By Yossi Mekelberg
Recent months have witnessed some ugly anti-Semitic incidents in different parts of Europe in what can only be described as a distorted response to the manner which Israel conducted the war in Gaza. This type of reaction taking place in Europe reminded me of a warning I heard a few years ago from Robi Damlin of the Parents’ Circle- Families Forum in a meeting with my students. The organisation is comprised of some six hundred bereaved Israelis and Palestinians, who support peace, reconciliation and tolerance despite losing their loved ones to the conflict. Robi, whose son was killed by a sniper, pleaded passionately with the international group of students to avoid importing the Israeli Palestinian conflict into their societies. She asked the audience rhetorically what good would come from them choosing sides instead of simply supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict. She poignantly pointed out that there was enough hatred in the region already, and spreading this hatred abroad does not help any of the sides. This sentiment seems to elude many political activists at the moment, especially in Europe. Not only has anti-Semitism been on the rise in recent months, but also Islamophobia, especially following the murderous attacks carried out by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Racism and hate crimes in any shape or form are cancerous to the very fabric of a free society
The war in Gaza this summer drew much criticism in regards to Israel’s disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians. Much of this criticism was legitimate. However, it was accompanied by a vile expression of anti-Semitism. In the UK, the CST (Community Security Trust), an organization which provides security within the Jewish community, reported a four hundred percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK during the month of July alone. During the course of a single week in July, eight synagogues in France were attacked. In one case a firebomb was thrown from the crowd, who waved banners with the slogans “Death to Jews” and “Slit Jews’ throats.” Last week Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with President Joachim Gauck, attended a rally organized by The Central Council of Jews in Germany. The rally was organized in response to the anti-Semitism incidents in the country. Merkel stated: “That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept.” “It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism.”
Racism and hate crimes in any shape or form are cancerous to the very fabric of a free society. These recent displays of anti-Semitism are a reminder of the shameful past of many European societies over the centuries, which many hoped had been eradicated in the post 1945 era. Unfortunately, as other forms of racism, it is still persistent and has deep roots in some part of our societies. Anti-Jewish verbal and physical abuse are aggravated at times of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians or her other neighbors. Nothing can justify the ill-treatment of people due to their religion, culture or history just because they are associated with a country whose policies are unpopular. This is a complete distortion of what democracy stands for and of civilized discourse. The unholy alliance between elements from the far Right, the far Left and a small minority among Muslims in Europe in spreading anti-Semitism, while also questioning the right of Israel to exist, deserves to be widely condemned and curtailed by all segments of society.
These expressions of xenophobia, are not only obviously abhorrent, but also cause damage to the very cause they claim to advance. Those who resort to racial hatred undermine their own cause, unless spreading racism and bigotry is their true agenda. Attacking Jews in the streets of London or Paris, or their institutions is not only a deplorable criminal act, but also drowns out the legitimate debate and criticism of Israeli policies in occupied Palestinian areas. Questioning the right of Israel to exist along with anti-Semitic slurs and attacks, taints the legitimate debate over Israel’s use of excessive force, or the deliberate harming of peace talks through the building of illegal settlements. It also stifles debate within the Jewish community, which feels, with rather good reasons, under attack because they are Jewish and because of their perceived instinctive support for Israel. Support for Israel among Jewish communities should not be confused with support for all her policies. Moreover, even supporting policies that others, including myself, find wrong cannot and should not provide even the slightest of justifications for anti-Semitism. It should remain in the realm of a civilized debate, including accepting that not all disagreements can be bridged.
This latest outburst of anti-Semitism exposes the wider threat of racism and xenophobia in European societies, which despite many efforts to eradicate it seems to still persist. A recent survey by the Pew research center exposes an extremely worrying trend of negative views of Muslims. In certain countries a majority of people see Muslims in “unfavorable” rather than “favorable” terms and in others a substantial minority disapproves of Muslims. Islamopobic chants in demonstrations of the far Right, the vandalizing of mosques or attacking women for wearing burkas is too common. Specific events such as ISIS murders of Westerners or the killing of a British soldier in London by two Muslims became an excuse for Islamophobic attacks. They are usually followed by deplorable attacks on innocent Muslim citizens.
Hate crimes are carried out by minority of people, but is enabled by the silent acquiescence of many more, or the inaction of those in charge of law and order. Societies cannot afford to remain indifferent to attacks on minorities by bigots. These elements exploit events at home and abroad to inflict their hatred on entire communities whose only “crime” is belonging to a certain religion or ethnic group. These thugs certainly must face the might of the legal system, yet this will not resolve deep-rooted, centuries-long ethnic animosities. Doing away with this type of hatred requires an honest interfaith dialogue and education programs to compliment law enforcement. Such education should be bold enough and brave enough to tackle all expressions of xenophobia head-on and make it not only illegal but also socially unacceptable. It is inconceivable that in this day and age, citizens in free societies should fear for their well-being and even their lives for belonging to a certain faith or for expressing their opinions. The quicker we act, the better.