Anti-Semitism: Integral to European Culture

, April 1, 2004

  • The resurgence of European anti-Semitism after the Holocaust suggests that it is integral to European culture.

  • The European Union’s attitude toward anti-Semitism is double-handed. With one hand, by its discriminatory anti-Israeli declarations, the EU plays the role of arsonist, fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. With the other, it also serves as fireman by trying, at the same time, to quench the flames of classic religious and ethnic anti-Semitism. France is paradigmatic of this attitude.

  • New European anti-Semitism often originates from youth, which indicates that rather than an anti-Semitism of the past it is one of the future.

  • A major change in EU policies is required to combat European anti-Semitism more effectively.

 

Integral to European Culture

The regular resurgence of European anti-Semitism after the Holocaust suggests that it is integral to European culture. This should not be construed falsely to mean that all Europeans are anti-Semites. In a similar manner, classical ballet is an expression of European culture, yet many Europeans find it boring, decadent or disgusting. This does not negate, however, that ballet is integral to European culture and has been practiced as a performing art for a long time. It originated in Europe, developed over many years, and is widely taught as well as frequently discussed by the cultural elites and the major media.

European anti-Semitism can be said to have many similar characteristics. That many Europeans condemn, dislike or are indifferent to anti-Semitism does not contradict its role in European culture, as statements of European politicians, the media and leading intellectuals prove. Also, varying types of anti-Semitic feelings are expressed in polls. If one analyzed the statistics, the number of European anti-Semites would probably far exceed those who like classical ballet.

A phenomenon which develops intensely over a period of many centuries becomes deeply embedded in the societal mindset and behavior. The anti-Semitic wave of the last few years seems to prove that it is impossible to eradicate such a deep-seated irrational attitude.

In the words of UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Let me state the point as simply as I can: anti-Semitism is alive, active and virulent in the year 2002, after more than half a century of Holocaust education, interfaith dialogue, United Nations’ declarations, dozens of museums and memorials, hundreds of films, thousands of courses, and tens of thousands of books dedicated to exposing its evils; after the Stockholm Conference, after the creation of a National Holocaust Memorial Day, after 2,000 religious leaders came together in the United Nations in August 2000 to commit themselves to fight hatred and engender mutual respect….What more could have been done? What more could and can we do to fight anti-Semitism?”1

The oft-heard argument that post-war European anti-Semitism parallels developments in the Mid-East conflict is false. It appears in waves which do not necessarily correspond with developments in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and each wave is higher than the previous one.2 In the Arab world, anti-Jewish incitement continued in parallel with the Oslo process.

 

A Millennium of Violence

The beginning of violent European anti-Semitism is often traced to the Crusades at the end of the eleventh century. Others claim it commenced in 1010 with organized mass murders of Jews in France, followed by massacres in areas which are now part of Germany.3 For almost a thousand years the multiple versions of religious anti-Semitism have been accompanied by other manifestations of hatred in political, economic and cultural spheres.

The ethnic, or “racist” variant of political Jew-hatred started at the end of the nineteenth century in Germany. At that time the term anti-Semitism first appeared. Fed also by the religious variety, this culminated in the genocide of the Holocaust.

After the Holocaust, anti-Semitism did not disappear. In the immediate post-war period, the democratic societies of Europe such as Norway, the Netherlands and several others discriminated against the Jews on many issues.4 Often the returning Jews were not welcome. Legislation and practice frequently favored those who possessed their stolen property while, at the same time, the war history was embellished.

Twentieth century Europe was a continent where a war criminal or a mass murderer had a better chance to survive than a Jewish child. The reason for this was two-fold: the murderous character of the Holocaust and the subsequent leniency of European democratic societies toward those who had murdered the Jews.5

Many classic anti-Semitic prejudices are currently widespread in European society, while new ones are rapidly developing. There are multiple forms of Jew-hatred among politicians, the media, cultural elites and especially in European Arab circles, among extreme rightists and the liberal left.

Modern media, such as television and the Internet, disseminate anti-Semitic writings and cartoons with great speed. There are more than 3,000 anti-Semitic websites.6 This gives the phenomenon an intensity and immediacy it did not have when the Nazis began spreading their propaganda. Recently, millions of people saw a Syrian-produced movie on television which inter alia showed a child’s throat being cut. This was made to appear as though being done by a Jew, and using cinematic techniques, the image showed blood streaming into a matzah.7

 

New Anti-Semitism

The most recent major version of anti-Semitism which has strengthened radically in the last few decades, targets Israel, the Jewish state. This variant of Jew-hatred is now commonly referred to as “new anti-Semitism.” Its perpetrators often call themselves anti-Zionists. They aim to isolate Israel and present it – in the words of the Berlin Technical University’s Center for Research on anti-Semitism – “as a state that is fundamentally negatively distinct from all others, which therefore has no right to exist.”8

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler characterized this by saying: “Traditional anti-Semitism denied Jews the right to live as equal members of society, but the new anti-Jewishness denies the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations.”9

Former Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Per Ahlmark defined it: “Criticism of Israel has become very similar to anti-Semitism. There exists in it a rejection of the Jewish people’s right to express its identity in its state; and Israel isn’t judged according to the same criteria that are applied to other countries. If anti-Semites once aspired to live in a world rid of Jews, today anti-Semitism’s goal is apparently a world cleansed of the Jewish state.”10

Anti-Semitism is an extreme form of hate which should not be confused with critique.11 Jews have been demonized for millennia and defined as the source of all evil. These recourses to ancient history are used to “point to an immutable negative Jewish character.”12 Jews have also been discriminated against in many societies and simultaneously, double moral standards have been applied to them.

