I am currently reading Amos Elon’s wonderful book on the tragedy of German Jewry, “The Pity of It All”. A Jewish community that produced some of the greatest figures of the enlightenment, from Moses Mendelssohn to Albert Einstein, was betrayed by its fatherland; a country that had become the heart of European intellectual and cultural splendor and descended into barbarism two decades after its defeat in the First World War.
Continental Europe was aflame for six years, at the mercy of a madman. Many millions died in the struggle for territory, for victory on the battlefield. And six million Jews were exterminated, not because they were defending territory, or fighting the German war machine, but because they were Jews. Simply that.
Anti-Semitism is not just another hatred. It is not just another form of racism. It is a sickness.
In the wonderfully eloquent words of the late Christopher Hitchens, delivering the 2010 Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture on anti-Semitism:
“…anti-Semitism is the mother of all, perhaps to better say the godfather, of all other kinds of racism. It is somewhat like a version of mental illness… The Nazis thought of Poles and Slavs and Gypsies as racial inferiors by all means, but the organizing principle of their racism, the thing that gave it its energy and its consistency, was the hatred of the Jew… Osama Bin Laden and his murderous gangsters by all means deem every Hindu, every Christian, all Shia, all Baha’i, all Ahmadi Muslims to be meat for slaughter, and of course all atheists and agnostics… But if you look at their propaganda and if you talk to them, as I have done to specimens of them, you’ll find nothing, nothing in their world view that comes up to what they feel in terms of fear and loathing about the Jew…”
Europe often gets short shrift from Israelis. For the least forgiving it is irredeemable, “a Jewish graveyard”. For many more there is frustration at the seemingly endless patience and sympathy shown toward Palestinians, with no commensurate feelings displayed towards Israelis at the receiving end of Hamas’s rockets.
Sometimes I think the criticism of Europe here is over the top. It is infuriatingly stupid of certain Israeli politicians to implicitly – or sometime explicitly – condemn genuine friends of Israel like Tony Blair or Angela Merkel when they criticize Israeli settlement policy. But Europe does have an eternal debt to pay the Jewish people, and the currency is this: It must, now and always, adopt a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism. That does not just mean being on guard against the frightening emergence of far-right nationalists like the Jobbik Party in Hungary, or the Golden Dawn in Greece. It should also extend to the new fascism in our midst: the Islamist far-right.
I understand the need for supporting stability in a fragile Egypt, but where is Europe’s outrage at the wave of anti-Semitic filth spewing forth from top figures in the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, including President Morsi? Why, in the discussions about Iran’s nuclear program, does no one from Europe mention that the Iranian regime is already guilty of incitement to genocide – in its call for Israel’s destruction? Europe saw its Jewish population disappear into the gas chambers, why then has it not called-out Iran and its proxy, Hizballah, for the attempts to murder Jews on European soil, in Bulgaria and Cyprus?
And let no one say this is about Israel. The terrorist attacks by Iranian-backed Hizballah in Argentina in 1994 were not on an Israeli target but on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed not because they were “oppressing Palestinians”, or “occupying Muslim land”. They were killed because they were Jews.
All of this is known by European leaders. Yet they still refuse to call evil by its name and to proscribe Hizballah as a terrorist organization.
To go back to Hitchens’s speech, he pointed out that anti-Semitism is usually a herald of catastrophe, and points to a wider moral sickness in the society from which it comes:
“Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people, I learned, but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilization…”
From the Nazis to Stalin, and now to the Sunni Islamists of Hamas and the Shi’ite Islamists in Iran, we can see that the exponents of Jew-hatred are also brutal and bloodthirsty oppressors of their own people.
And history requires that Europe not turn its back in the name of “diplomacy” or at the call of realpolitik. It must speak, with one clear voice, in unequivocal terms, against today’s anti-Semitic fascists. But not only because there is a moral responsibility. For history also teaches us something else: That the Jews will be the first victims of such ideologies, but not the last.