The BBC has a troubling story about the apparent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe — at least, as expressed in a poll of European Jews. Of the nearly 6,000 people surveyed, two-thirds considered anti-Semitism to be a big problem, and more than 75 percent believed that bigotry has increased in the last five years.
Even worse, those depressingly high numbers don’t really tell the full story. Survey respondents reported that prejudicial comments on-line — where distance and anonymity can allow the inner demons to run free — has become shockingly prevalent. Moreover, 20 percent of the respondents had personally experienced verbal abuse or physical assault, with the most serious incidents involving Muslim extremists, people with left-wing political views, and finally people with right-wing views. The situation has gotten so bad that, in many countries, significant percentages of the Jewish respondents are considered emigrating to ensure the safety of their families.
This is the kind of grim, brooding story that should cause serious concern for everyone who believes in democracy, pluralism, and freedom of religion. We know what happened in the 1930s and World War II years, and we need to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again — in Europe, or elsewhere.
If we see instances of anti-Semitic speech on-line, we need to call out the speaker and shame them with their bigotry. We shouldn’t tolerate anti-Semitic garbage from the podium of the UN General Assembly or the mouths of Middle Eastern zealots. If we hear of an anti-Semitic incident, we need to take steps to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If we see vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, we need to participate in the clean-up and figure out how to prevent such incidents in the future. We need to fight hate speech with right speech, and criminal acts with criminal prosecution.
This is not a Jewish issue, it is a human issue. Abuse and mistreatment of any religious or ethnic group weakens us all and splinters the world into feuding factions. I don’t want to live in a balkanized world where any group may be targeted, scapegoated, and assaulted with impunity. I hope that the good people of Europe stand up, and I hope that those of us in America stay vigilant.