European Anti-Semitism Isn’t Muslim Alone
“I came to Europe as an American,” a friend once said to me. “I am leaving as a Jew.”
This was more than 20 years ago; but even then, as an American Jew living in the Netherlands, I knew what he meant. Today, I feel it even more.
Twenty years ago, being a Jew in Europe meant that what non-Jews acknowledged and remembered best about you was your Jewishness, as when a Swiss man I’d met at a party once greeted me at another event some four years later with “Oh, right – you’re the Jewish girl.” When we’d first met, we’d not talked about Jewishness; we’d spoken about art, and the articles I was writing at the time.
These days, the “otherness” of Jews is even more pronounced, as with the well-heeled Dutch woman who told me, at a dinner in 2013 that she could see I was Jewish from my appearance: “You know,” she said. “Large nose, brown hair.” Neither she nor her other elegant friends at the dinner party could comprehend why I took offense.
Or the Swiss woman who acknowledged, a few months back, that yes there had been a Holocaust; but Jews, she said, exaggerated its horrors: “only” 600,000 Jews were killed, not six million. She’d read it on the Internet. (As if 600,000 murdered Jews was somehow, then, okay.)
But unlike the time when my friend left Amsterdam, anti-Semitism in Europe no longer stops with such comments, which usually (though not always) are more a factor of ignorance than actual hate. As a recently released Pew study showed, in 2013, attacks on Jews in Europe reached 76 percent of European cities – the highest of any world region.
And since then, it has gotten even worse: witness the slaughter of four Jews at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May, 2014, and the gunning down of four more at the kosher Hypermarché in Paris this past January. We find it in the attacks on men in kippahs in Brussels, on the home of an Amsterdam rabbi, in the firebombing of a Paris synagogue, in threats against Jewish schoolchildren in the U.K. – which in 2014 experienced the highest level of anti-Semitic attacks ever recorded, including more than 80 physical assaults.
Most of these attacks are not made by Dutch women with Louis Vuitton handbags, or blond Swiss entrepreneurs. They are the work almost entirely of Europe’s Muslims, some of them even born and raised in Paris, in Amsterdam, in Bern or London or Copenhagen or Madrid.
After the killings at the Paris Hypermarche, the world responded with surprise and shock. But to the Jews in Europe, it was hardly a surprise. The truth is we – and they – had all been warned already. The real shock should have been that no one had paid attention.
Or almost no one. In fact, the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia commissioned a report in 2002 to examine the rise in European anti-Semitism – and then, dismayed by their discovery that Muslims in Europe were attacking Europe’s Jews, adjusted the figures, hid the evidence, and published a redacted, falsified report instead. Jewish rights organizations pounded on the redactions until the Center relented, announcing the actual numbers and exposing the growth of anti-Jewish racism and violence among Europe’s Muslim community.
We shouldn’t have had to fight for that.
And yet, the censorship of the report, and the general tendency of Europeans to ignore the problem where they can, is in many ways at the heart of the problem. Indeed, much of the current Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe has been made possible – you could even say “facilitated” – by Europe’s non-Muslim, non-Jewish population, the ones who “know” a Jew by how she looks, the ones who casually explain a businessman’s success with the two simple words: “He’s Jewish.” It is made possible by Dutch soccer fans who support any team that plays against Amsterdam’s Ajax with chants of “all Jews to the gas!” (Prior to World War II, Amsterdam , with its large Jewish population, was known as the “Jerusalem of the West.”)
But it doesn’t just begin there. For years now, teachers in Europe have given up on lessons about the Holocaust, citing threats from Muslim students. (“We know where your children go to school,” a Muslim group wrote in a note to a Dutch teacher in 2003.) No one considers arresting the students and teaching anyway. No one considers beginning classes on the Holocaust (or Jewish history) at a younger age, in primary school, before students might have had their minds poisoned by hatred and lies in their homes and on the Internet.
One can’t help but wonder if the reaction would be the same if we were talking about, say, Algebra or the French Revolution, or, for that matter, Jesus. I suspect not: because really, the Jews and their history have always been somewhat expendable to Europe –that same Europe which nonetheless exists largely as it does thanks to people like Spinoza, or the Jewish patrons of Rembrandt and his circle, or Einstein.
Which explains why, for instance, in 2013, a Dutch-Turkish teenager declared casually on national TV that he was pleased with what Hitler had done, and that the killing of women and children was fine if they were Jewish. (His friends, being interviewed alongside him, nodded their assent.) It explains why “Jew” is currently among most common curse words in the Dutch schoolyard or why Belgian public schools are becoming “Judenfrei,” as more and more Jewish students escape the abuse and threats that they experience there. And it explains why 7,000 French Jews fled to Israel in 2014 alone.
Recently, Dutch author Natascha van Weezel penned a column for Dutch daily de Volkskrant, “Sorry That I Am Not Afraid.” “When you grow up as a Jew in the diaspora,” she wrote, “you are accustomed to Jewish settings are heavily guarded, because they are always potential terrorist targets. That is not just something from the past few months. However harsh it sounds, I would only be concerned if there were no trained bodyguards standing at the synagogue door.”
As a Jew raised in the diaspora of New York City, I found this tragic – and disturbing. Such security is not normal for American Jews. We are not “accustomed” to being heavily guarded. I am sorry Ms. Van Weezel has never known this kind of life. Yet as long as European non-Jews view Jews as “other,” danger will remain the condition of our lives. And as long as Europeans – Jews and non-Jews – accept both “otherness” and danger as the norm, they will be.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West(Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.