Almost unnoticed, Sept. 1, 2014 marked the 75th Anniversary of the commencement of World War II, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, formally unleashing the darkest chapter in European history. However, insofar as the European Jewish community is concerned, we must ask: has the situation once again come full circle, endangering Jewish life in Europe?
Today, merely 75 years after World War II commenced and 69 years after the Holocaust concluded, antisemitism and hatred against Jews are once again at record levels.
The difference, however, is that today’s antisemitism is being waged against not only Jews as individuals, but also through the vilification and assault on Israel’s legitimacy, as the Jew among the nations, with false claims and malicious distortions of truth cloaked as acceptable criticism of Zionism and Israel.
In Greece, Hungary, and even Germany of all places, we are seeing a revival of the neo-Nazi far-Right.
In France, seldom a day goes by without news of a violent antisemitic attack.
In Belgium we are hearing calls of “Slaughter the Jews”.
In London it’s “Hitler you were right.”
In Netherlands it’s “Jews get out.”
And in Poland, which saw about 3,000,000 Jews murdered in the Holocaust, they hold signs saying “Bring Israel flags back into the crematoria chimney.”
Meanwhile across Europe, we are seeing countless violent rallies against Israel in the wake of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, where they are openly supporting Hamas, a genocidal Islamist terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel and death to all Jews.
In fact, for today’s antisemite, the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’ are interchangeable. They are one and the same. This was demonstrated perhaps most aptly by a recent pro-Palestinian protestor in Geneva, who charged at a synagogue, with a sign exclaiming “Every Synagogue is an Israeli Embassy.”
Many Jews across Europe are now increasingly being forced to change their way of life, hide their identities and separate from their Judaism out of fear of antisemitism. Some are even openly questioning: is there even a future still left for them in Europe?
George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher, famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Regrettably, we must now ask: has Europe failed to learn from its darkest days of antisemitism in the last century and is it now condemned to repeat those same mistakes once again?
When chants of “death to the Jews” or “Jews get out” are common, violent assaults are rising and there are increasing calls for boycotts against Israeli and even kosher products, one cannot but help compare the situation with the 1930s.
And when synagogues are being firebombed and Jewish owned property is being looted, how can the word ‘Kristallnacht’ not be one of the first that comes to mind?
Although the origins of the Holocaust might be different to what we are experiencing today, the symptoms and causes are identical, repeating themselves. Albeit by different means and on a different scale, the end aim is same – the destruction of the Jewish community of Europe.
The difference however, is that unlike in 1939, in 2014 we have the State of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces as a guarantee against another Holocaust. The Jewish community is also stronger and more united.
Notwithstanding that, the situation facing European Jewry is dire, with even further dark clouds on the horizon. Today, we have reached a point where we don’t need any more reports to say that antisemitism is a problem. Enough; we know that. What is needed are concrete steps to combat this oldest form of hatred.
In this regard, the following five action items could be considered as a basis for combating antisemitism:
1. Europe must have a comprehensive definition of antisemitism. In this regard, it was most unfortunate to see last year the decision of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the central European body charged with combating antisemitism, to remove its working definition of antisemitism – inexplicably only weeks after releasing a major report about the record level of antisemitism in Europe.
Importantly, the FRA definition also included calls for the delegitimisation of Israel as a form of antisemitism. This full definition of antisemitism should immediately be reinstated as law in Europe. Without defining what it is we are trying to combat, how can we ever defeat it?
2. The EU must establish a Special Commissioner to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and Racism. This idea was originally proposed by leaders of the Belgian Jewish Community and in the wake of the terror attack on the Brussels Jewish Museum earlier this year. Such a move would also send a strong message that the European leadership is united and committed to combating antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.
3. European governments must also be pressed separately to monitor antisemitism. Despite being required to do so under accords reached between the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, many have failed to do so.
4. All EU states must outlaw Holocaust denial. Under current EU law, Holocaust denial is punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years, but EU countries that do not have such a prohibition in their own domestic legislation are not bound to enforce the EU law.
At present, only 13 of the 28 EU member states have laws specifically criminalising Holocaust denial. This anomaly in unacceptable.
Legislation must be enacted and enforced across each country in the EU, outlawing racist hate speech, use of Nazi symbols, and specifically, the denial of the Holocaust.
5. And last but certainly not least: education, education, education. People are not born to hate; they learn it. All EU member states should make study of racism, and specifically the Holocaust and its implications mandatory in all high schools.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in November last year, antisemitism is “a crime against Europe and its culture, against man and its humanity. To be antisemitic is to reject Europe.” Therefore, antisemitism must not be seen solely a “Jewish problem,” but a human problem, and in particular, one going against the very culture and ethos of Europe.
It is high time the international community stopped just talking about antisemitism and started taking concrete steps to fight this oldest and most enduring form of hatred.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist and is currently also the Director of Research at the Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC), an Israeli not-for-profit organisation which seeks to strengthen relations between Israel and Jewish communities in Europe. He previously served as a policy analyst at AIJAC. © Times of Israel, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.