Joel Fishman on Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism

, March 1, 2005

Jewish Political Studies Review 17:1-2 (Spring 2005)

 

Although the problem of postwar anti-Semitism had been present but not prominent in the half-century since the conclusion of the Second World War, for a time Jewish leaders believed anti-Semitism would lose its importance as a public policy issue. During the years after the Oslo process began, the perception developed that the state of Israel and Jews in general were entering a new era characterized by an unprecedented level of acceptance. After the failure of the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000 and the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Armed Uprising, a different, brutal reality emerged. Anti-Semitism erupted everywhere, particularly in Europe, with an intensity and virulence that had not been seen in Europe since the 1930s. This shocking outbreak may have resulted from several trends: (1) the development of radical-leftist thinking among politicians and opinion-makers; (2) sharp increases in Muslim populations, especially in Europe; and (3) Arab and Palestinian propaganda, aggressive and anti-Semitic, that Israel had left uncontested for years. Probably the most shocking manifestations of the new mood were the spread of violent anti-Semitic incidents in France, including the burning of synagogues and Jewish schools, and the hate festival that took place at the United Nations Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in summer 2001.

The Durban experience, in which Israel’s enemies were able to hijack a UN human rights conference and make it a stage for anti-Semitic demonstrations, was particularly sobering.

Seeking to shed light on this phenomenon from diverse vantage points, Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a business strategist and chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has conducted interviews with fifteen experts from different disciplines in various countries. Distinguished contributors of their views to this volume include Ephraim Zuroff, Yehudah Bauer, Avi Beker, Deborah Lipstadt, Nathan Durst, Naphtali Lavie, Laurence Weinbaum, Shmuel Trigano, and Irwin Cotler. Lipstadt, for example, addresses Holocaust denial; Trigano discusses the problematic civil status of the Jewish community in France; and Cotler analyzes the institutionalization of international discrimination against Israel as part of an effort to deprive it of its place among the nations.

Gerstenfeld uses an innovative methodological approach. His systematic analysis, differentiated by country, subject, and contributor, yields an illuminating overview of the problem. In addition, he has selected some key sensitive themes to serve as indicators of post- Holocaust anti-Semitism. Some of these themes, when taken together, serve as an overall indicator of West European anti-Semitism in the postwar period. They include: the reception of Jews upon return; restitution; treatment of war criminals; memory versus truth; Shoah education; and psychological rehabilitation. The book, however, would have been greatly helped by a bibliography and a detailed index organized by name and topic.

In view of recent developments in Europe, which include constant, disturbing, new examples of permutations of the old anti-Semitism frequently combined with anti-Americanism, Gerstenfeld has chosen his subject well. Europe’s Crumbling Myths is a timely and valuable contribution to our understanding of the anti-Semitism of the Third Millennium, a development of concern to all men and women of goodwill.

Joel Fishman

Dr. Joel Fishman is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs.  He served as the assistant editor of volumes X (July 1920-December 1921) and XI (January 1922-July 1923) of The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1977).