Anti-Semitism Keeps Rising in Europe. Why?

It's not just because of Israeli military confrontations, even though incidents rise in tandem when it's active.
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It's not just because of Israeli military confrontations, even though incidents rise in tandem when it's active.

Anti-Semitic attacks spiked in early 2009, particularly in Europe, just after Israel's brief but brutal war to punish Hamas and stop the steady drumbeat of missile fire from the Gaza Strip. "Operation Cast Lead" had awkward ripple effects around the world, but particularly in Britain and France, where anti-Semitic incidents apparently multiplied by three or four.

Someone drove a car through the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse and set it on fire, burning the gates; synagogues and Jewish community buildings in Britain and France have been daubed with graffiti. There were problems with arson and even incendiary bombs planted near synagogues. There were shootings in Denmark and desecrated cemeteries in Sweden. Most were acts of vandalism rather than personal violence, but that didn't ease any minds in the relevant neighborhoods.

"I never thought I would see this hatred again in my lifetime — not in Sweden anyway," Holocaust survivor Judith Popinski, living in the traditionally tolerant city of Malmo, Sweden, told The Sunday Telegraph in February.

It's too early to say whether Israel's clumsy raid on the Mavi Marmara — the Turkish aid ship populated with at least a few anti-Semitic hooligans — will lead to similar grief for ordinary Jews. But it is worth asking why these attacks happen more often in Europe than in the United States.

Popinski says the main difference in Malmo was the influx of Muslim immigrants. She says she's started to notice resistance in the classroom when schools invite her to talk about her time in Auschwitz. "Muslim schoolchildren often ignore me now when I talk about my experiences in the camps," she told the Telegraph. "It is because of what their parents tell them about Jews. The hatreds of the Middle East have come to Malmo. Schools in Muslim areas of the city simply won't invite Holocaust survivors to speak any more."

These arguments quickly grow political, and Malmo's Jewish community blames the city's left-wing mayor not just for lazy police work but also "for saying that what the Jews perceive as naked anti-Semitism is in fact just a sad, but understandable consequence of Israeli policy in the Middle East," according to the Telegraph.

A report released in April by a university-based group in Tel Aviv, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, agreed that street-level anti-Semitism seems to rise around the world when the Israeli government does something unpopular. A "visibly Jewish" man told the institute's researchers that "when an Israeli military operation dominates the headline, I am the first to notice it on the streets."

But the report also argued — without citing much evidence — that the rash of attacks in 2009 was somewhat organized: "The intensity and nature of the wave that began in January 2009 testified to pre-planned mobilization among radicals from the left and among Muslim immigrant communities."

Hamas leaders also claimed a level of organization. During the Gaza War the Times of Londonreported, "a hard-line Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, warned that the Islamists would kill Jewish children anywhere in the world," to avenge Palestinian deaths.

Perhaps. This kind of thing is red meat to pro-Israeli conservatives who want to convince the world that Europe is soft and over-tolerant as well as anti-Semitic, just as the Mavi Marmara raid is red meat to the people who scream that Israel is a threat to world peace. Unfortunately, solid evidence is lacking. Local police can count and report scattered incidents of arson, grave-marking, angry demonstrations and even physical violence, but they rarely mount deep investigations into who organized what.

The best explanation for the difference between European and American incidents of anti-Semitic attacks probably has to do with the history of immigration to the U.S. and Europe. Muslims who move to America can traditionally afford the trans-Atlantic flight. That means they tend to be better off and better educated than the Muslim guest workers, children of guest workers, and poor economic migrants who have shifted for decades to Europe from Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East.

Once they arrive in America, they're also treated better, as a rule, than in Europe.

For all the noise about "soft" European "tolerance," the real model for tolerance and integration is still the United States. German-born Turks who don't look especially Turkish to me have said what a surprise it was to travel to the U.S. and feel accepted as "German," because of their accents, while Europeans treat them reflexively as "foreign" because of details like their swarthy eyebrows or black hair.

Anti-Semitism certainly has risen in Europe since the turn of the century. But it's risen alongside Islamophobia. A Pew Survey of Global Attitudes in 2008 saw both attitudes rising alarmingly on the continent.

"The survey found that suspicion of Muslims in Europe was considerably higher than hostility to Jews," the Guardianreported, "but that the increase in anti-Semitism had taken place much more rapidly."