What was the most powerful image coming out of Paris this week: The current president and two predecessors participating in a march of thousands sending an unequivocal message against hate and antisemitism or the swastikas painted on the portrait of the late Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and prominent French politician? The placards with slogans “No to the trivialization of hate” that were raised high in the Place de la Republique? Or the pathetic sight of the chopped down tree that had been planted in memory of French Jew Ilan Halimi, who was abducted and tortured to death in 2006? Perhaps it was the stunned look on the face of famed French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut as “yellow-vest” protesters on the Boulevard du Montparnasse heckled him with taunts of “dirty Jew” and “dirty Zionist s***” and yelled at him “You’re going to die, you’re going to hell,” while others told him to “go back to Tel Aviv.”
Ironically other antisemitic – or anti-Zionist attacks – call for Jews to leave Israel, preferably going no further than a lasting place off Tel Aviv’s shores, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Jew-haters are never satisfied. They hate us even when we are dead and buried: Witness the 96 desecrated graves in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg. To his credit, French President Emmanuel Macron took the time to visit and see first hand the headstones, spray-painted with swastikas. Macron recognizes that antisemitism is not just a danger to French Jews, it’s a danger to France.
It’s easy to philosophize that the latest antisemitic attacks in the “Republique” stem solely from the populist Yellow-Vest rallies getting out of control, and – in a longstanding European tradition – blaming the Jews for all the world’s ills, from capitalism to communism. Macron himself, as a former employee of the Rothschild Bank, has been accused of being “a whore of the Jews” and part of a global Jewish conspiracy.
But this explanation goes only so far: So far to the Right and so far to the Left. It ignores the nasty element of attacks fueled by Islamist ideology. Several Jewish victims of hate crimes have been killed by young Muslims, and this can’t be ignored in the name of political correctness. In April 2017 and March 2018, two Jewish women – Sarah Halimi, 65, and Mireille Knoll, 85 – were killed in their own homes in particularly brutal fashion. Their deaths brought the number of antisemitic/terror-related Jewish fatalities in France to 12 since 2003.
IN DECEMBER 2018, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published a shocking survey compiled from input from more than 16,000 Jews in 12 European countries.
The survey’s main findings, in its own words, “suggest that antisemitism pervades the public sphere, reproducing and engraining negative stereotypes about Jews. Simply being Jewish increases people’s likelihood of being faced with a sustained stream of abuse expressed in different forms, wherever they go, whatever they read and with whomever they engage....
“Overall, nine in 10 (89%) respondents in the 2018 survey feel that antisemitism increased in their country in the five years before the survey; more than eight in 10 (85%) consider it to be a serious problem. Respondents tend to rate antisemitism as the biggest social or political problem where they live.”
“Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of survey participants feel that antisemitism is getting worse,” concluded FRA director, Michael O’Flaherty. “They also fear for their own safety, and that of their loved ones. They protect themselves by leaving their kippa at home, only discreetly displaying mezuzot, avoiding certain areas in their cities or skipping Jewish events.
“It is impossible to put a number on how corrosive such everyday realities can be. But a shocking statistic sends a clear message: in the past five years, across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than one third say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”
As journalist Evelyn Gordon pointed out when the report was released, interestingly “countries commonly viewed as liberal generally fared worse than those viewed as having ‘right-wing’ governments. The highest proportion of respondents deeming antisemitism a big problem was in France (95%), followed by Belgium (86%), Germany and Poland (85%), Sweden (82%), Spain (78%), Hungary (77%), Britain (75%), Austria, Italy and Holland (73%) and Denmark (56%). Thus of the countries perceived by their own Jews as having the worst antisemitism problems, all but Poland are considered liberal bastions.”
Ah, Poland. What can I say about Poland (without being sued by the Polish government)? This week the four Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – were meant to gather in Israel to hold their first ever meeting outside the bloc. The prime ministers of three of the countries came, but Poland backed out after the diplomatic fiasco surrounding a mispublication of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments and the follow-up by the newly appointed acting-Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz on his first full day in the job.
In a closed-door meeting in Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews on February 14, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” to kill Jews during the Holocaust. In several media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post, the comment was either misquoted or paraphrased in a way that added the word “the” before “Poles,” implying that the entire Polish nation had collaborated with the Nazi Final Solution.
Poland is particularly sensitive about suggestions that the country was responsible for the killing of Jews in World War II. The more nationalistic the country becomes, the more it becomes a matter of national pride to portray itself only as the victim of the Nazis and stress the number of Jews saved by Polish gentiles rather than the three million Polish Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Katz showed that whatever reason Netanyahu saw fit to hand him the Foreign Ministry portfolio two months before the elections, it had more to do with internal Likud party politics than Katz’s diplomatic skills. In an interview with the i24 News channel, Katz managed to turn the issue into a major crisis by quoting the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who once said: “the Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mothers’ milk.”
When the remaining V4 leaders – V3, without The Poles – did meet in Jerusalem this week, Hungary and Slovakia announced they would be opening diplomatic representations in city, where the Czech Republic already has a trade and tourism mission.
Israel’s relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is an example of walking the delicate tightrope between past and present and national pride with a rise of the Right.
But the antisemitism on the Left should not be overlooked. In Britain, the animosity in Labour under leader Jeremy Corbyn has reached such levels that this week eight members of Parliament left the party, citing rampant antisemitism (and to a lesser extent policies on Brexit.)
During a recent visit to the UK, I met several Jews who had left Labour after years, or even decades. Some said they had thought of emigrating, perhaps to another English-speaking country – despite the rise in antisemitism from North America to Australia. Others said they would like to move to Israel but they can’t afford to leave.
Despite the taunts thrown at Finkielkraut, the “Return to Tel Aviv” should not be driven by fear. There are plenty of positive reasons to come. It is appalling that Jews in so many countries feel they are living in dangerous times and places.
The world cannot afford to ignore antisemitism. Contrary to the conspiracy theories, Jews – and Israel – do not control the world’s money, media and politics. We don’t have the means to fight antisemitism on our own. Nor should we have to. Hatred is hatred. It endangers all.