Anti-Semitism & Holocaust

On European Anti-Semitism - Again?

By Gregg J. Rickman - June 24, 2002

In "Hitler's Willing Executioners," Daniel Jonah Goldhagen wrote that anti-Semitism comes in waves, never really disappearing, only lying in wait for the next opportunity to rise again. Goldhagen, explaining the onset of the Holocaust in Europe in the 1930s and before, could just as easily have been writing about the conditions for Jews in Europe at the beginning of the 21st century.

Goldhagen described anti-Semitism as "becoming more or less manifest, owing primarily to altering political and social conditions that encourage or discourage people's expression of their antisemitism [sic]." For centuries this was the case, with anti-Semitism acting as a guiding force in Europe and resulting in the ghettoization, forced conversion, expulsion, and slaughter of thousands of Jews. The end result of this history was the Holocaust in Europe. This catastrophe brought the hope of "Never Again," suggesting the final subjugation of bigotry to eternal guilt over the death of millions. This was the hope at least.

Today, one need only open a newspaper to see how anti-Semitism has resurfaced in Europe. In France, Jews now fear beatings as they walk unprotected through the streets of Paris. French synagogues are coming under attack as well, with many of them having been firebombed and desecrated, in acts described by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine simply as "urban hooliganism." Until recently, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced a Brussels trial in absentia for war crimes stemming from the slaughter of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982. The Danish Foreign Minister blithely equates the assassination of Israel's Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi to Israel's defensive operations to stop Palestinian terrorists from striking anew with vile bombing campaigns. And French Ambassador Daniel Bernard reportedly described Israel as "that sh---y little country." What we must ask ourselves is, "Why is this happening there and why now?"

This newest manifestation of anti-Semitism has two sources. The first source evolves out of stubborn traditional European anti-Semitism, particularly the "parlor anti-Semitism" of the elite, coupled with the gruff rumblings of the working class thugs on the continent. The second, and more lethal source, grows out of the renewed Intifada and the associated radicalism of Islamic fundamentalist thought and practice. Both have been fueled by the assault on Israel's (and arguably Judaism's) legitimacy at the 2001 Durban conference, organized to fight racism but transformed into a fete of anti-Semitism. Frighteningly, this mixture has brought a noxious dose of anti-Semitic violence back to life in Europe. In Durban, anti-Semitism was granted legitimacy and a green light was given to target Jews once again. Now Jews in Europe face the consequences of this hypocrisy.

In this atmosphere, it has again become "safe" to be anti-Semitic in Europe. To some, it is even chic. One now can see the almost seamless move from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, and the resultant racist propaganda and violence of this old-new mindset as it rises again in European society. Israel¹s actions and mere existence claims that "Israel was born in the sin of dispossession of another people" - are held up to question and Jews in Europe are forced to accept the consequences for both. In the eyes of its critics, Israel's actions are linked inextricably to all Jews leading to an assault on the personal and political legitimacy Israelis regularly face.

Michael Melchior, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel has described this growing phenomenon as having "a different power, a different strength than anything we've seen before." Elan Steinberg, Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, says that "more synagogues have been burned at this time than since Kristallnacht and the Holocaust." This resurgence begs the question: Is Goldhagen right? Is anti-Semitism an ever-present phenomenon waiting for a flare-up somewhere in the world to re-ignite its horrific practices?

Incited by the intense flare-up of violence in the Middle East in September 2000, the Arab émigré and student communities of Europe view Jews as symbols of their co-religionists in Israel. As a war against Jews in Israel is viewed as a holy struggle, popularly called a Jihad, an attack on a Jew on the streets of Paris is just as viable and lends as much credence to "the struggle," as an attack on a Jew in Tel Aviv. A war against the Jews, therefore, is universal. As Bat Ye'or, an Egyptian-born scholar on Islamic history, has written about the principles of Jihad and Dhimmis [the Arabic term for those making up the inferior class under Islam] for the past thirty years explains, "Peace is only granted to People of the Book (Jews and Christians) who submit to dhimmitude [the institutionalized class inferiority system under Islam]. The war against Israel then, is a war against dhimmis who have revolted," to the authority of Islam. The Jews, unwilling to submit to Islam are therefore an obstacle to Islam and must be dealt with, regardless of where they reside. Fight the Jews, as the theory goes, and you fight all that is evil and threatening to Islam. In this sense, Pakistani militants, kidnapped and brutally murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl not really because he was an American, but because he was a Jew. It would be very odd indeed if it was only mere coincidence that Pearl reportedly confessed of his own volition on videotape, before his murder, "I am a Jew and so is my father."

As the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Europe recently reported, the connection between the violence in the Middle East and that spreading to Europe is undeniable. Even French police concluded the presence of such connections, yet dismissed the attackers, less conspiratorially, as "predominantly delinquents without ideology, motivated by a diffuse hostility to Israel, exacerbated by the media representation of the Middle East conflict, a conflict which, they see, reproduces the picture of exclusion and failure of which they feel victims in France." Despite the French dismissal of a coordinated plan, that 'diffuse hostility' is a sign of the ongoing struggle.

