The horrific attack at the site of the Brussels Jewish Museum on Saturday afternoon – that four people dead – was another reminder of the raging anti-Semitism in Europe. It was also a testament to the shared fates of the Jewish people, no matter where they live. Two of the four fatalities were an Israeli couple visiting from Tel Aviv, while the third was a young French woman.
Apparently, the attacker or attackers – whose sole objective was to kill Jews because they are Jews – took advantage of the lax security arrangements. As Maurice Sosnowski of the Belgian Jewish Community noted in a conversation with President Shimon Peres after the attack, the museum is the only Jewish center that is unprotected – because it is not a building that is directly connected to the Jewish community.
Sosnowski went on to note that, “the modus operandi reminds us of the shooting in Toulouse.”
Indeed, it is hard to avoid the initial impression that, like Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah and like the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street last year, the deadly attack in Brussels was perpetrated by “lone wolf” locals without the backing of a large terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seemed to think that the attack was connected to a strong anti-Israel sentiment among large parts of European public opinion.
“This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said in a statement hours after the attack. “Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman echoed Netanyahu, blaming anti-Israel incitement for creating an antagonistic, anti-Jewish atmosphere in Europe and elsewhere.
Liberman denounced critics of Israel who “compare the construction of a house for a Jewish family in our ancestral land to murderous and cruel terrorist attacks carried out by villainous anti-Semites and terrorists, whether in Gaza or in Brussels.”
On the same day in Creteil, near Paris, another brutal attack was perpetrated against two brothers, aged 21 and 18, who were wearing kippot and were on their way to synagogue. Thankfully, this assault was not fatal. The two were severely beaten by assailants, apparently wearing brass knuckles, but are expected to recover.
While one possible motivation for these attacks is undoubtedly anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment, there is also an old-new form of anti-Semitic expression sweeping across Europe in recent years.
Symptoms of this particular strain of anti-Judaism are campaigns against aspects of Jewish religious expression.
Even strong supporters of Israel such as Holland’s Geert Wilders have targeted ritual slaughter, for instance. Others – both on the Left and on the Right – have attempted to ban circumcision. Apparently they believe that alienating Europe’s religious Jews is a small price to pay for fostering an anti-Muslim atmosphere that might discourage Muslim immigration.
Once upon a time an exception was made in the anti-Zionist narrative for the sorts of Jews killed in the Shoah. The wandering Jew, the Jew with the portable homeland whose identity was defined by his religion and his religious texts, not his connection to a particular piece of land, was in vogue in Europe. The Jew sans Zionism seemed to represent the very embodiment of a new cosmopolitan, borderless Europe that had eschewed all that had made it evil during the two world wars. Europeans, at least those who bought in to the post-nationalist zeitgeist, seemingly had no problems with the ritual aspects of Judaism. These were the quaint religious ceremonies of an ancient, exiled people.
But for a few years now, there has also been an attack on the religious practices of Europe’s Jews, who are often the collateral damage of an anti-Muslim sentiment.
From attempted bans on circumcision and ritual slaughter to Israel bashing, Europe has become an increasingly inhospitable place for Jews. The tragic attack in Brussels and the intolerable beatings outside Paris are just the latest examples of anti-Semitism again rearing its ugly head, even among Europeans who should have learned from their past.
We call on all European leaders not only to condemn these attacks, but to act swiftly to catch their perpetrators and bring them to justice.