European Jewish Congress: Amid rising anti-Semitism, Jewish life in Europe unsustainable

President Moshe Kantor presents results of study on worldwide anti-Semitism in 2013; over the past year 554 “registered violent anti-Semitic acts” were recorded.

Anti Semitism 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Anti Semitism 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
“Normative Jewish life in Europe is unsustainable,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said on Sunday. Presenting the results of a study on worldwide anti-Semitism in 2013 by the eponymous Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, Kantor cited increasing rising anti-Semitism and decreased “fear and insecurity” as factors leading to a European Jewish decline.
Citing a November study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights that showed that almost a third of Jews in several European countries are mulling emigration, Kantor asserted that “Jews do not feel safe or secure in certain communities in Europe.”
Anti-Semitic incidents are now “an almost daily phenomenon,” the Kantor Center reported.
“According to that survey, almost half of the Jewish population is afraid of being verbally or physically attacked in a public place because they are Jewish and 25 percent of Jews will not wear anything that identifies them as Jewish or go near a Jewish institution for fear of an attack,” he said. “European governments must be pressed to address this issue with utmost urgency.”
A third of Jews polled in the FRA study refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23% avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
While 66% reported anti-Semitism as having a negative affect on their lives, 77% did not bother reporting abuse or harassment.
Almost a third were mulling emigration as a response to heightened anti-Jewish sentiment.
The countries facing the worst anti-Semitism are Hungary, France, Belgium and Sweden, the ministry said, quoting the FRA study.
The FRA came under fire from Jewish organizations as well as Israel for dropping a working definition of anti-Semitism from its website last year.
Kantor said that he believes that it is easy to ignore hate and incitement when there are no “direct victims” but that such manifestations of anti-Semitism can easily be converted into action.
“We received a stark lesson two weeks ago in Kansas City that there are many dangerous anti-Semites out there who just need the trigger and the opportunity to transfer their hate speech into violent action,” Kantor said, referring to a recent shooting at a Jewish Community Center in the United States.
Three people, none of them Jews, were killed in that attack, which was perpetrated by a former Klansman and white supremacist.
Kantor is not the only prominent Jewish figure to project a pessimistic future for European Jewry.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after the far-right Jobbik party won a fifth of the parliamentary seats in Hungarian elections earlier this month, the Hebrew University’s Robert Wistrich, considered one of the foremost experts on anti-Semitism worldwide, cautioned that Jewish life in much of Europe will eventually become untenable.
“The Jews in Europe do not have a future... I think that their future is bleak,” he prognosticated.
Extrapolating from the success of far-right parties such as Jobbik, Svoboda in Ukraine, the National Front in France, and Golden Dawn in Greece, Wistrich said he believes that the nationalist Right would make significant gains in upcoming elections for the European Parliament.
Anti-Defamation League national chairman has also expressed worries over the rise of the European far-right, cautioning that it will achieve remarkable electoral successes when Europeans go to the polls in May.
“They’re going to try to maximize their political impact,” Foxman told the Post in January.
“I think we need to be very aware and vigilant to what [kind] of a power base they establish pan-Europe.”
Foxman also critiqued the European Union over its response to the rise in anti-Semitism.
“There is no serious monitoring by continental entities,” Foxman said.
In January the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry issued a report describing a “bleak atmosphere” for Jews in Europe.
The World Jewish Congress has also weighed in on the issue of anti-Semitism, with the international body calling for a Europe-wide ban on neo-Nazi political parties during its plenary assembly in Budapest last May.
Towards the end of 2013 the Greek government instituted a sweeping crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, following the murder of a popular liberal rapper by a party sympathizer.
Other European countries declined to follow suit.
According to the Anti-Semitism Worldwide 2013 survey distributed by the Kantor Center in conjunction with the University’s Moshe Kantor Database for the Study of Contemporary anti-Semitism and Racism and the EJC, anti-Semitism has begun to “infiltrate into the mainstream from the extreme Left and Right fringes.”
The perceived source of anti-Semitism differs on a country by country basis, the report noted.
Eighty percent of Hungarian Jews look at the far-right as the “main source of threat,” while 60% of Italians “pointed to the Left.”
Almost three quarters of French Jews and 60% in Belgium citied their respective countries’ large Muslim immigrant communities.
Traditional Christian religious anti-Semitism was the least cited of all the various forms of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Anti-Semitic violence declined in 2013 but overall anti-Semitism is on the rise, according to the Kantor Center.
This analysis, the report said, is based on the “growing intensity of and increase in visual and verbal expressions, insults, abusive language and behavior, threats and harassments, and not necessarily on an increase in the number of violent incidents – although in some countries manifestations of violent anti-Semitic [sentiments] are on the rise, or have become more extreme.”
Moreover, the authors contend, it is likely that given the reluctance of many to report being assaulted, “the situation is worse than the situation reported by monitoring agencies and communities.”
Seventy seven percent of Jews polled by the FRA have said that they do not report anti-Semitic harassment.
