Europe: fewer Jews, more anti-Semites

Cafe Rembrandt, Viena (Austria). Holocaust Encyclopedia - Elcano Blog
Cafe Rembrandt, Viena (Austria). Holocaust Encyclopedia - Elcano Blog
(Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Is anti-Semitism on the rise again in Europe, now that it has fewer Jews than ever? The latest outbreaks –in France the attack against a kosher supermarket in Paris and the desecration of Jewish gravestones, in Denmark the shootings in Copenhagen and, before that, attacks in Belgium– would seem to indicate that such is the case. But anti-Semitism is not limited to certain radicalised Muslims or to jihadists seeking Jewish targets (among others) in Europe. Very rightly, the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has said that the revival of anti-Semitism in France reflects that democracy is in crisis. A controversy broke out when Roland Dumas, a former Foreign Minister, said that Valls was ‘under Jewish influence’ (on account of his wife), to which the latter replied that such statements ‘do no honour to the Republic’. Perhaps it could be added that this phenomenon in other European countries also indicates the existence of a crisis of the European idea itself.

The announcement made by the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in the midst of an election campaign, that the terrorist attacks will continue in Europe, that the safety of Jews cannot be guaranteed and that they should therefore move to Israel, ‘their home’, is clearly quite opportunistic. It has been taken badly by the European governments concerned, specifically the French and Danish. It can only add fuel to the fire. Furthermore, to live in Israel is no guarantee of greater safety. And the Middle East is currently in a state of flux.

Many European societies are seeing a surge in ‘anti’ movements: anti-immigration, anti-foreigner (although Jews in Europe are no more foreign than non-Jews, while there are now 2nd and 3rd generations of Muslims born in Europe), anti-Islam and anti-Semite, the latter almost 70 years after the end of World War II brought to light the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, to whom certain others gave a helping hand.

Anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise again in much of Europe when, paradoxically, it has fewer Jews than ever. In 1939 there were 9.5 million Jews (57% of the world total) in Europe. Around 6 million, according to commonly accepted figure, died in the Holocaust. In 1960 there were only 3.2 million and by 2010 the number had dropped to 1.4 million (0.2% of Europe’s population, compared with 14 million worldwide), largely because many had emigrated to the State of Israel (which had been established in 1948) from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as reported by the Pew Research Center.

In another comparative survey by the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based Jewish organisation, the Greeks and the French are the most anti-Semitic Europeans, followed by the Spanish. Up to 69% of Greeks, 37% of French and 29% of Spaniards responded positively to stereotypes such as ‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the country they live in’. In Spain, a country that has been relatively welcoming to immigration and has so far not seen the generation of any significant xenophobic movement, a worrying proportion of its citizens uncritically accept many anti-Semitic slurs. In a survey promoted in 2010 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Casa Sefarad-Israel) to refute an earlier Pew Center poll that had been much publicised by certain Congressmen in the US, 58.4% of Spanish respondents (half of which had university degrees) believed that ‘Jews have too much power because they control the economy and the media’. Nevertheless, according to the latest survey, anti-Semitism among Spaniards has declined somewhat, from 48% in 2008 to 34.6% in 2010. Up to 48% now express a favourable opinion of the Jews, suggesting that the country has much anti-Semitism but that it is not that anti-Jewish. Muslims have a poorer image: 53% of Spaniards have negative feelings about them. Although it should be borne in mind that there is a basic difference that fails to explain the presence of anti-Semitism in Spain: according to their representative organisations, there are only around 45,000 Jews residents in the country, while the Muslim minority tops the 1 million mark.

According to the Spanish Anti-Semitism Observatory’s 2012 report, there have been cases of aggressive and hostile expressions in graffiti and social networks and misrepresentations in certain media. ‘There is a rejection of Jewishness’ without most Spaniards even being acquainted directly with a Jew, given the small size of the Spanish Jewish community.

Is anti-Semitism in Europe related to events in the Middle East, such as the lack of progress in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and the widespread sympathy for the latter? It certainly has an influence, but in the 2010 survey only 17% of Spanish respondents agreed that their ‘antipathy towards Jews’ was due to the ‘Middle East conflict’. Shlomo Ben Ami, quoting a 2012 survey, notes that in Europe the violence against Jews ‘feeds on old anti-Semitic attitudes and not on an anti-Israeli sentiment’.

But we must beware, for, as The Economist argues, ‘given their dire history of Jew-hatred… Europeans must be ever-vigilant against any sign of anti-Semitism, whether of the old endemic Christian sort or the newer Islamist variety’. Anti-Semitism is a symptom that in Europe, prompted by the economic and political crisis and a loss of identity, the attitudes of the 1920s and 30s, or even earlier, are resurfacing. This is the mirror in which all Europeans can see their reflection, and it is not a nice one.