Resurgent Anti-Semitism In Europe: Myth or Reality?

David is right. Islamist terrorism has now finally reached Europe for real.


Not just because the tragic terrorist attacks against the Neve-Shalom and Beth-Israel Synagogues took place in the undisputedly European part of Istanbul. Not just because the fear of a rising tide of al-Qaida triggered fundamentalist terrorism could once again lead to a round of attempts to legalise previously unimaginable governmental infringements of civil liberties. And not just because such attacks could actually happen around the corner of our very own house, church, or temple.


Yesterday, Europe – or the European public, published and otherwise – has been accused by a number of Israeli politicians of having watered the seed of Islamist terrorism by continuous criticism of Israel and its military with respect to the handling of the second Intifada: In a joint statement with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Istanbul bombings had to be seen “in the context of … recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks heard in certain European cities in recent months”.


Even discounting the fact that these statements were made under the immediate impression of the attacks, they are certainly remarkable. Not only because they are suggesting that – in the words of Mr Shalom – “verbal terrorism” is being perpetrated against Israel or Jews in Europe these days but also that it should be seen as promoting the kind of abhorrent deadly terror we witnessed yesterday.


I suppose it is hardly deniable that criticism of Israel has recently been more pronounced in Europe than, notably, in the United States. Earlier this year, Timothy Garton Ash remarked, that this criticism could even be the origin of the transatlantic communicative difficulties, because of it’s alleged link to anti-Semitism – a link once again made yesterday, a link that certainly requires some analysis. In the words of Mr Garton Ash –


“The Middle East is both a source and a catalyst of what threatens to become a downward spiral of burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism, each reinforcing the other. Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also “natural Likudites,” one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me. In a recent article Stanley Hoffmann writes that they seem to believe in an “identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labelled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a “Jewish lobby” in the US, which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.[A problem] difficult for a non-Jewish European to write about without contributing to the malaise one is trying to analyze…”


Maybe. Maybe I am contributing to the malaise by trying to analyse it. But then again, the unqualified allegation against Europe and its people of giving at least negligent if not malevolent ideological support to terrorism is too serious to be simply brushed aside as an expression of anger and despair even in the light of yesterday’s attacks. It is too serious to be brushed aside even if, as the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports today in a story that was likely written before the attacks, more and more Jews in many parts of the world are personally feeling more and more uneasy because, as they see it, criticism against Israel is always likely to be at be least partly directed against themselves.


This is a valid fear. One that can also not be brushed aside. All over Europe many Synagogues are now being protected by police – for a reason. As a German, I may be particularly sensitive about this, but it has never been a good sign for any society when its Jews started to feel uneasy. And there are certainly people around who “hide” their anti-Semitism behind “legitimate” criticism of Israel. From said Haaretz article –


“Those who worry about the low point Israel has reached in global public opinion are sharply divided over the reasons for it. Is opposition to Israel rooted in its military policy toward the Palestinians, or has anti-Semitism awoken after a long hibernation? As time passes and the negative attitude toward Israel intensifies, many Jews are beginning to feel that these sentiments are more anti-Semitic than anti-Israeli. Prof. Shmuel Trigano of the University of Paris X, a prominent French Jewish intellectual, believes that the clash between the Jews and the non-Jewish world started out as anti-Israeli, in the wake of the intifada, but has spilled over into anti-Semitism. In France, he says, people are no longer embarrassed to express views about the Jews that were taboo until just a little while ago.”


But does this mean that all non-Jewish criticism of the Israeli government’s and military’s policies – often harshly critized by Israeli citizens and soldiers alike – or even anti-Zionism, is simply old-style anti-Semitism that comes in new bottles? Hardly.


Yet there are people who seem to claim just that. About a year ago, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman published an article on CommonDreams.org about A Day At The American Enterprise Institute, home to many of the “natural Likudites” mentioned in the Garton Ash piece cited above. In the morning of that day they listened to a panel discussion titled “Europe: Anti-Semitism Resurgent?” that


“… was supposed to be a debate between two right-wingers, Ruth Wisse of Harvard University and John O’Sullivan, of United Press International. But there was little debate. Everyone agreed that the issue wasn’t anti-semitism, as traditionally defined, but anti-Israel views. In fact, Wisse and O’Sullivan had now effectively redefined the term anti-semitism to mean anti-Israel. We had suspected this, but didn’t get a confirmation until a questioner in the audience asked Wisse about Billy Graham’s 1972 conversation with Richard Nixon, memorialized on the White House tapes, and made public earlier this year by the National Archives.

In the conversation, Graham says to Nixon that “a lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, … Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.” And how does he feel? Graham tells Nixon that the Jews have a “stranglehold” on the country, and “this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” “You believe that?” Nixon says. “Yes, sir,” Graham replies. “Oh boy,” Nixon says. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

So, the questioner wanted to know whether Professor Wisse considered these sentiments, as expressed by Graham, and widely publicized earlier this year, to be anti-semitic. No, they are not anti-semitic, Professor Wisse says. Not anti-semitic? No, anti-semitism exists today in the form of “political organization” against Israel.”


Anti-Semitism is a camelion – what was once purely religious suddenly turned “racial” in the 1880s when religion lost much of its function as social glue in the heyday of industrialization. So could Professor Wisse’s assertion that the camelion has once again changed its colour be correct? Wikipedia.org defines the term as

“… either of the following: (1) hostility to Jews as a group which results from no legitimate cause or greatly exceeds any reasonable, ethical response to genuine provocation; or (2) a pejorative perception of Jewish physical or moral traits which is either utterly groundless or a result of irrational generalization and exaggeration”


This might be a good starting point. But there is no straight forward way to define anti-Semitism – well, maybe in a Habermasian ideal speech situation. But in the real world? Guess what – the Wikipedia definition’s “neutrality” is disputed, just as pretty much every article in their database that is conceptually remotely related.


Yet it must be possible to find a way to discern truly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from the kind that is merely a vehicle for anti-Semitism in order to be able to usefully discuss and if possible refute general accusations against “Europe” and be able to point to those who are really guilty as charged.


How? I don’t know yet, but it seems the discussion has just been declared open.


PS.: Done. Now my left hand is really happy that I have a physio-therapy session in a few hours…

What kind of Europe?

The Guardian recently hosted a debate on ‘What kind of Europe do we want?’ between writer (and Guardian columnist) Timothy Garton-Ash and Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore. The full transcript of the debate is available in pdf format, but there’s also a shorter summary that covers most of tha min points the two made. Given that most would label Garton-Ash a ‘europhile’ and Moore a ‘eurosceptic’, it’s interesting to see that there is quite a lot of common ground between their two viewpoints.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee also makes similar points to Garton-Ash, addressing the problem that many of us who are ‘pro-Europe’ face – that the ‘Europe’ of our ideals is not lived up to by the EU of reality:

The limping Britain in Europe campaign now needs to reform itself into a radical anti-government voice, not the pet of ministerial patronage. Time to lay into both Brown and Blair with full euro knuckledusters. Time to attack Brussels, too, and lead the charge for reform; it will never be credible to defend the inadequate status quo.

The European idea is magnificent, but pretending that current reality matches the rhetoric only heightens scepticism.

The combination of EU expansion, the constitutional proposals and the advent of the Euro have brought us to a ‘where do we go from here?’ moment. 50 years on from Schuman and Monnet, there is now a concept of ‘Europe’ as an entity that there wasn’t back then. However, the question of what that that entity will be in practice has still not been decided (and probably never will entirely be) but the onus is now on all sides of the debate to actually think about where we’re going and how to get there.