There are very few sure bets in life and even fewer guarantees. But we can always count on the ever reliable triumvirate of death, taxes and anti-Semitism. While the hatred of Jews has taken many forms (religious, racial, ideological) and been espoused by a great many disparate groups (the Church, Islamic fundamentalists, Nazis and communists), this age-old prejudice has proven itself to be remarkably resilient.
And while it is generally ill advised to engage in prognostication, it is a safe bet to predict a further increase in anti-Semitic violence in Europe over the year ahead.
“People understand there is no future for Jews in Europe,” Belgian Chief Rabbi Avraham Gigi recently stated, citing a growing sense of fear among his coreligionists.
This is a continuation of a trend that has been intensifying for several years, with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) already reporting in 2013 that a third of Jews polled had said that they refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear and 23 percent avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
Anti-Semitic violence tracks events in the Middle East rather closely. It spiked in 2014 during Israel’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Synagogues were attacked by mobs, protesters called for Jews to be sent “to the gas” and in Brussels, a gunman opened fire at a Jewish museum, killing four.
Overall, anti-Semitic violence rose by 40 percent worldwide, according to figures provided by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. A total of 766 violent incidents were recorded worldwide last year, a “sharp increase” over the 554 tallied in 2013, according to the European Jewish Congress, which contributed to the report.
And while overall figures for 2015 have not yet been released, it appears that the violence has continued.
In January of this year, a gunman entered Paris’s Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, taking hostages and killing four Jewish men.
A month later, another gunman opened fire at Copenhagen’s great synagogue, killing Danish-Israeli guard Dan Uzan, who was providing security for a bat mitzva ceremony going on inside.
Other attacks included the wounding of 14 worshipers at a synagogue in Bonneuilsur- Marn, France, by way of liquid poison on the building’s electronic lock in December; the October stabbing of a rabbi and two congregants in Marseilles; the January beating of an Israeli in Berlin who asked several locals to stop singing anti-Semitic songs on the subway and a drunk mob attacking a group of people in a synagogue in London in March.
In the British capital alone, anti-Semitic incidents increased by more than 60 percent over the past year.
According to figures recently released by the London Metropolitan Police, 483 anti-Semitic crimes were recorded during the 12-month period ending on November 15, while only 299 such incidents were recorded during the corresponding period in 2014, marking an increase of 61.5 percent.
And while efforts to try and extrapolate continental or worldwide trends from single cities are always suspect, the British data does seem to indicate that the rise in violence is in no danger of abating.
After lobbying by Jewish groups, the European Commission recently appointed Katharina von Schnurbein as the continent’s first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
However, doubts remain about the efficacy of European efforts to combat anti-Semitic violence, which is largely associated with immigrant Muslim populations.
While the far right has definitely made gains in several European nations, the largest threat, Jewish leaders have said, is not from neo-Nazis or fascists.
Commenting on Paris’ announcement of a €100 million plan to combat rising levels of anti-Semitism, critics, such as Prof. Robert Wistrich, the late head of Hebrew University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, have said that while they believe that the country has made good-faith efforts in the past, unless Europeans face up to the treatment of Israel in the media and the link between Muslim immigrant populations and anti-Semitism, all the efforts being made are “no more than tinkering with the surface of things.”
Such concerns are compounded by the massive influx of Middle Eastern migrants making their way to European shores. While organized Jewry on the continent has been largely supportive of efforts to aid refugees, wariness remains.
“Many refugees come from countries where Israel is an enemy; this resentment is often transferred to Jews in general,” a delegation of German Jews told Chancellor Angela Merkel late last year.
While worries over Muslim anti-Semitism are on the rise, however, worries over violent anti-Semitism from Christians have largely remained in the background, with remarkable progress having been made in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Between the pope categorically stating that the Church opposes converting Jews and the Polish Episcopate deeming anti-Semitism a sin, Catholic anti-Semitism may be in retreat.
That is not to say that it no longer exists, as seen by the burning of a Jew in effigy during an anti-migrant rally in largely Catholic Poland last November, but it is safe to say that it is no longer the primary threat.
In fact, while anti-Semitic attitudes and Holocaust revisionism are unfortunately much more common in the countries of the former Soviet Union than in western Europe, physical violence against Jews is quite low.
Moving forward into 2016, one of the main tasks for Europe will be to gear up to better understand patterns of anti-Semitic violence and to encourage citizens to report incidents.
European nations currently lack systematic methods of collecting data on anti-Semitism, contributing to “gross underreporting of the nature and characteristics of anti- Semitic incidents that occur,”the FRA said late last year.
“Incidents that are not reported are also not investigated and prosecuted, allowing offenders to think that they can carry out such attacks with relative impunity,” the organization stated.
The institution of reforms that allow law enforcement to effectively combat anti-Semitism is an essential prerequisite to restoring the confidence necessary for European Jews to continue living their lives on the continent.
There is no doubt that the most dangerous anti-Semitic attacks on Diaspora Jewish communities have been by Muslim immigrants or the children of Muslim immigrants.
The reluctance of European governments to clearly and unequivocally identify that problem as such is one of the major obstacles to prevention and treatment. The current influx to Europe of hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants will most probably only exacerbate the problem. In that respect, European Jews have every reason to be wary of the future.