Belittling Anti-Semitism

"European progressives' obsession with Israel has led them to explain away physical and verbal abuse, or even murder, of their own Jewish citiziens."

The pan-European response to the slaughter of four Jews at a Parisian kosher supermarket in January was commendable. But let’s face it—had it not been for the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo journalists two days earlier, it is doubtful that France would have taken to the streets; world leaders would not have flocked to Paris; and the French army would probably not have deployed 10,000 personnel to protect Jewish institutions. Nothing similar happened when a lone jihadi gunman murdered a rabbi, two of his children and a third pupil at a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012, or when another graduate of the Syrian jihad murdered two workers and two visitors at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May.

It is only when radical Islam went beyond the murder of Jews (or Israelis) that Europeans felt outraged. This time Jewish deaths were part of a larger drama, involving a sustained assault on Western freedoms by radical Islam. But those who marched cried for freedom, not necessarily for its Jewish martyrs. Responses will now focus on the jihadi threat and will probably seek to explain anti-Semitism as its by-product.

The response to the shootings in Copenhagen last month followed a similar pattern. The attack on a synagogue, in which a young Danish Jew died preventing much worse slaughter at a bar mitzvah, was treated  by the media as an afterthought.

Viewing Europe’s anti-Semitism as mainly an Islamist problem is an honest mistake. After all, of late the deadliest instances of anti-Semitism in Europe all involved Muslim fanatics killing Jews. But to focus alone on the rampant anti-Semitism of the Islamic world and its spread to Europe’s Muslim communities is to paper over the responsibilities of European societies at large, where anti-Semitism was alive and well long before Europe’s Muslims became exposed to jihadi ideology. But it is a mistake caused by selective hearing.

The Jewish experience across Western Europe since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 is one of eroding security and growing isolation. Long before the armed atrocities of Marseille, Brussels and Paris, Jews have felt that they were biding their time, and for good reasons. The annual data on anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, recently released by the Community Security Trust, show a staggering increase of incidents in 2014, involving both verbal and physical abuse, the likes of which Anglo-Jewry has no living memory of. The numbers are higher than at the height of the second intifada more than a decade ago, when they were already higher than at any time on record.

British figures echo the drama of Jewish communities across Europe. The anti-Semitism they are painfully familiar with is a slow, metastasising disease, not a deadly seasonal virus suddenly resurfacing from a distant past. Anti-Semitism has been growing steadily across all segments of European society in recent times, and its Muslim component is only one element of a much more complex problem.

Fanned by an obsessive and irrational hatred for Israel, a significant part of the progressive press and commentariat in Western Europe has laid the blame for unrest in the  Middle East squarely at Israel’s door, often choosing to downplay, ignore and effectively excuse Palestinian atrocities. Their near-monopoly over the press and airwaves has pushed the dial of public opinion accordingly.

Their obsession with Israel has often led them to explain away physical and verbal abuse, or even murder. of their own Jewish citizens as a lamentable but understandable by-product of Muslim and Arab rage at “Israeli policies”. Never mind that European Jews have no say on Israeli policies; never mind that no one would ever justify anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment on account of what Arab governments or Islamic movements perpetrate, daily, across Arab lands and the Islamic world; and never mind that Israeli policies are often milder, by comparison, than what Western governments do in similar circumstances.

In some instances, such attempts to belittle anti-Semitism as a by-product of a remote political conflict have crossed the line, embracing, albeit gingerly, the old tropes of anti-Semitism. And, invariably, intellectuals have called upon Jews to dissociate themselves from Israeli actions as a way to reduce the risk of anti-Semitic outbursts—thereby shifting blame from the aggressors to their victims.

Such views ultimately facilitated the rise of a Red-Green alliance, where hatred of America, Israel and the Western-made global order has enabled unrepentant leftists and Islamists to join forces. Their cooperation, which was already visible in the anti-Israel hate fest at the 2001 Durban Conference in South Africa, went beyond an alliance of convenience through grassroots activism against Israel and expanded to create political alliances and movements. Holocaust denial, a prominent feature of Muslim anti-Semitism, found its way into this coalition and helped plug in part of the extreme Right as well, which may hate Muslim immigrants, but loathes Israel, the Jews, America and capitalism.

And although mainstream Europeans feel little sympathy for assorted anarchists, Trotskyites and other hard-left ideologues, much less for neo-Nazis and Islamists, they somehow felt mollified when attacks against Jews were couched in anti-Israel rhetoric; or when Israel’s reproach somehow lightened the burden of European guilt over the Holocaust through facile comparisons between Israel and the Nazis.

This, and not jihadi violence alone, is the mould that shaped a new European anti-Semitism. Unless Europe is prepared to confront all strains of the anti-Semitic virus, not just the Islamist one, it will ultimately see its Jewish communities crouch in fear, lose their vitality, and seek refuge in distant lands.

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