Human nature never disappoints in its capacity to dismay. The fact that, six decades after Auschwitz, there is, once again, anxiety about rising anti-Semitism in Europe is proof enough of that. Vandalized synagogues, desecrated graveyards, torched schools, tales of beatings, bullying, and thuggery in the streets bring a touch of the pogrom to 21st-century headlines. And then there are all those words, speeches, articles, and opinion pieces in the better papers. They are subtler than 60 years ago, with a more discreet viciousness, carefully calibrated and coded, no Stürmer stridency, no conspiratorial Protocols, just hints and insinuations–well sometimes a little more than that–of something altogether more primitive.
In Holland, for example, there’s Gretta Duisenberg, grim Wim’s grimmer wife. Until recently, old Wim was in charge of the European Central Bank, busily presiding over economic stagnation and a destructive interest-rate policy. Compared with Gretta, however, he was a paragon of good judgment. Asked how many signatures she hoped to gain for a petition calling for economic sanctions on Israel, the charming Mrs. Duisenberg laughingly settled on this number: Six million.
A coincidence, she said later. Perhaps, but Europe has recently seen quite a few such coincidences, evidence, it is alleged, that the lessons of the Holocaust have yet to be learned in the continent that gave it birth. The thought that an old evil may be about to return is disturbing, but, for some, it’s an image that is as convenient as it is frightening. To Europe’s Left, the specter of the Third Reich has long been useful political theater, a bloody brown shirt to wave at its opponents and, these days, a handy device for suppressing any attempt at serious debate over mass immigration. Take Pim Fortuyn. He was a libertarian free spirit, but, for his comments on immigration and multiculturalism, he found himself denounced as a “xenophobe” and, mark of Cain, a “fascist.” End of discussion and, as it turned out, end of Fortuyn too.
Meanwhile, to some Americans, particularly on the right, the notion of a Europe flirting with the worst of its past fits in nicely with their portrayal of a continent as depraved as it is decadent. Think back to the dramas of earlier this year. With the grotesque spectacle of the French foreign minister cynically articulating the case for “peace,” what better way to puncture his country’s pretensions of moral superiority than to focus on the apparent reappearance of anti-Semitism in the land of Dreyfus, Laval, and Le Pen? Anti-Semitism is bad enough in its own right, but it is also the sin forever associated with Vichy’s moral squalor. To highlight its rebirth, particularly at a time when France was under fire for deserting old allies, was a useful way for Chirac’s critics to conjure up memories of the period in French history with which it is usually associated, that epoch of white flags, a railway carriage at Compiegne, and, at times, all-too-enthusiastic collaboration.
And to complete that picture of treachery, betrayal, and capitulation, who should turn out to be France’s closest ally in the struggle against U.S. “hegemony”?
Bringing this shameful era into the debate may have proved an effective, and not entirely unfair, tactic but it runs the risk of reducing the discussion to crude (if entertaining) stereotypes (full disclosure: I’ve done a bit of this myself). In reality, France’s policy in the face of Baathist tyranny and Islamic extremism has been, like Vichy, a fascinating blend of spinelessness and realpolitik, repellent but more complicated than just another display of cowardice by a nation of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
While it is, alas, true that Europe has seen some recurrence of “classic” (if that’s the word) anti-Semitism, the idea that the continent is somehow moving towards a repetition of the nightmare of 60 years ago is an exaggeration even more absurd than France as chicken supreme. For proof, look no further than the furor over what is still a relatively small number of violent incidents. Despite this, however, there can be no doubt that something wicked is indeed afoot. To understand it, we should look closer at two topics often obscured by propaganda, prejudice, and political correctness. The first is European attitudes towards Israel, the second, extremism among Europe’s Muslim population.
When a recent opinion poll found that nearly 60 percent of EU citizens believed that Israel was a threat to world peace, comfortably ahead of those doves in Pyongyang (53 percent), it seemed yet more proof that an old virus was already abroad in the land. Perhaps, but check the numbers and you’ll see that the U.S. (also on 53 percent) was rated as just as dangerous as crazy little Kim. That’s ludicrous too, of course, but it’s evidence that this polling data reflects not gutter prejudice but something almost as insidious: Europeans’ desire to accept any compromise so long as it could buy them a quiet life–at least for a while.
