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The sun rises while birds fly over Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 3. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
The sun rises while birds fly over Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 3. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Is the Gaza conflict stoking anti-Semitism in Europe? Add to ...

Parts of central London have been plugged with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rallies since the start of the Israel-Gaza war. Most have been almost entirely peaceful, through a disturbing trend seems to be in place. At one mass rally, a vile placard declared “Hitler you were right!” At another, protesters confronted a Jewish woman and shouted “Burn in hell.”

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The Community Service Trust, the British charity that monitors anti-Semitic “incidents” and provides security advice to Britain’s Jews, said that since fighting broke out on July 8 the number of such incidents has doubled to the second monthly highest on record. As the war rages on and the body count rises, the anti-Semitic incident tally could break a British record in August.

What’s happening in France is far worse. The country is home of Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations (about 500,000 and 5-million, respectively).

Recently in France, at least eight Synagogues were attacked, according to The New York Times. In Paris, a pro-Palestinian protest turned ugly when several Jewish shops were burned and some demonstrators chanted “Death to Jews.”

The French government banned protests in certain parts of France as the violence intensified and prime minister Manuel Valls warned that a “new form of anti-Semitism” was gripping the country. About the same time, Natan Sharansky, the former Israeli politician who is chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, warned that “we are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe.” He estimated that as many as 6,000 Jews were expected to leave France for Israel this year because of anti-Semitism.

FERTILE GROUND FOR BIGOTRY

Anti-Semitism is apparently flourishing in Europe; the number of recorded incidents, ranging from swastikas painted on synagogues to violent attacks on Jewish shops and institutions (in May, a gunman used a rifle to kill four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels) has been on the rise recently.

Some of the surge can be blamed on the Israel-Gaza war and the ubiquitous images of dead and dying Palestinian children. But that explains only part of the story. An influx of Muslim immigrants to Europe, some of whom come from countries with a history of anti-Semitism, may be playing a role. Another theory says the war has merely exposed latent anti-Semitism, giving anti-Semites “cover” to expose their bigotry.

A British-trained human rights lawyer and law professor, who did not want his name used, said he believes Britain has always had an undercurrent of anti-Semitism and that the latest Gaza conflict has merely exposed some of the worst anti-Semitic behaviour.

In an email, he said: “The tendency for anti-Israel demonstrations to result in displays of anti-Semitism is far from new. I remember as a student [in London] how, in an anti-poll tax demonstration [in the 1980s], a large portion of the marchers cheerfully took up the chant of ‘Burn it down!’ as we passed Hillel House, as if it were a politically sophisticated response when faced with a ‘Zionist’ institution. Hillel House was set up for Jewish university students. It was terrifying.”

Still another theory says that the European recession, which has been particularly brutal in the southern Europe, where youth unemployment rates are 40 per cent or higher, has triggered a backlash against outsiders and Jews alike. “I would categorize the recession as being a contributing factor,” says Richard Goldstein, director of operations in London for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. “Jews have been associated, however unfairly, with money and wealth for so long.”

ANGER AND IMAGERY

The intense media coverage of the war, much of it sympathetic to the Palestinians, has added fuel to the anti-Semitic fire, Jewish and Muslim group say. And what the mainstream European media shows is positively sanitized compared to what can be found on social media such as Twitter, where pictures of dead, dying and mutilated Palestinian children are common.

“The thing about social media is that it cannot be reined in,” says Salman Farsi, communications officer for the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre. “Everyone pushes out their propaganda and it’s quite scary. Left unchecked, it will generate more hatred and possibly violence.”

Mark Gardner, director of communications for Britain’s Community Service Trust, has a similar view. “I think of a lot of the anti-Semitic reaction comes from the media,” he said. “It causes enraged people to become more enraged. It can come from the mainstream media or, increasingly, from self-selected media like the social media sites.”

For years, CST has carefully monitored anti-Semitic “incidents” in Britain and claims it is ultra careful to distinguish between ant-Semitic and anti-Israel behaviour. Mr. Gardner says the number of anti-Semitic incidents always spike up when the Israel-Gaza conflict, ongoing since 2006 erupts into extreme violence (Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007).

The peak monthly number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Britain by the CST was 289, in January, 2009, during Operation Cast Lead. That’s when the Israelis, determined to stop the rocket launches from Gaza and the delivery of arms into Gaza through what Israel described as “terror tunnels”, launched a bombardment and ground invasion of the strip. Between 1,200 and 1,400 Palestinians were killed, and 13 Israelis.

The second highest figure came this month as the Israel-Gaza war grew bloodier by the day. Between July 1 and July 29, 130 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded.

REASONS TO FEAR

Mr. Goldstein, of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, says the rise of the extreme right-wing parties, almost all of them anti-immigrant, a few of them openly anti-Semitic, has frightened Jews across Europe. “It’s extraordinary what’s happening,” he says.

  • Marine Le Pen’s Front National Placed first in France in the European Union elections in May. The FN has been having trouble burying is anti-Semitic past and is considered such a politically liability that even the UK Independence Party, the anti-immigrant party that placed first in Britain, refuses to form a coalition with it.
  • In Greece, Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party whose senior members were charged last year with running a criminal organization, won 9 per cent of the vote and placed three members in the European parliament. Golden Dawn uses a stylized Nazi flag and Nazi memorabilia has been found in the houses of a few of its members.
  • Hungary’s Jobbik party, which placed second in the European election, openly promotes its ant-Semitic stance. Among other horrors, the party’s deputy leader, in 2012, called for a national “tally” of Jews.

It comes as no wonder, then, that increasing numbers of Europe’s Jews are running scared. Last year, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights published an extensive report on Jewish perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism. It was based on surveys with almost 6,000 respondents in nine European countries.

The report concluded that two thirds of Europe’s Jews consider anti-Semitism to be a problem while more than three quarters “believe the situation has become more acute and that anti-Semitism has increased in the country where thy live over the past five years.” If the survey were done today, there is little doubt the fear figures would be higher. Maybe Mr. Sharanksy is right when he predicts the beginning of the end for Europe’s Jews.

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

 

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