"Brit-Am Now - 13"
: 05/12/2002

"Brit-Am Now"-13
1. Anti-Semitism in Europe

1.  [Economist.com]

Anti-Semitism in Europe
May 3rd 2002
From The Economist Global Agenda

Growing hostility to Israel, and Islamic attacks on Jewish targets in
Europe, do not mean that old-style anti-Semitism is back

Opinion: Europe and the Jews

IT HAS become an article of faith in much of the American press that
anti-Semitism in Europe is surging and that age-old hatred of Jews, after a
post-Holocaust period of silence and shame, is once again coming to the
surface. Why?

First, there has been a sharp increase in anti-Jewish vandalism (against
synagogues, for instance), mainly but not only in France. Second, criticism
of the Israeli government’s Palestinian policy, expressed across Europe’s
political spectrum, has become so widespread and often so fierce that some
Jews in Europe feel it is spilling over into hostility to them as people,
for seeking to defend or even explain Israel’s actions. Third, a French
populist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has expressed anti-Semitism in the past,
has rocketed into prominence by reaching the final round of France’s
presidential election. Fourth, far-right parties elsewhere in Europe, from
Austria, Italy, and Denmark to Poland and Romania, some with anti-Semitic
ingredients or histories, continue to make a splash, sometimes even joining
ruling coalitions.

Does this mean that anti-Semitism of a deep-seated kind is rising or that
Jewish fears of a return to the horrors of the 1930s are well founded? No.
There is never room for complacency. The fears are understandable but
should not be exaggerated.

True, since the Palestinians’ second intifada against Israel began in
autumn 2000 and, more notably, since the uprising intensified this year,
synagogues and other Jewish buildings have been attacked in Belgium,
Britain and especially in France. A German rabbi, after two recent street
assaults on Jews (by youngsters of Arab appearance), has advised his
brethren in Germany not to display signs of their faith for fear of being
beaten up. This week a synagogue in London was ransacked at night.

France, in particular, is singled out as fundamentally anti-Semitic, partly
because of its long-standing friendship with Arab states at the expense of
Israel. A well-known British journalist says that anti-Semitism is rising
in Britain’s “media and political establishment”, especially on the left.
“This wave of anti-Semitism across Europe,” says an Israeli editor, echoing
a view shared by many Jews on both sides of the Atlantic, “is unprecedented
since the second world war.”

Is anti-Semitism in the population as a whole is taking hold? Take France
first. As far as anybody knows, the perpetrators of nearly all the attacks
on Jewish property there have been disaffected young men from among
France’s 4m-5m Muslims. Few have been attributed to the sort of white
extremist drawn to Mr Le Pen. A skilful opportunist who changes with the
populist wind, he now hurls most of his abuse at France’s Muslims, not its
Jews. Indeed, a leading French Jew laments that quite a few of his
co-religionists voted last month for Mr Le Pen. There is scant evidence
that many of the misguided 17% who followed suit were animated primarily by

French racial prejudice, including anti-Semitism, is commoner than it
should be, with a long and dishonourable history. But opinion polls in
France suggest that personal hostility to Jews, as opposed to the Israelis’
government, is neither widespread nor increasing. Jews in France, who
number some 600,000 (the biggest such community in Western Europe), are on
the whole respected, professionally successful, socially assimilated and
well represented in politics.

Pollsters suggest that anti-Semitism is only slightly more common among the
mainstream right than on the left. In the current government, Jews hold
several important portfolios (for finance, European affairs, education and
health, among others). The Socialists’ secretary-general is Jewish. So is a
candidate to take over as the their party leader. Few analysts put Mr Le
Pen’s success down even partly to anti-Semitism. French Jews themselves are
divided over whether, French Muslims apart, anti-Semitism is rising.

In Britain, too, Jews, who (loosely defined) number around 300,000, have
prospered in all walks of life, suffering few of the impediments that
slowed advancement in the past. Politically once mostly on the left, many
Jews moved to the right during Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s time in
power. Britons of Jewish background were appointed to such top jobs as
chancellor of the exchequer and secretary for defence, foreign and home

With Tony Blair, who is popular in Israel, many Jews have returned to a
Labour Party that has shifted to the centre. Britons of Jewish descent are
well represented in Parliament, and better than ever in the now largely
appointed House of Lords, where they hold around a tenth of the seats. Such
success has bred no discernible resentment.

