Antisemitism in the time of coronavirus

Along came the Coronavirus and a flashback to medieval and Nazi-style defamation, such as the accusation that French Health Minister, Agnès Buzyn, poisoned the wells.

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name" (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)
People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name"
(photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)
British Commonwealth Chief Rabbi emeritus, Jonathan Sacks, was the first to define antisemitism as “a virus in constant mutation,” to fit the prevailing environmental circumstances.
I had called it, in the same collection of essays, “a drop of mercury in the palm of the hand... Like a thermostat, when the environment is cool and stable, it remains flat. When heated and hostile, it bulges responding to the prevalent fever. In both cases, antisemitism may be contained, but never disappears. Indeed, it is subject to waves.
I had arrived in France to open a European office in 1980, and was welcomed by the first wave of antisemitic terror: The Succot bombing of the Copernic synagogue in Paris.
I was visiting the late journalist and diplomat, Tamar Golan,who lived around the corner from Copernic. Her house guest, Aliza Shagrir had just arrived from Israel, She asked if anything was needed for the festive dinner. Tamar suggested a few dates and requested that I point out the fruit shop in the rue Copernic. As I walked away, I felt the shock wave of the bomb, where Aliza lost her life.
Next morning, Prime Minister Raymond Barre, announced: “This odious bombing wanting to strike Jews who were going to the synagogue, hit innocent French people.” In fact, The victims were a Spanish chauffeur, a Portuguese concierge, Aliza and an “innocent Frenchman” passing by on a scooter, plus 46 wounded.
Copernic began - over a period of two years - a spree of 73 shootings and bombings of Jewish and Israeli targets across Western Europe, of which 29 in France. It ended with the Goldenberg restaurant massacre of nine in the Jewish quarter of Paris.
Why did it end? In 1982, Israel entered Lebanon after the coastal bus bombing. European terrorists being trained in Palestinian camps fled home and, in need of money, began attacking banks, then businesses, political figures, embassies and military bases. Governments cracked down until, in the late 80’s, these mainly extreme left groups were neutralized. The first antisemitic wave had dissolved.
The second wave, in 2000, brought the Intifada to Europe, where native-born radicalized youth played the role of “Palestinians” attacking their Jewish neighbors, considered by them as “Israelis.”
This new wave fizzled out as the perpetrators, resident in slum peripheries, entered city centres to smash cars and shop windows. Governments cracked down again.
The third wave arrived in France with individual murders, escalating to the Toulouse Jewish school and the kosher hypermarket - the latter considered hybrid in the public eye, as linked to the murderous attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
While the Jews are still the privileged target of Islamist attacks, indiscriminate assaults - as on the Paris Bataclan theatre - have revived the ‘Raymond Barre syndrome’: “Terror targeting Jews killed innocent Frenchmen.” President Hollande declared a state of siege, placing military at the doors of Jewish institutions and other soft targets.
The fourth wave is now upon us. President Macron removed the soldiers and Jew-hatred has surged, from cemetery desecrations to social media, boiling the mercury globally. The Aalst Carnival floats in Belgium had opened the dyke of putrid hate-mongering.
Meanwhile, populism has poisoned both political extremes, right and left. Austerity led to the search for scapegoats and the endorsement of conspiracy theories.
Then along came the Coronavirus and a flashback to medieval and Nazi-style defamation, such as the accusation that French Health Minister, Agnès Buzyn, poisoned the wells, or the recent painting, in Italy, that reruns a horrifying 1475 blood libel depicting “perfidious” Jews “celebrating” the blood-letting of a two-year old Christian child, to bake the Passover bread.
Rabbi Sacks’ definition of antisemitism as “a virus” is never more relevant, especially when turned against the Jews. It has even been suggested that, if Israel develops a vaccine, the new version of the libel would be: “Jews created the virus and its antidote, to gain money and to control the world.”
How many may buy it?
Only the lunatic fringe? Or, as the angry and desperate unemployed evacuate quarantine, could the virus of hate surge again and the mercury thermometer burst?

The writer is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.



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