Paris, France — Three masked assailants break into a Jewish home, rob everything of value, and rape a 19-year-old girl. They explicitly tell the victims that the attack comes “because you are Jewish.” The same night, two young Jewish men are attacked in the same neighborhood while out walking near the local synagogue.
These scenes sound like something out of the early 20th century, but they took place only two weeks ago, on Dec. 1, 2014. They were the most recent anti-Jewish attacks to occur in Europe, but they were certainly not the first to occur in this century. A swell of anti-Semitism has been rising steadily for the last few years, coming to a head this summer with the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Two days before the attacks in Paris, a district outside of Milan, Italy, held a neo-Nazi concert and rally called Hammerfest 2014, which was associated with an international white supremacist group known as Hammerskin, as well as the Italian mafia. The event was met with protest from several local groups and organizations that sent petitions to Milan’s mayor asking him to ban it from taking place.
Although he released a statement labeling the event “unacceptable,” he failed to prevent it despite Italy’s law against any initiative promoting “racism, homophobia, violence and apology of fascism.” Tension is especially high in the region as Milan prepares to host the 2015 World’s Fair beginning May 1, which will feature representatives from 147 different countries, including Israel.
In Germany this summer, cries of “Gas the Jews!” could be heard in the streets. One radical group attempted to firebomb a synagogue in an attack frighteningly reminiscent of Kristallnacht — two days of rioting and looting in 1938 during which the same synagogue was burned to the ground.
Brussels witnessed four people murdered inside a Jewish museum, while Jewish-owned businesses in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles were looted and burned during riots in July. A major supermarket in London stopped selling kosher food for fear of inciting a riot.
In addition to these direct attacks, a general anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe has contributed to an atmosphere of tension in Europe’s Jewish communities.
A 2013 survey revealed that nearly a third of European Jews are considering emigrating due to anti-Semitism. In Hungary and France, the numbers are as high as 48 percent and 46 percent, respectively. The first three months of 2014 saw the most Jews leaving their homes in France for Israel since the state was founded in 1948, a full 1 percent of France’s Jewish population. Jews have begun hiding their religion, no longer wearing Stars of David out in public out of fear for their safety.
For those with any sort of memory, the atmosphere in Europe is uncomfortably similar to that of the years prior to the Holocaust, the very sort of event modern Europe was designed to protect against.
Unlike the early 20th century, however, Europe’s governments have very outspokenly protested anti-Semitic sentiments and expressed their support for their Jewish citizens.
In response to the recent attacks in Paris, French President François Hollande said, “France wants all the Jews of France to feel perfectly safe and quiet,” while the Prime Minister condemned the attacks as “vile.” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that France “must make the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a national cause” after 600 protesters took to the streets in a protest calling upon the French government to take action against the extremists.
Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called displays of anti-Semitism “an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept” while speaking at a Berlin demonstration entitled “Stand Up Against Anti-Semitism: No More Jew-Hatred,” which drew over 5,000 people. While many Jewish attendees expressed appreciation for the event, many also felt concerned that it was necessary to begin with, and others questioned whether any sort of action would follow Merkel’s words.
Disagreement over Israel’s actions in the conflict with Gaza seems to be the new driving force for anti-Semitic behavior in Europe, unlike the racially motivated attacks of the 1930s and ‘40s. As Dr. Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has pointed out, however, calling for genocide is not merely a political statement. While rallies in Belgium and France purported to be simply “pro-Palestinian,” their shouts of “Death to the Jews!” reveal a darker agenda.
In the words of the emeritus chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, “Human rights matter, and they matter regardless of the victim or the perpetrator.” No matter whether you support Israel or Palestine, or even if you remain neutral on the issue, there is absolutely no excuse for these types of hate-crimes.
Imagine for a moment that Putin’s actions against Ukraine resulted in anti-Russian riots abroad and cries for the mass genocide of the Russian people. It’s a ridiculous thought, but it’s a good parallel for the situation currently in Europe.
Jews who have lived their entire lives outside of the state of Israel are being targeted by acts of violence and hatred because of the actions of a country that they are not even citizens of.
Why are riots and firebombing such a ludicrous reaction to Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, yet the natural response to Israel’s actions in Gaza? The answer, pure and simple, is anti-Semitism and a blatant disregard for basic human rights.
Don’t kid yourself that the anti-Jewish violence in Europe is at all justified by Israeli policies.
Raping and murdering on the basis of religion alone is a barbaric response to political dispute and deserves to be emphatically shamed by supporters of Israel and Palestine alike.