Giorgio Gomel

The war in Gaza and anti-Semitism in Europe

Incidents of anti-Semitism – physical assaults, insults and threats in the media, desecration of places of worship and Jewish cemeteries –  are increasingly in the news in several countries across Europe. In France, statistics released by the government indicate a dramatic increase in the months of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas after the mass murder perpetrated by the latter in southern Israel and the massive retaliation by the Jewish state. Similar signs of a hardening of feelings and acts  directed at Jewish individuals and institutions are reported in Germany, the UK and elsewhere, including Italy, according to recent data from the  Milano CDEC Foundation’s Observatory on Antisemitism.   The recorded data are an underestimation of the phenomenon because they reflect explicit complaints, and not the myriad of cases that remain unknown. In various segments of European society, there remain areas of connivance, cover-up or  passivity that feed a sense of impunity in those who preach hostility against Jews. An important fact was the approval by the Council of the EU in 2018 of a working definition of acts of antisemitism agreed within the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, But the pathology persists, it recurs, it seems to move around Europe without complexes, removing taboos, resurrecting old stereotypes even in changed situations.

It is obviously the Jews who suffer from anti-Semitism, from its long, painful, horrible history in Europe, yet  it is an acute symptom of the malaise of a society, of the degradation of forms of civil and democratic coexistence.  It reflects the surge of  parties and movements that exalt ethno-national or even racial identity, the intolerance of the other, , the rejection of minority rights. Minorities such as the Jewish one, for whom an open and plural society in which multiple identities, cultures, and communities are recognized as legitimate and respected, is a vital condition of existence.

The multifaceted nature of the disease, however, is disconcerting.  Already in 2017, Manuel Valls, then Prime Minister of France, published a J’accuse about the confluence of an anti-Semitic tradition of the extreme right and an ideology that had settled in neighborhoods where the offspring of Muslim immigrants live and fundamentalist Imams preach and spread hatred.  An ideology that imported the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into French soil, transmuting it into a perverse opposition between Arabs and Jews and abuses the  old themes of European anti-Semitism, such as the world conspiracy, the political and financial power of the Jews, and other such fictions.

A virulence against Israel now dominates in the demonstrations organized in universities or on the streets of the cities of Europe and the United States, which often degenerates into blatant anti-Semitism, as if the Jews of the world were unequivocally in agreement, or worse, “accomplices” of the decisions and actions of the governments of Israel.  It is a virulence fed with Manichean positions  and gross distortions  of history – at the end of the nineteenth century August Bebel defined that type of ideology as the “socialism of the fools”. It is a virulence marked by a “post-colonial” ideology, according to which Israel is a  product of European colonialism.  The history of Palestine, on the other hand, is that of a land subject to Turkish-Ottoman colonialism first, British colonialism after the First World War and disputed for over  a century by two national movements, the Jewish and the Arab, gripped in a painful conflict, driven by a legitimate yearning for self-determination.  Zionism was born at the end of the nineteenth century with the intention of removing the exceptionality of the Jewish condition, that of a dispersed and persecuted people, ensuring Jews a place of refuge and the normality of the “nation-state”. A Jewish state does not in itself, as the ominous developments of recent months indicate, mean physical security for its inhabitants or the removal of that precarious condition: Israel’s right to a legitimate existence is still in doubt today. Not only in the murderous barbarism of Hamas and its apologists, but also of those who praise a free and integral Palestine “from the river to the sea”, thus denying the right of the Jews to self-determination and the principle of partition of that disputed piece of land  in “two states for two peoples”. The trauma of recent months will reveal to Israel’s psyche how illusory is the belief that the conflict can be resolved without ending the occupation and the repression of legitimate Palestinian aspirations for a state worthy of the name. Or perhaps, on the contrary, it will harden even more those Israelis, who are convinced that all Palestinians are like Hamas and that their state along the 600 km or so of Israel’s eastern border is a deadly danger. But in the debate, especially in the West, many have underestimated the seriousness of the trauma afflicting Israel, arguing that Israel itself has produced this tragedy by its actions. Others, especially in universities, fascinated by  a presumed “anti-Westernism”, when Israel is not “West” either in terms of its demography or  of its socio-cultural identity, reject Israel as a “colonial” or “post-colonial” state. For  others,   the mass slaughter of Israelis on October 7, 2023 was a perverse reason to celebrate.

Perhaps the principle we should be guided by in these tragic circumstances is that of “dual loyalty” – a specious accusation often levelled at the left, an accusation of treason. On the contrary, affirming the illegality of violence against civilians on both sides, rejecting the dehumanization of the “enemy”, and acknowledging the reasons of the other, albeit with difficulty, should be the principles to inspire our engagement for peace.

Giorgio Gomel

About the Author
Giorgio Gomel is an Italian economist, formerly Chief International Economist at the Bank of Italy. He is one of the founders of JCall Europe - an association of European Jews committed to end the occupation and come to a 2-state solution. He currently also serves as president of Alliance for Middle East Peace Europe (