Societies made discriminatory laws for Jews too. When these laws were abolished later, de facto discrimination often remained. Over a long period of time Jews have been presented as being inhuman, and this has laid the ideological basis for their murder, culminating in the Holocaust. A similar defamatory approach is now being applied to Israel, aiming at its elimination as a Jewish state.

Liberal left anti-Semitism often connects with Arabic and extreme right-wing anti-Semitism. These often – but not always – act independently while working toward similar goals. For example, the French progressive weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, published an article in November 2001 which included a claim that Israeli soldiers rape Palestinian women at checkpoints so that the latter then will be killed by their families in “crimes of honor.” The author, daughter of editor Jean Daniel, thus reiterated Palestinian hate propaganda. After protests, the paper was forced to admit the allegation was untrue, trying to belittle the importance of its false accusation.13

There are many discriminatory gradations on the left side of the political spectrum. British litigation lawyer Trevor Asserson shows the media’s systematic anti-Israel bias in his analysis of the BBC’s reporting on the Middle East. One can argue to what degree this defamation contains anti-Semitic elements, yet Asserson’s conclusion that the distorted reporting creates an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism can thrive seems convincing.14

 

Differences between Anti-Semitism and Criticism

It is often difficult to pinpoint the border between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Irwin Cotler has suggested some guidelines. He claims that critics of Israel become anti-Semites when:

  1. They publicly call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. This is the case with the covenant of Palestinian terrorist groups (PLO and Hamas) and some militant Islamic legal rulings (fatawin), as well as the Iranian threat to annihilate Israel (“genocidal anti-Semitism”).
  2. They deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, de-legitimize Israel as a state and attribute to Israel all the world’s evil (“political anti-Semitism”).
  3. They Nazify Israel (“ideological anti-Semitism”).
  4. Israel is characterized as the perfidious enemy of Islam (“theological anti-Semitism”).
  5. Israel is attributed a mix of evil qualities by salon intellectuals and western elites (“cultural anti-Semitism”).
  6. They call for restrictions against those trading with Israel (“economic anti-Semitism”).
  7. They deny the Holocaust.
  8. They carry out racist terrorism against Israel.
  9. They single out Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena through denial of equality before the law.15

 

Religious Motifs against Israel

A regularly growing list of anti-Semitic events and writings in Europe illustrates the development of these categories of new anti-Semitism. Religious anti-Semitic motifs were used in criticizing Israel by the Italian quality daily La Stampa. It published a cartoon – one of Europe’s classics of new anti-Semitism – of the siege of the IDF on the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem showing an Israeli tank which turns on the infant Jesus who asks: “Surely, they don’t want to kill me again.”16

British daily The Independent published a second European classic of new anti-Semitism – a cartoon by Dave Brown showing Sharon as a child-eater. It should be pointed out that the libel that Jews use the blood of gentile children for religious purposes originated in England during the Middle Ages. In answer to protests, the UK press complaints commission cleared the cartoon. Thereafter it won the UK “Political Cartoon of the Year Award for 2003” of the Political Cartoon Society. The competition was held on November 25, 2003 at the Economist weekly and the award was presented to Brown by Labour MP and former Minister for Overseas Aid Claire Short.17

 

Presenting Jews as Nazis

Comparisons between Jews and Nazis focus on Sharon and Hitler, as well as the Swastika and the Star of David. In December 2003, French comedian Dieudonne appeared on the state-owned France 3 television channel dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, making the Hitler salute and shouting “Heil Israel.”18

British poet and Oxford academic Tom Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper that Jewish settlers in the West Bank are “Nazis and racists…[who] should be shot dead.”19 Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, a communist, compared the blockaded Palestinian city of Ramallah to Auschwitz.20 When visiting Brazil he declared that the Jewish people no longer deserve sympathy for the suffering they endured during the Holocaust.21

In a cartoon, the Greek daily Ethnos, close to the socialist party Pasok, depicted two Jewish soldiers dressed as Nazis with Stars of David on their helmets, putting knives in Arabs. The accompanying text read: “Do not feel yourself guilty, my brother. We were not in Auschwitz and Dachau to suffer, but to learn.”22 This one completes the selected trio of Europe’s classic new anti-Semitic cartoons.

 

Applying Double Standards

Cotler points to the United Nations as a paradigm of double standards practiced against Israel: “Despite the killing fields throughout the world, the UN Security Council sat from March to May 2002 in almost continuous session discussing a non-existent massacre in Jenin.”23

He also mentions the UN Commission on Human Rights meeting in Spring 2002: “Forty percent of the resolutions passed were against one member state of the international community, Israel, while the major human rights violators in the world such as China and Iran enjoyed exculpatory immunity with no resolutions passed against them. This moral asymmetry not only prejudices Israel, but it further undermines the UN’s integrity under whose auspices this occurs, and the authority of international human rights law in whose name these indictments are passed.”24

Canadian political scientist Anne Bayefsky wrote about the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in September 2001: “It became a forum for racism….A large group of states sought to minimize or exclude references to the Holocaust, redefine or ignore anti-Semitism, and to isolate the state of Israel from the global community as a racist practitioner of apartheid and crimes against humanity.”25