Moreover, Jews lobbying their governments in the West to protect their brothers in Israel, as the thought goes, also part of the fight. It follows as well, that those submitting to their will - the governments of the West, namely the United States - are agents of the Jews and are equally legitimate targets. When the Deputy Mayor of Nazareth, Salman Abu Ahmed proudly declares, as many others have, that "we defeated the Crusaders 800 years ago and will defeat the enemies of Islam today," we cannot be naïve enough to think that Islam¹s plans are restricted to Israel alone.

Abu Obeid Al-Qurashi, identified by the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, as one of Osama bin Laden's top aides, said the same, when he wrote in Al-Ansar. "This time it is difficult to contain Islamic rage, because of the high threshold of the goals: completely and comprehensively eliminating Western colonialism in the Islamic region, and distancing the West once and for all from regional affairs."

Indeed, there is similar sentiment across the Arab world. The United States is viewed equally and complicit in its own misery (the attacks of September 11) because of its support of Israel. In a Gallop Poll in February 2002, an overwhelming number of people harbored an unfavorable view of the United States, believing that U.S. foreign policy was biased towards Israel, with only 9% believing that the U.S. attack on Afghanistan was morally justifiable.

Moreover, 61% of nearly 10,000 people interviewed refused to believe that Arabs committed these attacks. "The facts prove the capability to carry out this attack," wrote Ahmad Abu Zaid in Egypt's Al-Ahram, "lies in the hands of a single element in America that is, the Zionist lobby, which has managed to infiltrate all American bodies. The possibility that the Zionist lobby, and behind it the Mossad, were involved is a strong one."

If the U.S. continues to support Israel in its attacks against Arabs, the sentiment runs, then it is the fault of the U.S. that attacks like this occur against us. Yet, one cannot help but think that these numbers are indicative, as well, of hatred for America because of the perception of Israel as our outpost in the region and therefore representative of all that is evil in the West. If Judaism stands as symbolic of modernity and the West, then it must be opposed and all who defend it must be as well.

Arabs cannot reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel. Conversely, though, Europeans grudgingly, but certainly not universally, accept her but within limits. Israel, in their view can exist, but she cannot and should not go too far in her actions, living within the limits framed by European sensitivities over human rights Palestinian not Israeli. Europeans also harbor deep political sensitivities and political angst over the situation in the Middle East. American diplomats privately confess that some European politicians worry that actions by Israel threaten their political standing and coalitions at home, forcing them to chose between Arabs and Israelis. For them the choice is obvious, the Arabs offer them more. The French diplomat at the London cocktail party said as much and more when he asked, "Why should the world be in danger of World War Three because of those people?" The Jews of Europe are trapped, within this tight definition of acceptability.

With this attitude, it is easy to see how the Europeans have been so quick to condemn Israel for its temporal success in fighting this onslaught. Israel has the tanks, fighter planes and control over the borders. The Palestinians, they suggest, are really the disadvantaged and overwhelmed underdogs against the Jews. It is the David vs. Goliath struggle turned on its head. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine expressed this view recently asserting, "We think it is a mistake to blindly accept the policy of pure repression conducted by Ariel Sharon." Israel, in Europe¹s eyes, now has become the aggressor in the inverted biblical conflict. While Arab radicals seek to target Jews, Europe prefers to disarm them.

For Europeans, Zionist overreach is to blame for Jewish troubles. Continued retention of the territories, they argue, only perpetuates rightful Palestinian claims. For them, Zionism will always be viewed as racist because Zionism¹s child, Israel, denies the Palestinians their land. Zionism created Israel but the world, they argue, has moved beyond that "ancient time." For the Europeans, Israel is blinded by the outdated view that force is the only answer to the continued struggle in the Middle East. For this reason then, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the purveyor of this policy in their eyes, is the most hated of Israelis and the arch villain of Zionism. If only Israel would allow the Palestinians their rights, the argument goes, then there would be peace.

There are those, however, who wish to force the issue declaring Israel to be the new Apartheid State. The only way to fight back, they argue, is by intensifying international pressure on Israel. On university campuses in Europe, and even in the United States, "Boycott Israeli Goods" campaigns have begun. Instigated by Arab and leftist groups, a replication of the campaign successfully fought against South Africa is envisioned. At Manchester University, the student¹s union recently debated a motion to support such a campaign. Jewish students there now feel threatened by political action sponsored by Arab groups aimed at linking them with blame for Middle East violence.

The Europeans also hold Israel to a higher standard because of the experience of her creation. That same history, they argue, is used by Jews to justify their continued treatment of the Palestinians. Constant repetition of the Holocaust mantra, and its results, is an example of this case. Bat Ye'or suggests this attitude, on the part of the Arabs, when she quotes Shedli Klibi, onetime Secretary General of the Arab League who said, "Zionism has turned the persecution of the Jews into a bargaining matter with European states and peoples. It has implanted a guilt complex in these states and peoples."

