In Europe, ‘Islamophobia’ Gets the Headlines — Despite Trailing Antisemitic Violence
When Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel earlier this month, many warned of repercussions and attacks against Jews. And within days, a Muslim man carrying a Palestinian flag shattered the windows of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. Soon after, Muslims in Malmo, Sweden, threw Molotov cocktails at a Jewish cemetery, and chanted, “We are going to shoot the Jews.”
In the days that followed, others burned Israeli and American flags in Stockholm, and a group hurled firebombs into a synagogue during a party for Jewish teens in Gothenburg. “Because of Trump,” a Newsweek headline declared, “People Are Burning Israeli Flags And Attacking Jews.”
But is it really “because of Trump” and the Jerusalem decision?
Historically, controversial developments in Israel and the West Bank have led to anti-Israel protests in Europe’s Muslim communities, and — not infrequently — to violence against Jews. This is hardly surprising, especially given the results of a June University of Oslo study, which concluded that antisemitism in Europe was the highest among European Muslims.
Moreover, while much media focus has been on anti-Muslim violence and so-called “Islamophobia” in recent years, less attention has been given to attacks against Jews, which have been particularly high and significantly more violent. And the situation is only getting worse.
In the United States, for instance, antisemitic incidents increased 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016; in the UK, 2016 witnessed a record number of incidents, up 36 percent over 2015; and in France, where, Newsweek reports, “anti-Semitic roots run deep within some elements of the Muslim community,” 40,000 Jews have fled the country since 2006 due to antisemitic threats and violence. Among those acts of violence: the 2015 terror attack at the Hyper-Cacher kosher supermarket, and the gruesome 2006 kidnapping and torture of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi.
As recently as September, three Muslim assailants held a Jewish family hostage in their own home outside of Paris. “You are Jews,” they told their captives, who included a 78-year-old man and his wife. “You have money.” After beating the elderly man repeatedly, the attackers fled the house with jewelry, credit cards and cash.
This is not to minimize the very real attacks on Muslims in the US and Europe in recent years.
In the UK, for instance, officials counted 224 attacks on Muslims in the month following the Manchester terror attack, and a 40 percent increase in anti-Muslim crimes following the attack on London Bridge. And in Germany, which has seen some of the worst of it, 192 incidents were reported in the second quarter of this year alone, while in 2016, according to the German interior ministry, more than 3,500 incidents took place against Muslims in asylum shelters. By contrast, 2,083 crimes were reported against German Jews.
But there are significant differences between the attacks on Jews and those on Muslims, the most glaring of which is the wide range of their assailants.
While white supremacists perpetrate attacks on Muslims, Jews face violence from both white supremacist and Muslim groups. Not surprisingly, then, according to FBI figures, Jews experience the most hate crimes of all religious groups in the United States — a trend echoed in Canada, France, Australia, and elsewhere. And in Sweden, a New York Times op-ed notes, while antisemitism historically was blamed on right-wing extremists, a 2013 study found that “51 percent of antisemitic incidents in Sweden were attributed to Muslim extremists. Only 5 percent were carried out by right-wing extremists; 25 percent were perpetrated by left-wing extremists.”
But you wouldn’t necessarily know that by reading the headlines.
Following the release of the 2016 FBI report, for instance, Vox announced: “A new FBI report says hate crimes — especially against Muslims — went up in 2016” while CNN stated, “Hate crimes rose in 2016 — especially against Muslims and whites.” And a Guardian report on hate crimes in the UK emphasized attacks on Muslims, yet made no mention of hate crimes against Britain’s Jews.
Also overlooked has been the nature of these crimes: though there is no official, specific data analysis, anti-Jewish incidents worldwide tend to be more violent than those against Muslims. While some UK mosques were firebombed in after the Manchester and London Bridge attacks, for instance, there have been no reported episodes of hostage-taking or murder (such as the 2014 attack on four Jews at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or the beating death of Sarah Halimi last April).
Writing in the Spectator, columnist Brendan O’Neill suggests one possible reason for this: “From Karen Armstrong’s insistence that the deli attack in Paris ‘had nothing to do with anti-Semitism’ and rather was ‘about Palestine’ to various commentators’ claims that anti-Semitism in Europe is the inevitable byproduct of Israel’s antics in the Middle East, many very respectable people now view assaults on Jews almost as a form of protest, as political rather than hateful.”
This could well be true. Or it could be that after a long history of antisemitism, the public — and the writers of headlines — no longer see anti-Jewish hate as being quite as newsworthy, dramatic or important. Or perhaps it is a combination of these.
At the same time, while Israel (or, most recently, Trump’s decisions about Israel) is regularly blamed for inspiring attacks against the world’s Jews, rarely if ever does the media point to the catalysts for assaults on Western Muslims: The Islamist terrorist attacks, often perpetrated by other Western Muslims, that regularly precede them. Instead, accounts of these hate crimes regularly imply that attacks on Muslims are the fault of the attackers and their hate; at the same time, however, they suggest that the abuse of Jews is the fault of the Israelis or the world’s Jews.
Such narratives are not merely hypocritical; they perpetuate, even escalate, the antisemitism that they purportedly expose — and the hate that they purportedly condemn. Hence, in 2015 according to the Oslo study, “around 10,000 Jews left Western Europe for Israel, the largest number to do so since 1948.” And still, the violence continues.
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. Follow her at @radicalstates.