Resurrecting anti-Semitism

Published 18.02.2019 23:28
Updated 19.02.2019 00:06

It is an undeniable fact, supported by dependable data: anti-Semitism is growing and becoming a real threat in Europe again. In France, the United Kingdom and Germany, hosts of three of the biggest Jewish minorities in western Europe, anti-Semitic rhetoric of the extreme-right has become "politically correct" for most of the population.

Jewish communities in the said countries feel threatened by the resurgence of old demons. The Guardian, in a striking article, talked about a survey carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. It was a huge opinion poll, encompassing more than 16,000 respondents across 22 countries. The results were alarming. The report says, "The findings make for a sobering read. They underscore that anti-Semitism remains pervasive across the EU – and has, in many ways, become disturbingly normalized."

Anti-Semitism works pretty much like a litmus paper in almost any society. Its reappearance heralds very bad news, paving the way for different fascist and xenophobic waves. It seems to only be targeting the "Jewish identity," but it doesn't stops there, creating terrible turmoil for all other minority identities, whatever they may be. Refugees, migrants, other religious entities, political groupings and ethnic minorities are all targets of this hatred in any given society. Even in countries where there are no sizeable Jewish minorities, this hate speech, this belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy finds sympathetic ears.

Whereas the report of the Agency for Fundamental Rights shows a huge majority among Jews in Europe – some 89 percent – feel threatened and found that anti-Semitism had "significantly increased" over the past five years; while only 36 percent of the general public felt it had.

That is the problem. Most of the time public opinion, under the stress of external and domestic dynamics, does not notice increases in xenophobia and hate speech. I watched a TV debate on the French news channel France 24 about the subject. A very respectable person peremptorily declared that the terrible increase in anti-Semitic actions was primarily due to Islamic terrorism. Although statistics show that far-right militants and terrorists are carrying out most of the anti-Semitic terror, it is definitely easier to use a scapegoat, preferably of "alien" origin. This is how anti-Semitism in a society creates a "domino effect" in hate speech and xenophobia.

Marc Knobel, a historian who has worked for the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), has come out with analysis that the situation in the Middle East played an important role in anti-Jewish attacks and threats in Europe. So long as people of Arabic origin in Europe could not attack Israel, they would target Jewish communities in Europe. In fact, it is worth underlining that most anti-Semitic terrorism, like the bombing of Restaurant Goldenberg in Paris, have been terror attacks commissioned by Middle Eastern dictatorships rather than the outcry of Muslim-origin populations legally residing in Europe. However, these times are gone, as underlined by the French administrative body Interministerial Delegation to the Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH), an interministerial delegation established to combat hate speech, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and anti-LGBT trends, founded in 2012. According again to the Guardian, Prefect Frédéric Pothier, who heads the delegation, declared that "more traditional forms of anti-Semitism have re-emerged." "We are witnessing the resurgence of virulent, far-right identity politics that do not hesitate to put beliefs into action," he said to Le Monde.

Repercussions of such "normalization" of anti-Semitic sentiments are visible in a variety of different domains. Accusing French President Emmanuel Macron of being an agent of Zionism because he worked for a time in the Bank Rothschild and attacking and insulting French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut while he was watching a manifestation of the "yellow jackets" are just a few examples. Italy's incredible government has accused France of creating the migration problem because of the latter's colonization of West Africa. The same Italy has contributed, in the same vein of logic, to the situation in Libya trying to colonize this Ottoman province back in 1911.

This demonstrates how far-right rhetoric can start devastating international affairs and relations. While he was prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared once that "anti-Semitism was a crime against humanity." This is extremely true, but most of the time, average people are not racist. In every society, only the fringe of the population is actually naturally racist or xenophobic, usually less than 7 percent of the whole population. With such people, there is no way to change their minds and attitudes. The only backstop is not allowing such people to divulge in and herald their venomous speech and thoughts. This kind of control demands more than simple condemnation. In Turkey, with a refugee population of almost 4 million, not efficiently combating anti-Semitism and xenophobia can have very dire consequences in different domains.

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