‘Attitude rather than ignorance’

How the US and Europe are dealing with uptick in antisemitism.

Antisemitic graffiti near a London Underground station. The graffiti reads “dirty f***ing Jew” beside an image of a swastika. (photo credit: COURTESY COMMUNITY SECURITY TRUST)
Antisemitic graffiti near a London Underground station. The graffiti reads “dirty f***ing Jew” beside an image of a swastika.

This past week, American Jews were sent spinning by the tweets of a newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota named Ilhan Omar. When confronted by her peers, Omar – who had dredged up the ages-old conviction that it was Jewish dollars that influenced politics and ran the world – offered a weak explanation. An explanation, mind you, not an apology.

Few were satisfied by the response given by the Somali-born elected official. So much so that according to The Washington Examiner, State Senator Ron Latz, a fellow Democrat and Minnesotan, is quoted saying about Omar: “I believe that the pattern we have seen is an indication of her attitude on the subject rather than ignorance.”

Thus, US Jewry joins Europe in confronting antisemitism spewed not by society’s fringe elements and lone wolves, but by mainstream high-profile personalities. Yet American Jews are still insulated from the big numbers – the number of antisemitic acts committed against the Jews of Europe.

According to a study of 16,000 Jews from 12 European countries commissioned by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FAR), 90% of Jews think antisemitism is on the rise; 30% had experienced antisemitic attacks; and 80% were sad to admit that they no longer reported small incidents.

An EU EuroBarometer poll points out how accustomed the rest of the world has become to today’s Jew hatred. Their poll surveyed people from 28 countries. 89% of Jews responding to the poll reported that antisemitism has risen over the past five years. Only 36% of the general population believes that it has increased. That’s a whopping difference in perception – and very dangerous for the Jews.

Taking it a step further, CNN conducted its own poll among 7,000 Europeans in seven countries. The results might astound you: Over 20% of those asked responded that Jews exert too much control in finance and politics. 34% acknowledged that they knew nothing or little about the Holocaust. 32% of the people admitted to believing that Jews exploit the Holocaust to get their way.


WHAT IS HAPPENING in Europe? Jews are avoiding Jewish events and synagogue events. Many are refraining from wearing their kippot, let alone tzizit, in public. The Magen David necklace is no longer dangled proudly by young and old. And many European Jews are considering leaving Europe.

Some say that the influx of Muslims has changed the nature of Europe and European attitudes toward Jews and the Holocaust. Others credit it to the rise of radical Right neo-Nazi parties, explaining that they have created the perfect environment for antisemitic attitudes to germinate. These groups avidly embrace conspiracy theories that perpetuate the idea that Jews control the world, much like the images portrayed in the seminal antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

They’re good explanations, but they apparently lack an understanding of why attitudes toward Jews have changed so dramatically over the past decade. One answer is that attitudes have not changed; it is behaviors that have changed. Behaviors that have become more public and more acceptable. Antisemitic speech is no longer taboo in public. It is even acceptable nowadays to vent and make hateful, stereotypical slurs about Israel and Jews.

Many Europeans look at right-wing extremist groups and assume that they are marginal; that they do not represent mainstream Europe. They are right, but only for the moment: That, too, is changing. Right-wing extremism is growing quickly and unchecked. As for Europe’s burgeoning Muslim immigrant populations, they are still a minority, but they are a strong and outspoken minority and the attitudes they espouse are permeating general society.

Some suggest that it all boils down to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. They suggest that the rise of antisemitism is the result of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. That is one of the reasons given in the US for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s messaging – but that is not acceptable.

The world is changing; while each generation of Jews finds more professional doors open to them than their parents did, the situation is worsening for Jews as a whole. European Jews need to realize what is happening. Attacks against Jews motivated purely out of hatred are on the rise. Some are perpetrated by racists. Some by neo-Nazis. Some by Muslim extremists. The only thread that binds them is hatred of Jews and of Israel.

Americans – Jews and non-Jews, leaders and private citizens – challenged Omar. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much of a challenge from European leaders.

The writer, a political commentator, hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.