try to prevent people from entering the hall, and physically attack the lecturers. The only way to avoid this type of situation is to organize the lecture by invitation only, without ads.
After World War II, anti-Semitism seemed to disappear in Europe. It is back, to a very disquieting degree.
Although it is not exactly the same anti-Semitism that in the 1930's, it is not fully different.
It is an anti-Semitism that is widespread in the Muslim population that settled in Europe, and it would be easy to think that it is strictly an Islamic phenomenon, but the anti-Semitism as it exists today in the Muslim world was heavily influenced by the old European anti-Semitism. And what the Muslim immigrants bring with them can easily find resonances in European non-Muslim populations. Copies of fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Arabic are sold in Islamic bookstores from one end of the continent to the other, and they also circulate abundantly again in many European languages, under the mantle or via internet.
It is also an anti-Semitism that allows the far right to restate its rejection of "cosmopolitanism" -- an adjective on the European continent that has always been used to point out the Jews -- in a context where, because of the European economic decline, nationalist tensions and isolationism sound more and more seductive. It is an anti-Semitism that the left does not want to fight, because for it, the Muslims are oppressed, and the left is always on the side of those it defines as oppressed, whether or not the oppression is caused by the terrible governance inside those countries, or scapegoated onto someone else. European anti-racist movements say they are very concerned about "Islamophobic racism," but they are totally reluctant to discuss the anti-Semitism in the Muslim populations.
Hatred towards Israel is now the most widely shared sentiment among Europeans.
The new, current anti-Semitism now adds on to the old kind, the demonization of the State of Israel. The Islamic view of Israel is now the dominant view of Israel in Europe. The idea that Israel is a "colonial power" that has "robbed" people of their land, and is an "artificial State", even though the Jews have been on that land for three thousand years -- and even though many states in the area, such as Jordan and Libya, and Iraq are even more illegitimate, their borders having been drawn on papre by the British in the 1920s -- is a commonplace among journalists.
Hatred towards Israel is now the most widely shared sentiment among Europeans, whatever their place on the political spectrum. It is now through hatred of Israel, that hatred of Jews as annoying "troublemakers" can again express itself.
European Muslim populations hate Israel and seek its destruction. European non-Muslim people seem think that if Israel did not exist, tensions with Muslims would be less, and they attribute to Israel all the responsibility of the tensions, even though , since most of the Jews have fled from countries in the Middle East, it is now the Christian Copts in Egypt and the Christian Assyrians in Iraq who are being attacked by Islamic mobs. As the Arabic saying goes, "First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people."
As Israel is a Jewish state, European Jews are asked to be « good Europeans », and to disavow Israel. If they refuse, or worse, if they say they still support Israel, they are considered untrustworthy.
In the 1930s, Jews were accused of not being full members of the country where they lived. Today, the same criticism rises in a slightly different form: Jews are accused of the existence of a Jewish state, and are suspected of being too tied to that state to be full members of the country where they live.
More deeply, the non-Jews of Europe might feel that if they can paint the Jews as evil, then perhaps what their parents and grandparents did to them during World War II was not really so bad after all; you could even say they deserved what they got. As some Scandinavians put it, The Jews killed Christ; at least the Muslims did not do that.
The anti-Semitism of the 1930s led to the Holocaust, which led the Jews to flee to Israel, the only country that would take them in and not let shiploads of fleeing Jews sink at sea. Now, European anti-Semitism accuses the Jews of Israel's existence, and of reminding them of the Holocaust by remembering it themselves. Meanwhile, an increasing number of Europeans seem quite ready for another Holocaust: one that would be the annihilation of Israel.
An increasing number of Europeans seem quite ready for another Holocaust: one that would be the annihilation of Israel.
If sacrificing Israel allowed non-Muslim Europeans to see Muslim anger disappear, they would be willing to make the sacrifice immediately. If, in order to accept the sacrifice with a clear conscience, non-Muslim Europeans have to caricature Israel ignobly, they will -- and do. Anti-Israel cartoons fill European newspapers from London to Spain, and even receive awards. The Israeli army is often compared in European media to the Nazi army. The comparison is fully playing its role: if the Jews are Nazis today, it means that the Europeans did the world a favor in killing six million of them, and that the Europeans are not really guilty.
If Israel can be portrayed as a Nazi state, its destruction is acceptable, maybe even legitimate, maybe even desirable. The fact that Mein Kampf is a bestseller in the Palestinian territories and in most countries of the Muslim world is totally left out, just like the fact that many Jews living in Israel are survivors of the Holocaust committed in Europe sixty five years ago.
A survey conducted last year for the Friederich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank linked to Germany's Social Democratic Party, was eloquent. To the question: « Do you think that Jews abuse their status as victims of Nazism ? » , positive responses reached proportions hardly imaginable: 72.2% in Poland, 48% in Germany, 40.2% in Italy, 32.3% in France. Another question, « Do you understand why people do not like Jews », generated results that must be faced. Number of positive responses: 55.2% in Poland, 48.9% in Germany, 40.2% in Italy. The question was not asked in France. In several polls conducted in Europe over the last decade, Israel was identified as the most dangerous country for world peace, tied with Iran.
The question: "Are you anti-Semitic" was not asked anywhere. I have no doubt that, if asked the question, those who understand that "People do not like Jews," and who probably do not like them either, would have said that they were not anti-Semitic.
The question, "Do you think that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians," was asked. Positive responses : 63% in Poland, 47.7% in Germany.
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called the poll "very disturbing. The governments of Europe, and the European Union," he said, "would do well to wake up to this problem before it is too late."
This article originally appeared in Hudson New York.