On Saturday a gunman shot four people dead at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. This was an overtly anti-Semitic attack. A couple of hours later, two Jewish men were savagely beaten as they left the synagogue in Paris. Again they were targeted as Jews. Throughout Europe violent attacks on Jews and the desecration of Jewish sites, notably cemeteries, have been rising sharply for years. But few seem to care.
For this is the racism that seems almost acceptable in some quarters. How often have you seen the Star of David burned in street protests across Europe? Is anything done? Of course not. A recent survey showed that 35% of those in France held anti-Semitic views, in Greece the number was 67%. In Latvia where last month a school proudly hung the word “JudenFrei” – the term used by the Nazis for an area that had been “cleansed” above its doors - the figure was 28%. Against such a backdrop is it any wonder that physical attacks on Jews as well as less overt discrimination is on the increase.
In part this must be down to feelings in some quarters that Israel has over-stepped the mark. I do not hold that view but I am fully aware that others do and their views on the Jewish State may fuel their views on Jews in general. But in the end even if one abhors Israel that can be no excuse for discriminating or persecuting an entire community who share a faith with most Israelis but are not part of that State.
The increase in anti- Semitism in recent years in part comes from our own silence. Amazingly 6% of Europeans have, according to a recent survey, not heard of the Holocaust. A rather larger number believe that the Jews have greatly exaggerated the numbers involved. The ignorant must be made aware of the hard facts.
Six Million Jews died in the holocaust and the holocaust was only made possible by the widespread acceptance and tolerance of anti-Semitism in some countries (notably Germany and Poland) for decades beforehand. Never again must anti-Semitism be acceptable so paving the way for far worse events.
In that we all have a duty. But we have other obligations. In the wake of the events in Brussels only one European leader called the Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu to discuss the death of two of his citizens and the wider issue of anti-Semitism. Gold stars to the Belgian PM who publicly spoke out against anti-Semitism and in solidarity with his country’s Jewish population. Elsewhere across Europe there was silence.
And I suppose we are all silent. How often have you read somewhere or heard some snide comment about the Jews controlling business or Jewish bankers running the world or some other insinuation? Apparently in Eastern Europe 35% of those polled reckon the Jews control global business. It is just not true, the global Jewish population is tiny and controls neither banking nor business. Anyone perpetuating that myth in speech or print lays the groundwork for resentment and ultimately physical persecution.
In responding to the attacks in Belgium all of us should consider in a Pastor Niemoller sort of way “First they came for the Jews and I said nothing.” In order to reverse the trend of increasing anti-Semitism across our continent, we all have a duty to say something, to stand up to expose and to condemn anyone peddling canards about the Jews as well as those who express their prejudices in more overt ways.
As an aside I am sure that some will feel that in many ways the Muslims are the “new Jews” in terms of feeling persecution in Europe. It is a view that I have some sympathy with and discuss at length in the video I recorded at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin last year which you can watch HERE