Spike in European Antisemitism: A Cautionary Tale for Canada

In some of the world’s most progressive and multicultural countries, Jews are less secure than they have been in generations. How can this be? And what does it mean for Canada?

How is it that Jewish Swedes are roughly 20 times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than Jewish Canadians?

How is it that, in 2015, there were 66 antisemitic physical assaults in France – 13 times the number of such crimes in Canada? (This doesn’t include the 2015 massacre at a Paris kosher grocery store by a terrorist who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.)

How is it that, in parts of Western Europe, far-right parties are placing second (Austria’s Freedom Party) and third (Germany’s AfD) in national elections?

How is it that, in parts of Eastern Europe, nearly a quarter of respondents tell pollsters they are unwilling to accept Jews as fellow citizens of their country?

And, looking to recent headlines, how is it that masses of people feel they must take to the streets in Paris and London to demonstrate against very different manifestations of contemporary antisemitism? Perhaps within these watershed events we may find answers to what has become an existential dilemma for the Jews of Europe, and a cautionary tale for Canada.

Paris: A Survivor Murdered, A Community Galvanized

Last week, 10,000 Parisians — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — held a silent march following the murder of Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust Survivor who was stabbed and burned to death in her Paris apartment. The brutal nature of the attack is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a Parisian Jew who was also killed in her apartment by an attacker who witnesses said shouted “Allahu Akbar!” before throwing her beaten body out a window.

The response of French authorities to violent antisemitism has been mixed. On one hand, since 2015, France has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect Jewish institutions, an essential service that experts say seems to have helped address antisemitic attacks against these sites. And yet, there remains resistance among some to recognizing the antisemitic nature of violence against Jews when the assailant is Muslim, partially in fear that doing so offers a political boost to the right-wing Front Nationale.

In the case of Sarah Halimi, it took authorities ten months to designate the attack a hate crime, despite having significant evidence. In the case of Mireille Knoll, officials quickly acknowledged the antisemitic nature of the murder, suggesting French officials are starting to recognize that it is unacceptable to whitewash antisemitism because it might be politically expedient to do so.

London: What Starts with Hating Israel, Ends with Hating Jews

Whether antisemitism smolders or becomes a wildfire in a given country depends, in large part, on how public officials and thought leaders respond to antisemitic incidents. Jews pay close attention to these reactions, which are rightly viewed as a litmus test for our collective security.

This is particularly the case when it comes to antisemitism cloaked as anti-Israel activism. While policy criticism is clearly legitimate, calling for Israel to be destroyed is a form of antisemitism, as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – a collection of 31 member countries including Canada – has noted in its definition.

To his credit, French President Emanuel Macron has openly stated that hatred of Israel is often a vehicle for bigotry and violence against Jews, noting last July that anti-Zionism “is a reinvention of antisemitism.” To his shame, in Britain, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn presents himself as a critic of Israel and Zionism, but has in fact become an accomplice to the shocking growth of antisemitism within his party.

Last week, 1,500 protestors gathered outside Parliament to demonstrate against Corbyn after the leaders of British Jewry felt compelled to publish an open letter to Corbyn raising concerns that he has become the “figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based on obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news that is doing dreadful harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party”, and exclaiming, “Enough is Enough!”

British Jews have become increasingly estranged from Corbyn’s Labour. Jewish progressives were alarmed, for example, that he once called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends” in a public rally. These are “friends” who drag their political opponents’ lifeless bodies through the streets behind motorcycles and who are stockpiling more than a hundred thousand missiles with the express purpose of terrorizing Israelis.

Reports of antisemitism within Labour have grown under his leadership, compounded by disturbing activities from Labour officials like Ken Livingstone and MP Naz Shah, who once posted on social media that Israel should be relocated to the US. The final straw seems to have been the revelation that Corbyn had publicly defended a mural showing businessmen playing monopoly on the backs of a straining lower class. The businessmen are unmistakably Jewish in appearance, as though drawn by a Nazi party cartoonist in the 1930’s.

British Jews have long suspected Corbyn’s flirting with anti-Zionism as a veil for antisemitism. For many, his defense of the indefensible – a mural that looks as if it were produced for Der Stürmer – has torn the veil away and brought the relationship with Labour to its breaking point.

What Starts with Jews Never Ends with Jews

To a great extent, European progressive values emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust, as do many of its institutions – from The Hague to the European Union itself. The progressive Europe these projects were meant to advance is at grave risk today. Many European countries are playing catch up to the reality that antisemitism is again becoming an ideology tolerated and even fueled by political parties and that antisemitism can lead to the most brutal, lethal violence.

Those European authorities that have condemned and taken action against antisemitism in all its forms have earned our respect. They are doing their part to ensure Jews will never again feel it necessary to line up by the thousands at foreign visa offices, looking for an escape.

But those European officials who, against all evidence, have failed to take antisemitism seriously must be held accountable for their inaction. Those who have indulged the antisemites in their midst and made it clear that Jews are not welcome in their political party deserve our collective outrage.

Canada was a leader in acknowledging the new faces of antisemitism through adoption of the IHRA definition and in the role our country played in developing the Ottawa protocols. But Canada cannot be complacent about the phenomenon we see in Europe. Though Canada remains among the best countries in the world in which to be Jewish – or any minority for that matter – the seeds of extremism exist here.

Historically, when the security of Jews is seriously degraded, and antisemitism becomes politically expedient, it is a sign of crisis in society that extends beyond the welfare of Jews. Canadians need to be vigilant, because what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.

About the Author
Based in Ottawa, Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) - the advocacy agent of Canada's Jewish Federations.
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