Anti-Semitism Finds Hold in Europe

The recent incident in which the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity house was disgraced by swastikas serves as a close-to-home reminder that despite all the progress our society has made since the Holocaust, anti-Semitism still very much exists in this world. While the Emory community as a whole has strongly stood behind AEPi and the Jewish community by renouncing this vile act, anti-Semitism has reemerged across the Atlantic with greater strength than in recent memory.

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in European culture. From the Middle Ages until World War II, the European Jewry was forced into ghettos, denied fundamental rights and faced violent riots aimed specifically at them, called pogroms.

Most horrifically, the Nazis and their supporters tried to commit genocide against the Jews (amongst other minorities groups, such as the Roma and homosexuals) in the Holocaust, killing over six million European Jews. In reaction to the Holocaust, the states of Europe vowed and redoubled on their efforts to quash anti-Semitism within their borders.

For the most part, Europeans succeeded in ceasing anti-Semitism and reintegrating Jews into their society. European Jews now have equal rights as citizens in Europe, and in Germany, and it is even a criminal act to deny the Holocaust.

But recently, anti-Semitism has reemerged across the European continent. In recent months, anti-Semitic acts have occurred in reaction to the Israel-Gaza conflict over the summer. Protests, sometimes violent, proliferated across the continent in reaction to Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip.

Yet, these protests went beyond merely criticizing Israel. Rather, many of these protests were directed at the entire Jewish population, including those in Europe that had nothing to do with the conflict in the Levant. Protests included signs with horrible messages such as “Gas to the Jews” and “Death to the Jews!”

Some of these protests even led to mob violence against Jews. In July, in reaction to the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles turned violently anti-Semitic. Riot police eventually stopped the violent protesters, but not until after the protesters looted multiple Jewish-owned businesses and attempted to storm two synagogues.

In addition to this misdirection of anti-Israel sentiment toward the Jews of Europe, there is evidence that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the general European population. Anti-Semitic sentiments have begun to re-proliferate in the 70 years since the end of the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish organization that fights anti-Semitism, revealed some shocking results about the prevalence of anti-Semitism across Europe: “When asked if they agreed with the statement ‘Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,’ 33 percent of the population in Belgium agreed. The responses varied little from country to country. In France, it was 31 percent of the population; in Germany, 28; and in Italy, 28.”

Far-right parties have also made some anti-Semitic comments. Members of the Hungarian ultra-nationalist party Jobbik, which is the third largest party in Hungarian parliament, has called Hungarian Jews a “national security risk,” amongst other anti-Semitic hate speech. In France, the far-right National Front, which received almost one-third of the vote in the European Parliament election in May, has also been accused of anti-Semitism.

While these parties do not seem likely to gain control over any European governments any time soon, they nonetheless represent a significant chunk of the European electorate, indicating the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Despite the newfound anti-Semitism in Europe, no catastrophe resembling the Holocaust, or even anything like the preceding centuries’ pogroms and Jewish ghettos, will happen in the foreseeable future. Anti-Semitism these days tends to come from the fringes of European society, so no broad-based anti-Semitic movements with grave consequences like that of the Nazis will occur. The European mainstream establishment remains firmly committed to protecting Jews and there is no indication that this will change.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a September speech about the recent rise in anti-Semitism: “I do not accept any kind of anti-Semitic message or attacks at all, not least the ones that were recently seen at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations, disguised as alleged criticism of the policy of the state of Israel.” Even as we move past the anti-Semitic vandalism that occurred on our campus, let us not forget that anti-Semitism remains an enduring force in the world. ​

– By Ben Perlmutter, Contributing Writer