Jews In Europe, Again

On Saturday, a gunman in Copenhagen went on a rampage at a free speech event and then shot and killed a Jewish man guarding a synagogue before being killed by police; Danish authorities think he may have been trying to recreate last month’s murderous attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and a kosher supermarket, in Paris.  On Sunday, hundreds of Jewish tombs were desecrated in eastern France.  Surveys of Jews in Europe show increased worries about anti-Semitism, and a recent hidden camera video shows a Jewish man being insulted, spat upon, and threatened as he walked the streets of Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the Denmark incident by calling for Jews to emigrate to Israel; he said Jews deserve protection in every country but warned that the attacks will continue.  Some Jewish leaders in Europe rejected that call, arguing that, in one man’s words, for Jews to leave Europe would be handing Hitler a “posthumous victory.”  They contend, instead, that Jews should remain and advocate for increased democracy, vocal rejection of anti-Semitism by governments in the Eurozone, and increased police protection of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

What should Jews do?  No one is predicting a second Holocaust — but no one predicted a first Holocaust, either.  No one wants to retreat in the face of depraved and murderous attacks, but would you want to continue to expose your family and children to potentially unsafe conditions and a culture in which slurs and physical intimidation are increasingly commonplace?  It’s an impossible individual choice, being made against the dark historical backdrop of genocide that happened on the European continent less than a century ago.

The burden instead must fall on governments to stop Europe from backsliding into hell.  Protest marches and public pronouncements are nice, but more must be done to stop the anti-Semitic wave, demonstrate the commitment to a Europe that welcomes and includes Jews, culturally and politically, and aggressively identify and prosecute the perpetrators of street bullying, vandalism, shootings, and every other anti-Jewish criminal act.  Americans can reinforce that message by not spending their money in Europe unless action is taken.

If people are to leave the European continent in the wake of an anti-Semitic wave, it should be the wrongdoers, not the persecuted.

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Euro Zone Danger Zone

With all the bad news around the world lately — from ISIS savagery to North Korean nuttery, from Russian power plays in Ukraine to Chinese saber-rattling in the Pacific, from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa to Boko Haram mass kidnappings — nobody’s paying too much attention to Europe.  That’s unfortunate, because Europe is a mess right now.

Economically, Europe is a basket case.  In the second quarter of this year, Germany’s economy — the largest on the continent — shrank by 0.2 percent.  The most recent data indicates that business growth continued to slow in August.  In France, the economy is completely stagnant, producing no growth for several quarters while unemployment is above 10 percent.  The French economy minister resigned yesterday in a public disagreement with the country’s very unpopular President about whether France should follow austerity policies or policies that funnel government money directly to households; the economy minister said he felt compelled to speak out to try to avoid the European Union’s “descent into hell.” 

IMG_5596The unemployment situation in Europe is terrible.  Statistics presented by the European Central Bank president at an international conference last week are daunting — they show European unemployment growing while American unemployment is declining and indicate that the recession that hit the world in 2008 really hasn’t ended in the Eurozone.  The statistics also show that people who aren’t highly educated are losing their jobs by the truckload and that jobs are vanishing in the business sectors that traditionally employed less educated people — like construction and heavy industry.  The service sector is holding steady, which means that if you’re looking for a job in the Eurozone and you don’t have advanced degrees, you’re lucky to get a position as a waiter.

When economies fail and bitter people can’t find jobs to fill their time and feed their families, political and social unrest follows closely behind.  It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that we are seeing a deeply troubling increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, from public protests triggered by the Israeli-Hamas fighting in Gaza to attacks on synagogues and social media hate speech.  The fact that some Europeans are returning to virulent anti-Semitism of their forefathers indicates that the EU initiative really hasn’t materially changed a continent where prejudices run deep.

The economic, political, and social situation in Europe is a toxic mix.  Other crises have distracted attention from the various Eurozone woes, but we shouldn’t ignore what’s happening across the Atlantic.

The Rise Of Anti-Semitism In The Eurozone

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.

The Persistent Scourge Of Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress typically holds its annual meeting in Jerusalem.  This year, however, the group is meeting in Budapest, Hungary — for a reason.

The WJC wants to spotlight the rise of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe.  And sure enough, the presence of the WJC caused the anti-Semites to come crawling out of their holes, spewing their hateful rhetoric.  The Chairman of the Jobbik Party — which sounds like a Tolkien character but is the third-largest party in Hungary — accused Israelis of trying to buy the country, and another Jobbik member of Parliament said his country had become “subjugated to Zionism” and was the target of “colonization” by Israel.  The ugly speeches and slanderous scapegoating are chillingly familiar and profoundly disturbing.

I commend the World Jewish Congress for confronting the anti-Semites, and for exposing the unfortunate truth:  unbelievably, even after anti-Semitism caused millions of Jews to be slaughtered in the Holocaust, there remains a deep vein of anti-Semitism in the world.  It shows up every now and then, in the rise of political parties like Jobbik, in the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or in the efforts of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to obtain a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a libelous piece of venomous anti-Semitic propaganda that has motivated generations of bigots.

It’s important not to ignore the signs of anti-Semitism.  The years before the Holocaust showed that merely hoping that right-thinking people will ultimately prevail isn’t good enough — anti-Semitic rhetoric and conduct needs to be confronted and defeated.  That’s why moving the World Jewish Congress meeting to Budapest was the right thing to do.