A range of feelings rippled throughout the Jewish community and its supporters in London last weekend; There was the jubilation that thousands of people were prepared to stand together in the face of rising anti-Semitism to show solidarity with Britain’s 300,000 Jewish population. But then there was the disappointment this type of movement is still needed in our modern society. The harsh reality is that anti-Semitic attacks are up 500 percent in the UK, Jewish shops are being boycotted and 63% of British Jews are now considering leaving to go to Israel.
The problem for Jews across Europe is they now face a double political threat. Formerly a preserve of the far Right in Europe, anti-Semitism has now entrenched itself as a belief amongst the ‘politically self-awakened’ liberal Left. Prejudice and persecution on the far Right is to be sadly expected but thankfully for many years steady economic growth and the resulting continuation of progressive societies has stemmed any lurch towards the extreme again. However, since 2008 and the resulting Eurozone crisis, Europe has plunged into radicalism once again. Greece has seen the most terrifying rise of extremism, as its well-documented woes have seen a burst in far-right support. The explicitly Nazi Golden Dawn are on the rise, seeing their vote share double in some areas in May’s election, and are likely to make further gains in a country where 70% of the population admit being anti-Semitic. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party is on course to win a majority in the legislator whilst Hungary’s Jobbik party is making gains despite booting out leaders for being Jewish.
Most notoriously, anti-Semitism is flourishing in France, where synagogues are burning, Jewish shops are attacked and “gas the Jews” and “kill the Jews” can be heard splitting through the air. Four times as many Jews are now leaving France for Israel as a safe haven compared to this time last year; and with the specter of a National Front Presidency not improbable come 2017, the situation for Europe’s biggest Jewish community is likely to only deteriorate.
Nevertheless, whilst the scourge of Europe has always been anti-Semitism from the far Right, the big fear is that this discrimination has spread to the soft Left and threatens to infect the political mainstream. The banking collapse and the ongoing economic suffering of Europe lays bare the same ignorant views that existed in the post-recessions period of the 19th Century; how Jews are parasitic capitalists, bankers and usurpers rather than creators. It has led to the anti-capitalist liberal Left becoming a hot bed of anti-Semitism whilst marching and protesting against other ills of our society. Of course, political involvement is a crucial part of our free and democratic Europe, but too often people protest for the case of protesting, especially given its ease thanks to social media, regardless of not knowing the facts. The original and legitimate, even if not agreeable, protests against Israeli foreign policy in the recent Israel-Hamas conflict has been hijacked and toxified by those with an agenda against the very existence of Israel.
Just the other week whilst driving through London during a Palestinian Solidarity protest, I saw signs sponsored by the notoriously anti-Israel and anti-West ‘Stop the War Coalition’, alongside placards showing Israel colored with the Palestinian flag. Cries of genocide ignored the realities of the Israel Defense Forces' attempts to save citizens and how real genocide was occurring not so far away in Iraq. The protest was full of the Socialist Worker’s Party, the Green Party and young Muslims. By denying Israel’s right to exist, those protesting from the Left fail to understand how damaging this is to the Jewish community, given how entwined Israel is with the Jewish Diaspora. This belief is not only anti-Semitic under European Union law but calls of “From the mountain to the sea, Palestine shall be free” is a call for genocide and fails to understand the tragic history of the region on top of the historic persecution of the Jews. The European left neither understands the history of the Kingdom of Israel, a nation that extended far beyond modern Israel’s border; nor does it realize that Palestine was a name coined by the occupying Roman forces. On top of that, there is utmost ignorance over the Arab rejection of the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have gifted a healthy size land to the Arab population and would have created a ‘free’ Palestine.
The tragic verity of Europe is that protests against Israel have skewered away from being opposed to Israel’s policies and moved towards condemning Israel’s existent. Opposing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic; but the direction of the debate towards calling for the extinction of Israel certainly is. Doing so fails to appreciate the importance of the Jewish homeland to the Jewish population all over the world. Whilst Europe seeks scapegoats for the financial crisis, austerity and human costs of the economic depression, both the hard right and soft left is turning on Jews again. The recent bout of conflict in the region has been used to justify this. If the European Union is serious about being peace moderators in the Israel-Hamas conflict they need to address their own issues at home before they do so. Otherwise, there will be a dose of irony that a significant proportion of the Israeli population the EU seeks to help is fleeing from persecution in Europe.