Cotler also referred to the Geneva Convention saying: “During more than 50 years after the Second World War atrocities continued. Among the best known are the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan and Sierra Leone. Despite these horrific breaches of the Geneva Convention, which was adopted in 1949, the contracting parties were never convened to discuss them. The only time this happened was in December 2001 when the contracting parties to the Convention gathered in Geneva to accuse Israel of human rights violations and breaches of the Convention.”26

Many other examples can be given, such as that Israel’s Magen David Adom (The Red Star of David) is excluded from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

Alan Dershowitz remarked on these double standards: “The Jewish people’s right to self-determination is denied and Israel as a state is delegitimized. Among Western elites one finds seemingly respectable academics who call for the abolition of Israel and its substitution by a secular bi-national state. These authors know that this model has, for instance, in Lebanon and Yugoslavia been a recipe for mass murder and civil war.”27

 

Anti-Semitism of the Future

The discourse over the mingling of contemporary European values and anti-Semitism will probably develop in the coming years. In an interview, French philosopher Jean-Claude Milner, author of The Criminal Inclinations of Democratic Europe, said: “I think there is an autochthonous anti-Semitism in Europe which doesn’t come from the past but from the future….Today we see an anti-Semitism which doesn’t originate from old people, but from youth, and thus is not likely to disappear, but rather to become stronger….This is an actual problem. We are dealing with a modern anti-Semitism.”28

Milner added that European anti-Judaism is linked to the affirmation of Europe itself. On the one hand, it starts to assert itself in the face of the United States. On the other hand, having realized its unity, it wants to present itself as a model for humanity. In his view, at the Anti-racism Conference in Durban, Europe and the Islamic world found themselves standing together on an anti-Jewish platform.29

The importance of Milner’s words derive not only from his reputation, but also from the fact that he is a non-Jew. The ongoing delegitimization of Jews in Europe has caused a situation where Jews who make similar remarks are frequently accused of being biased by their ethnicity, irrespective of the quality of their arguments. In order to strengthen their credibility Jewish authors today often have to quote non-Jewish opinions.

An outspoken example of this discriminatory attitude occurred when the editor of the Observer, a British progressive weekly, allowed columnist Richard Ingrams to write: “I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it.”30

 

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism

The classical anti-Semitic motif of a Jewish conspiracy aiming to dominate the world reemerges in new forms. Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, comments that certain circles in Europe and the Arab world connect the hatred of America with hatred of the Jews. They maintain that the Jewish desire to rule the world is being realized today, mainly through the “American conquest.”31

There are both important similarities and differences between European anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Alvin Rosenfeld encapsulated the similarities by saying: “Anti-Americanism functions in much the same way anti-Semitism has over the centuries – as a convenient focus for discontents of many different kinds and a ready-made explanation of internal weaknesses, disappointments, and failures. It is, in short, both fraudulent and counterproductive.” As an example, Rosenfeld mentioned the leading German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk, who in a 2002 interview in the Austrian journal Profil, named America and Israel as the only two countries today that struck him as being “rogue states.”32

The thesis that Europe builds its identity from opposition to the United States has been indirectly confirmed by two of Europe’s leading thinkers, Frenchman Jacques Derrida and German Jürgen Habermas, who wrote that the major anti-Iraq war demonstrations on February 15, 2003, in London, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and Paris, might enter history books as the beginning of a pan-European public awareness.33

American political scientist Andrei Markovits analyzed the differences between European anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism: “While the two European prejudices overlap, there are also huge differences. Anti-Semitism has killed millions of people, while European anti-Americanism has only murdered a few. There were never any pogroms against Americans. Violence, as a rule, did not go further than the destruction of property and the burning of many American flags. There has never been a blood libel about Americans.”34

Markovits relates to anti-Semitism as a tool of identity creation. In his view, anti-Americanism fulfils a similar role today: “Nobody knows what it means to be a European. It is unclear what Greeks and Swedes have in common….Anti-Americanism thus enables the Europeans to create a hitherto missing European identity that must emerge if the European project is to succeed.” He also points out that Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the only major icons shared by the European extreme left and far right, including neo-Nazis.35

 

Multiple Ways of Demonization

In the three major forms of anti-Semitism the Jew is demonized as representing all evil. In “religious” anti-Semitism, the Jews – characterized as the devil or his associate – were blamed for killing Jesus who was presented as God’s son. In “racist” anti-Semitism, the Jews were accused of poisoning the world with their behavior and ideas. Today, “new” anti-Semites present Israel as an evil state.

Once decision-makers are convinced that a person or a state embodies evil, then the next step is the “evil” to be segregated, subjugated, or even eliminated. In the Middle Ages Jews were exiled or confined to European ghettos and denied many rights the Christians enjoyed. Nazism aimed to eliminate the Jews, which led to the Holocaust. Its social anti-Semitism and delegitimization of the Jews set the stage for their physical destruction.

 

Anti-Semitism’s Main Sources

Contemporary European anti-Semitism flourishes within three major sectors of European society. The first of these sectors is the Arab and Islamic communities, large parts of which import from the Arab world the most virulent strain of anti-Semitism. These do not differentiate between Israelis and Jews. Their hate literature includes the nineteenth century forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purports that all Jews conspire to rule the world. Other major sources of hatred spread by Arabs – including governments – propagate the libel that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzot.36

The second sector where anti-Semitism is rife consists of the extreme right and neo-Nazis. They mainly repeat the motifs propagated by Hitler’s Germany, adding some new variants as well.

