An Experiment in European Hate
A number of writers have been publicly downplaying the rise of antisemitism in Europe – for instance internationally syndicated British-Canadian columnist Gwynne Dyer and vehemently anti-Zionist Jewish-born American academic Norman Finkelstein.
Dyer asserted in a column, republished both in the Melbourne Age (Feb. 20) and in some New Zealand newspapers, that the Jews of Europe really only face a “very small threat” and therefore any calls for these communities to consider moving to Israel was simply “crude electioneering” by Israeli PM Netanyahu. He said only “Nine Jews have been killed by Islamist terrorists in the European Union in the past year in three separate incidents (Belgium, France and Denmark)”, and while this is “deplorable… it hardly constitutes a good reason for encouraging mass emigration to Israel.”
Meanwhile, according to a story in the London Jewish Chronicle (March 12), Finkelstein told an audience during a debate at King’s College, London, that all such claims were about “non-existent, pseudo and contrived antisemitism,” a “myth” created to deflect criticism of Israel, a “lunatic” state.
Finkelstein’s crude denial of reality doesn’t deserve a response, but Dyer’s focus on the small numbers of Jews killed does. Yes, nine racial murders is a small number compared to the size of Jewish communities in Europe. However, what he fails to acknowledge is that these murders are only the tip of the iceberg – a symbol of much larger trends making Jewish life in Europe increasingly difficult.
This reality was illustrated on numerous separate occasions in recent months where journalists have shown what it is like to be Jewish in Europe through a simple experiment – dressing in a visibly Jewish way and walking down a main street in a major European city, filming what happens. The experiment has been conducted in Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, Malmo in Sweden, and in Manchester and Bradford in England. In each case, the mere fact of walking along while wearing a traditional Jewish headcovering, a kippah, drew anti-Jewish taunts, threats, hostile gestures and, frequently, spitting.
(In fairness, it should be noted that when the experiment was tried in Berlin and Stockholm, the reporter walked for hours without experiencing any antisemitic reaction.)
The worst case was probably the British cities, where it took less than a minute in Manchester, and less than three in Bradford, before the abuse began. The reporter in those cities drew more than ten antisemitic taunts an hour.
These experiments illustrate what European Jewish leaders have long been saying – it is simply not safe to be visibly Jewish in much of Europe.
This reality was also exposed by what reportedly happened to the 13-year-old son of Hollywood actor Michael Douglas during a visit last year to “southern Europe”. As Douglas revealed in the Los Angeles Times (Mar. 14), his son was verbally abused by an adult unknown to him at the hotel pool – apparently because he was wearing a Star of David necklace.
Reports say more than half of all racist attacks in France target Jews – who make up less than 1% of the population. Meanwhile, the Muslim community there is ten times as large. Openly antisemitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has a huge following there, while during last year’s Gaza war, at least nine synagogues were violently attacked, and a Jewish shopping strip in Paris was subjected to a pogrom-style attack.
In other words, Jews in Europe can only be relatively safe if they carefully make sure they are never publicly identifiable as Jews and do anything Jewish inside tightly secured and heavily guarded communal institutions.
But even that may not be sustainable. As the US State Department’s Special Envoy on Antisemitism Ira Forman noted during a recent visit to Sweden, “Every Jewish community in western Europe certainly needs security support. Many of them are being bankrupted by the money they have to spend to protect their institutions… If current trends continue… we have to worry about small Jewish communities… and their very viability.”
So, yes, it is true, the number of Jews actually killed in antisemitic attacks in Europe is relatively small. Yet if one makes the barest attempt to look at the larger picture, is it really any wonder that French and other European Jewish communities are considering their future there?
Red Rattler Racism
It seems likely that people like Finkelstein and Dyer represent a larger school of thought which doesn’t want to acknowledge the extent or severity of antisemitism because it detracts from their preference to focus on other political priorities – especially Israel’s alleged transgressions.
What people in this school particularly do not want to acknowledge is that extreme anti-Israel agitation is contributing to the rise of antisemitism globally – even though it clearly is. I won’t repeat here the litany of times leading anti-Israel activist groups have been found to either expound or attract what are clearly antisemitic statements.
Yet people like Dyer like to pretend this doesn’t exist – in his article, he said European Jews need to fear only “radicalised young Islamists.”
Yet the case of the Red Rattler theatre in Sydney’s Marrickville illustrates how antisemitism is encouraged and licensed by extreme anti-Israel positions. For those who have not followed the story, the apolitical Jewish group Hillel, which provides educational, cultural and social activities for Jewish young people, requested to hire the Red Rattler for a series of performances related to the Holocaust. They received back an unsigned email stating, “Our policy does not support colonialism/Zionism. Therefore we do not host groups that support the colonisation and occupation of Palestine.”
Following media reporting of the issue, the theatre’s board quite properly apologised, but what was interesting was what motivated whoever sent the email. They were clearly just itching for a chance to loudly demonstrate their anti-Zionist stance – and anything Jewish would do as a target. So they engaged in blatant ethnic discrimination.
Frankly, such spillover from “anti-Zionism” into blatant ethnic discrimination and racism is much more common than “Boycott Israel” types would like anyone to know about.