Robert S. Wistrich
Excerpt from his book ‘European Anti-Semitism Reinvents Itself’
I find it shameful that in France, the France of “Liberty, equality,
fraternity,” synagogues are torched, Jews are terrorized, and their
cemeteries profaned … that in Holland and Germany and Denmark
youngsters show off the kaffiyeh like the vanguard of Mussolini
displayed the stick and Fascist emblem … that in almost
every European university, Palestinian students take over and
A Ghost Returns
Since the beginning of the new millennium, an ancient specter-that of anti-Semitism-has returned to haunt the European continent. Once considered the preserve of reactionary clerics, conservative nationalists, fascist bigots, and ultra-radical leftists, Judeo-phobia has undergone a radical mutation in recent years. Since the start of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 – reinforced by the impact of 9/11 and the war against Iraq-anti-Semitism has become a central feature of the violent Islamic jihadism that has spread from the Middle East to parts of the Muslim Diaspora in Europe.
The new anti-Semitism has also been enthusiastically embraced by broad sectors of the anti-globalization movement, which, like the Islamists, fervently believe in the existence of an American-Zionist conspiracy to dominate the world. This new “red-green alliance” reviles Israel and “Jewish-controlled” America, even as it opposes the exercise of Western military power abroad and the export of its democratic ideals to non-Western countries. The anti-globalization enthusiasts are full of self-loathing with regard to the core values of the West, of which Israel is seen as an outpost, viewing them only as a cover for “racist” and “imperialist” occupations. Europe’s colonial guilt and self-criticism have also been important factors in leading it back to its old habits of anti-Semitism.
At first glance, this new wave of European anti-Semitism seems puzzling. After all, the emergence of a democratic, multicultural, pluralist European Union (EU) – now extending into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states – should have created the best of all possible worlds for Jews. Traditionally, Jews aspired to precisely the kind of cosmopolitan, supranational federal structures that the European elites have so warmly embraced-a peaceful, prosperous society, tolerant toward its minorities. Indeed, there is today no serious anti-Semitic discrimination in jobs, housing, or access to high positions in the cultural domain or politics. Jews since World War II have steadily risen in economic and social status and been fully accepted in public life. There is considerable interest in Jewish culture, Jewish film festivals, and book fairs. On a day-to-day basis, most European Jews enjoy a satisfactory life and do not suffer any legal disabilities or personal indignities. There is an active Christian-Jewish dialogue; and the commemoration of the Shoah is widely respected and observed across many countries in the European Union. Not only that, but a number of countries, including France and Germany, have stringent laws against Holocaust denial, which have been implemented to good effect.
So, if things are so good, why are they so bad? Why has the antiracist, antifascist consensus that animates much of the European Union failed to prevent a resurgence of anti-Semitism? A key factor here is that mainstream attitudes toward Israel have become so hostile that even moderate positions in defense of Zionism can at times be regarded as beyond the pale. To defend the Jewish state is to risk being seen as an accomplice in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other horrors. Indeed, much of the European extreme left, as well as virtually all neo-Nazis and most Islamists, question the right of Israel to exist as an independent state in the Middle East. Many regard Zionism as even worse than Nazism and frequently lash out at the “manipulation by Jews of international finance and the global media. But a more moderate version of such fantasies concerning the Jewish state can now be heard in much of Europe’s mainstream public discourse, in the media, the churches, and the universities. Some conservative, socialist, and liberal politicians have joined hands on this issue with indignant artists and intellectuals to proclaim a sacred right to “criticize” the Jews – who are already suspect due to their unholy alliance with “hyper-power” America. In November 2003 a poll found that 59 percent of the population of the European Union believes Israel to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, ahead of North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and a string of Arab dictatorships. The United States was ranked fourth in this survey, ordered by the European Commission, while countries like China and Russia were near the bottom of the scale. Whatever the survey’s flaws in framing the question, its obviously tendentious character, and the superficiality of the responses, there is little doubt that it reflects observable currents in European media coverage of Israel, as well as deeper layers of anti-Semitic prejudice.
It is apparent that many Europeans essentially regard Jews as too powerful, conspiratorial, or devious, as well as being a prime cause of global terrorism today. The Netherlands (74 percent), Austria (69 percent), Luxemburg (66 percent), and Germany (65 percent) lead the pack in considering Israelis to be “warmongers”; only Italy (48 percent) did not give ringing majority endorsement to this proposition, but an independent national survey also showed considerable hostility toward Israel among ordinary Italians. In Europe it has become part of the conventional wisdom to see Israel as an apartheid state, to pretend that victims of the Holocaust have become Nazis, and to insinuate that the Jewish state properly belongs to President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” The truth that Israel is an oasis of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in a desert of ruthless and backward autocracies (including the corrupt and repressive Palestinian Authority) is silenced or twisted into its opposite.
On the other hand, vicious hate indoctrination, the cult of suicide bombers, and imprisoning of dissidents by the Palestinian Authority – not to mention its lynch justice, repression of women, and outlawing of homosexuality – have not diminished the European Union’s diplomatic and financial support for the Palestinian Authority(PA); nor did Yasir Arafat’s proven complicity in terrorism and massive personal theft of hundreds of millions of donor dollars earmarked for the Palestinian people prevent him from being lionized by European intellectuals, journalists, and statesmen, both before and after his death.
Israel as a Strategic Pawn
Anti-Semitism, closely linked to anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments, is clearly a central feature in this unparalleled example of double standards. But there is also a larger strategic dimension. Israel has become an important pawn in a European power struggle with America for influence in the Middle East and in the wider world. Ever since the Venice Declaration of 1980, Europe, with some notable exceptions such as Germany, has pursued an increasingly anti-Israeli policy and has sought the diminution of American power in the Middle East.
European support for Arafat, despite the intention of the second intifada to undermine Israel’s moral legitimacy and the resultant of Jew-hatred in individual European countries, must be seen as an integral part of Europe’s anti-American orientation and will-to-power. Not by accident have anti-Semitic innuendos about shadowy Jewish “neo-cons” in the United States been echoing through the chancelleries of old Europe in the past few years. In the House of Lords on March 18, 2003, Lord Jopling (a former cabinet minister) complained about these “neoconservatives” having a “stranglehold on the Pentagon and… a compliant arm lock on the president himself.” This coded language is now a widespread feature of fashionable anti-Semitism. Robert Kagan, the prominent American analyst of European affairs, has drily commented in this context: “One finds Britain’s finest minds propounding… conspiracy theories concerning the ‘neoconservative’ (read: Jewish) hijacking of American foreign policy.
In Paris, all the talk is of oil and ‘imperialism’ – and Jews.” The mellifluous Dominique de Villepin, then French foreign minister (now interior minister), was quoted in April 2003 as saying that “the hawks in the U.S. administration [are] in the hands of [Ariel] Sharon” – another barely disguised message about the omnipotent Jewish lobby in Washington. In France, more than elsewhere in Europe, the theory of a “Jewish” intellectual clique driving American policy has indeed taken hold. Partly this is due to the long-standing tradition of French resentment of American power, which was forcefully challenged by General Charles de Gaulle in the mid-1960s. The pro-Arab, pro- Third World orientation of French foreign policy, its ambition to rebuild and lead a united Europe as a counterweight to America, and the desire to appease its large Muslim population have created a social climate highly conducive to a resurgence of anti-Semitism.