The third societal area with strong anti-Semitic expressions is the extreme left. Its argumentation was largely developed by the Soviet Union in the years after the 1967 Six Day War. This anti-Semitism – cloaked as anti-Zionism – accuses Israel of all the evils perpetrated by colonialist Europe. This propaganda is exceedingly evil because, as French linguist Georges-Elia Sarfati says, it attaches “the four major negative characteristics of Western history in the last century – Nazism, racism, colonialism and imperialism – to the State of Israel.”37

Often, European critics of Israel take their cues from Israeli ones. Yet there is a fundamental difference. Even though there are anti-Semites and Jewish self-haters among the Israeli left, in Israel the domestic debate occurs within the context of a national cultural and political reality. In Europe it is transformed by a long embedded anti-Semitic heritage and, therefore, can and does generate physical violence.

 

Mainstream Anti-Semite Politicians

Since the 1980s, several high level European politicians have made radical anti-Semitic declarations. In a public statement in 1982, Greek Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou compared Israelis to Nazis.38

No mainstream European politician in the 1980s went as far as Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti, who has headed several Italian cabinets. At an inter-parliamentary conference in Geneva (April 7, 1984), as Italy’s foreign minister he supported a motion presented by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The motion equated Zionism with racism, supported the boycotting of Israel, and defended the right of “the armed struggle for the liberation of Palestine” [i.e. terrorism]. Italy was the only western European country to vote with the Soviet bloc for this motion.39

In recent years such occurrences have become more widespread. In April 2002, Franco Cavalli spoke at a demonstration of the Swiss-Palestinian Society in Bern. He was then the parliamentary leader of the Social Democratic Party (SP), which is part of the Swiss government coalition. He claimed that Israel “very purposefully massacres an entire people” and undertakes “the systematic extermination of the Palestinians.” At the meeting Israeli flags were torched.40

Senior members of the Greek Socialist Party often use Holocaust rhetoric to describe Israeli military actions.41 In March 2002, parliamentary speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis referred to the “genocide” of the Palestinians.42

Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (UK) said at a meeting of the Palestinian solidarity campaign in January 2004, that she might consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. In contrast to the above-mentioned cases, the Party distanced itself from her position and said “Jenny Tonge was expressing her personal views. The Liberal Democrats do not condone terrorism.”43

Norbert Blum, a former German Christian Democrat minister, is reported to have spoken about Israel’s destructive war against the Jews, using the Nazi expression “Vernichtungskrieg.”

 

The Polls

The campaign to demonize Israel in Europe has been accompanied by multiple manifestations of violence. This has been documented in various studies on European anti-Semitism. A major study, covering the first half of 2002, was undertaken by the Center for Research on Antisemitism for the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). It concluded: “France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK witnessed rather serious anti-Semitic incidents such as numerous physical attacks and insults directed against Jews and the vandalism of Jewish institutions (synagogues, shops, cemeteries). Fewer anti-Semitic attacks were reported from Denmark and Sweden.”44

Many surveys also show how widespread European anti-Semitic prejudices are. A 2002 opinion poll, carried out on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League in five countries, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands, showed that one out of five respondents can be characterized as “most anti-Semitic.”45 Twenty-nine percent believe Jews do not care what happens to anyone but themselves. Forty percent feel Jews have too much power in the business world and international financial markets. The majority perceive Jews as being more loyal to Israel than to their own country.46 An earlier survey dealt with France, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom and yielded broadly similar conclusions.47 However, the attitudes varied substantially among the ten countries researched in both surveys.

An Italian poll conducted in the fall of 2003 by Paola Merulla, showed that only 43 percent of Italians have sympathy for Israel. Seventeen percent of the population think it would be better if Israel didn’t exist. In Italy, 51 percent thought the Jews, “besides having a different religion, have common social, cultural and political characteristics which are different from the rest of Italians.” Twenty percent of the Italian population think Jews are not real Italians. Ten percent think Jews lie when they maintain that Nazism has murdered millions of Jews.48

A few months earlier, a poll of 2,000 young Italians (aged 14-18), sponsored by the umbrella organization of Italian Jewry under the auspices of Italy’s president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, showed substantial anti-Semitic stereotypes: “Nearly 35 percent of respondents agreed that ‘the financial power in the world is mostly in the hands of Jews.’ More than 17 percent believed that reports of the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust are ‘exaggerated,’ and 17.5 percent believed that Italian Jews should ‘return’ to Israel.”49

 

Israel: A Threat to World Peace

At the end of 2003 a Eurobarometer study – undertaken on behalf of the European Commission – found that more Europeans consider Israel a threat to world peace than any other country;50 i.e., even more so than those states which send terrorists abroad to kill European civilians, finance murderous organizations or have leaders calling for genocide.

This year, before Holocaust Day (January 27, 2004), another poll was released. It was conducted by the Ipso Research Institute for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in Italy, France, Belgium, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and Britain. Of those polled, 46 percent said that the Jews had a mentality and lifestyle different from other citizens, 40 percent felt that Jews in their country had a particular relationship with money and 35 percent believed that the Jews should stop playing the victim for the Holocaust and its persecutions of fifty years ago. In all countries, anti-Semitic sentiment paralleled anti-Israel sentiment.51

Another poll conducted by ICM just before Holocaust Day 2004 for The Jewish Chronicle, showed that almost 20 percent of Britons consider that a Jewish Prime Minister would be less acceptable than a non-Jewish one. This was relevant, as Michael Howard, leader of the Conservative Party, is the first Jew to lead a major political party in recent times. Fifteen percent perceived that the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated. Despite Holocaust education today, 19 percent of recent school-leavers also believed this.52

