Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Debate Grows Over Alleged Rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2002

A debate is growing within the American Jewish community about the alleged rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.  

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says that Jews face a greater threat now than they did in the 1930s. New York Observer columnist Ron Rosenbaum wrote of his fears of a “second Holocaust.”  

The American Jewish Congress (AJC) urged Hollywood figures to reconsider their plans to attend the Cannes Film Festival in May, citing a series of anti-Semitic attacks in France. In full-page ads in trade newspapers, the West Coast chapter of the AJC compared the situation in contemporary France to the climate 60 years ago, when the anti-Semitic Vichy government was in power and Hitler stalked the rest of Europe. “France, 1942: Synagogues and Jewish schools set on fire, Jews beaten on the street, Jewish cemeteries vandalized,” the ad reads, next to a similar list under the heading, “France 2002.”  

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, charged that criticism of Israel among Europeans masks anti-Semitism: “The anti-Semites during the ages had disguises. The new anti-Semitism has its centrality in the attacks against the existence of the Jewish state.”  

Many voices in Europe, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have rejected the idea that the continent is experiencing a growth in anti-Semitism.  

Haim Musicant, the director general of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, or CRIF, declared that, “It’s totally crazy to compare 1942 to 2002. There is no state anti-semitism, no occupation, no yellow star in 2002.” He pointed out that recent anti-semitic incidents were the responsibility of Muslim immigrants from North Africa, and rejected the idea that France is an anti-semitic country.  

In England, Rabbi David Goldberg of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue of London wrote in The Guardian that Jews make the “ahistorical” mistake of conflating the political positions of Israel’s opponents with the theological hatred of Jews embodied in classic anti-Semitism.”  

Goldberg writes that, “We Jews do ourselves a disservice if we cry ‘Anti-Semite!’ with the same stridency at a liberal commentator who criticizes the Israeli army’s disproportionate response to terrorist outrages, and a National Front lout who asserts that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a genuine document...”  

In an article entitled, “Sense on Anti-Semitism” in the British magazine Prospect (August 2002), Antony Lerman, who was executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research form 1991 to 1999, writes: “The anti-zionism equals anti-semitism argument drains the word anti-semitism of any useful meaning. For it means that to count as an anti-semite, it is sufficient to hold any view ranging from criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government to denial that Israel has a right to exist as a state, without having to subscribe to any of those things which historians have traditionally regarded as making up an anti-semitic worldview ... The task of gauging the threat of anti-semitism in Europe is made more difficult by the intervention of the major American Jewish organizations ... When they look at Europe they see a continent stuck in an anti-semitic time warp. They cannot acknowledge that any meaningful change has taken place ... they are all competing with each other for money and publicity. As a result, justifiable concern about anti-semitism easily turns into damaging hyperbole or foolish demands ....”  

In Lerman’s view, “The dangers of exaggerating the threat of anti-semitism, even if the motive is just (though that is not always the case) are serious ― you devalue the currency. And by making statements that imply anti-semitism is as bad now as it was in the 1930s, we are sullying the memory of the millions of Jews who were dehumanized, persecuted and murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their associates.”  

The Economist (May 4, 2002) states that the charges that anti-Semitism is growing in Europe is “a gross distortion and a terrible slander.”  

The Economist provides this assessment: “The enormity of the Holocaust ought to have eradicated anti-Semitism for all time. Shamefully, it did not ... Impossible as it may be to measure people’s private feelings, the great majority of Europeans, it seems to us, harbor no suppressed anti-Semitic hatred. On the contrary, they sincerely deplore anti-Semitism. In most of Europe, to call somebody anti-Semitic is one of the worst accusations you can make. It is not one to be made lightly ... A quite separate point is that criticism of Israel, let alone criticism of its government, need not be motivated by hatred of Jews ... Israelis who feel Mr. Sharon is wrong to resist a settlement with the Palestinians are presumably not guided in that belief by anti-Semitism, not even of the disguised or pent-up kind ...”  

Concerning the defacement of synagogues and cemeteries, The Economist points out that, in the case of France, “As far as anybody knows, the perpetrators of nearly all the attacks on Jewish property there have been disaffected young men from France’s 4-5 million Muslims ... Opinion polls in France suggest that personal hostility to Jews, as opposed to the Israeli government, is neither widespread nor increasing ... Jews in France ... are on the whole respected, professionally successful, socially assimilated and well-represented in politics ... In Britain, too, Jews ... have prospered in all walks of life ... Britons of Jewish descent are well represented in Parliament and better than ever in the House of Lords, where they hold around a tenth of the seats ... Anyone defending Israel’s government nowadays is bound to have a harder time of it. But that does not mean that heavily anti-Semitic sentiment goes beyond a very small proportion of Europeans.”  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.