Anti-Semitism: A chance for Europe to check a wave of hate

Posted in Europe | 28-Apr-04 | Author: Andrew Baker| Source: International Herald Tribune

NEW YORK - European leaders may finally be waking up to the severity of anti-Semitism in their countries. After largely ignoring increasing numbers of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions for the past three and a half years, some governments have begun to acknowledge this disease and take steps to confront it.

When representatives of the 55 nations that comprise the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe gather in Berlin this week for a second conference on anti-Semitism, they will have an opportunity to develop a plan of action that recognizes that anti-Semitism is not just an assault on Jews but tears at the fabric of democratic societies.

OSCE members should draw from a recent report by the European Union Monitoring Center. The most extensive compilation of data and opinions on anti-Semitism to be issued by any European body, it serves as belated recognition by the European establishment of the challenges that Western Europe faces in confronting rising anti-Semitism.

The 350-page report identified an increase in the intensity of anti-Semitic incidents in five countries - Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain. While the report identified white Europeans - that is, neo-Nazis and skinheads - as the primary source of anti-Semitic incidents in the EU today, illustrating that the "old" anti-Semitism is alive and well, it also acknowledged that "young Muslims of North Africa or Asian extraction" are perpetrators in some countries, a result of the spillover of the Middle East conflict onto the European street, which many consider evidence of a "new" strain of the old disease.

The report focused much attention on France, which has the largest Jewish community in Europe and has experienced the greatest number of attacks on Jewish targets. Increased security and a "zero tolerance" policy have dramatically reduced these numbers in recent months. Public expressions of solidarity with the Jewish community by President Jacques Chirac and the creation of a commission on anti-Semitism have sought to quell the anxiety that many French Jews have felt.

In this self-examination, however, the EU monitoring center revealed the inadequacies of its current system of monitoring anti-Semitic incidents. Several European countries have no provisions at all for the collection of any hate crime information in general, let alone singling out anti-Semitic incidents.

Thus, all the more important is a companion report based on interviews with Jewish community leaders in eight countries. These views record what Jewish "antennae" pick up today - not only the empirical data of incidents, but also a sense of the public mood and political discourse. They describe a more troubling situation, where considerations of emigration and questions about the future of Jewish communal life are part of the daily conversation.

To its credit, the EU report does address one of the most politically controversial questions: whether anti-Israeli expressions constitute anti-Semitism. It has concluded that when stereotypes of Jews are applied to the Jewish state, the answer is yes. Hence, depictions of Israel as a deceitful force, as a conveyor of international conspiracies, or as acting for base or crooked motives are manifestations of anti-Semitism.

The EU monitoring center inexplicably determined that it is not anti-Semitism if Jews or Jewish institutions are attacked because the perpetrators act out of a dislike of Israel's prime minister or opposition to Israeli policies. There are many civilized ways to express views on Israel, but viewing European Jews as stand-ins for the Israeli government is nothing less than anti-Semitism.

Following the monitoring center's report, the OSCE should recommend the establishment of an office in every country to collect data on anti-Semitic incidents and other hate crimes. Second, the OSCE should recognize that Muslim communities in Europe have become a new source of hostility toward Jews, fueled by anti-Semitic propaganda coming out of the Arab world. And, third, the OSCE should acknowledge that anti-Israeli expressions can themselves constitute a form of anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Andrew Baker is director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee and public adviser to the U.S. delegation to the OSCE conference.