It is mistaken to think this phenomenon has emerged only in recent years and is specifically linked to the Palestinian uprising. German anti-Semitism researcher Wolfgang Benz quotes an earlier statement of the former chairman of the Jewish community in Zurich, Sigi Feigel, who said that many Swiss have dismissed Jews from the conceptual world of the “evil Jew” only conditionally. As soon as anything happens, these people return to their old concepts. Feigel said that Jews are still only “conditional Swiss,” and that behind this is the assumption that they are first of all Jews, and secondly Swiss.53

 

Insights

On the European left, different voices are heard only occasionally. An editorial in Le Monde commented on the Eurobarometer poll: “the results revealed, in any case, something extremely dangerous about the old continent.”54

In November 2003, columnist Julie Burchill bid farewell to the readers of The Guardian as she moved to The Times. She said that while she liked the paper, there was one reason which made her feel less loyal to it over the past year: as a non-Jew she perceived its strong bias against Israel.

Commenting on the Eurobarometer poll, Burchill wrote: “If you take into account the theory that Jews are responsible for everything nasty in the history of the world, and also the recent EU survey that found 60 percent of Europeans believe Israel is the biggest threat to peace in the world today (hmm, I must have missed all those rabbis telling their flocks to go out with bombs strapped to their bodies and blow up the nearest mosque), it’s a short jump to reckoning that it was obviously a bloody good thing that the Nazis got rid of six million of the buggers. Perhaps this is why sales of Mein Kampf are so buoyant, from the Middle Eastern bazaars into the Edgware Road, and why The Protocols of the Elders of Zion could be found for sale at the recent Anti-racism Congress in Durban.”55

Few European left-wing politicians are aware of how criticism of Israel has turned into anti-Semitism and where the borders lie. One of these is German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. At a conference entitled “Anti-Semitism Today – Comparing European Debates,” organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, he said in the opening session: “The government of Israel may be criticized for its policies…but Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people cannot be denied.”56

Ilka Schroeder, who left Fischer’s Green party and is now an independent member of the European parliament wrote: “It is a well-known fact that parts of the EU funding to the Palestinian Authority (945 million Eurodollars from 2000 to 2003) were channeled to an undisclosed budget and that the PA has financed a terrorist war against Israel….Instead of preventing the use of EU money to kill citizens of Israel, the majority of the political establishment dreams of an ‘international peace enforcement’ against Israel, led or joined by the EU.”57

 

“A European Disease”

There is an inclination to attribute attacks on the Jews in Europe to marginal forces. This may be true for the physical violence and the most extreme remarks. Yet verbal anti-Semitism has crept into the mainstream as well. Speaking at a dinner given by the American Jewish Committee in Brussels, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, remarked that anti-Semitism in Europe is now almost as bad as it was in the 1930s, the decade in which Nazism came to power.58 To soften the impact a spokesmen at the U.S. embassy said later that his remarks were “neither a personal opinion of Ambassador Schnabel nor the view of the U.S. Government.”59

A few days later at a EU conference on anti-Semitism in Brussels, Elie Wiesel called anti-Semitism a European disease and mentioned that European Jews had not asked him “should we leave?”60 but “when should we leave?” Fischer, the only minister of a European government present, also spoke about Jewish friends who told him, to his consternation, that they would soon leave Europe.61

Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky said at the conference that much of the criticism of Israel in recent years had become mixed with “demonization of Israel, double standards in attacking Israel and denying the legitimacy of the Jewish state.”62 Shimon Samuels, Director for International Liaison of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that “Kalashnikov bullets, explosive belts and Al-Kassem missiles, purchased out of EU’s…annual subsidy [to the Palestinian Authority], have killed over 900 Israelis and maimed thousands – this is anti-Semitism. EU-financed Palestinian media facilities – through satellite television and internet hate-sites – impact on Moslem communities in Europe to attack their Jewish neighbors. This is anti-Semitism.”63

 

The EU’s Double-handed Anti-Semitism

An indicator of the failure of the European governments to adequately combat anti-Semitism is that Jews often have to hide their identities when they are in public. French Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk in a radio interview on November 2003, told French Jews to wear caps rather than kippas in order to avoid being attacked in the streets.64

Recently, the European Union has made some efforts to counteract anti-Semitism. Yet its frequent one-sided condemnations of Israel over the years are part of the incendiary efforts. In order to prove this in more detail, a systematic analysis of the declarations of EU foreign ministers over the past years would be necessary. In many condemnations of Israeli policy France is reported to have played a leading role.

The European Union’s anti-Semitism can be described as double-handed. With one hand, by its inflammatory anti-Israeli declarations, the EU plays the role of arsonist. With the other, it also serves as “fireman” by trying, at the same time, to quench the flames of classic anti-Semitism. This will become clearer as events unfold.

One example of how European Union members back incitement occurred on April 15, 2002, when Sweden, Austria, France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal supported a resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights which, in the words of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “endorsed Palestinian terrorism and accused Israel of carrying out ‘mass killings’ in the disputed territories.”65

Such declarations have to be seen in the wider framework of the overall distorted attitude of Europe toward Israel. In an interview, Israeli Ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein said: “Israel hopes to normalize its relationship with Europe. Until now this relationship has not been normal. Relations are always used by Europeans as a threat. If Israel does what Europe wants, then we are rewarded. If there are differences of opinion, Israel is threatened with sanctions. In this way you don’t treat a state which has an interest that Europe commits itself in the Middle East…” He added however, that the German government behaved differently.66

 

Sweden’s Hypocrisy

A typical example of European hypocrisy is the Swedish government of Goran Persson. On the one hand, he was the driving force in the start up of the initial project on Holocaust education which led to the Stockholm international forum on the Holocaust which convened in January 2000. On the other hand, he and in particular, several members of his government, have criticized Israel much more severely than terrorist states.

