Operation Protective Edge has seen an unprecedented rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe.
What is happening in Europe?
Synagogues being set on fire, Jews being beaten in the street, the shooting in Brussels’ Jewish museum this summer, a house covered in Nazi symbols in Brabant Flamand…. what is happening in Europe? Many in Israel and in the European Jewish community are crying out at the rise in anti-Semitic attacks this year on our soil. Even some European leaders, notably Angela Merkel this weekend and Francois Holland earlier this month, are beginning to show concern. For the first time in history, France tops the list of those making Aliyah and arriving in Israel in their droves. Anti-Semitic attacks have doubled in the past year in France, following a gradual build-up of fear since Mohammad Merah’s 2012 attacks, and Dieudonne’s controversial shows spreading the “quenelle” salute phenomenon famously repeated by Anelka on the football pitch in England. Recently in Belgium an “Anti-Semitic book fair” (yes, entitled just that: Foire aux livres antisemites) was halted at the last minute by order of the local Belgian authorities. We all saw the anti-Israel protests held all over Europe this summer in response to the war on Gaza – some displaying the al Qaeda flags, some with references to the Holocaust, some displaying images of Hitler. Documents and chants declared “Death to Israel” and “Jews to the gas chambers”. How has this rhetoric become socially acceptable?
However, powerful images from Gaza, scenes of destruction and death, are fuelling the crisis- and the repetition of such “wars” or “operations”, however you want to call them, leaves Israel with the image of a callous monster, unfeeling for the suffering of others. We see the figures- over 2,100 Gazans were killed, compared to just 70 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers. The Israeli interpretation of the term “proportionality”, where they claim that it is not just about the numbers killed, but the intent to kill, is rejected by most Europeans when confronted with such images of human suffering.
It is very clear, according to research carried out by the Kantor Centre for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University that Israeli wars/operations lead to a huge upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. They found this to be the case during and following Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and equally during Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 despite the short duration (eight days) of the conflict. A new report by the Anti-Defamation League this August claims that there has been “a dramatic upsurge in violence and vitriol against Jews around the world”, and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Proser claims that anti-Semitism has spiked 400% in Europe, 130% in the US, 1,200% in South America and 600% in South Africa.
What Israel, and the Jewish community, are overlooking, however, is that the majority of protesters such as those seen in Europe mainly come from immigrant backgrounds, and a few individuals on the far left. The typical European, while they may be disturbed by scenes from Gaza and almost certainly support the Palestinian side, will not be anti-Semitic but rather anti-Israeli policy. There is a genuine segment of the European population who look at the situation in Israel-Palestine with great concern, and their support of the Palestinian cause is not based on religious bias or prejudice, but in reaction to what many see as unjust conditions and laws applied to one people and not the other on the same land (such as land appropriation in Area C, military courts for Palestinians and civilian courts for Israelis etc). Such criticisms are often brushed off by Israelis as “anti-Semitic propaganda”, however such statements are a dangerous road to travel; those who previously viewed the issue as caused by unjust political decisions may begin to see it as something supported by all Jews, which is not the case, and leaves the Jewish diaspora in a vulnerable position. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister, said in January: “The refuge of those who don’t want a diplomatic arrangement is to claim that the criticism directed at Israel over the settlements stems from anti-Semitism.”
However, due to a general rise in racism amongst the “indigenous” population of Europe (if I may use such a term), the lines between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policy are becoming blurred. Personally, I have always seen Islamophobia as a far greater problem in Europe following 9/11 and 7/7 than anti-Semitism. Communities that previously lived harmoniously together, particularly in London, have become suspicious and hostile towards one another- which in turn is leading to more exclusion of minorities from society, and thus more radicalisation of isolated young people- a vicious circle. With the rise of the far right, Islamic extremism taking hold of some in the immigrant community, and the terrible images from Gaza, some Europeans are no longer recognising the difference between being anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli policy. I was shocked at a remark made recently to me. One individual, who will remain anonymous, an upstanding, respected, good member of the community (or so I thought) said “Hitler wasn’t wrong about them, was he?”. I was too stunned for words. I was ashamed. How has this become acceptable?
Israeli policy and decision makers must be aware of the impact their decisions have on their people worldwide- as like it or not, we are now living in a world of extremists. This is not meant to justify or excuse anti-Semitism- like all forms of racism, it must be rooted out and denounced- but we need to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Just as the UK voted to not conduct air strikes in Syria despite the terrible humanitarian catastrophe due to lessons learnt from Iraq and Libya, so too must the world learn to be more cautious about actions that could radicalise more young people, and thus create a new generation of terrorists. This is not handing victory to the “other”, it is not being held ransom or blackmailed by those on the “dark side” (if there is a “dark side”- to be discussed in another article)- it is simply being aware of the situation of the world as it is today. Other alternatives must be found to bombing. Europe has moved to the right, Israel has moved to the right, much of the Middle East is falling to the extremist ideology of IS (Islamic State)- thus all responsible people must be aware of the potential consequences of their actions in such a polarised world. This is not just a European problem, or a Jewish problem, it is a global problem.