Despite appearances, Europe is not the back lot for a summer horror film in which Jews fear for their lives, with chants of “Death to the Jews,” “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas,” “Hitler was Right,” juxtaposed against the faint echo of a similar soundtrack that consumed the continent not too long ago.
Such scenes are available for viewing on cable news and the Internet. But this is no movie, not a “War of the Worlds” media stunt but rather a full-blown pogrom in progress. All of it is in real time, the actors aren’t acting and the violence doesn’t require special effects. The scenes are not moving toward a happy ending, either.
An entire summer spectacle of anti-Semitism is taking place on the very same continent where two out of three Jews were once murdered by the Nazis and their various European enablers.
Sadly, this story is in no need of script doctors to pump up the audience and sensationalize the plot. What’s needed are real doctors to stitch up the wounded. The rioters, seemingly, do not require any motivation to finish the job.
In France, the epicenter of this new-wave anti-Semitism, protesters in Paris attempted to storm two synagogues and succeeded in trapping 200 Jews in a third. In Sarcelles, smoke bombs preceded the vandalizing of a kosher grocery and pharmacy. In Barbès, stone-throwing teenagers burned Israeli flags and unfurled a banner that read, “Israhell.”
Over the past month, eight synagogues in France have been targeted. In Toulouse, the scene where, in 2012, an Islamist murdered a teacher and three children at a Jewish school, two firebombs were hurled at a Jewish community center.
In Germany, arsonists threw firebombs at a synagogue in Wuppertal. An imam in Berlin called on Allah to smite all “Zionist Jews,” and an Orthodox Jewish teenager was assaulted.
When in Rome it’s best not to do what Italy’s neo-Nazis are doing – spray-painting swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on Jewish-owned businesses. Four people were murdered at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Norway’s Jewish museum is closed due to security concerns.
Thousands of demonstrators, purportedly in solidarity with Gaza’s victims, have protested in England, Vienna and Amsterdam – yet much of the rage is directed at Jews, and not specifically Israelis. England is reporting a 50 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts with 100 hate crimes occurring in July alone.
The climate for Jews in Europe had changed even before the crisis in Gaza. In a 2013 study, one-third of European Jews reported that they no longer wear religious attire or display Jewish symbols in public – 23% avoid Jewish events or venues altogether.
Many said they were contemplating emigration to Israel. France alone is expected to lose 5,000 Jews this year, to Israel’s gain.
Several months ago far-right extremists and neo-Nazis catapulted to victory in the European Parliamentary elections. Not since the 1930s had such a configuration of fascists found themselves in the seat of power.
And here’s a bit of paradoxical chutzpah: while Jews are feeling unwelcome in Europe – their post-Holocaust sanctuary more short-lived than anyone had imagined – some Europeans are charging Israel with genocide.
Surely Europe, a mere generation after the Holocaust, is without the moral authority to point the finger at the descendants of a mass murder that was committed on its soil. Yet, however one may feel about the tremendous suffering in the Middle East, Palestinians, who have actually doubled in number since the occupation, are categorically not facing genocide. Ask any Armenian, Cambodian, Congolese, Sudanese, Rwandan, Mayan, Bosnian and, of course, Holocaust survivor how quickly they would have traded places with Gazans if given the chance.
There are those who say that these premonitions of 1930s Germany have little to do with today’s Europe and everything to do with the many young, unemployed, and culturally isolated Muslims who are raging against Israel, and their own bleak circumstances. The gravitational pull of Gaza is being taken to the European streets where Muslims now just happen to live.
It is true that many of the European protesters are Muslim immigrants – along with a smattering of left- and right-wing extremists who suddenly have something to unite them. It is also true that European foreign ministers have been steadfast in condemning these anti-Semitic attacks against the remnants of European Jewry.
Nonetheless, the sickness of anti-Semitism was surely not cured with the liberation of Auschwitz. As Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argues in his book, The Devil That Never Dies, Jew-hatred may have dissipated during the postwar era, but it still lay dormant, always ready to resurface and reclaim its title as the world’s favorite prejudice.
European Jewry, hardened by history, now more mobile, surely better informed and with Israel as a safe haven, has to decide whether these demonstrations are mere flashpoints, or represent something far deeper.
The author is a novelist, essayist and Senior Fellow at NYU School of Law, is the author, most recently, of Payback: The Case for Revenge.