Over the past year, 554 “registered violent anti-Semitic acts” were recorded, including assaults with and without weapons as well as arson, vandalism and direct threats against Jewish institutions and property.
While this marks a drop from the 686 incidents recorded the previous year, a 19% drop, the lower level of attacks is still close to the annual average for the past decade, which is “quite high compared to the preceding decade’s” rate of between 150 and 200 annual incidents.
“In other words, the drop in 2013 was compared to an exceptional year in which incidents spiked,” the authors hedged. “It should also be noted that the number of direct attacks against persons are steadily increasing, mostly committed randomly with bare hands or a near-athand instrument.”
France experienced the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents, with 116, down from 200 in 2012, a sevenfold increase over the past 13 years.
Violence rose in the United Kingdom (95 vs. 84 in 2012), Canada (83 vs. 74), Germany (36 vs. 23 ), the Ukraine (23 vs.
15 in 2012), Russia (15 v. 11) and Hungary (14 vs. 12).
Poland and Italy experienced declines in reported incidents.
The Center’s figures must be understood in context, the report asserted, saying that Jews are disproportionately represented among the victims of hate crimes, despite constituting only a minute percentage of the populations of the countries in which they reside.
Among the issues facing European Jewry over the past year have been campaigns to ban circumcision, bans on ritual slaughter in several countries, the spread of the sieg heil (the Nazi salute) like the quenelle salute and the use of anti-Semitism as a political weapon in the conflict between Russian and Ukraine.
Poland banned ritual slaughter in January 2013, and a year later Denmark did too. However, in early 2014 Poland legalized the practice for purely internal communal consumption – not for export.
Last October the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended that countries reassess the legality of circumcision, which it termed a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”
The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers subsequently repudiated the PACE resolution in 2014.
“The circumcision issue could be understood as a veiled attempt to force Jews to leave Europe, since while one can import kosher meat, but Jews cannot forgo traditional circumcision,” the Kantor Center posited.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis said in response to the report: “Besides anti-Semitic attacks, European Jews are being challenged and made [to] feel unwelcome by infringements on freedom of their faith in many countries of Europe, which for almost a millennia welcomed Jews and their religion.”
The quenelle, a quasi-Nazi salute invented by popular French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala “has become a popular avenue for expressing negative feelings towards Jews,” the Kantor Center noted.
“The gesture has been adopted by people from various circles – mostly youngsters who probably are not affiliated with identifiable organizations, who perform and record the gesture – most often in close proximity to Jewish sites such as synagogues, cemeteries, street signs in Jewish quarters and especially near commemoration sites and Holocaust monuments (the most bold faced, standing in front of the infamous entrance gate to Auschwitz),” it said.
In the current conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, both sides have been quick to accuse the other of fomenting anti-Semitism and communal leaders in the Ukraine have accused Russia of instigating a series of anti-Semitic incidents in order to justify its annexation of Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that he feels obligated to protect ethnic Russians, Jews and other minorities in the Ukraine.
“Both sides are using anti-Semitism” to tarnish the other, the Kantor Center’s Irena Cantorovich said at the press conference Sunday morning.
“We can’t say who is behind these incidents.”
The rise in anti-Semitism cannot be directly correlated with events in the Middle East, indicating that “what we witnessed in 2013 is ‘not anti-Semitism’ per se,” the report stated.
It further asserted that “the anti-Zionism that permeates leftist circles as part of a fixed worldview of individuals and groups as a cultural code that enables those propagating it to deny that their views reflect anti-Semitic overtones.”
It defined such attitudes as “Anti-Semitism Denial,” a phenomenon “parallel” to Holocaust denial.
European Jewry is facing anti-Semitism on the one hand and assimilation on the other, eroding the community from two sides.
“Despite what people might think, anti-Semitism does not strengthen our ties with Jews overseas,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier this year. “For every Jew who makes aliya as a result of anti-Semitism, there are many others who cut ties with Judaism and the Jewish way of life.”
In 2010 the Knesset’s Information and Research Center reported an intermarriage rate over 35% in France and England and over 65% in several Eastern European nations.
In reaction to Kantor’s statement, several Jewish groups told the Post that they agreed with him but hoped that the situation could be salvaged.
Jane Braden-Golay, president of the European Union of Jeiwsh Students, told the Post that she agreed that “normative Jewish life in Europe won’t be sustainable if so many Jews continue to live in fear and insecurity.”
“Confronted with hate speech online, extremist rhetoric in political arenas and BDS campaigns on campuses, there is a risk that young Jews may begin to view their Jewish identities as a burden,” she said.
However, she continued, it may be possible to strengthen the younger generation of European Jews and “ultimately turn around these developments.”
One common refrain from Jewish groups was the need to impel European governments to take decisive action.
“We believe that there is a need for improvement in the matter of anti-Semitism that has to come from European Governments and through education,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association said.
Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that “a lot depends on the degree of political power wielded by the local anti-Semitic parties.”