Judging from the media coverage in Israel in the past few weeks, one could easily draw the conclusion that the biggest threat to Jewish life in Europe and Israel is to be found in Poland. This assumption is not without merit. A Pew Survey from 2008 ranks Poland as the second most anti-Semitic country in Europe, just behind Spain. According to this survey, 36 percent of all Poles express hostility towards Jews. Combined with the recent legislation to outlaw any reference to Polish responsibility in the Holocaust, this gives legitimate reason for concern. But as the controversial bill has now been put on hold, let us pause and take a look at some other threats facing Israel and the Jewish people on the peaceful continent of Europe.
We need to realise that anti-Semitic sentiments are not limited to a populist government in Warsaw, but are at the very core of progressive Europe. Despite growing protests from several Jewish organisations in Brussels last week, the European Parliament is set to go ahead and host Palestinian extremist Omar Barghouti this week. Barghouti, who is the founder of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, openly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and compares Israelis to the Nazis. This explains why he is against a two-state solution and is campaigning for a total boycott of the State of Israel in order to bring down the Jewish state. This week on Wednesday his message will be heard loud and clear in the European Parliament.
This is not the first time that a political extremist has been invited to the European Parliament in Brussels even though the chamber prides itself with zero tolerance of racism and hatred. Nevertheless, the European Parliament has always been a mixed bag of dubious characters, like father and daughter Le Pen, a grand-daughter of Benito Mussolini, and a convicted IRA terrorist, just to mention a few.
What makes the invitation of Barghouti even more remarkable is the fact that he has not been invited by any of the fringe groups within the parliament. The host on Wednesday will be Anna Gomes, a respectable Portuguese MEP from the second largest political group in the European Parliament: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
This group along with the European People’s Party (EPP) (Christian Democrats) are the two major pillars of the European Union project. For the last ten years these two groups have pretty much divided up the power between one another, taking turns as to who gets to lead which EU institution, while keeping away smaller political groups and parties, in particular those who are more critical of European federalism.
When the populist anti-EU parties won a major victory in the 2014 European Parliament elections, many considered them to be a threat to democracy. Perhaps the opposite is true. It is not one of these fringe groups which will be hosting Barghouti this week but rather the respectable and highly influential S&D group.
Despite several letters of complaint to the current President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, he has not been able to intervene. If the conference had been hosted by one of the so-called populist parties, the situation would have been different. But when anti-Semitism is found at the core of the political establishment in Europe, it mostly goes unchecked. This should be a matter of concern both for the Jewish state and world Jewry at large, who more often are concerned with the shadows of the past than the threats of the future.
Last year a party comrade of Gomez, MEP Marita Ulvskog from Sweden, openly celebrated the convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti in the European Parliament in the company of invited relatives of other convicted Palestinian terrorists. Across the English Channel in the UK, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn remains a close friend of recognised terrorists within Hezbollah and Hamas. Even at the heart of the progressive European Union project in Berlin, the declared program of the new coalition government in waiting reflects a clear change in tone. Instead of simply emphasizing their historical and unwavering commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish state, they make it clear that they oppose any Jewish claim to the disputed territories and a united Jerusalem, while ignoring the existential threats facing Israel today. In the first draft of this document the future policy with regard to the State of Israel was left out completely.
When the special historical relationship between Germany and the modern State of Israel is now becoming out of fashion in Berlin, Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, Brussels and New York should be worried.
It would be easy to dismiss the new Polish law as a fringe phenomena in a country on collision course with the EU, but in progressive Iceland a new law has been proposed which, if passed by the parliament, would ban the circumcision of male infants with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
In a letter to the leftist-green Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, representatives from Jewish communites in the other Nordic countries point out that the new law would make traditional Jewish life impossible in this former Viking kingdom. What the Nazis could not achieve through the Holocaust, progressive politics in Iceland would achieve with the stroke of a pen.
Icelandic opposition to the traditional Jewish way of life is not motivated by nationalism or populism, but is born out of a humanitarian concern for the welfare of the child. In a similar way the kosher slaughter of animals is being treated as a crime against animals. As Rabbi Lord Sacks has pointed out, the new anti-Semitism paradoxically tries to find its moral justification in human rights – but not for the Jewish people! In this sense the progressive MEP Anna Gomez in the European Parliament and the Prime Minister Jakobsdottir in Reykjavik represent the new face of anti-Semitism in Europe alongside those from the extreme right and the various Islamist movements.
Let me be clear. The current President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani is a friend of Israel. So was the former President, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz. The European Commission does a commendable work to monitor the spread of anti-Semitism and has introduced new measures to combat this fatal disease in Europe. But as long as the second largest political group in the European Parliament sees no problem in giving a platform to a political extremist who cannot accept a Jewish state seventy years after its rebirth, anti-Semitism is at the core of progressive Europe.