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Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

Anti-Semitism is haunting Europe

Written by Laetitia Grevers

 

Palestinian flag
Photo: Elvert Barnes; Licence: CC-BY 2.0
The Israeli-Palestian conflict has long been a contentious issue around the world

 

With the escalation of military operations in Gaza, anti-Israel protests are on the rise in a number of European cities. Alarmingly, these protests often appear to have an anti-Semitic tone that is not related to the conflict in the Middle East. According to Laetitia Grevers, instead of criticising constructively, many demonstrators rule out political debate and create a climate of hate.

Europe’s political institutions are enjoying the summer break. Local politics has taken a back seat and citizens' attentions are turned towards more global concerns. Thousands of them have taken to the streets to protest against the military offensive in Gaza. And it is here that anti-Semitism has been flaring up across Europe.

The biggest demonstration took place in London three weeks ago with 10,000 protesters. Some demonstrators claimed that Israel is continuing "Hitler's war of annihilation" and seeking a "final solution". In France riots quickly turned violent: two Parisian synagogues were attacked with baseball bats and sticks and cars were set on fire. Demonstrators shouted: "Death to the Jews!" or "Jews get out!". These views are far removed from the political debate on the conflict in the Middle East. Paris' chief rabbi Haim Korsia is demanding that the French no longer downplay the rise of anti-Semitism within their society.

Even before the recent conflict in Gaza, anti-Semitic incidents were on the increase in France. Horrific events such as the murder of a rabbi and his sons have been blamed for a recent exodus of French Jews. 3,280 Jews left France for Israel in 2013 – 70 percent more than in the previous year. The anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné is also very popular. His shows, which are very insulting to Jews, were banned, but he continues to perform.

While the escalation of the riots in France can be attributed to the toxic anti-Semitic mood that has been rising over the past few years, the chants during several German pro-Palestinian protests had never been heard before on the streets of federal Germany. Protesters have been expressing ugly sentiments such as: "Jew, Jew, you cowardly swine, show yourself and fight alone!". The police seem unable to halt these outbursts of violence and hatred. During a demonstration in Berlin, a Jewish couple were attacked, while a German politician holding an Israeli flag was beaten up in Hannover two weeks ago; even after the event, he is still receiving threatening letters.

Because they are also being used to spread deplorable anti-Semitism, it is my view that pro-Palestinian protests across Europe are failing to reach their initial goal

Due to their historical guilt, Germans have previously been very cautious about criticising Israel and open anti-Semitism was rare. A profound confrontation with the Holocaust and the German past is part and parcel of every child's education here. I can still remember school trips to the Dachau concentration camps to learn about Nazi atrocities and German classes in which we read a book related to World War II every year. Recent events have alarmed the German public. The weekly paper Die Zeit asked: "Is anti-Semitism no longer taboo in Germany?" and the influential tabloid publication Bild encouraged celebrities to contribute to their edition "Stop anti-Semitism". State president Joachim Gauck was one of those who appealed to protesters to end their hateful discourse.

So far, the reaction of the media has had little effect. Protesters are even taking the opportunity to demonise the press. At the Al-Quds protest in Berlin on 25 July, the organiser told the masses to curb their insulting tone because "the zionist media are only waiting for provoking statements to spread hate" against demonstrators. Yet not all participants  adhered to this advice, and continued to make inflammatory accusations: "fascist child-killer Israel". Others even shouted: "Gas Israel". That these words can be heard in the city where the industrial extermination of the Jews was masterminded is truly petrifying.

Because they are also being used to spread deplorable anti-Semitism, it is my view that pro-Palestinian protests across Europe are failing to reach their initial goal: a critical debate about the military operation in Gaza and about the death of many innocent Palestinians. Whether the violence used by the Israeli army can still be legitimised through Israel's right of self defence is a matter that needs to be discussed.  But the rise of these toxic protests leaves no space for such a debate.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 20:40

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