Australia/Israel Review

Europe Europa: “A World of Hate and Fear”

May 31, 2024 | Alex Benjamin

Liberal universities have been overrun by ideological extremism (Image: Shutterstock)
Liberal universities have been overrun by ideological extremism (Image: Shutterstock)

Milton Sanford Mayer was a Jew and a reporter, best known for writing the book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, a study of the lives of a group of ordinary Germans under the Third Reich. 

I think this quote from the book is worth sharing in full. 

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. 

Self-confident liberal universities, with faculties that pride themselves on their scholarship, their freedom of conscience and their democracy, are being overrun by a vocal minority who support an ideology that abhors freedom of expression and dissent, that has summarily executed gay people, that murders Jews and that advocates rape and considers the murder of children and octogenarians as “resistance”. Thousands of students are cosplaying as terrorists with face coverings. Instead of seeking dialogue, they proffer ultimatums, and they refuse to engage with media or their fellow students who hold differing views. I shuddered when I heard that many refuse to engage on the grounds that “I have not been trained.”

Since when did advocating for the complete destruction of a UN member state become free speech? When did vocal and open support for the actions of a proscribed terrorist organisation become normalised? When did calling for the murder of Zionists and Jews become acceptable? Since October 7. 

Universities are just the tip of the iceberg. In the last few weeks, the main Belgian Jewish organisations felt compelled to write a letter to the Prime Minister pleading that he not abandon them. In London, the Metropolitan police said that swastikas used at a pro-Palestinian protest are permissible because they are “context dependent”. Similarly, chanting “from the river to the sea” – the dog whistle so loud anyone can understand it – is permitted in most countries because it is not “explicit” enough. 

Jewish leaders who take their kids to nursery school wearing bullet proof vests, the houses of Holocaust survivors daubed with SS graffiti, Jews going about their daily lives insulted, slapped, spat on. On Jewish organisations’ social media, hate posts – “die zionist filth” and “jews are a cancer” – appear daily. Stickers on lampposts reading “rape is resistance” and “babies are occupiers too.” 

What was the tipping point for Nazi success? Toleration and indifference. You push, you meet no resistance. You push a bit more, still none. You push and push, and you get away with it. And before you know it, the tolerance of dehumanisation reaches its peak. And then you can go to Wannsee and plan the rest.

Hyperbole? Jews crying wolf? When you can see its shadow and hear its howl, it’s time to raise the alarm.

But raising it is not enough. It is the response to it that matters. And for now, our communities are being met with either a wall of silence or acres of nice words and platitudes such as “we won’t tolerate antisemitism in our societies.” It makes you want to scream: Can’t you see? Are you deaf? 

It seems to me that a calculus has been made. The anti-Zionism ensuing from the war in Gaza – in the vast majority of cases a flimsy fig leaf for antisemitism – is being tolerated because it is given a pass as political speech and not hate speech. 

You would have to be exceedingly naïve not to see what is happening here. And the vast majority of people – especially our political and academic classes – are anything but naive. 

But this is the logic of the contextualisation of everything related to the post October 7 landscape. The antisemites have simply replaced Mayer’s “Jewish swine” with “Zionist swine”. The ground has been ceded. The politicisation and repackaging of antisemitism has been tolerated.

Tolerance is indeed the mark of a healthy society. But in some circumstances, it can also spell disaster. Because when hate is tolerated and given free rein to fester, everything, as Mayer put it, is indeed changed. 

And one day, it’s too late…


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