When the situation in Israel and Palestine escalated again about two weeks ago, I became anxious and worried.
Especially, of course, because of the people on the ground. Because of my family and my friends who have to live in the hail of Hamas rockets, because of the people in Israel who once again had to fear for their lives, and because of the Palestinians who are threatened by death and destruction.
But I also became worried because I know what an escalation in the Middle East means for us as European Jews. I immediately had flashbacks to 2014, to open antisemitism and attacks on synagogues and Jews. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened.
Everywhere and constantly, Jews are forced to position themselves. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers on the street and the Internet call on European Jews to take responsibility for Israel’s alleged and imagined crimes. Regardless of whether they generally talk about the Middle East conflict or not. Regardless of whether they are politically active or not. Regardless of whether they are Zionists or not, regardless of whether they are progressives or conservatives – friendships break up, university and work become dangerous. Because Jews are being held responsible as “colonialists” and “oppressors”, because suddenly there is only solidarity with Jews who have an “acceptable opinion”, because regardless of where we stand, we are targeted.
But of course, the violence is not limited to insults and abuse. The last days once again showed how fast online hate can become physical violence. Across Europe, we have seen an incredible rise in antisemitism. In the United Kingdom, antisemitic incidents increased by 500 % (!) since the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza. Synagogues have already been attacked in Bonn, Münster, Norwich and several other cities. In Gelsenkirchen, a mob marched in front of the local synagogue and chanted, “Fuck the Jews”. An antisemitic motorcade went through Jewish neighborhoods of North London, shouting “Fuck the Jews, rape their daughters!” while a rabbi was beaten up.
Across Europe, including Brussels, London, Berlin and Vienna, thousands, including Islamists, Turkish fascists like the Grey Wolves, the antisemitic BDS movement, but also parts of the “anti-imperialist” left, took to the streets, calling for the mass slaughter of Jews, the bombardment of Israel and Tel Aviv, compared Zionism with Nazism and glorified terror organizations like the Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
In my hometown, Vienna, a group of Jewish girls were pelted with stones in a park. A mob tried interrupting a rally against all forms of antisemitism organized by the Austrian Union of Jewish Student (JöH). A man shouted, “you can shove your Holocaust up your ass”, while almost everyone around him applauded. They were not successful in interrupting the rally. But the reality is: If you want to demonstrate against antisemitism in Europe right now, that’s only possible under the protection of hundreds of police with water cannons.
In America, meanwhile, the situation isn’t better than in Europe anymore: In New York, San Francisco, Montreal and other places, mobs chased, harassed, assaulted and beat up Jews in their “fight against Israel”.
What was shocking but not surprising is that virtually no one cared. While this explosion of antisemitism took place, almost everyone remained silent. Particularly those who normally speak up loudly against injustice anywhere largely had either nothing to say about the recent surge of Jew-hatred, engaged in weird whataboutisms, or even blamed Jews themselves. For decades, the Jewish student movement has proudly stood up against discrimination and for the human rights of other oppressed minorities. And one thing is certain: Our solidarity is never a quid-pro-quo, and we will continue to fight for a fairer world for all, driven by the belief that we can only effectively fight for Jewish Rights while standing up for Human rights and vice-versa. But what has also become clear: When antisemitism is rising, there are not many we can rely on.
I personally have a big problem with settlement policy, with racist and extremist developments in Israel, with house evictions and police violence. But Hamas does not care about Al Aqsa or Sheikh Jarra. When Hamas shoots thousands of rockets at Israel, as it has done in recent days, and kills multiple people, it has exactly two goals: To kill as many Jews as possible and to wipe out Israel from the face of the earth.
Anyone who justifies this, approves of it or sees it as a “struggle for freedom” is fuelling an Islamist dictatorship. A brutal dictatorship that oppresses women, queer people, dissidents and almost everyone else who does not fit into Hamas’ narrow ideology and whose goal is a Palestine free of Jews. Defending this has just as little to do with solidarity with Palestinians as people who attack synagogues in Europe because of their so-called “criticism of Israel”. And, of course, Israel can and must defend herself against this terror.
The last few days, the attacks, the silence and the disregard for Europe’s Jews have demonstrated how important a free and democratic Israel – ideally soon next to a free and democratic Palestine – is. So that Jews are no longer subjected to expulsion and persecution without protection.
Another constant of the last few days are the efforts of right-wing instigators trying to abuse the explosion of antisemitism in Europe and the conflict in Israel. They see Israel as a front in a fantasized “culture war” and warn exclusively of the “new imported antisemitism” brought by immigrants. This is so tiring in our debate about Jew-hatred: antisemites are always the others. But antisemitism is omnipresent. On the right, on parts of the left, it is at the core of Islamist ideology, and it is also in the middle of our society.
So let’s be clear: We don’t need the fake solidarity of the far-right. The “old antisemitism” never left. It is not only present in Halle, Pittsburgh and Poway, but in the many places across Europe, where we have seen the biggest right-wing mobilization in years. Antisemitism can never be fought with racism, the antisemitism here is not simply “imported.” Those who use such language can never be our allies, and they are not genuinely interested in fighting antisemitism: they just want to “Kasher”, to whitewash, their racism.
Overall, we finally need to act consequently against antisemitism. That means taking the fight seriously instead of engaging in empty gestures. It means showing zero-tolerance against antisemitism not only when it is politically beneficial but especially when it concerns the “own” side.
On a micro-level, especially if you are not Jewish, it means challenging your friends when they share antisemitic propaganda on social media under the guise of “Israel-criticism”. It means standing up at demonstrations against antisemitism. On a macro-level, it doesn’t just mean fighting antisemitism at home, it also means a different approach to foreign policy. It means punishing leaders like Turkey’s Erdoğan, who are spreading antisemitism. It means re-thinking the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, which is not only built on the dead bodies of forced laborers but is also taking place in a country that is one of the main state-sponsors of Hamas. And it means being clear about the ultimate goals of Iran’s Mullahs: A genocidal campaign to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
If you don’t stand up against antisemitism now, we don’t need your concern and dismay the next time a Jew is killed in Europe. Because, as a good friend of mine recently wrote, we have warned you. We have warned you when a recent study (even before the current escalation), conducted by the EU on the advice of EUJS, showed that 67 % of young European Jews say the Arab-Israeli conflict is threatening their safety in Europe. We have warned you when we told you blaming European Jews for Israel’s actions is antisemitic. When we told you, comparing Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis is antisemitic. When we told you, attacking Jewish institutions is antisemitic. And when we told you denying Israel’s right to exist is antisemitic.
Now is the time to stand up against all forms of antisemitism. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with Jews.
My thoughts are with the people of Israel and Palestine. Hopefully, someday, they will finally be able to live in the peace they so much deserve.
שלום ,سلام, Peace