Anti-Semitism is again on the march in Europe

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Recently, the world has been engulfed with multiple life-threatening and extremely lethal events: the Israel-Hamas conflict, on pause in a shaky cease-fire; Russia’s aggression in neighboring Ukraine; horrific beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers by ISIS terrorists; and the Ebola epidemic in Africa, which has claimed 3,000 lives and could take as many as 1.4 million.

In addition to the Ebola virus, the ancient virus of anti-Semitism has morphed into a metaphorical outbreak throughout Europe. It is no longer an alarmist exaggeration to state that anti-Semitism in Europe has not reached such shocking proportions since the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. A series of articles in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Time have described this alarming anti-Semitic surge in great detail.

Most recently, a Page 1 story by Jim Yardley in the Sept. 24 edition of The New York Times  headlined “Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of Shadows” begins with this ominous lead paragraph: 

“From the immigrant enclaves of the Parisian suburbs to the drizzly bureaucratic city of Brussels to the industrial heartland of Germany, Europe’s old demon returned this summer. ‘Death to the Jews!’ shouted protesters at pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France. ‘Gas the Jews!’ yelled marchers at a similar protest in Germany.”

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It is more than obvious that the “statute of limitations,” which forbade open expressions of anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the liberation of the death camps, has expired. So-called “pro-Palestinian protests” across Europe and even in some instances in the United States in which anti-Semitism flares has become the new normal – which is totally unacceptable. To be sure, there are some genuine instances of peaceful protests on behalf of Palestinian rights or objections to Israeli policies, but there are also a growing number of these recent and increasingly violent instances of outright Jew-hatred. 

It is past time for the world – and not just Europe – to wake up to this ugly reality and address it with as much urgency as is needed to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria and Ebola in Africa.

Much of the recent outbursts of anti-Semitism took place over the summer months as the Israel-Hamas conflict raged on in the Gaza Strip. One-sided media coverage made it appear that Israel was the sole aggressor in the conflict, resulting in escalating anti-Israel demonstrations and protests throughout Europe. It is truly shocking to see how quickly anti-Israel actions in Europe evolved into attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, especially in cities such as Paris and Berlin.

A Wall Street Journal story by Bertrand Benoit, head 

A Wall Street Journal story by Bertrand Benoit, headlined “Germany struggles with new anti-Semitism,” reports:

“This summer, protesters against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip unleashed a barrage of abuse, calling Jews ‘cowardly pigs,’ ‘child murderers’ and fodder for the gas chambers, according to witnesses and Jewish organizations.  On the sidelines, a mob hounded a Jewish couple in Berlin, and Jews were beaten in Hamburg and Frankfurt.”  

Benoit adds, “Similar incidents were taking place elsewhere in Europe, but in the country that masterminded the Holocaust, they evoked painful memories.”

Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said, “We haven’t heard these things for 50, 60 years. The fact that people on German streets are saying Jews should burn, Jews should be slaughtered, Jews should be gassed.  It hits a particular nerve for us.”  

Graumann’s comment must surely rank as one of the understatements of the year.

To its credit, the German government has done a largely successful job in keeping track of neo-Nazi movements, such as various skinhead gangs, and in banning anti-Semitic speech from the public domain.  The Wall Street Journal piece reports that “these efforts have focused on the far-right (but) anti-Semitism in the growing Muslim population in Germany was left unchecked, according to community activists and community leaders.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves praise for her steadfast and consistent official denunciation of anti-Semitism from any segment of German society.  In a Berlin rally address Sept. 14  attended by 100,000 people, Merkel strongly condemned anti-Semitism from any source, including using ostensible criticism of Israeli policies as a pretext for anti-Jewish words and physical attacks on Jews, synagogues and other Jewish institutions.  The talk was in front of the Brandeberg Gate in Berlin beneath a banner that read, “Stand up!  Say no to anti-Semitism.”

Speaking on her weekly podcast early this month, Merkel called for civic action to fight anti-Semitism, saying, “I will personally do everything I can, as will my entire government, to ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t have a chance in our country.”

In the podcast, as reported by JTA, Merkel focused on the many attacks against Jews and said she was extremely concerned that virtually all Jewish institutions in Germany require police protection. 

More than 240,000 people of Jewish background are living in Germany, including about 105,000 members of “official” Jewish communities.  In 1933, before the Nazis came to power, there were more than 500,000 Jews living in Germany.  Just after World War II, there were only about 30,000 Jews living in West Germany and about 1,000 in East Germany.  

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a surprising number of Russian Jews immigrated to Germany, and the population has continued to grow in the years since.

Merkel added that because of Germany’s responsibilities for crimes against humanity during World War II, the country has a special duty to stand up against hate and for democracy.  

“We also have to pay attention and not ignore signs of anti-Semitism,” she said.

Rising anti-Semitism and the need to increase security in and around Jewish institutions is not confined to Germany and other European nations.  Both the aftermath of the Gaza conflict and the ongoing military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have increased concerns for the safety of American Jews, as well as European Jews. An attack that killed three people at a Jewish museum in Brussels was the handiwork of an ISIS terrorist.  

Last month, officials in Australia thwarted a deranged plot by ISIS operatives to kidnap and murder by beheading random victims in that country.  U.S. security officials estimate that at least 100 Americans have moved to Syria to join and receive training by ISIS, which is committed to killing off all competing religious groups, including the Jews.

Synagogues and other Jewish institutions, during the ongoing High Holidays, have taken necessary steps to ensure the safety of the American Jewish community from the shocking anti-Jewish mob actions that have raged through Berlin, Paris and other European cities for the past several months.  

These efforts are an unfortunate but vital necessity in these times of increasing violence against Jews in Europe and potentially in our own country.