Twitter reached its most loathsome depths when, in late July, the hashtags “#HitlerWasRight” and “#HitlerDidNothingWrong” became global trends. It was not so long ago that Hitler was the unanimously agreed upon incarnation of evil. Now, not 70 years after exterminating half of the world’s Jewish population, he is finding a constituency beyond the usual skinheads and Klan holdouts.
In July, hundreds of Jews praying for peace in the Middle East were trapped inside a Paris synagogue. The mob outside — a group of Gaza demonstrators — lobbed bottles and bricks at the facility and shouted, “Death to the Jews!” and “Hitler was right!” “Hitler for president!” was the refrain days later as Gaza protesters rampaged through Sarcelles, a Paris suburb, torching cars and Jewish businesses.
There is, too, the equally insidious embrace of Holocaust denial: “Faurisson is right! Gas chambers are bulls**t!” So proclaimed many of the 17,000 protesters who marched through Paris on January’s “Day of Anger.” Robert Faurisson is a French academic whose “scholarship” includes statements such as “Never did Hitler order or permit the killing of a person because of his or her race or religion.” Who should worry French Jews more: those who deny the first Holocaust, or those who call for a second?
The problem is not restricted to France. In Germany, arsonists threw Molotov cocktails at the Bergische Synagogue in the town of Wuppertal, setting it ablaze for the second time in a century; the first was in 1938, when it was burned to the ground during Kristallnacht. Also last month, Gaza protesters stormed the streets of Berlin shouting, “Gas the Jews!”
In May, four people were gunned down outside the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. In July, a Belgian doctor refused to treat a Jewish woman who had fractured a rib, telling her son, “Send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain.”
Similar events have been reported in Malmö, Sweden. Ask Jews there — if you can find one. In 2012, a Jewish community center was bombed, and now even the sole remaining Jewish kindergarten boasts bulletproof glass.
Swastikas and messages such as “Anne Frank was a liar” and “Jews, your end is near” have recently appeared on the walls and windows of Jewish businesses near Rome’s main synagogue. In Austria, Gaza protesters rushed the field and attacked a visiting Israeli soccer club in July. Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik party won 20 percent of the vote in the country’s general election in April. Supporters of Greece’s Golden Dawn party gathered outside the country’s parliament in June and sang the “Horst-Wessel-Lied,” the Nazi anthem.
Jewish Europeans cannot help but notice. In 2013, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights polled Jews in eight EU member states about their “experiences and perceptions” of anti-Semitism. Of the nearly 6,000 respondents, 66 percent believe anti-Semitism is a problem where they live, and 76 percent say it has worsened in the past five years. Forty-six percent worry about becoming victims of harassment, one-third worry about becoming victims of violence, and nearly one-quarter avoid Jewish events or sites for reasons of safety.
The result is a new exodus — in the words of the famous Jewish Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, “the beginning of the end of European Jewry.” Last year France surpassed the United States to become the world’s second-largest source of Jews emigrating to Israel — just under 3,300. (The largest source is Russia.) That was a 72 percent increase from 2012, and four times as many Jews left for Israel in the first quarter of 2014 as in the same period in 2013. Israeli officials expect France to lose 5,000 Jews this year — the largest emigration of French Jews to the Holy Land since the founding of Israel in 1948. A 2014 poll by the Paris-based Siona, an organization of Sephardic French Jews, shows that 74 percent of Jews in France have considered emigrating because of perceived anti-Semitism. According to the EU poll cited above, 48 percent of Hungarian Jews and 40 percent of Belgian Jews have considered it, too — and those numbers have probably ticked up over the past year.
The causes of these trends — religious hatred, rising nationalist fervor, and antipathy toward Israel — are several, but they are beginning to converge.
#page#Across Europe’s borders in recent years have flooded millions upon millions of immigrants, the overwhelming majority from North Africa and the Middle East. Consequently, the demographic makeup of Europe is changing rapidly. France may be home to Europe’s largest Jewish population (500,000), but it is also home to its largest population of Muslims — some 5 million, just under 10 percent of the country’s total population. Four million Muslims reside in Germany. In Belgium, Muslims constitute 6 percent of the population — but 25 percent of Brussels. As of 2011, one in ten citizens in Malmö hailed from North Africa or the Middle East. Because of migration and birthrates, all of those numbers are projected to rise.
In other words, the protesters coming out in hundreds and thousands to show support for Gaza — often by smashing a Jewish storefront or two — rarely trace their bloodlines back to the France of the Bourbons, or even to that of de Gaulle. The anti-Semitic prejudices that are now not uncommon in the streets of Europe have religious or cultural roots that, until recently, were rare on Europe’s shores.
Which is not to deny that Europe has experienced centuries of anti-Semitism; but the causes have traditionally been different. Small, tight-knit Jewish societies throughout Europe, from which emerged a disproportionate number of the continent’s successful scholars, merchants, and professional men, were convenient scapegoats for demagogues who, keen to capitalize on periods of calamity, aimed to convince the masses that they were oppressed. That strategy characterized the Nazis of the 1930s, and it characterizes Golden Dawn and Jobbik today.
Of note is the way in which the new anti-Semitism of Europe’s immigrants and the “old-fashioned” anti-Semitism of its radical parties are converging. In France’s “Day of Anger” protest, demonstrators also chanted, “Jew: Get out! France is not for you!” — thus laying claim to the national identity of a country to which the immigrant population among them is very new. Meanwhile, last November, Jobbik-party chairman Gábor Vona, on a visit to Turkey, declared that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” Muslims are often anathema to nationalist organizations — the English Defence League, for example — so the merger of the two is telling. If jackboots and yellow stars are unavailable, anti-Semitism can be adapted to the needs of the times.
And then, of course, there is Israel. Certainly there are opponents of the State of Israel who not are anti-Semitic, but they are increasingly difficult to find. The tendency of anti-Israel demonstrations throughout Europe to degenerate into mob violence against local Jews suggests that few distinguish any longer between “the Jewish state” and Jews as such. Even the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, to which a number of American and European businesses, universities, and other organizations have subscribed, often serves only as a socially acceptable veil for anti-Semitic attitudes. Supporters of the movement not infrequently compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to South African apartheid — or even Nazi pogroms.
But the interpenetration of religious and national identity that characterizes Israel is what makes it unique. Few are the critics who lobby for Palestinian repatriation and support Israel’s self-determination as an explicitly Jewish state. A nuclear attack is not the only way to wipe Israel off the map; Israel would be done in, too, by submitting to those who call for it to embrace a Scandinavian-style multiculturalism that seeks something over and above what Israel already guarantees: equal rights for Jews and non-Jews. An Israel that is not Jewish is not Israel.
And an Israel that is not Jewish would offer no sanctuary to Jews persecuted in pluralistic societies elsewhere. The unique character and role of the Jewish people in human history — its social cohesion, its disproportionate contribution to the West’s cultural heritage, its abiding faith in its “chosenness,” its exilic consciousness — has fomented a unique hatred against it. The mere existence of a Jewish state may keep anti-Semitism at a higher pitch, but there is ample reason to believe that Jews around the world would be even more vulnerable without it.
Israel is not committing a holocaust. It is ensuring that another never happens. For Jews facing darkening prospects in Europe, that is a much-needed light.