Antisemitism on the streets of Europe

In recent days, there have been multiple incidents in Europe that deserve our attention.  In France, video emerged of anti-racist demonstrators chanting “dirty Jews”, while monuments to recall those who helped defeat the Nazis were defaced. In the UK, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was stabbed in the streets.

On their own, these incidents may appear isolated or as simply the result of a few rogue actors, but the pattern is one of spreading hatred in seemingly enlightened European countries, often in the name of anti-racism.

In Paris, a video was posted showing anti-racism demonstrators shouting “dirty Jews” at a group of counter-protesters, who were named in some reports as white supremacists.

A statement by the French Jewish representative organisation, Le CRIF, said demonstrators cannot claim to be anti-racist if they tolerate antisemitism within their ranks. French politicians from across the political spectrum also criticised the chant, calling for demonstration organisers to condemn it publicly.

A tweet by French police said they had reported the “antisemitic remarks” to the French Justice Department, but there were no reports of any sanctions for those involved.

Israeli media showed footage of a large banner saying “Israel, a laboratory of police violence” being held up at the same Paris anti-racism rally.

This banner draws on a conspiracy theory that is growing in popularity and seems to have originated in the United States. According to those spreading this falsehood, Israelis have trained police officers around the world in brutal methods of law enforcement, including the type of chokehold that killed George Floyd.

While it is no secret that Israeli law enforcement sometimes shares expertise with colleagues from around the world, as so many do, the idea that Israeli police teach lessons on brutality is entirely without basis, not to mention absurd.

Speaking about this particular conspiracy theory ahead of the Paris rally, American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris told an AIJAC Live Online event that this idea “is patently absurd but the fact that it is patently absurd does not prevent this type of conspiracy theory from spreading like wildfire.”

“In the current highly inflammable, highly polarised American environment today, there are too many people on whatever side of the equation, who are too quick to believe just about anything,” Harris said.

The important anti-racism movement has also been hijacked by individuals who have defaced, and sought to destroy, monuments to of Winston Churchill, whose leadership of the Allies helped defeat Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Jewish people the world over, including Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, have watched on in shock.

In recent days, a monument of Churchill in central London was spray-painted with the words “Churchill was a racist”. In response, London Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered the boarding up of the statue of Churchill, as well as others, including anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and anti-colonialist and non-violence advocate Mahatma Gandhi, to protect them from damage in further protests.

It has been widely documented that Churchill, like many leaders of his time, did indeed make comments about the supposed racial inferiority of certain peoples. Today, all thinking people repudiate comments of the sort made by Churchill about the superiority of white races over others. However, Churchill is still remembered as leading the charge to defeat one of the most racist endeavours in modern history, the Nazis.

Frydenberg, whose family was persecuted by the Nazis, called the attacks on the Churchill statue “nuts”.

He posted on Twitter: “Don’t these people get it? He saved their families and the world from Nazi tyranny! As Churchill once said ‘the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see’.”

Frydenberg has previously called Churchill “one of the greatest figures of all time” and “an early and outspoken critic of Hitler’s rise”, who later went on to lead “efforts to call out communism for the enemy it was.”

The alleged attacker is arrested after witnesses restrained him on a London street.

Finally, in an incident unrelated to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, on Friday, on a north London street, an ultra-Orthodox man, Rabbi Alter Yaakov Schlesinger was stabbed in the head, back and neck. The alleged stabber was held down by witnesses until police arrived.

The UK Jewish Board of Deputies thanked those who restrained the alleged attacker and wished the victim a speedy recovery, but did not call the attack antisemitic. Numerous media reports noted that Rabbi Schlesinger was wearing traditional Hasidic garb and was in a queue, with other members of the public, to enter a bank when he was attacked.

While anti-racism demonstrators continue to call for fair and just treatment for all, their message rings hollow when their cause is hijacked by antisemites, and organisers fail to speak out.