During the last three years, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues across Europe have been defaced and Jewish students have been physically attacked. The violence has been blamed on young Muslim males whose anger is fueled by what they see as Israeli oppression of Palestinians. But some observers say religion is just a surface issue beneath which lies a history of old-style European anti-Semitism and new-style disenchantment by second-generation Muslim immigrants who are largely impoverished and alienated in Europe. VOA’s Jela De Franceschi examines this spate of anti-Semitism.
Hate crimes against Jews in Europe are on the rise. Tel Aviv University’s latest survey of anti-Semitism reported that the number of violent attacks on Jews worldwide increased from 228 in 2001 to 311 in 2002, with most incidents happening in Western Europe.
The increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, which continued in 2003, coincides with the start of the second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many Muslims believe that attacks against Jews in Europe signify justice for Palestinians, says Anatol Lieven an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace here in Washington.
“These incidents of anti-Semitic violence and hooliganism that we have seen over the past couple of years are overwhelmingly the work of Muslims who make up quite substantial proportions of the population in several European countries,” he says. “They are motivated above all by anger at what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians. So it is a new form of anti-Semitism. It is not the same as the older Christian or fascist type.”
Particularly disturbing, Mr. Lieven notes, are attacks on synagogues, schools and rabbis in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations — some 600 thousand Jews and about five million Muslims.
Stung by harsh criticism for inaction and accused of silent complicity by U.S. lawmakers and Jewish leaders, France adopted in recent months a series of measures for combating assaults on Jews. These have won praise from Israel, an analyst on the Middle East peace process and inter-religious relations at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“The conventional wisdom that the French government is a particularly guilty party for failing to deal with this phenomenon appears not to be correct at all,” he says. “Recently, a right-wing minister in Israel’s government visited France. He met with President Jacque Chirac and said publicly that from Israel’s perspective, France is doing more than any other country in Europe to deal with the problem of anti-Semitism.”
According to Mr. Siegman, it would be wrong to generalize that there is a surge of anti-Semitism among the French or Europeans. The problem, he says, is imported from the Middle East, not homegrown.
Still, some American Jewish groups argue that anti-Semitism is endemic to Europe. They see evidence of it in a recent poll conducted by the European Union that shows most Europeans view Israel as the greatest threat to peace.
Indeed, the European public has been very critical of Israeli operations on the West Bank. Thousands of Europeans have staged pro-Palestinian demonstrations and some European officials have called for economic sanctions against Israel.
Statements by some of Europe’s leading intellectuals have shocked Jewish groups. Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer Jose Samarago compared the West Bank town of Ramallah to Auschwitz, and Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis has called Israel “the root of evil”.
Several Jewish groups in the United States have labeled Europe’s criticism of Israeli policies a new form of anti-Semitism or at least contributing to it.
Ken Jacobson is assistant national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League. “A combination of government statements, media statements and some statements by intellectuals have created an environment,” he says, “that led to the poll that found that Israel was seen as a threat to peace by more people in Europe than any other country in the world. It seems to me there is an environment created that makes anti-Semitism possible.”
More dismay came late last year when the European Union’s agency for monitoring racism shelved its 112-page draft report on anti-Semitism, which concluded that radical Islamists and Arab Muslims were responsible for the rise in assaults on Jews.
At a recent U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on European anti-Semitism, ranking Democrat Joseph Biden, described the censorship of the report as giving in to Islamic radicalism. “Many observers have finally dared to discuss what has long been a dirty little secret,” he said, “namely that the threat of violence from impoverished, ill-treated and often unemployed Muslim men in Western Europe has, at the very least, induced governments to temper their reaction to anti-Semitism.”
Most European leaders admit the anti-Semitic survey was badly handled. But they say there is a concern about further angering the muslim population now changing the nature of the European State.
Charles Kupchan is professor of International Relations at Georgetown University, in Washington. “To offset the declining population among traditional Europeans, much of that immigration will come from North Africa and Turkey,” he says. “The issue here is how to get countries that are not generally immigrant countries to gradually open their societies to Muslim immigrants, to make them feel like they belong, to ensure they don’t emerge as second-class citizens. That means opening for social mobility; it means Muslims don’t end up living in separate enclaves. These are issues, which are extraordinarily difficult to address because there is a polarization that is taking place, the radicalization of, the mobilization of and the pressure put on Muslim communities to be more observant and to be more committed to Islamic causes.”
The recent ban on wearing headscarves and other conspicuous religious signs in France is an attempt to ensure secularism in public schools. But many analysts warn the measure could alienate more Muslims, making them susceptible to Islamic radicalism.
According to the Carnegie Endowment’s Anatol Lieven, slow integration of Muslim communities comes from the slow growth of Europe’s economy and an ever-festering clash of cultures. “This is a process which has been going on, unfortunately, in many cases for two generations,” he says. “It is difficult because of the cultural and educational level of these people who come from different backgrounds. It is a problem that will have to work itself out over many years to come.”
Mr. Lieven adds that a much deeper problem in terms of disorder is the recurring violence between the older European population and younger minority immigrants. Anatol Lieven says that already there have been numerous attacks against Muslims in France, Turks in Germany and Pakistanis in Britain. And he warns of a possible backlash.
“It is unfortunately not impossible that in the future we will see very serious terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists in Europe as well,” he says. “And if that happens, then the really serious problem will be not so much Muslims against Jews; it will be old European populations against Muslim minorities. In fact, if one looks at the whole problem of racist violence in Europe, you have to recognize that Muslims have taken over the role, which used to be played by the Jews in Western society as the scapegoat, the hate figure and the target of violence.”
Mr. Lieven suggests that Europe should slow down immigration until the Muslim population already there can be integrated. Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue could bring swift reprieve to the violence. But most observers argue this is not in Europe’s hands. It is up to the Israelis, Arabs and the U.S. sponsored Roadmap for peace in the Middle East.