Everyone knows that Europe has grown more anti-Semitic, as Avi Primor writes in the new issue of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. Like many things that everyone “knows,” the facts are different, writes Primor, who’s the former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and now head of the Center for European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Only bits of the journal, I’m sorry to say, are online, and Primor’s article isn’t one of those bits. If you want to read it, you’ll need to find a hard copy. But here are a couple of key points:
Yes, there’s anti-Semitism in France. But in that country, Jews play a role in national politics far beyond their number. The percentage of the French public ready to accept a Jewish president has risen drastically since World War II.
Belgium was accused by Israelis of being anti-Semitic after it passed a law that allowed for local prosecution of war criminals whose crimes took place elsewhere in the world, and pro-Palestinian lawyers attempted to bring Israel’s then-prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to trial for his role in the Sabra and Shatilla masacres. Primor explains that the law, albeit poorly written, was passed so that Belgium could try Rwandan war criminals who’d found refuge there. When the flaws in the law became clear, it was rescinded.
As for Germany, Primor brings survey evidence that the level of anti-Semitism has dropped significantly since the post-war period, and the drop has continued in recent years. Asked if they’d object to having neighbors from various minority groups, fewer Germans (13 percent) objected to Jews than to Arabs, Turks, Poles or Africans.
So why the perception among Jews, especially Israelis, and among non-Jewish Europeans that anti-Semitism has risen? One reason, Primor notes, is the echo of the Arab-Israel conflict among immigrants in France and Belgium. Another is that the modern media provide us with knowledge of every incident. So last Saturday, when a 17-year-old Jew had his skull cracked by a club-wielding attackers in Paris, Reuter picked up the story and broadcast it world-wide. There’s no denying the horror of the incident, or the fear it induces in Jews. Young Rudy Hadad was apparently wearing a kipah when he was attacked; I admit I’d be less likely to wear a kipah in Paris after reading this. But what makes the news is not necessarily what’s prevalent. The unusual incident is more newsworthy than the endemic problem.
And one more reason for the perception, Primor says, is that European criticism of Israeli policies gets labeled anti-Semitism. Yet:
most of those criticizing Israeli policies in the territories are not antisemites; sometimes they are actual friends of Israel who fear for the fate of the Jewish state.
When Europeans criticized the Greek junta of 1967-73, Primor says, no one suspected them of anti-Greek racism.
Israel is not a frightened, helpless Jewish community in an European ghetto. It can demonstrate a greater degree of self-confidence in the face of legitimate criticism.
Overall, I find Primor’s argument impressive. (This is a tad ad hominus; I usually find Primor’s arguments impressive.) Still, I’d qualify what he says in two ways.
First, though it’s true that much European criticism of Israel is legitimate, a certain strain goes over the line. A representative example was John Pilger’s article in the New Statesman last year, where he trumpeted the call to boycott Israel by saying:
No other country has such a record of lawlessness: not one of the world’s tyrannies comes close.
Excuse me, John? Did you really write that?
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve written extensively on how the occupation violates both international and domestic law. But Israel as more lawless than China, Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe? Forgive me if I suspect that Mr. Pilger’s attitude is much like that of American racists who only notice those offenses allegedly committed by blacks. Like others of his school, Pilger argues for dissolving Israel in a one-state solution. No matter that Palestinians themselves reject this by a two-one margin.To suggest that self-determination is the right of all nations, except for the Jews, who are uniquely disqualified, at least suggests a peculiar inability to accept Jews in the neighborhood of nations.
It’s true that some Jews would agree with Pilger, and with the British advocates of a boycott of Israel (about whom David Newman writes in the same issue of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs). Small comfort. As former cabinet member Avraham Poraz once infamously said in a different context (here in Hebrew), “a Jew can sometimes be an anti-Semite.” (Poraz, it seems, felt badly that the anti-Semites wouldn’t let him join their club because he’s Jewish, but that’s a different discussion).
That said, I still prefer to avoid the anti-Semitism argument against European critics of Israel. Primor is right that it too easily spills over into emotional battering of legitimate critics. The real problem, as Noah Feldman writes in the New York Times, is that all together too many Europeans have never really come to terms with living with the Other. But the outsiders to be hated today are Muslims.
…even after 60 years of introspection about the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, Europeans are not convinced that culturally and religiously different immigrants should be treated as full members of their societies. European anti-Semitism between the world wars featured accusations of criminality, religious backwardness, genetic inferiority and, above all, the impossibility of assimilation.
In Europe, “Muslim” is the new “Jew.”
In theory, Europe remembers the Holocaust. But the depth of that memory may be doubted when many Europeans seem to have forgotten that their continent was home to other outsiders well before the arrival of today’s Muslim minority.
So anti-Semitism is gone. And yet it’s flourishing. And that should concern both Jews and Europeans deeply.