Holocaust denial and delegitimization of those horrors as an event in the history of the Jewish people, is an outgrowth of this scenario. The Jews as Holocaust victims as a concept, they argue, cannot be proven. By their reasoning, it is an ideological myth designed cleverly as an excuse to justify the ongoing expropriation and occupation of Arab lands. The constant repetition of claims against European companies and governments for Holocaust restitution payments, they argue, is just a further abuse of the story.

More cynical is the European charge that even if Jewish claims were justified some critics claiming that survivors exist, popularizing their plight merely for this purpose -- claimants are only being greedy. As part of an "industry," they claim, they are working to damage European financial stability to the benefit of all Jews, not to mention Israel and her continued "persecution" of the Arabs. Swiss politicians suggested this much when their banks came under severe criticism in the 1990s for their actions during WWII. To them the threat from "international Judaism" was as strong as ever. It was not a mistake that a former Swiss Ambassador to the United States, Carlo Jagmetti, resigned in disgrace after an inflammatory document he wrote to his superiors declaring Switzerland was "at war with the Jewish groups," was leaked to the press.

Arabs, too, have caught on to the idea of restitution, but as tool of deligitimization of Israel and Judaism. Because of the inequality in the world, not to mention Israel¹s illegitimacy, both the responsibility of the West, wrote Naseer Aruri, "Inequality is global, and thus reparations and restitution have emerged as central issues separating the affluent North from the poor South, with the United States leading the anti-reparations camp." Most importantly, he continued, "For Palestinians, redress and restitution have been impeded by having to confront a powerful enemy, fortified by a strategic alliance with the world¹s only superpower."

These claims once again resurface. The age-old canard of universal Jewish complicity and ostensible world domination through alliance and subjugation of those opposed to Judaism, like that advanced in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," is part of the scourge of anti-Semitism. Is it a mistake that this vicious tract, not to mention increased Holocaust denial, is again popular in Europe and spreading precipitously across the Middle East? Acts attributed to Zionism are blended into Jewish accountability Jews in Israel are guilty of crimes against Arabs, but so are all the rest.

There is then, a vicious circle. The Arabs instigate violence against Jews, targeting them in Israel and in the West. When Jews fight back, justifiably defending themselves, they are blamed by the Europeans when they successfully, although temporarily, beat back their attackers. Jewish self-defense in the view of the Europeans, it appears, is permissible only if Israeli retaliation is not too extensive. If too many of the "overwhelmed" Palestinians suffer in an Israeli retaliatory strike, even if they instigated the violence, this is labeled as aggression and even "repression" by the Jews.

We have seen this insanity before. History has shown us how Jews were so easily cornered by accusation and association. Experience tells us how disorder unchecked can grow into injustice. We have also seen what happens when bystanders fail to act in defense of inequity. It is our duty to prevent this kind of inaction - to prevent the current wave of anti-Semitism from growing larger and more lethal. "[T]he future unfolds," wrote the Holocaust historian Lawrence Langer, "under a shadow of past disasters."

The creation of the State of Israel was an attempt to avoid these disasters and compensate for the failures of history. Soon Zionism became a refuge for anti-Semitism. It came to fruition as the result of yet another spasm of the same in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. "The only visible result [of anti-Semitism]," Hannah Arendt wrote, "was that it gave birth to the Zionist movement, the only political answer Jews have ever found to anti-Semitism..." Today, however that refuge turns out to have been a mirage. Zionism has turned out to be just another excuse for anti-Semitism.

We must understand that anti-Semitism is not only instigated by a wave of social and political disturbances, it is a form of evil. Shaken from its slumber, it rears its head in tirade, casting Jews as the villain, allowing no defense against accusation or affiliation. It becomes a weapon for the weak, the lazy, and those seeking to satisfy pent up problems, unfulfilled wishes, and murderous plans. To ignore anti-Semitism is to encourage its growth.

While it rises again in Europe, we marvel at how anti-Semitism manifests itself, seemingly out of thin air. We have seen these signs before, yet continue refusing to recognize its reappearance. To ignore the potency and possibility of this ageless brand of hatred is foolhardy and we do so at our peril. It is less important today who practices anti-Semitism than it is to recognize its re-emergence immediately and to act on it, rather than sitting back and allowing it to grow like a cancer in our midst.

For Goldhagen to be proven wrong, it would be necessary to show that the Holocaust, the penultimate form of anti-Semitism, brought this depraved phenomenon to an end. Yet, today, one only need to look at the charred remains of French synagogues and Jewish day schools to see that it d id not. Indeed, anti-Semitism never does fade; it only hides, rising again when conditions evolve for its safe reemergence.

In the end, we must remember that it was our grandfathers' challenge in the 1930s to stop anti-Semitism in its early stages. They failed. Let us not repeat their mistake.

Gregg J. Rickman is the Director of Congressional Affairs for the Republican Jewish Coalition and is the author of Swiss Banks & Jewish Souls (Transaction Publishers, 1999).

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