A second front to the conflict in the Gaza Strip has opened up in Europe, where a wave of reprisal attacks against Jewish targets is stoking fears of a wider resurgence of anti-Semitism on the continent. Far from simply being a spate of isolated incidents, as many Europeans claim, anti-Semitic violence is becoming more commonplace in every country in Europe. At the same time, anti-Israel demonstrations, which have strong anti-Semitic overtones, are being held with alarming frequency in cities across Europe.
In France, the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism says it has received more than 100 reports of anti-Semitic violence since the start of Israel’s military operation in Gaza on December 27. Recent incidents include arson attacks against synagogues and Jewish community centers in several French cities, as well as physical assaults of Jews in Paris and elsewhere.
In Britain, the Community Security Trust has reported a sharp increase in anti-Semitic attacks in recent weeks. Incidents include arson attacks on synagogues, physical assaults of Jews in London, and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in towns and cities across the country. British police have also advised prominent British Jews to redouble their security arrangements after some of their names appeared on a “Jewish hit list.”
In Denmark, two Israelis were shot and wounded in a shopping mall in Odense. In nearby Vollsmose, a public school principal declared that Jewish students are not welcome at his school and advised Jewish parents to send their children elsewhere. The principal is an active supporter of the Danish Boycott Israel campaign, which specializes in organizing anti-Israel protest marches in Copenhagen and elsewhere.
In Italy, the leader of a far-left trade union has called for a boycott of all Jewish shops in Rome. According to union leader Giancarlo Desiderati, the organization has already urged its members to blacklist Israeli products, and boycotting Jewish-owned or Jewish-run stores is a logical next step.
In Belgium, where the number of anti-Semitic incidents has surged in recent weeks, synagogues and Jewish schools have been attacked in Brussels and in Charleroi, Jewish community leaders have received death threats, and the home of a Jewish family was the target of an arson attempt.
In Greece, the center-right Avriani daily newspaper ran a story on Israel’s operation in Gaza, explaining that a Jewish plutocracy, having made the “wealth of the century at the expense of the economies of the world,” is preparing to put in motion “war machines” in various hot spots around the world in order to control the price of oil, redistribute the world’s natural resources and start a new cycle of weapons production.
In Sweden, the Jewish center in Helsingborg was attacked by arsonists twice in one week and the Israeli embassy in Stockholm was covered with graffiti. Jews living in Sweden have been urged to take extra precautions when out on the street.
In Spain, where a recent poll marks Spain as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, all major cities have been emblazoned with graffiti likening the Star of David to a swastika.
Anti-Israel versus Anti-Jewish
Many European newspaper commentators are saying that concerns about anti-Semitism in Europe are overblown. They argue that the Jew haters are a tiny minority on the extreme political right who are given far more attention than they deserve. They also say that those concerned about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe are confusing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.
But myriad polling data show that all across Europe, the fine line between valid criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism has been dangerously blurred. An opinion poll in Germany, for example, shows that more than 50 percent of Germans equate Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of Germans say that Israel is waging a “war of extermination” against the Palestinian people. In terms of Europe as a whole, another poll shows that the majority of Europeans regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.
Opinions as grossly irrational as these imply that for many Europeans, anti-Israelism has become a convenient smokescreen for anti-Semitism. Taking this logic full-circle, the belief that Israel is the main force for evil in the world also acts to further legitimize anti-Semitism.
But how can Europeans, who famously pride themselves on being more sophisticated than everyone else, be so woefully ignorant about the reality of the situation in Israel? Much of the blame lies with Europe’s leftwing mass media establishment, which for many years has been systematically and unabashedly purveying the idea that to be anti-Israel (and anti-American and pro-pacifist) is to be sophisticated and politically correct.
Of course, the gatekeepers of European multiculturalism understand that it would be unsophisticated and politically incorrect to be openly anti-Semitic. But self-righteous criticism of Israel is another matter altogether. Thus European publics are being bombarded with round-the-clock, knee-jerk, anti-Israel political bigotry disguised as news coverage. By making such deception fashionable, European media are inciting anti-Semitism.
In one of the more outrageous examples of anti-Israel media bias, France 2 national public television used an outdated amateur video of Palestinian casualties from an accidental truck explosion in 2005 as current footage demonstrating the violence in Gaza. The video shows dead bodies of babies being laid out on white sheets. France 2 was forced to come clean when a French political blog uncovered the trickery. (France 2 also was responsible for a September 2000 report, accused of being a fake, of the supposed shooting death of Mohammed al-Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, by the Israeli army.)
Many of the chief anti-Israel propagandists among the European media elite have never even been to Israel. This has contributed to a dumbing-down of media coverage on the Middle East that reinforces negative perceptions of Israel. In Spain, for example, media coverage of the “Hebrew invasion of Gaza by Israelite forces” has been so sloppy that the Royal Language Academy, which acts as a regulator of the Spanish language, recently issued a notice admonishing Spanish journalists that the words “Jewish”, “Hebrew”, “Israelite” and “Israeli” have distinct meanings.
Meanwhile, the European political class, which is hyper-sensitive to anti-Muslim bigotry, has remained largely indifferent to the problem of rising anti-Semitism. A recent report on the epidemic of anti-Semitic violence in the European Union shows that most European countries do not even keep official records of anti-Semitic crimes. (The first such report, which was published by the EU’s Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia in late 2003, was initially suppressed and only publicized after months of public outcry.)
European officialdom seems afraid to admit that Europe has a problem with anti-Semitism because doing so would shatter the myth that supports one of the main pillars of European self-identity. After all, European elites would like the world to believe that the European Union is a postmodern multicultural utopia where people of all tribes, tongues and nations live together in perfect harmony.
Of course, the European political left is also pursuing an ideological battle to eradicate Judeo-Christian influences from European culture. Part of the strategy to achieve their objective involves embracing a host of Muslim causes. And so millions of Europeans have eagerly joined ranks with Islam’s 60-year challenge to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed, when European commentators proclaim that Israel is a Nazi, apartheid, pariah state, they are deliberately calling into question Israel’s legitimacy. What is clear is that European anti-Semitism says a lot more about the state of contemporary Europe than it does about the State of Israel.
This article was published by Pajama’s Media on January 14, 2009
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group