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Europe’s other common currency crisis

The continent’s oldest disease — Jew hatred — is mutating into new forms

Every day seems to bring another dramatic scene in the struggle over the Euro. From the streets of Athens and Madrid, to the halls of power in Paris, Berlin and Brussels, the European Union’s currency may — or may not — survive. Yet the EU has another deep-seated common currency — anti-Semitism — that unfortunately shows troubling signs of resiliency.

Of course, anti-Semitism is not unique to Europe. A recent ADL poll shows 15 percent of Americans are “unquestionably anti-Semitic.”  A reasonable estimate of hard core-European anti-Semites would be double the US figure.

The Evidence: a Pew Poll of six countries showed significant levels of anti-Jewish prejudice — from 46 percent in Spain to 36 percent in Poland, 34 percent in Russia and 20 percent in France.

A year after the 2008 financial meltdown, an ADL survey showed that 74 percent of Spaniards, 76 percent of Hungarians, 33 percent of Frenchmen, and 15 percent in the UK believed that Jews have too much power in international finance or the business world. Then, in 2011, a headline of a preliminary poll of 15 EU countries commissioned by the European Commission trumpeted that Israel — not Iran or North Korea — is deemed “the greatest threat to world peace.”

Perhaps most troubling are prejudiced attitudes among youth. In Austria, right-wing student fraternities chose this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day to hold a ball in Vienna. The event was heavily criticized by critics as “dancing on the graves” of the Holocaust’s victims. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s extreme right FPÖ, was among the “luminaries” who chose to attend the festivities. He was overheard complaining: “We are the new Jews,” while the anti-fascist demonstrators picketing the event were “like the Reichskristallnacht,” i.e., Nazi thugs responsible for the Kristallnacht pogroms in November 1938.

A devastating new poll by Stern magazine shows that 21 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Germans do not know that Auschwitz was a death camp. A second poll, done by independent experts for the GermanParliament, classifies a fifth of all Germans as anti-Semitic. It also found that 40 percent of Germans carry their criticisms of Israel over the line into anti-Semitism; for example, by equating Israeli treatment of Palestinian with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps.

Meanwhile, the Bavarian state government’s copyright — used to prevent publication of Mein Kampf — is expiring. The publication ban — a sort of Maginot Line in our Internet age — became almost irrelevant when editions of Hitler’s genocidal musings enjoyed instant availability by download. These can be accessed not only in German, but also in Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi translations targeting Germany’s four-million member Muslim community.

The politically correct reluctance of experts to systematically study anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslims in Germany is paralleled elsewhere in Europe. Fragmentary data from the UK indicates that low levels of anti-Semitism among the general population do not hold across the board.  Only 22 percent of British Muslims believe that the Holocaust happened as “history teaches,” while only 52 percent of British Muslims agree that Israel has a right to exist.

In the UK, France, Belgium, and Sweden — where polls show as high as half of growing Muslim student populations to be anti-Semitic and as much as a third of all students feigning ignorance of the Holocaust — there is fear or unwillingness among some teachers to instruct about the Final Solution or the evils of Jew hatred. In the UK, Muslim leaders — in an attempt to invert history —  lobbied the government for years to replace Holocaust Memorial Day with “a Genocide Day that would recognize the mass murder of Palestinians.”

Even in Eastern Europe, where the majority of pre-World War II Jewry lived and perished, the memory of the Holocaust is regularly manipulated to serve political agendas. In the Baltic States, marches down the main streets of capital cities honoring fallen Waffen SS are now annual occurrences. Lithuania commemorates the Nazi Holocaust, while erasing the discomfiting fact that some of their countrymen were enthusiastic participants in the mass murder of over 90% of Lithuanian Jewish citizens during the Shoah.

The rising tide of hate crimes across Europe during the past decade — four times as likely to target Jews as Muslims — demonstrates the inextricable connection of prejudicial beliefs and anti-Semitic behavior. Equally disturbing is the convergence of the extreme right and left around an anti-Semitic political agenda.

In 2011, the Neo-Nazi German People’s Party urged its followers to join the Berlin celebration of Iranian-inspired anti-Israel al-Quds Day. At about the same time, leftist talk radio host Ken Jebsen was fired by Berlin’s publicly funded station RBB for declaring in an email that “I know who invented the Holocaust as PR.” The overlaps in right-wing and left-wing anti-Semitic agenda under an anti-Israel banner have led some German observers to coin a new term — Querfront — for political “crossover” anti-Semitism.

In today’s Europe, the continent’s oldest disease — Jew hatred — is mutating into new forms. Those who claim that the elimination of Israel would “solve the problem” are not only hateful but wrong — just ask the anti-Semites who tell pollsters they would still be anti-Semites even if the Jewish state ceased to exist.

Historically, the Jews have served as Europe’s canary in the coal mine. Anti-Semitism’s re-emergence into the mainstream, just as the Continent totters on the abyss of economic implosion, should serve as a wake-up call for Europeans of all faiths and ideologies to confront anti-Jewish bigotry head-on. Failure to do so will not only threaten Jewish communities, but the fabric of European societies still struggling with the ghosts of xenophobia and fanaticism.

About the Author
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Dr Harold Brackman is a historian and a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center