The most striking phenomenon, however, is the steady shift of sympathy away
from Israel, especially on the left. Last month an opinion poll showed that
only 14% said they were more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinian
Authority, while 28% sympathised more with the Palestinians; Britons
overwhelmingly and in equal measure disliked Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime
minister, and the Palestinians’ Yasser Arafat. Such views sharply diverge
from those in the United States. Some 39% of Britons favoured economic or
other sanctions against Israel, compared with 33% against the Palestinian

Criticism of Israel’s government does not, of course, equal anti-Semitism.
But many Jews are horrified by what they see as a new and wilfully false
moral equivalence between the Israelis and the Palestinians and a tone of
anti-Israeli hostility that has become so strident as to smell of
anti-Semitism. Many are particularly upset by what they consider to be the
editorial virulence and one-sided reporting of two quality newspapers read
mainly by leftish Britons, the Guardian and the Independent, and of a
leading left-wing magazine, The New Statesman, once enthusiastically Zionist.

Germany, of course, is different again. Most Germans, in politics or
ordinary life, remain plainly wary of expressing outright hostility to
Israel’s government. Few dare to contradict the leader of Germany’s Jewish
community, when he states that anti-Semitism is a spiralling threat. The
number of Jews in Germany has grown in the past decade from around 30,000
to more than 130,000 thanks to immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Has this caused resentment? In fact, far-right violence over the past few
years has mainly been directed against Muslims from North Africa and
Turkey, not against Jews, though in two recent events, widely reported,
young men of Arab appearance have attacked Jews in the street.

But German opinion on Israel has shifted. Politicians on the left and the
right have openly criticised Mr Shar?on’s tactics. Norbert Blu"m, a former
Christian Democratic minister, says Israel is conducting a “war of
annihilation”. The current aid minister has called Israeli troops’
behaviour “shocking”. Karl Lamers, a leading Christian Democrat, says that
Israeli policy could “lead to a catastrophe”.

Elsewhere in Western Europe there has been a rise in attacks on Jewish
property, again often by young Muslims. At the same time there has been
increasingly outspoken criticism of Israeli policies across the political
spectrum. It is this mix of physical assaults by thugs, mainly on property,
with verbal assaults on Israel by more respectable citizens that has made
many of Europe’s Jews feel vulnerable in general.

It is in Central and Eastern Europe that fears of anti-Semitism have
previously deserved more attention. Russia still has the largest Jewish
population—more than 1m—in Europe, and one of the grimmest historical
records of persecution, from the time of the tsars to the Soviet era. In
the first post-communist general election, in 1993, an anti-Semite,
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, won the most party-list seats, with nearly 23% of the

Russian populists habitually blame Jews for the widening post-communist gap
between rich and poor, noting that most of the “oligarchs”, the dozen-odd
influential tycoons who became hugely rich after communism collapsed, are
of Jewish background. Fraudulent documents, such as “The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion” that propagate the idea of a world Jewish conspiracy,
circulate widely and are even quoted approvingly by populist politicians
and some Orthodox churchmen. But as Russia has become steadier,
anti-Semites’ political hopes have drooped.

Ultra-nationalists elsewhere in the ex-communist zone have played the
anti-Semitic card, often reminding voters of the prominent part played by
Jews both in the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and in the communist
takeovers in such countries as Poland and Hungary after the second world
war. Anti-Semites did quite well on the fringes in the last general
election in Poland (where only 7,000 Jews now live); one blatantly
anti-Semitic party took 8% of the vote. Another that carried a whiff of it
did slightly better.

In last month’s general election in Hungary, the outgoing ruling party on
the nationalist right was criticised for failing to denounce an
anti-Semitic party more wholeheartedly lest it might need to co-operate
with it in parliament. In the event, the overt anti-Semites got only 4% of
the vote—and no seats.

In sum, anti-Semites have made occasional sallies in the past decade in
Central Europe. Crude anti-Semitic discourse is less thoroughly frowned
upon than it is in Western Europe. A strain of anti-Semitism lingers in the
Orthodox churches, whereas the Catholic hierarchy, once viewed by Jews as a
repository of anti-Semitic hatred, has made strenuous efforts to
acknowledge its ingloriously ambiguous past. But on the whole anti-Semites
have lost ground as people have grown more prosperous.

In any event, it is in the more mature democracies farther west that Jews
have been especially shocked by what they call the new anti-Semitism. But
the phenomenon, such as it is, is hard to define. That sacrilegious
vandalism has increased is disturbing. That the anti-immigrant far right is
strong (though far from dominant) rightly worries minorities, not just Jews.

Growing hostility to Israel is a more complex trait. Anyone defending
Israel’s government nowadays is bound to have a harder time of it. But that
does not itself mean that heavily anti-Semitic sentiment goes beyond a very
small proportion of Europeans.

Copyright © 2002 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All
rights reserved.

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