In Europe, anti-Semitism is back, from the masses to their leaders

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There comes a time in any decent person’s life when they should face reality and say, “No more.” We are at such a point — the radical has become mainstream, and anti-Semitism has moved from the edges of society to the heart of the political system in certain European countries.

When we look at the situation, in Europe and the United States, with clear eyes and zoom out to get a full view, we can’t help but reach the sad, scary conclusion that anti-Semitism is back. We may be facing the strongest rise of anti-Semitism in decades, as it comes from both directions — from the leaders to the masses, and from the masses to the leaders. And while we usually identified anti-Semitism as a radical right-wing phenomenon, its current reincarnation often comes from the other end of the spectrum — the radical left.

It may be more sophisticated, yet it is just as violent as it always has been. Behind its new, civilized mask of political opposition to Israel’s policies, anti-Semitism has the potential to be extremely dangerous, since it erodes the very basis on which the free world has stood since the end of World War II. This basis is a shared set of values that have become the consensus in politics and international relations. Among others, they include the sanctity of free speech until the point where it becomes incitement, the sovereignty of nation-states and absolute intolerance for racism.  

With too many incidents and processes in today’s Europe, we can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that, at least when it comes to anti-Semitism and its disguise as anti-Israel criticism, Europe is failing on those counts. 

When it comes to the distinction between freedom of speech and violent incitement, the line was crossed long ago. A survey published by the European Commission this month found that 44 percent of Jews between the ages of 18-34 have experienced some sort of anti-Semitic attack. Many of them now hide their Jewish identities for fear of harassment, attacks and violence. We usually only hear about the deadly attacks, such as the ones on a Jewish school in Toulouse or the Parisian kosher grocery store, but Jewish people deal with some sort of anti-Semitism regularly. 

Of course, we can’t ignore the reality here in America. Just a short while ago, the New York Times published the now infamous caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog, with a Star of David around his neck, leading a blind President Trump. The cartoonist made an effort not to miss even one classic anti-Semitic representation. Clearly, this is “All the news that’s fit to print” in today’s NYT. However, here also in the U.S., anti-Semitism doesn’t stay on paper. The past 10 months have seen two deadly attacks on Jewish worshippers while they prayed in local synagogues, one in Pennsylvania and the other in California, taking the lives of 12 people.

As for intolerance to racism, the legendary cradle of democracy, Great Britain, has a giant cloud hanging above Westminster in the form of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. If past politicians had to hide their racist beliefs in order to get elected, the story here is different. Everyone knew that Corbyn is anti-Semitic, yet it didn’t hurt his chances to win his party leadership. Since his election, the floodgates have opened and many other Labour members of Parliament have come out of the woodwork with similar dark views; in the last election, two years ago, their power grew. The party has become so infested with anti-Semitism that two former Labour prime ministers — Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — have come out publicly against this dangerous trend.

Even I had the dubious luck of being the target for Corbyn’s arrows, when he claimed that I fed talking points to members of Parliament and they did my bidding when I served as Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom. Not even I knew how powerful I was, and I only wish someone had told me that in real time. It would have made my efforts there so much easier!

The European record on respecting the sovereignty of nation-states also is abysmal, at least when it comes to the Jewish state. It seems like what’s right for every other country is wrong for Israel. Last week, a so-called exposé in the left-leaning German magazine Der Spiegel focused on pro-Israel lobbying groups and their “underhanded techniques” of influencing parliamentary decisions. Seems like the same practices performed by almost every country or corporation in the western world is forbidden when it comes to the Jewish state. The famous triple standard rears its ugly head again — one standard for democracies, one for dictatorships, and one completely unattainable standard for Israel.

The fight against anti-Semitism is not an easy one, and it can’t be left for Jewish people and Israel alone. The first step is to recognize that there’s a problem, because you can’t start the healing process before you acknowledge there’s an actual disease. You can’t just band it together with other forms of injustice, prejudice or racism. Yes, the world must combat all of those, but when you don’t treat anti-Semitism as the unique form of racism that it is and has always been, you can not overcome it.

While some in Europe have taken a stand against rising anti-Semitism, words will not suffice. Leadership is about action, not statements, and if Europe’s leaders fail to act, then, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this could be the beginning of the end for Europe as we know it. 

Ambassador Ron Prosor is chairman of the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a leading Israeli academic institute. He formerly served as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the United Kingdom.

Tags anti-semitism Anti-Zionism Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump Jeremy Corbyn Politics Racism Religious controversies

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