The slow death of European Jewry

The harsh truth is that Jews in Europe are once more being hounded, harassed and physically threatened

Anti-semetic Rally 521 (photo credit: BERNADETT SZABO / REUTERS)
Anti-semetic Rally 521
With an aging population, a numbing politics of austerity that cripples the poorer nations of southern Europe, a massive debt crisis and a shaky Euro potentially on the brink of collapse, the European Union, day by day, looks more like a sinking ship than the much-vaunted, post-modern, post-nationalist utopia widely celebrated only a decade ago.
Europe, in fact, is experiencing a deep crisis of self-confidence, and the loss of trust by millions of its citizens in the probity of its financial system as well as its elected politicians.
At the same time, populist movements have also revived in Europe, often accompanied by appeals to anti-Semitism, and rampant xenophobia. This Greek term for hatred of all things foreign, has now revived with a vengeance in Greece itself – the ancient cradle of European civilization. The socalled Golden Dawn movement, despite its crude neo-Nazi slogans, its open admiration for Hitler and penchant for Holocaust denial, nonetheless won 7 percent of the vote in the last Greek elections and 21 seats in the national parliament. This is a telling symptom of Greek national humiliation, the symptom of a Weimar-scale economic collapse and a dysfunctional state on the brink of bankruptcy.
Hungary provides another alarming syndrome of revived ultra-nationalism in the ugly shape of Jobbik – a far-right party that recently won 17 percent of the popular vote and 47 seats in the Hungarian parliament.
Virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Roma sentiment, nostalgia for the borders of Greater Hungary, and admiration for the fascist Arrow Cross (who barbarically murdered many Jews in Budapest in 1944) are part of Jobbik’s ideology – based in part on its antiurban appeal, wild anti-globalization rhetoric and attraction for students disoriented by their dismal economic prospects. This spells serious trouble for the 90,000 remaining Jews of Hungary – the largest Jewish community in East-Central Europe.
The prospects of far smaller Jewish communities in Poland and Romania seem marginally better, despite the persistence of pre-1939 strains of nationalist anti- Semitism – often linked with East European obsessions about Jews being responsible for 40 years of Communist tyranny after 1948.
In Ukraine (with its 100,000 Jews), such myths contributed to the electoral successes of the Svoboda (Freedom) movement in 2012. Here, too, a mixture of Ukrainian nationalism, populist rhetoric, anti-Russian and anti-Semitic appeals found a strong echo – especially in Lviv and western Ukraine.
Germany, too, is far from immune to similar trends, despite being politically dominant and Europe’s economic powerhouse. Today, the Jewish population of Germany has reached approximately 130,000 (the real figure may be closer to 200,000) – the only such case of Jewish demographic growth in the past 20 years.
Nevertheless, surveys consistently show anti-Semitic sentiments in the German population running at a level of 20-25 percent.
There is also a strong desire in the public for closure on Holocaust remembrance. The same pattern exists in neighboring Austria.
Particularly troubling is the steadily rising grassroots hostility to Israel. Some 49 percent of all Germans claim that Israel wages “a war of extermination” (Vernichtungskrieg) against the Palestinians. This totally false libel finds even greater support in Poland (72 percent) and somewhat lower levels of agreement in Norway (38 percent), Italy (39 percent) and Great Britain (41 percent). On average, 45 percent of all Europeans surveyed last year were prepared to believe that Israel carries out a policy of “genocide” against the Palestinians. This is the result of decades of mass media intoxication in Europe against the Jewish state, Arab propaganda, leftwing incitement, and an anti-Semitism ever ready to incriminate the traditional Jewish scapegoat.
Around 80 years after SA storm troopers in German cities first smeared Jewish businesses with the Yellow Star of David as part of the official Nazi anti-Jewish boycott, the slogan, “Don’t buy from Jews,” has been revived in Europe. Today’s boycott aims to ban Israeli produce and ostracize Israeli academics, indeed to delegitimize Israel as an “apartheid state.”
