In virtually every generation anti-semitism somehow finds new and unique ways to grab the imagination of people’s base prejudices. Witness the resurgence of neo-Nazi activity in parts of Eastern Europe. Here are countries where anti-semitism grew to maniacal proportions that led to the wholesale genocide of six million Jews. However, in recent attitudinal surveys, in countries such as Poland, 75 per cent of those surveyed indicated intolerance towards Jews. Even in Germany, where neo-Nazi extremism has been fought vigorously and seems to have waned, a survey conducted by the EU agency for Fundamental Rights showed fully 61 per cent of those polled indicated that anti-semitism in Germany was its most serious problem, scoring higher than the economy or health-related matters.
Almost 6,000 individuals identifying themselves as Jews – from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the UK – participated in the survey. More than 66 per cent noted that anti-semitism was a problem in Europe with over 75 per cent agreeing that there was a noticeable increase in their own countries of origin. Indeed, in France, the anti-semitic and racist Front Nationale garnered 20 per cent of all votes during the first round of the 2012 national elections.
A simple examination of the ascendancy of Hungary’s Jobbik Party, a political entity whose oxygen appears to be racism, bigotry, homophobia and of course anti-semitism tells the tale. For example, in 2012, a Jobbik Party member caused a major ruckus when he commemorated the 1882 antisemitic blood-libel against Hungarian Jewry known as the Tiszaeszlár Affair. The malicious 1882 accusation of Jews being responsible for the death of a local peasant girl for ritual purposes lead to acts of violent pogroms against local Hungarian Jewish communities. More recently, Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary leader noted in parliament in relation to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, “I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
And let us not be complacent believing that this anti-semitism is simply a blip from the extreme right. A recent documentary shown on German television demonstrates how hatred of Israel, in the words of Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Wienthal, “unifies many diverse groups in German society, including Islamists, mainstream Germans, left-wing Germans and right-wing extremists.” And while this grouping includes both anti-semites and those who are simply against Israeli policies, it nonetheless is a worrisome trend.
Yet it’s not just politics and community where Jew-hatred is once again raising its ugly head. Even within the areas of sports and entertainment we find anti-Jewish expression making a comeback. Perhaps the most notorious of the new-wave anti-semitic “entertainers” is infamous French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Known across Europe, and even popular in Quebec, Mr. Dieudonné has made no secret of his anti-Israel feelings which many believe have morphed into stark anti-semitism. In France, his work has led to a number of hate-crime charges and inciting racial hatred to which he has been convicted on numerous occasions.
Mr. Dieudonné’s latest outrage was the origination of an arm gesture known as the “quenelle”. In French it means meat dumpling, but Mr. Dieudonné has bastardized the gesture (described as an inverted Nazi seig heil) when he ran as part of an anti-Zionist group vying for a seat in the European Parliament. Mr. Dieudonné used the gesture in a campaign poster and sadly it has become the new symbol for targeting Jews. It has spread like wildfire. Indeed, it has even become a scandal within the English Football Association (FA) after West Bromwich striker Nicolas Anelka executed the “quenelle” last month after scoring a goal for his team. It led to an uproar in France, steering French Sports Minister Valérie Fourneyron to release a statement claiming that Mr. Anelka’s “quenelle” was an “incitation to racial hatred and sickening”. On Tuesday, the FA charged Mr. Anelka over his behaviour.
As it happens my daughter is engaged to a young man from the UK and both Adam and his father Glenn are strong West Bromwich fans. Glenn like me is a child of Holocaust survivors and was so outraged at Anelka’s behaviour that he wrote a letter to his football club which reads in part: “I am shocked that my club supported him in this. Anelka has brought disgrace to himself and to our club and we should act accordingly by taking action against him.”
Sadly, like a redoubtable virus, it seems that Jew-hatred has once again become fashionable in parts of Europe. However the difference today seems to be that good people are speaking out. From my new UK family to French officials perhaps we have learned some lessons from the past.
Bernie Farber, a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, writes on human and civil rights matters. He is currently senior vice-president of Gemini Power Corp.