The hypocrisy of this criticism should also be viewed against the background of Sweden’s non-existent record of prosecuting war criminals after the Second World War. Swedish perpetrators have never been investigated, although hundreds of Swedes were SS volunteers. (One of them served in the Treblinka extermination camp.) After 1944, leading Baltic war criminals found ready refuge in Sweden with the knowledge of the Swedish government. However, Swedish archives on these matters remain closed.67

A recent study on Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism in Sweden concluded that this variety “unlike anti-Semitism that traditionally finds expressions in Nazi circles – is not mentioned or in any way highlighted in the public debate. On the contrary, it is actively hushed up, excused or even denied in the media and by the political, academic and intellectual establishment.”68

Political scientist, Yohanan Manor, has studied many Middle Eastern textbooks. He says that “the European Union has a heavy responsibility in the transformation of the Palestinian education system into a war machine against the Oslo process. This despite the fact that it had excellent cards to assure that Palestinian education should serve the process of peace and contribute to the permanence of the historical compromise concluded.” He mentions that the European Union, despite the financial support it and its member countries give to the Palestinian Authority, has neglected its supervisory role of the textbooks.69

More recently, when it became clear that anti-Semitism was rife in Europe, and increasingly, voices were heard that European leaders had contributed to it, some European leaders went out of their way to also show a more positive attitude to Jews and occasionally, Israelis. In Austrian newspapers a photograph was published of Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger placing his hands in blessing on the inclined head of Thomas Klestil, the Austrian president. This took place at a meeting of rabbis organized by the Chabad movement. For this congress European Commission President Romano Prodi flew in from Brussels to participate in the dedication of the first Jewish teachers’ academy in Vienna after the Holocaust.70

 

Chirac: A Paradigm of Ambivalence

French President Jacques Chirac is a paradigm of European ambivalence toward the Jews. For years he denied the existence of anti-Semitism in France. This refutation of the facts frequently expressed by European personalities – another phenomenon which accompanies European anti-Semitism – merits detailed investigation.

At the end of 2003 Chirac suddenly turned around and said that France had to combat anti-Semitism. Another perspective on the president’s personality was revealed by Israel Singer, chairman of the executive committee of the World Jewish Congress. He recalls how a few years earlier Chirac had told him Jews are the cause of anti-Semitism in France and everywhere else.71

Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles tells of a meeting with Chirac in May 2003: “We were then in Paris for a conference on anti-Semitism and the struggle for tolerance convened at UNESCO’s international headquarters co-sponsored by this UN body and the SWC. The French President told us there was no anti-Semitism in France; it was some young hooligans who had attacked Jews. We replied that many French Jews – particularly in the Parisian suburbs and provinces – had told us different stories, and that anti-Semitism was rampant in France.”

 

Chirac Invites a Would-be Mass Murderer

“Chirac then mentioned a stop during his campaign for the presidency in spring 2002. He shook hands with a young man who said to him that he had just finished his undergraduate studies in France. Chirac asked him, ‘Are you going to graduate school?’ He replied, ‘No, I’m going back to my country, Palestine,’ adding, ‘I’m going to kill Jews as soon as I get off the plane.’

“The president said he could not continue the conversation as there were many people wanting to shake his hand. He asked an aide to invite this would-be mass murderer for lunch at his residence in the Elysee Palace. When the young man came for lunch, he told the president he was not a member of an Islamic fundamentalist group. Chirac asked him, ‘Why do you want to kill Jews?’ He said, ‘I’m not an Islamic fundamentalist, but the Jews have humiliated us.’ Then Chirac said to our delegation, ‘You see, it is not just fundamentalism. People do not take into account the humiliation of the Palestinians.’

“I replied, ‘Mr. President, with the greatest of respect, I’m sure you would not deviate one single iota from the policies of Arik Sharon if it were French cafeterias, buses, or hotels which were bombed. Like Israel, you would order your army to go after the terrorists and use helicopters. Of course you have a right to do this, as you have a primary obligation to the security of your country’s citizens. I think Palestinians are mainly humiliated by their despotic leaders who failed to accept the opportunity when Barak made them a generous peace offer. They did not take it because they wanted to destroy Israel.

“We also discussed France’s role in Europe’s refusal to label Hamas a terrorist organization, which they still refused to do at that time. We told him we thought their behavior was outrageous. It was a tough conversation, and in the end we agreed to disagree on all the major points. He said he would fight whole-heartedly to prevent anti-Semitism in France, but that it was not there.

