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Growing Anti-Semitism in Europe: Is It a Myth or Reality?

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2004

In his book Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League declares: “I am convinced we currently face as great a threat to the safety of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s — if not a greater one.”  

Discussing recent developments in Europe, including attacks against synagogues and a growing hostility to Israel, The Jerusalem Report (Dec. 15, 2003) states: “For half a century, anti-Semitism was dormant, if not dead. But with Jews being targeted in suicide bombings, synagogue torchings and violent attacks across the globe, the ancient ailment has resurfaced with a vengeance ... the ancient scourge of anti-Semitism (has been) unleashed, this time in a new and insidious mutation known as anti-Zionism.”  

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, writes (National Jewish Post and Opinion, Jan. 7, 2004): “Unless Europeans find the strength forthrightly to address this problem — and all indicators suggest that is unlikely — there is reason to expect a general Jewish exodus from Europe, perhaps along the lines of the general Jewish exodus from Muslim countries a half century ago.”  

Writing in New York Magazine, Craig Horowitz notes that, “The stunning result of the burgeoning anti-Israel, anti-Zionist emotion is a kind of politically correct anti-Semitism ... It is once again acceptable in polite society, particularly among people with left-of-center political views, to freely express anti-Jewish feelings.”  

Mortimer Zuckerman, former chairman of the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, says that, “Israel has become the Jew among nations. It is both the surrogate — the respectable way of expressing anti-Semitism — and the collective Jew. Israel is being held to a different standard.” (U.S.News and World Report, Nov. 3, 2003)  

Many others, however, argue that what is being called “anti-Semitism” is, in fact, anti-Zionism, which is something quite different, or is simply criticism of Israeli government policies.  

A study issued by the European Union, “Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union” found that in a sample monitoring period (May 15-June 15, 2002), “it can be concluded that the anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims mostly of Arab descent.”  

Asking whether Europe is “Anti-Israeli and Anti-Semitic,” Leon Hadar, former Jerusalem Post correspondent at the U.N. and now research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, argues that much of the assertion of a “new anti-Semitism” is “based on reports of several attacks on Jews and Jewish property ... in France, since the start of the second intifada in the autumn of 2000 and especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Most of these crimes were committed by immigrants living in that country, many of whom are disaffected young men from among France’s four to five million Muslims. Muslims were also behind similar anti-Jewish incidents in a few other European countries. ...”  

Writing in Chronicles (Jan. 2004) Hadar reports that public opinion polls “indicate antisemitism (both its racial and religious versions) has been in steep decline in most of Western Europe ... an overwhelming majority of young people polled in France believe that Frenchmen and Europeans should speak more about the holocaust, and nearly nine out of ten agreed that attacks on synagogues are ‘scandalous.’ ... What most Europeans are projecting is not a new or old form of anti-Semitism, but a more critical approach toward the policies of the state of Israel, especially in her treatment of the Palestinians ... Describing European attitudes toward Israel as ‘anti-Israeli’ would be as misleading as suggesting that American policies in the Middle East are ‘anti-Arab’ or ‘anti-Palestinian.’ The majority of Europeans hold positions similar to those of a large number of Israelis — namely that Israel should dismantle most of the illegal settlements she established in the West Bank and Gaza and withdraw to the 1967 lines in exchange for peace and security; that an independent Palestinian state should be established side by side with Israel ...”  

Hadar warns that labeling European views and policies as “anti-Semitic” and “anti Israel” could “become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” He quotes leading Israeli commentator and peace activist Uri Avnery: “Accusing all critics of his (Sharon’s) policy of being anti-Semites, they are branding large communities with this mark, and many good people who feel no hatred towards the Jews, but who detest persecution of the Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites. Thus, the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability.”  

In an article, “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism” (The Nation, Feb. 2, 2004) Brian Klug, associate professor of philosophy at St, Xavier University and U.S. consulting editor of Patterns of Prejudice, published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London, states that, “To argue that hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews are one and the same thing is to conflate the Jewish state with the Jewish people. In fact, Israel is one thing, Jewry another. Accordingly, anti-Zionism is one thing, anti-Semitism another. They are separate.”  

Klug points to Abraham Foxman’s declaration that, “What some like to call anti-Zionism is, in reality, anti-Semitism, always, everywhere, and for all time. Therefore, anti-Zionism is not a politically legitimate point of view, but rather an expression of bigotry and hatred.”  

In reality, Klug points out, most Jews themselves were historically critical of Zionism, and many are today. He shows that those in England who supported the Balfour Declaration of 1917 included anti-Semites who opposed any further Jewish immigration to Britain while its opponents were many of England’s most prominent Jewish leaders. Among them was Edwin Montagu, a member of the Cabinet. He rejected what he saw as the “basic premise of Zionism,” that Jews constitute a separate nation. In an official memorandum in August 1917 he wrote: “I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government (support for a Jewish state in Palestine) is anti-Semitic in result and will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”  

He quotes Akiva Eldar, who wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “It is much easier to claim the entire world is against us than to admit that the State of Israel, which rose as a refuge and a source of pride for Jews ... has become a genuine source of danger and a source of shameful embarrassment to Jews who choose to live outside its borders.”  

Those who say that we now face a global “war against the Jews,” writes Klug, are wrong: “There is no such war. It is, in fact, as much a figment of the imagination as its mirror image: a Jewish conspiracy against the world ... When anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing — the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance.”  

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