Antisemitism in the 21st Century

The murder in Denmark of a Jewish man outside a synagogue is just the latest in a long series of acts of violence and murder directed at Jews in Europe over the last few decades. Only last month in Paris Jews were targeted and four were murdered at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket.

The Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, has condemned the attack on Jews as an attack on democracy. The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, last month expressed concern at the growing numbers of Jews emigrating from France as they flee antisemitic violence. Even the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, expressed concern that Jews, no longer feeling safe in Britain, are preparing to leave. Other countries in Europe are also facing growing antisemitic violence and are having difficulty protecting their Jewish citizens against harassment, assault, bombings and murder.

In Belgium, the Jewish Museum in Brussels was attacked and four people murdered in May 2014. In 2013, the last remaining Jewish school in Brussels instructed its students to remove their kippot (Jewish religious head covering) on their way to and from school, and only wear it safely within the confines of the fortress-like school building, due to the threat of physical attack.

In Holland, in late 2010, Frits Bolkestein, a prominent Dutch politician, advised Jews to leave Holland as it is no longer safe for Jews to live there. Earlier that year, the police in Holland had instituted a system of décoy police, where Dutch policeman dressed up as Orthodox Jews and walked the streets, in a bid to arrest or deter those who would assault Jews.

In Denmark in 2009, a school refused to enrol Jewish students as it could not protect them from harassment and assault. Other Danish school principals supported the move. In Norway, a survey by the Oslo Municipality in 2011 found that 33% of Jewish students in the town were physically threatened or abused by other high school teens at least two to three times a month. The groups that suffered the next highest amount of bullying were Buddhists at 10%, “Others” at 7%, and Muslims at 5%.

In Sweden, the Mayor of Malmo, where many Swedish Jews live, blamed the Jews themselves for assaults on Jews and firebombings of synagogues. Last year, a planned city walk by Jews and non-Jews to protest antisemitism in Sweden had to be cancelled due to security threats and the inability of police to ensure their safety.

France has experienced the most egregious acts of antisemitic violence in Europe since WWII. In 2006, a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi, of North African background was kidnapped and tortured for three weeks for being a Jew. He died of his injuries. His attackers were French Muslims, also of North African background. In Toulouse in 2012, a rabbi and three Jewish children, aged under nine, were shot dead at a Jewish school by Mohammed Merah, a French Muslim of North African background. Jews comprise only 1% of the French population, yet 50% of racist attacks in France are against Jews.

Christian Europe has a millennia long history of oppressing, persecuting and murdering Jews, whether in the name of a supersessionist religion, secular enlightenment, nationalism, or a racist ideology. The culmination of this history of persecution was the Holocaust in which the whole Jewish population of Europe and all lands under Nazism were targeted and marked for death. Six million Jewish men, women, children and babes were hunted down and murdered in the forests of eastern Europe and in the ghettoes and death camps through deliberate starvation, exhaustion, bullets and gas.

Seventy years after the Holocaust, the antisemitic virus has re-emerged from the extreme margins of society to which it had been banished after the Holocaust. Not only is antisemitism out in the open, it is brazenly public and proud. The main difference between 1930s antisemitism and the 21st century strain is that in the 1930s it was governments and politicians which incited the hatred and perpetrated the murder. Today, the perpetrators are a combination of the far Right, the anti-Zionist Left, and major segments of Europe’s Muslim population.

A study in Europe in 2013 found that “26% of Jews have suffered from antisemitic harassment at least once in the past year, 34% experienced such harassment in the past five years, 5% reported that their property was intentionally vandalized because they are Jewish, about 7% were physically hurt or threatened in the past five years.” These figures do not include the acts of violence and vandalism of synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions.

Despite the focus on Islamophobia by the media and in political discourse over the last fifteen years, the reality is that attacks against Muslims are significantly less frequent than attacks against Jews. The evidence produced through studies by anti-hate organizations, police reports on hate crimes, and monitors of internet hate, show that the major targets of abuse and violence in Europe are Jews.

In the USA, the FBI collects and analyses hate crime statistics across the nation, with categories including Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Ethnicity/National Origin, and Disability. These statistics consistently show that it is blacks, Jews, homosexual men, and Hispanics who are the overwhelming victims of hate crime. In the Religion category, Jews are the largest category of victims of hate crime.

