Who hasn’t been disturbed by the recent images of Palestinian civilians killed and wounded by the Israeli incursion into urban Gaza? Or deeply troubled by the video of injured children and lifeless bodies? The IDF’s military assault proved both misguided and counterproductive, a disproportionate overreaction to rocket attacks by Hamas. It was exactly the response the Islamist group, and its Iranian sponsors, had hoped to provoke. When active hostilities ceased, Israel’s adversaries had won a victory in the court of world public opinion and for that the Israeli government could blame no one but itself.
Yet legitimate criticism of Israel for its heavy-handed approach is one thing; it is quite another thing to use anger over the Gaza crisis (or protests against “Zionism”) as an excuse for anti-Semitism in its most virulent form, a crude hatred aimed at Jews for their Jewishness. The target of this surge of post-Gaza anti-Semitism has been Jewish individuals and institutions collectively, as if all Jews somehow bore responsibility for Israel’s actions.
In England, anti-Semitic attacks “included assaults, damage to Jewish property, threats, hate mail, verbal abuse and anti-Semitic graffiti,” according to news reports. Synagogues in France, Sweden and Belgium were also attacked and Dutch synagogues were targets of arson or stoning, the Associated Press reported, while some demonstrators at anti-Israel protests in the Netherland “…shouted slogans of ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.'”
Richard Prasquier, the head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, told the New York Times that the Gaza conflict had spurred anti-Semitism in France among Muslims who: “… don’t see themselves as anti-Semitic; they identify with Palestinians who are victims of Israel. But they use practically the same stereotypes of the old anti-Semitism, of the rich Jew who manipulates governments and is the origin of all evil.”
Daniel Schwammenthal of the Wall Street Journal argued in his piece “Europe Reimports Jew Hatred” that any outrage over Gaza by Muslim immigrants in Europe is the product of an underlying anti-Semitism they brought with them.
The rage against the Jews that is exploding in Europe has been carefully nurtured; it is not spontaneous sympathy for fellow Muslims in Gaza. How else to explain the silence when Muslims in other conflicts, from Darfur to Chechnya, are being killed?
The depth of anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian and other Muslim societies is one of the most underreported facts about the Middle East. It is this anti-Semitism that predisposes Muslims in Europe to attack Jews and fuels the Mideast conflict….
The toxin hasn’t been confined to Europe, however, as anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has demonized Jews and openly encouraged anti-Semitic propaganda.
The danger ahead
What makes this current wave of anti-Semitism so dangerous is that it comes during a global economic crisis. Societies in distress are fertile ground for the scapegoating of what Yale Law scholar Amy Chua has termed “market dominant minorities” such as Jews, who are resented and envied for their success. (Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, Nigerian merchants in Africa, Indians in East Africa, and the Lebanese in West Africa have also suffered from prejudice because of their business acumen, Chua notes). While it has been left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism on recent display, the potential for a resurgence of right-wing bigotry, especially in Europe, cannot be discounted.
Already there are disturbing signs that Jews are being blamed for the current financial crisis. A public opinion survey in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Spain commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League found “…nearly a third of Europeans polled blame Jews for the global economic meltdown and that a greater number think Jews have too much power in the business world.” It is no wonder that European Jews are jittery.
Fortunately there are voices now being raised, in Europe, in Latin American, and in the United States about this troubling rise in global anti-Semitism. Elected officials in Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have denounced rhetoric linking Israel and Nazi Germany (a common trope in recent demonstrations). And this week the British government is sponsoring a conference on combating anti-Semitism that has attracted nearly 100 legislators from 35 countries. As Irwin Cotler, a former Attorney General for Canada, notes about this “new, lethal, and virulent” form of prejudice: “Silence is not an option. The time has come not only to sound the alarm, but to act. For as history taught us only too well, while it may begin with Jews, it does not end with Jews.”