By Marc Jampole
The current wave of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is much more complicated than traditional European hatred of Jews, but it is also much less virulent and much less widespread. Thanks to the efforts of virtually all governments and the European equivalent of the mainstream media, anti-Semitic feelings are marginalized in all of the states of the European Common Market with the possible exception of Hungary.
The complications derive from the split of the population of anti-Semites into two parts, one of which also distrusts and looks down upon the other. I’m talking of course about the growing Islamic minorities and the very small fringe of right-wing anti-Semites who continue the secular anti-Semitic traditions that dominated the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries in Europe. The traditional anti-Semites dislike Muslims as much as or more than they hate Jews.
A further complication is the political situation in the Middle East. Whether inclined to support the countries which supply Europe with oil or disturbed at the growing list of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, a pool of fellow travelers stands ready to join the small fringe of Jew haters at any particular time or to respond to any specific issue involving Jews.
Of course, anti-Semites have always been able to find reasons to hate Jews—first for their supposed role in the death of their god, then for being usurers and the agents of exploitation (e.g., for the Hanseatic League in the Polish wheat fields), and then as the quintessential “other” during the early modern era when racist philosophies dominated so much western thought. Now it’s possible to hate Jews because they support Israel and are equated with Israelis and Israeli policies.
The conflation of Jews with Israel is a mistake made by both Islamic and Christian anti-Semites. Progressive Jews such as me are disappointed when we see disappointment in Israel mentioned as a reason for the rise in anti-Semitic activity. We want the mass media to make a distinction between anti-Israeli opinion, which is often based in fact, and purely irrational Jew-hating.
Unfortunately, no such distinction is made among Jews either, at least in the United States. A major part of the education of Jewish youth in both after-school and day school programs revolves around connecting the Jewish religion and Jewish people with not just the land of Israel, but with the state of Israel as well. There are many programs that bring teens and young adults to the mother land—called “birthright” trips. The indoctrination doesn’t end with adulthood, as synagogues and Jewish federations all over the United States sponsor frequent tours and missions to Israel, all of which contain several appeals for funds to support the Israeli state. The mainstream American Jewish media questions Israeli actions in the occupied lands about as much as the U.S. mainstream media questions the assertion that the Ukrainian situation is all Russia’s fault. In virtually every Jewish setting, Jews are constantly barraged with twin ideological premises: 1) There can be no Judaism without Israel; 2) Israel can do no wrong.
How can we expect those susceptible to the siren song of anti-Semitism not to use every transgression by Israel as a reason to turn against the Jews when they see the Jewish establishment everywhere knee-jerk approval of every Israeli action, no matter how cruel or bellicose? And how can we blame the anti-Semites for hiding behind Middle East politics as their excuse for Jew-hating when we see so many frequent anti-Islamic comments made in the news media by ultra-right and religious Jews?
The easiest way to reduce anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere is for the American and European Jewish establishments to start criticizing Israel when it is wrong and to put real pressure on Israel to settle their differences at the negotiating table, not with armed conflict that sacrifices innocent victims and policies that deny people basic human and civil rights. Splitting anti-Israel sentiment from anti-Semitic sentiment will reduce anti-Semitism as many begin to realize that it’s not inherent for Jewish culture and the Jewish religion to create and enforce apartheid-like conditions or to care little about harming civilians in an armed conflict. Rather it’s the actions of a governing elite hounded by special interest groups and in power for too long that has led Israel to its current predicament. Sounds like what happens all the time in the good old U. S. of A.!
People around the world don’t hate Christians because of American actions in Viet Nam, Central America and Iraq, but many people do hate Muslims because of the actions of a few terrorists and rogue governments such as Syria. That’s wrong, and it’s equally as wrong to hate Jews because of the actions of Israel. But if Jews want this wellspring of anti-Semitism to dry up, their actions must support their belief that Israel does not equal Judaism. And that means criticizing Israel when its bombs indiscriminately, kills masses of children or begins building a new round of settlements in the occupied lands.