It’s an attitude that used to show itself in the argument, once popular among large sections of the European Left, that there was a broad degree of moral equivalence between the Cold War’s American (Holiday Inn, McDonalds) and Soviet (Gulag, mass graves) protagonists. It’s an attitude that regards “peace” (that word again) as a good that trumps all others–so when Israel is labeled the worst threat to world peace, or the U.S. and North Korea are described as being as dangerous as each other, it shows only that Europeans, left powerless by years of relative decline, falling self-confidence, and shrunken military budgets, have realized that both Israel and America are more interested in self-defense than suicide. That these two countries may be fully entitled to take the positions they do is, naturally, quite irrelevant.
This is the context in which Ariel Sharon has taken to talking about “a great wave of anti-Semitism,” but Americans–and Israelis–need to acknowledge that it is quite possible to be critical, indeed severely critical, of current Israeli policies without being in any way anti-Semitic. Indeed, even when they are manifestly unreasonable, contemporary European attitudes to Israel are generally best seen not as anti-Semitic, but rather as an extension of that self-loathing that seems increasingly to define Western cultural and political life. Go back to the 1960s and an impressed and remorseful Europe tended to see Israel as a plucky little country, filled with the survivors of the worst that Europe could do to them, cheerily working on their cheery kibbutzim to build a cheerily collectivist future that would in itself be a living rebuke to the reactionary attitudes that had made the Holocaust possible.
Prompted in no small part by Soviet propaganda efforts, that attitude began to change, particularly after the Six Day War and, even more so, in the wake of the 1973 conflict. Conveniently, some might say, in the light of OPEC threats to Europe’s oil supply, Israel came to be seen as the oppressor, not the oppressed, a colonialist, “racist” (evil Zionists!) outpost of European savagery, rather than a refuge from it. As such, condemnation of Israeli policy was not so much an expression of European disdain for “the Jews” as yet another manifestation of Europe’s hatred for itself. Combine that sentiment with today’s televised images of the hard-line response of the Sharon government to the revived Intifada and it’s easy to see that the anger now directed at Israel was almost inevitable.
But if it’s a mistake to attribute all this hostility to anti-Semitism, it is also a mistake that to deny that European vituperation of Israel has now reached such a level that it may be tapping the wellsprings of a very ancient psychosis, as well as, it should also be admitted, the more “modern” anti-Semitism long associated with Europe’s hard Left. Under these circumstances, it is unfortunate, to say the least, that so much of the imagery and the language used by Europe’s harsher critics of the Jewish state recalls the anti-Semitism of an earlier era. Coincidence? Doubtless Mrs. Duisenberg would say so.
It is unlikely, however, that there can be any such merciful ambiguity (however stretched) about the curious behavior of the EU’s “Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia,” an organization that, appropriately enough given its rather Orwellian name, allegedly decided to shelve publication of a report commissioned from Berlin Technical University’s highly respected Anti-Semitism Research Institute on the causes of the increased number of attacks on Jews in Europe. Why? The institute had come up with the wrong answer.
Naturally, that’s not the center’s explanation. Under intense pressure from its critics (which, with characteristic arrogance, the center is trying to spin as evidence of “how important and sensitive [its] work is”), it has now released the draft report on its website, while continuing to maintain that it is not “fit for publication.” It is, they sniff, “neither reliable nor objective,” This is a stance in line with its earlier claims that the report was of “insufficient quality,” a view, unsurprisingly, the institute rejects. In essence, the Berlin researchers argue that the real objection to their report, which found, plausibly enough, that young Muslims (particularly immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa) were responsible for much of the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, was its lack of political correctness.
This rings true. The EU pursues a relentlessly multiculturalist agenda. Under these circumstances, the publication of data showing that young Muslims, rather than old Nazis, ought to be starring in Brussels’s morality play was highly awkward. Inconvenient reality had, therefore, to be changed, or at least ignored, no big deal for a fraudulent (in all senses) “Union” that has long shown its contempt for the marketplace, the nation, history, tradition, and democracy.
So, it’s no surprise that the EU’s hacks (“independent experts…in the field of racism and xenophobia”) repeatedly (according to the Daily Telegraph) attempted to persuade the Berlin Institute to tone down its conclusions. To its credit, the institute refused and we have seen what happened next. To the EU, combating anti-Semitism, it seems, is less important than preserving the dangerous illusions of multiculturalism, and, probably, recognizing the demographics of a Europe where there are more Muslims to appease than Jews to protect.
As a symbol of the dishonesty and confusion that surrounds this issue, that’s hard to beat, but in the meantime, France’s chief rabbi is concentrating on more practical matters. He’s advising young Jews to wear baseball caps rather than skullcaps. Wearing a yarmulke, apparently, might make them a target for “potential assailants.”
Not that Brussels would care.