‘People understand there is no future for Jews in Europe.”
That phrase, uttered by Belgian Chief Rabbi Avraham Gigi shortly after a coordinated series of attacks killed 130 people across Paris, highlighted the fear felt by many Jews across the European continent. And while that attack was not directed against Jews (although one of the targets had until recently been Jewish owned and was known for hosting pro-Israel events) the past year saw no shortage of violence, vandalism and harassment aimed squarely at European Jewry.
“There is a sense of fear in the streets. The Belgians understand that they, too, are targets of terrorism. Jews now pray in their homes [as opposed to at synagogues] and some of them are planning on emigrating,” the rabbi told Israel Radio.Click here for more stories from the "2015 - The Year That Was" Jpost special
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.
At the time, almost a third were mulling emigration.
Violence, which tracks events in the Middle East rather closely, then 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 figures for 2014 have not yet been released, it appears that the violence has continued.
In January of this year, a gunman entered Paris’s HyperCacher kosher supermarket, taking hostages and killing four Jewish men. A month later, another gunman opened fire at Copenhagen’s great synagogue, killing Danish-Israel 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 Bonneuil-sur-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; the burning of a Jew in effigy during an anti-migrant rally in November in Poland; and a drunk mob attacking a group of people in a synagogue in London in March.
As the violence continued, so did communal efforts to bring the resources of national and continental governments to bear on the problem. In the aftermath of the Brussels museum shooting, Jewish leaders, especially in Belgium, began lobbying for the creation of European Union position analogous to that of the American State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
In January, the campaign intensified when, during a meeting with EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chief Federica Mogherini, representatives of the European Jewish Congress invoked the recent HyperCacher attacks and demanded that the EU ramp up its efforts to protect its Jewish citizens.
“Now more than ever, the European Union needs to create a position and organization specifically geared toward finding long-lasting solutions for anti-Semitism and other forms of racism,” said EJC president Dr.
Moshe Kantor, urging the formation of a task force dealing with the issue.
According to Kantor, who has previously said that “normative Jewish life is unsustainable” without an amelioration in the fear and insecurity felt by Europe’s Jews, recent events have demonstrated that the Jews’ sense of security in parts of Europe is “at its lowest point since the end of the Holocaust and many are leaving their homes as a result.”
That demand was met almost a year later when in early December the European Commission appointed Katharina von Schnurbein as the continent’s first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
Alongside von Schnurbein, a German national who had previously coordinated relations with religious organizations, the commission also appointed an official to combat anti-Muslim hatred.
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.
That worry was at the core of the discussion over the EC’s announcement in April that it would hold a conference that implies an equivalence between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Jewish community leaders in Europe and elsewhere told The Jerusalem Post that despite being largely supportive of the FRA’s work, they believed it inappropriate for it to juxtapose hate directed against Muslims with anti-Semitism as if both were one and the same.
“The challenge of combating anti-Semitism would be better served by a stand-alone colloquium fully focused on the problem,” said Eric Fusfield, the legislative affairs director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
“Opponents of anti-Semitism have tried for years to promote greater understanding of anti-Semitism as a distinct phenomenon with unique dimensions sometimes requiring unique solutions,” he said.
England’s Community Security Trust, an anti-Semitism watchdog, was likewise opposed to the format of the conference.
According to Michael Whine, CST director of government and international affairs, many European countries seek to “equate anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in the same breath and they are not the same.
Muslims are suffering in Europe, and that is being monitored, but it’s certainly not coming from the Jews, whereas many of the attacks against Jews are coming from the Muslims.”
That same issue stood at the center of Paris’ announcement in April that it would begin a massive national effort to combat France’s rising levels of anti-Semitism. The €100 million plan includes regular monitoring of racism and anti-Semitism in order to generate data; protect Jewish and Muslim houses of worship and communal institutions; and push back against discrimination.
While the plan was widely lauded by Jews, there were critics, such as Prof. Robert Wistrich, the late head of Hebrew University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, who said that while he believes France 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.”
“You have the denial, for instance, that there is any relationship between so-called criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism but, in fact, most of what goes by the name of criticism of Israel is feeding on a daily basis the growing demonization of the Jewish state, which in turn spills over, I would say almost with mathematical inevitability, into some form of dislike, hostility or even loathing of Jews,” he explained.
“Governments treat the whole Muslim issue as taboo.
They won’t touch it. They will rarely ever admit that there is such a thing as Muslim anti-Semitism; for political reasons they won’t admit it. So we have this kind of paralyzing political correctness. It’s very difficult to even take the first step in the right direction and that’s not going to happen.”
“To fight a disease you have to name causes, and generally in Western Europe most of the anti-Semitic attacks are from young Muslim people,” agreed Joel Rubinfeld of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.
There is a need to identify those responsible for anti-Semitism “and they are coming from two main ares: the Left and far Left, and the Muslim community.”
On a more positive note, however, following British Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis’s call for Jewish schools to fulfill a government educational requirement to teach a second religion by instituting classes in Islamic studies, the leadership of the 130-member-strong Association of Muslim Schools announced that it would, in turn, reciprocate and push its members to teach Judaic studies classes.
The influx of Arab refugees from the Middle East also threatens to pose a unique challenge for European Jews.
While many Jewish organizations on the continent have come out strongly in favor of the absorption of Syrian migrants, recalling their own experiences as refugees during World War II, the Jewish community of Germany has cautioned that increased Arab immigration could bode badly for their co-religionists.
Speaking with Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting with the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union party recently, representatives of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said that while they believe that “Germany must provide protection” to those fleeing from war, Berlin must make sure that only legitimate refugees are provided sanctuary.
“Many refugees come from countries where Israel is an enemy; this resentment is often transferred to Jews in general,” they warned.
These statements were the same almost word-forword as those made by Central Council head Josef Schuster during a previous meeting with Merkel earlier this month.
Despite its reservations, the organized German Jewish community has come out in favor of accepting Syrian refugees.
In a joint op-ed with World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder in September, Schuster wrote that most of the refugees were “grateful to be permitted to live in safety here, and in turn they are willing to contribute to their host country,” and they should be given the chance to do so.
As long as the migrants are familiarized with Western values, including the German constitution, and brought to an “acceptance that support for Israel is part of the political DNA of this country,” their arrival could “contribute to a better understanding between different peoples and religions,” they wrote.
In recent weeks Germany’s security and intelligence agencies expressed alarm over the influx of refugees and migrants who harbor radical Islamic views and hatred of Jews.
According to a security document read by top-level agency personnel and obtained by newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Germany is “importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other peoples, as well as a different societal and legal understanding.”
What is certain is that whatever attacks do take place will not all be properly reported.
European nations 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 European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) asserted in September.
In a new report on data availability, the agency stated that “few EU member states operate official data collection mechanisms that record anti-Semitic incidents in any great detail” and this lack “limits the ability of policy makers” to deal effectively with growing hate crimes.
“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.
While religiously motivated violence has characterized western Europe, eastern Europe has faced a different challenge, with issues of memory and culpability for the Holocaust taking center stage.
But despite the greater prevalence of anti-Semitic stereotypes and, sometimes, government memorialization of collaborators in many Eastern European countries, it is the Jews in the more advanced West who say that they feel insecure regarding their future.