On May 7th, the day after French Presidential elections, while seating in a pub in Paris I overheard two customers commenting on the previous day results in a jubilatory manner. Along with the usual celebratory talks a sentence stood out: “On a battu le juif” (we beat the Jew). The increase of racially and religiously motivated comments has been a trademark of recent developments in Europe and this dangerous tendency has been actively denounced by all sides of national political parties. Nevertheless, if there is an official agreement to defend a politically correct discourse and to voice criticism against all kind of racist slurs, European societies are rapidly moving back to an old custom of an anti-Semitic mindset. If racism and xenophobia are worldwide problems, European anti-Semitism is a unique pathology of the Western civilization rooted in the core of the History of the continent itself and effectively resulting in the worst events that took place in the last ten centuries.
Until 1945, European societies have been the center of a specific trend of social anti-Semitism. Periods of politically backed sanctions and legislations along with centuries of social persecutions provided fertile grounds in the European ethos for an unconscious and yet tangible degree of acceptable anti-Semitism. The Shoah came as a shock for the entire European civilization. Having in front of its eyes the concrete result of a millennial trend of anti-Semitism created a rift in the European mind. With six millions innocent victims no one could ever again use traditional attacks on the Jewish people and the Jewish culture as a viable political message.
Unless? Unless, that message of hate shifted from attacks focused against a component of European societies to the opposition against the Jewish State. Since 1945, two kinds of anti-Semitism are visible in Europe. The endemic cancer of nationalist anti-Semitism is still to be found in far-right and far-left political movements. Economic downturns and social difficulties remain a magnet for cyclical periods of unfounded and irrational conspiracy theories which put Jewish populations at the center of violent verbal and physical attacks. If this aspect of European anti-Semitism represents a real threat to European Jews and the overall peace and stability of the continent, it does not any longer represent the most concrete facilitator for the accepted violence against Jewish people which was once considered normal in Europe.
In fact, a wide array of actors, ranging from Members of the European institutions to representatives of the highest academic establishments use their democratic right to oppose certain aspects of Israel domestic and foreign policies in order to promote a modern and more flexible kind of anti-Semitism. Arguments against the Jewish nature of Israel and the Zionist enterprise tend to be based on biased, irrational and misinformed point of views instead of following a democratic argumentative process. In the past, European anti-Semitism has been founded upon religious and nationalist ideas; the contemporary hatred towards Jews finds fertile ground in undemocratic attacks against the core nature of Israel while maintaining centuries-old notions based on conspiracy.
No longer able to legitimately attack the Jewish people, European anti-Semites find a gateway in their attempts to delegitimize Israel. Author Rich Cohen wrote that with the birth of the modern State of Israel, the nature of Judaism became linked to a reality after having been associated to an idea since the second destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For this, the evolving European anti-Semitism is adapting and reacting to this reality by delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish State in order to weaken Israelis and Jewish people worldwide. With this objective, the modern anti-Semite uses a rhetoric similar to the one in place from the 19th century up until 1945, the only difference being that the target is now the Jewish State.
The objective of the aggressive anti-Semite is to deprive Israel of its moral legitimacy, by doing so its citizens and those supporting it are expected to fall in a position of inferiority. The techniques used are not different from the ones experienced in the Dreyfus case or put in place by the national socialists in the 1930’s. A first step is to generate doubts concerning the possible existence of a Jewish ‘master plan’ to control key international institutions. To this extent the example of lectures given by Norwegian Professor Johan Galtung is very meaningful. Professor Galtung starts with implying that the vast majority of world media are controlled by Jewish associations – a typical cliché used by anti-Semite propaganda. In modern Europe, these accusations are focused on the use of media to favor Israel and they are no longer centered on some imagined occult society. In this discourse modern anti-Semitism meets old trends as ‘The Protocol of the Elders of Sion’ is brought back to further influence gullible crowds. These attempts to undermine the Jewish place in society remain closely linked to an attack to Israel institutions as scores of conspiracy theories voiced by European academia would like to involve the role of the Israeli secret services to almost every terrorist attacks that took place in recent year. This tendency has especially been visible in 2011, as rumors of Mossad involvement in the Oslo attacks or the Mohammed Merah terrorist rampage polluted the media.
The major issue is that these irrational allegations do find their way to large audiences as there is a clear tendency to accept a trend aimed at delegitimizing Israel. Few Europeans were truly appalled when Catherine Ashton compared the killings by Mohammed Merah to Israel State’s policies in Gaza during the War on Hamas (2008-2009). This officially recognized tendency to accept biased conclusions regarding the Jewish State policies lead to dangerous results.
As it has always been the case in History, crowds are easily easy to manipulate and irresponsible European leaders may participate in facilitating an escalation in anti-Semitic feelings. The general discourse of academia and European institutions does not reject claims such as the ones describing Israeli plans to commit a ‘Palestinian Genocide’, for this over 40% of interviewed Europeans do think that Israel is responsible of genocide.
These trends create a dangerous equation as European crowds do not make a definitive difference between arguments issued against Israel and attacks against European Jewish populations. In fact, since 2009 there has been a steep increase of anti-Semitic accidents all over Europe. If periods of tensions in the Middle East result in problems in Europe, even moments of relative peace such as the beginning of 2012 do represent perilous times for Jewish persons living in Europe.
As it was the case prior to 1945, a certain type of attacks and acts of defamations are being more and more accepted by European societies.
In the month of April of this year, I was surprised when walking in my university’s corridors to discover a Star of David likened to the Nazi Swastika. What is even more surprising is the relative normality of such events. During demonstrations in January 2009, in Paris, calling for the end of Israeli operations in Gaza protesters calmly chanted choirs insulting the Jewish people.
The normalization of a modern type of anti-Semitism is part of the syndrome of a European illness which feeds itself on the fears present in an era of economic crisis and an overall loss of confidence in the traditional political parties. Accepting biased attacks against the core nature of Israel and not firmly denouncing defamatory acts for political reasons – as it has been the case of Ken Livingston in England – creates a situation where radicalized crowds are facilitated in their will to carry out anti-Semitic attacks. In a period of profound changes, the continent is undergoing a structural transformation. Since the mid 19th century, anti-Semitism has been in the hands of what may be coined as the right nationalist movements. If neo-Nazi organizations maintain a clear anti-Semitic discourse, since the 1990’s this tendency has been changing. Virulent and yet accepted attacks aiming at the core nature of Israel are increasingly generated by leftist, radical and far-left parliamentary movements. The normalization of this discourse along with the evolution of modern anti-Semitism is the face of a larger problem in Europe: the core values of democratic debate are being left aside to privilege short term gains made possible by populist discourses.