For the ten years from 2004 to 2013 (the latest year available) anti-Jewish hate crimes constituted between 60% and 70% of all hate crimes in the Religion category in the US. In comparison, anti-Muslim hate crimes constituted between 7-14%, anti-“other religion” (presumably Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs etc) constituted between 7-13%, anti-Catholic constituted 3-5%, anti-Protestant constituted 2-4%, and anti-atheist constituted less than 1%. Jews comprise only 2% of the American population, yet 60-70% of religious hate crimes are directed against Jews.

In Britain, the Scottish government compiles extensive reports on hate crimes from police records. Hate crime statistics in the Religion category shows high levels of attacks on Catholics (57-58%) and Protestants (36-40%), and much lower levels against Muslims (2-2%) and Jews (1-2%) over the 2011 and 2012 periods. However, these overall percentages, in the 2012 statistics for example, translate into quite a different picture when the population numbers of each religious category in Scotland is taken into account.

These figures show that there is one anti-Jewish hate incident for every 461 Jews, one anti-Muslim hate incident per 2,240 Muslims, one per 1,579 Catholics, and one for every 6,080 Protestants. Thus, Jews are subject to a much higher rate of attack. Jews are several times more likely than Muslims to suffer hate incidents, and are twenty times more likely than Christians to suffer hate incidents.

The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH) conducts a country by country review and report on racist and religious bigotry on the European internet. According to INACH’s studies, prior to 2002, antisemitism had been the largest single type of hate on the European internet. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, there was an increase in anti-Muslim content; but there was a much larger increase in anti-Jewish content. From 2002, antisemitism became the absolute largest category of hate on the European internet. Incidents of anti-Jewish hate outweighed the combined aggregate of every other form of hate.

INACH’s study showed that up until the second half of 2000 virtually all antisemitism reported online was from ‘classical’ sources of antisemites and/or racists (eg neo-Nazis). By 2002, most antisemitism and Holocaust denial no longer came from ‘classic’ antisemites but from Muslim and left-wing web forums.

Having been predominantly either bystanders or perpetrators during the Nazi attempt to murder every Jew in Europe, Europeans are again in a situation where their Jewish citizens are on the edge of another great abyss. The question remains: How will they respond this time? Will they acquire the backbone to defend and protect their Jewish citizens against murderous anti-Jewish ideologies? Or will they take the easy, but self-destructive, route and excuse the antisemites, appease the murderous ideology at work in Europe and elsewhere, and watch silently as the Jews are driven from Europe’s shores over the coming decade?

The watchword is Toulouse. When three French soldiers (two of North African background and one of Caribbean background) and four Jews (three of them young children) were murdered in March 2012, the French people came out in their thousands to protest the murders. A massive anti-racist banner read: “In France, we kill Blacks, Jews, and Arabs”. However, when the murderer was found to be Mohammed Merah, a French Muslim of North African background, the protests and anti-racism banners disappeared. While ever the murderer was believed to be an indigenous French person, of Right-wing racist politics, the masses of France were eager to protest against murderous racism in France. However, once the murderer was identified as a Muslim jihadist, the protesting masses melted away unable or unwilling to condemn murder when committed by a Muslim jihadist.

In a perverse response to Merah’s murders, there was an exponential increase in physical assaults on French Jews, with several being hospitalized. Bashings with iron bars and other assaults were perpetrated against Jews. The initial shock and horror of the murder of little Jewish children were transformed into a mania by Islamist extremists to emulate Merah, to give him hero status and to glorify his murderous deeds.

After this latest murder in Copenhagen, and the murders in Paris only last month, it remains to be seen whether Europe makes a decision to defend and protect its Jewish citizens. Many Jews fear that European governments will instead cave in to threats and appeasement and watch their Jews pack their bags and leave.

It is in this context that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called on Europe’s Jews to immigrate en masse to Israel. To many, Netanyahu’s call appears presumptuous and insulting. Viewed objectively, however, no one should be surprised by it. The first duty of governments is to protect their citizens – all their citizens, regardless of race, religion or culture. This is especially so in Europe, with its blood-soaked history of racial and religious persecution, especially of Jews. Until European governments demonstrate that they have an effective antidote to the growing wave of anti-Jewish hatred and violence in their countries, Netanyahu’s call is likely to be responded to by an ever-increasing number of European Jews.

About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
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