My belated entry to the Twitter-sphere was prompted by a late-night BBC political chat show which featured a highly articulate Muslim apologist. She argued passionately that, by abusing free speech, Charlie Hebdo had itself incited the attack which killed eight of the magazine’s staffers. My tweet to the programme’s host expressed surprise that the killing of four Jews in a related attack at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris had been forgotten so soon.
I was unprepared for the swift response that my tweet elicited from “Porky Scratchings”, who urged the television host to ignore the Jews… “Not the bloody Jews,” he/she wrote. “It’s always about the Jews. They just seek publicity.”
Of course, I should not have been surprised. Perhaps I should even consider myself lucky that the antisemitic outburst I experienced was “virtual”, delivered via the social medium of Twitter, and not in a bare-knuckle, street-level confrontation.
I was lucky, but I was not alone. A few days later, the Community Security Trust, which measures such matters in the UK, reported that antisemitic incidents are running at an all-time high: 2014 had witnessed the highest number of antisemitic incidents – 1,168 – since records began 30 years ago. The incidents ranged from verbal abuse and vandalism to physical violence and the desecration of Jewish graves, with swastikas and the words “Jewish slag” among the epithets daubed on gravestones. Last year’s reported attacks in the UK – an average of three a day – was more than double the number recorded in 2013. And that is not the whole story, for such incidents (like my own) often pass unreported.
Last July’s violent eruption in Gaza is thought to have triggered the spike in attacks (a total of 314 antisemitic attacks, the highest-ever monthly total in Britain, was recorded in July). This correlation between conflict in the Middle East and antisemitic attacks in Britain has been evident in the past, and it may go some way to identifying the cause. But only some way.
There is, after all, no spike in attacks on Pakistanis living in Britain when Pakistan is shown to support Taliban extremists, acquiesce in the freelance killing of non-Muslims or remain silent when British girls are forced into marriage with cousins while ostensibly on holiday in Pakistan. Nor are there perceptible anti-Muslim murmurings in the face of well-publicised atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabab, let alone Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israeli acts of self-defence produce a reflexive hate-fest against Jews, their shops, synagogues, community centres and cemeteries throughout super-civilised Europe.
Something in the European body-politic is rotten, and it is not simply Jewish paranoia that imagines the stench – the killing of Jewish school children in Toulouse, the killing of visitors at the Jewish museum in Brussels, the killing of shoppers at Hyper Cacher in Paris, the firebombing of the Bergische Synagogue in Wuppertal, the spate of attacks throughout Britain. Nor was it Jewish paranoia that prompted European leaders to ratchet up security at potential Jewish targets.
The big question being asked in almost every Jewish home these days is whether Jews have a future in Europe. Part of the answer can be found in the statistics of emigration to Israel. Last year, for the first time since the establishment of the Jewish state, French Jews, who have been subjected to the most brutal and lethal manifestations of antisemitism, comprised the largest single group of migrants. More than 7,000 left for Israel in 2014, double the number in 2013. And this year, the number is expected to double again.
European political leaders are taking note. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told an American interviewer that, “this new antisemitism comes from the difficult neighbourhoods – from immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa… Israel and Palestine are just a pretext”. What is at stake, in Valls’ view, is no less than the soul of France: “If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
British Home Secretary Theresa May echoed the sentiment when she described the UK’s statistics for antisemitic incidents as “deeply concerning,” adding that, “Britain without its Jews would not be Britain.” At the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called on social media moguls to stop allowing their platforms to be used for disseminating material that “would have fitted very nicely into 1930s Germany”, while a cross-party parliamentary group called for offenders to be banned from spreading their hate on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Will all that be enough to persuade “Porky Scratchings” to love the Jews? Probably not. Will it be enough to ease Jewish fears and halt the exodus? The answer is moot until a desiccated Europe shows it is willing and able to push back Muslim extremists. What is clear is that liberal democracy is under attack, Islamism is on the march and Jews are in the front line of an epochal battle.