This is especially true in Great Britain – the global hub of the international boycott movement (BDS) and of the anti-Israel Palestine Solidarity Campaigns. What passes for a British “intelligentsia” continues to pursue its obsessive vendetta against Zionism as a uniquely racist movement. At the same time, the British and European left studiously ignore, dismiss or massively downplay sexual apartheid in Saudi Arabia, the execution of gay people in Iran, Arab Islamist genocide against Africans in the Sudan, the savage slaughter by the Assad regime in Syria, Palestinian terrorist atrocities, and the persecution of Christians throughout an increasingly Islamicized Arab world.
Only the Jewish state is singled out by “educated” liberal Europeans as the serial violator of “human rights,” even though it remains the one rock-solid democracy in the Middle East, with a genuinely independent judiciary. In the willfully inverted picture of Middle East realities presented by the European media, Israel is invariably placed in the dock, while the ravages caused by Muslim anti-Semitism in Western Europe or the Middle East are ignored.
Such concerns are often branded as the mark of racism or Islamophobia. This is especially true in France (with its six million-strong Muslim population), but also in Germany, Britain, the Benelux and Scandinavian countries, where Muslim violence in general, or against Jews in particular, is blamed either on Israel’s actions, Western racism or the social marginalization of the new immigrants.
Above all, solidarity with the Palestinians as eternal “victims” of Israel involves turning a blind eye to Arab atrocities and the creeping Islamization of Europe.
The increasingly isolated Jewish communities have become the targets of militant Muslim rage in much of Western Europe. Their synagogues, communal institutions and even cultural centers have steadily been turned into fortresses – for whose maintenance Jews have, in most cases, to bear the costs. No other ethno-religious group in Europe has had to take such drastic measures for its communal security.
A recent report on anti-Semitism in France during 2012 revealingly showed that 55 percent of all racist attacks in the French Republic were directed specifically at Jews.
Muslims in France (as in Britain) were far less likely to be physically attacked or insulted than Jews; and increasingly, a majority of the violent attacks against Jewish citizens are being perpetrated by Muslims rather than by neo-Nazis.
To underline the gravity of this situation, the savage slaughter of three French-Jewish children and a young rabbi in the Otzar Hatorah School in Toulouse provided a macabre warning of the lethal potential of jihadi anti-Semitism and terror in Western Europe. No wonder that 25 percent of French Jews – despite belonging to the most successful Diaspora community in post- Holocaust Europe – have expressed a desire to emigrate.
The fate of the virtually besieged and battered Jewish community in Malmö (southern Sweden) is another shocking symptom of ongoing Islamic anti-Jewish aggression. The city, run by a socialdemocratic mayor of impeccably “anti- Zionist” convictions who openly favors the rapidly increasing Muslim population, has become literally uninhabitable for most of its Jews, whose numbers have plummeted from 3,000 to a mere 600 in only a few years.
Malmö can be seen as a barometer for the slow death of post-Holocaust European Jewry, in a continent soaked for so many centuries in Jewish blood. Not for nothing did former EU commissioner Frits Bolkestein advise the small Jewish community of the Netherlands to emigrate either to Israel or the United States to avoid endless harassment by fanatical young Muslims. The prospects in neighboring Belgium or in rabidly anti- Israel Norway are scarcely better – given the small size of the Jewish communities, the hostile attitude of many of the elites, and a remorseless anti-Zionist incitement in the media that inevitably inflames latent anti- Semitic reflexes. Since Muslims already vastly outnumber Jews and a steely hostility to Israel has, in recent times, become the daily bread of European public discourse, the writing is clearly on the wall, for anyone with eyes to see.
The harsh truth is that Jews in Europe are once more being hounded, harassed and physically threatened, even as the EU proclaims that it has learned the lessons of its own dark past and pompously lectures Israel from its imaginary “high moral ground.” The reward for its own lamentable and cowardly appeasement of radical Islamism will, however, be short-lived. For such kowtowing and willful blindness comes at a high cost in the longer term. The non-integrated Muslims of the EU will eventually take their revenge on a European society that the more fanatical among them already loathe.
As for the more perceptive Jews, they will hopefully come to the much maligned State of Israel, whose own remarkable achievements in the face of extreme adversity remain as a beacon of hope for those who wish to escape the wastelands of Europe.
Robert S. Wistrich is Professor of European Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of ‘From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel’ (University of Nebraska Press, 2012).