“After we left the Elysee Palace we went to a reception at the home of Baron David de Rothschild. Two of our group missed the bus and took a cab. They wore skullcaps, and were right outside Baron de Rothschild’s home when a few people started insulting them, saying things like, ‘Get out of France, you Jews.’ That was an ‘eloquent’ answer to Chirac’s vain claim that there is no anti-Semitism in France.”72

There is another important aspect to this story: Which leader of a democratic country invites a declared would-be murderer to lunch in his residence? One might add to this: Which president of a democracy attends the funeral of a mass murderer? When Syrian president Hafez el Assad – whose regime murdered 20,000 inhabitants, mainly civilians, after an uprising in the Syrian city of Hama – died in June 2000, Chirac was the only Western head of state to fly to Damascus.73

 

A French Turnabout

The current worldwide wave of anti-Semitism shows that expressions of anti-Semitism which in the past may have been restricted to extremists, have now permeated European mainstream society. In France it may be more pronounced than elsewhere in Europe where it is, however, not less dangerous. French sociologist Shmuel Trigano says that while French Muslims are a major force in anti-Semitism, “Anti-Semitism exists in France, which has nothing to do with the Islamists. The new anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism, is very present in the extreme left and right, each of which collected 20 percent of the votes in the first round of the French presidential elections of 2002.”74

There has been substantial denial of the existence of anti-Semitism by European leaders. In France – the country with the highest number of violent incidents – top politicians have maintained this position for a long time, trying to present the incidents as hooliganism. Only in November 2003, after yet another arson attack against a Jewish institution – a private school – did the official position change radically.

President Chirac announced extra measures of security in places of worship, severe punishment of anti-Semitic perpetrators and reinforced civic courses in French schools.75 He has repeated that statement a number of times since. Israeli President Moshe Katsav praised this commitment during a state visit to France in February 2004.76 French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged the true situation of anti-Semitism in France long before Chirac did, and has made substantial efforts to improve the security situation in France since he was appointed in June 2002. He told Katzav that nobody should have to hide his Jewish identity in France.77

 

What to Do?

Recommendations for combating anti-Semitism are outlined in the major study mentioned above, prepared for the EUMC, in which a multitude of combined activities are recommended. These include the development of sound data and information about anti-Semitic phenomena which can be achieved by having state institutions monitor anti-Semitism in the individual EU states. At the same time, the civil society should undertake dialogues, while the media have “to be addressed to report about ethnic and cultural groups in a responsible way.” In addition, a variety of actions on the political level are recommended, including legislation and educational steps.78

Other measures could also be added to this. Hate crimes should be severely punished and measures should be taken against pupils who make it impossible to teach the Holocaust in schools.

The central elements of Europe’s anti-Semitism are so major and so manifold that it is clear that Jewish organizations can no longer limit themselves to protesting against individual cases of anti-Semitism. A more systematic “Europewatch” to monitor extreme politicians, institutions, media and intellectuals has to be undertaken. Attitudes toward the Jews have often been an indicator of the health of a society. European anti-Semitism must be watched closely as developments unfold. This is not only in the Jewish interest, but in the general interest of Western democracy. Making Europeans aware of this is a further important step in the battle against anti-Semitism.

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Notes

 

