U.S. News and World Report -- An Unsafe Place for Jews

Apr 2, 2015


April 2, 2015 | By Katrina Lantos Swett, M. Zuhdi Jasser and Hannah Rosenthal

The following op-ed appeared in U.S. News and World Report on April 2, 2015.

The targeting and murder of four Jews in the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket during January’s terrorist attacks in Paris highlighted a somber fact: Seventy years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is again growing more virulent in Europe. From Toulouse to Paris, London to Berlin, Brussels to Copenhagen, Jews are being harassed, assaulted and even killed.

A just-released study confirms that this is hardly a recent phenomenon. According to Pew Research Center, by 2013, Jews were harassed in 34 of 45 European countries, and anti-Semitic harassment worldwide had reached a seven-year high.

Today’s anti-Semitism differs from that of the 1930s. There is no single counterpart to Hitler. There is no one European government or leader fueling most of today’s anti-Jewish acts. Nonetheless, Europe’s leading heads of state acknowledge that Jew-hatred is spreading. Jews are seeing their religious freedom violated, their grave sites vandalized, their synagogues desecrated, and Jewish lives lost.

Who are committing these acts? While some are nativists, neo-Nazis and skinheads, many others are religious extremists radicalized by those who distort Islam to fit their intolerant agendas. All are deeply hostile to pluralism and democratic liberties.

How will Europeans ultimately respond? Will they simply watch the threat grow? Or will they take the lead, confront the danger and stand with their Jewish neighbors?

The Hyper Cacher murders underscore the problem in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community. During one week last July, eight synagogues were attacked, a kosher supermarket and pharmacy trashed and looted, and mobs were yelling “death to Jews.” The annual number of anti-Semitic incidents is seven times as high as in the 1990s. Last year alone, the number of violent anti-Jewish acts doubled. The problem is serious enough to prompt Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, to explain that the Hyper Cacher victims would be buried in Jerusalem so no one would desecrate their graves.

In the U.K., the Jewish Community Security Trust reported more than 1,100 anti-Jewish incidents last year, 81 of which were violent assaults. These incidents ranged from the desecration of Jewish cemeteries to graffiti on Jewish homes to attacks on Jewish schoolchildren to assaults on Jews entering or leaving synagogues. The number of incidents had doubled from 2013, and was the highest figure since the trust began monitoring anti-Semitism in 1984.

Some say that hatred of the state of Israel, not the Jews of Europe, is behind this upsurge. Yet the cry of many haters is “death to all Jews.” Make no mistake. Acts of terror perpetrated against Jewish schoolchildren in Europe have no conceivable connection to Israel’s policies in the Middle East. Anti-Zionism often is a cloak for anti-Semitism which comes through when people deploy words designed to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people and hold it to standards far above other countries.

Yet we’d be mistaken to attribute the most virulent expressions of European anti-Semitism to Middle East sources alone. To be sure, history has shown that Muslim societies in centuries past were not immune to anti-Semitism. However, beginning nearly a century ago, Europe’s modern totalitarian ideologies like fascism combined with like-minded nationalist strivings and politicized Islam in the Middle East to produce an even more potent anti-Semitism.

From promoting belief in blood libels to peddling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious anti-Semitic forgery describing a Jewish plot for world domination, extremists acting in Islam’s name are mimicking millennia of European anti-Semitism. Moreover, according to some polls, nearly one in four Europeans holds anti-Jewish attitudes. Most have no Middle Eastern or Muslim background but deep roots in Europe’s soil. Given this history, Europe has a special responsibility to combat the return of this ancient scourge.

What can be done? Governments must protect lives and religious freedom by increasing security in Jewish neighborhoods and religious sites. There are signs that this is happening. France has deployed 10,000 troops and other security personnel for that purpose. However, considering the depth of these problems, this security must be extended for the foreseeable future.

Second, there are cases where Muslim communities are protecting Jews, and vice versa, against the haters, including the recent protective encirclement of a Danish synagogue by Danish Muslims. Such examples of humanity, decency and good citizenship must be highlighted to encourage emulation.

Finally, people must understand how much of Europe’s tradition of monolithic culture and ideology – from yesterday’s monolithic state religion to today’s monolithic state secularism – breeds attitudes that view today’s most pious adherents to Judaism, Islam, Christianity and other beliefs as the “other” who are deemed appropriate targets for exclusion. Today’s Europe must reflect greater pluralism and inclusion.

It is time for people of all beliefs and nationalities to stand together against anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance and hatred.

 To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.