1. Jonathan Sacks, “The New Anti-Semitism,” Haaretz, September 8, 2002.
2. Simon Epstein, “Cyclical Patterns in Anti-Semitism: The Dynamics of Anti-Jewish Violence in Western Countries since the 1950s,” Analysis of Current Trends in Anti-Semitism, no. 2 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University), 1993, p. 1.
3. Richard Landes, “What Happens when Jesus Doesn’t Come: Jewish and Christian Relations in Apocalyptic Time,” Terrorism and Political Violence, volume 14, Spring 2002 (London: Frank Cass, 2002).
4. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Yad Vashem, World Jewish Congress, 2003).
5. For an overview see Manfred Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths.
6. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, “Anti-Semitism and Terrorism on the Internet: New Threats,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 9, June 1, 2003.
7. http://www.adl.org/special_reports/protocols/protocols_recycled.asp
8. “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union,” drafted for the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) by the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZFA) at Berlin Technical University, p. 17, http://eumc.eu.int/eumc/FT.htm
9. Robert Fife, “UN Promotes Systemic Hatred of Jews, MP Says,” National Post, April 2, 2002.
10. Yair Sheleg, “A World Cleansed of the Jewish State,” Haaretz, April 18, 2002.
11. http://www.jafi.org.il/agenda/2001/english/wk3-22/6.asp
12. “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union,” p. 17.
13. Le Nouvel Observateur, November 8, 2001. [French]
14. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Trevor Asserson, “What Went Wrong at the BBC: A Public Monopoly Abusing its Charter Through Bias Against Israel,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 511, January 15, 2004.
15. http://www.jafi.org.il/agenda/2001/english/wk3-22/6.asp
16. La Stampa, April 3, 2002. [Italian]
17. www.politicalcartoon.co.uk/html/exhibition.html
18. AFP/Expatica quoted in JCPA, Daily Alert, December 5, 2003.
19. Giles Foden and John Mullan, “When Authors Take Sides,” The Guardian, April 27, 2002.
20. AP, “Author compares Palestinian city to Nazi death camp,” Miami Herald, March 27, 2002.
21. Anti-Defamation League Press Release, “Portuguese Nobel Laureate’s Remarks on Jews and the Holocaust Are ‘Incendiary and Offensive,'” October 15, 2003.
22. Ethnos, April 7, 2002. [Greek]
23. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Irwin Cotler in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, p. 220.
24. Manfred Gerstenfeld interview with Irwin Cotler, p. 219.
25. Anne F. Bayefsky, “Terrorism and Racism: The Aftermath of Durban,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 468, December 16, 2001, JCPA.
26. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Irwin Cotler, in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, p. 219.
27. Alan Dershowitz, The Case For Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2003), p. 198.
28. Claude Meyer interview with Jean-Claude Milner, Actualite Juive Hebdo, no. 823, December 11, 2003. [French]
29. Ibid.
30. Richard Ingrams, “I’m still on the train,” The Observer, July 13, 2003.
31. Yair Sheleg, “Enemies, a Post-national Story,” Haaretz, March 7, 2003.
32. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: A New Frontier of Bigotry (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2003), p. 21.
33. Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, “Unsere Erneuerung,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 31, 2003. [German]
34. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Andrei S. Markovits, “European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: Similarities and Differences,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 16, January 1, 2004.
35. Ibid.
36. Robert S. Wistrich, “Muslim Anti-Semitism,” American Jewish Committee, 2002.
37. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Georges-Elia Sarfati, “Language as a Tool against Jews and Israel,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 17, February 1, 2004.
38. Daniel Perdurant, “Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Greek Society,” Analysis of Current Trends in Anti-Semitism, No. 7 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1995), p. 10.
39. Maurizio Molinari, La Sinistra E Gli Ebrei In Italia: 1967-1993 (Milan: Corbaccio, 1995), p. 115. [Italian]
40. “Israel-Kritik oder Antisemitismus?” Neue Zurcher Zeitung, April 26, 2002. [German]
41. Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Twenty Months of Antisemitic Invective in Greece: March 2002-October 2003,” October 14, 2003.
42. “Antisemitism Worldwide, 2002-3,” Tel Aviv University Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism.
43. Tom Happold, “Tonge sacked over bombing comments,” The Guardian, January 23, 2004.
44. “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union,” p. 6.
45. Anti-Defamation League Press Release, “ADL Survey of Five European Countries Finds one in Five Hold Strong Anti-Semitic Sentiments; Majority Believes Canard of Jewish Disloyalty” (New York), October 31, 2002.
46. “European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey,” Anti-Defamation League, October 2002.
47. Ibid.
48. Renato Mannheimer, “E antisemita quasi un italiano su cinque,” Corriere de la Sera, November 10, 2003. [Italian]
49. Ruth E. Gruber, “Poll shows Italian teens harbor racist and anti-Semitic attitudes,” JTA, July 2, 2003.
50. European Commission, “Iraq and Peace in the World,” Eurobarometer Survey, No. 151, November 2003.
51. “European poll: 46% Say Jews are ‘Different,'” Haaretz, January 26, 2004.
52. Stephen Bates, “One in Seven Britons Say Holocaust is Exaggerated,” The Guardian, January 23, 2004.
53. Wolfgang Benz, Bilder vom Juden: Studien zum alltaglichen Antisemitismus (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2001) p. 105. [German]
54. Editorial, “L’Europe et Israël,” Le Monde, November 5, 2003. [French]
55. Julie Burchill, “Good, Bad and Ugly,” The Guardian, November 29, 2003.
56. Avirama Golan, “A Sprig of Hope on Europe’s Left,” Haaretz, February 3, 2004.
57. Ilka Schroeder, “Europe’s Crocodile Tears,” Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2004.
58. Reuters, “U.S. envoy: Anti-Semitism in Europe nearly as bad as in the 1930s,” www.haaretzdaily.com, February 13, 2004.
59. Elaine Sciolino, “Europeans and Americans Seek Answer to Anti-Semitism,” New York Times, February 20, 2004.
60. Ibid.
61. Richard Herzinger, “Konferenz der Gutwilligen,” Die Zeit, http://www.zeit.de/2004/09/konferenz. [German]
62. “Mainstream propaganda proof of anti-Semitism in EU: Israeli minister,” EUbusiness, February 19, 2004.
63. “Against Antisemitism, for a Union of Diversity,” Press Information, Simon Wiesenthal Center, February 19, 2004.
64. Philip Carmel, “Proposals on yarmulkes, Yom Kippur given mixed reaction by French Jews,” JTA, December 14, 2003.
65. Simon Wiesenthal Center, Press Release, “SWC protests anti-Israel vote by France, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Belgium and Portugal at UN Commission on Human Rights,” April 16, 2002.
66. Jacques Schuster, “In Europa gibt es Stimmen, die wir nicht mehr verstehen,” Die Welt, November 19, 2003. [German]
67. Efraim Zuroff, “Sweden’s Refusal to Prosecute Nazi War Criminals – 1986-2002,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 2002, Vol. 14, Nos. 3 &4, pp. 85-119.
68. Mikael Tossavainen, “Det fornekade hatet – Antisemitism bland araber och muslimer i Sverige Forfattare,” (Stockholm: Svenska Kommitten Mot Antisemitism, 2003), pp. 43-44. [Swedish]
69. Yohanan Manor, Les manuels scolaires palestiniens: une generation sacrifiee (Paris: Berg International Editeurs, 2003), p. 130ff. [French]
70. Ruth Ellen Gruber, “Vienna meetings show another way for community to approach the state,” JTA, February 8, 2004.
71. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Israel Singer, “Restitution: the second round,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 14, November 2, 2003.
72. Interview with Marvin Hier to be published in Manfred Gerstenfeld’s forthcoming book: American Jewry’s Challenge: Addressing the New Century.
73. Joseph Fitchett, “In Paris, Official Discord on the Syrian Transition,” International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com/HT/DIPLO/00/jf061300.html.
74. Interview with Shmuel Trigano in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, pp. 215-216.
75. John Tagliabue, “Chirac unveils policy against anti-Semitism,” International Herald Tribune, November 18, 2003.
76. Philip Carmel, “In Israeli president’s Paris visit emotional symbols for French Jews,” JTA, February 19, 2004.
77. Greer Fay Cashman, Katsav’s France visit a ‘surprising’ success,” Jerusalem Post, February 22, 2004.
78. “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union,” pp. 11-13.

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Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. His latest book is Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003).

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This publication was partly supported by the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah.