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January 16, 2019 9:37 am

Antisemitism Is Alive and Well in Europe — If It Ever Left

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld


European Union flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

Saying that antisemitism is integral to European culture does not make one popular in Europe. This does not change if one notes that articulating this fact is radically different from saying that most Europeans are antisemites.

Still, that claim about European culture is not difficult to prove. In fact, it developed in a dominating Christian environment over more than a millennium. Major incitement against Jews initially stemmed from the Catholic Church. Later, several Protestant churches, including the Lutherans, promoted Jew-hatred. The Holocaust was executed by Germans, with the help of many European Nazi allies — and it was facilitated by the Christian infrastructure of antisemitic feelings in Europe that had accumulated over centuries.

During the Enlightenment and thereafter, leading European thinkers expressed hate against Jews. Voltaire, several German philosophers, early French socialists, Karl Marx, and many others took part in what can only be described as an antisemitic hate fest.

After World War II, many people thought that the Holocaust had taught Europeans a hard lesson. Antisemitism seemed to fade away, especially after some highly-acclaimed movies and other forms of mass media that reached a huge audience.

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Nevertheless, classic antisemitism targeting Jews continued to exist. Polls by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) exposed that the belief that Jews are responsible for the death of Christ is alive and well in Europe — indeed, it was found that 46 percent of Poles, 38 percent of Hungarians, 21 percent of Danes and Spaniards, and 19 percent of Norwegians and Belgians believe this. So do 18 percent of Austrians and Britons, and 16 percent of the Dutch, 15 percent of Italians, and 14 percent of Germans.

Once an attitude is an ingrained part of a culture, it takes a long time to “wash it out.” On the other hand, political correctness made it impossible in recent decades for respectable Europeans to self-define as antisemites. Thus, the hatred mutated in recent decades, and a third major generation of antisemitism developed: anti-Israelism, which targets the Jewish state.

The inroads that this hatred has made in Europe were shown in a 2011 study conducted by the University of Bielefeld in Germany, where it emerged that at least 150 million adult EU citizens agreed with the statement that Israel is conducting “a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

If that were really the case, hardly any Palestinians would still be alive. Yet to the contrary, the number of Palestinians has increased over the past decades. The persistent myth of Jews being responsible for the killing of Jesus has partly mutated into a new myth: Israel committing a non-existent genocide of Palestinians.

In another new mutation of antisemitism, European Jews are nowadays accused of being responsible for Israel’s actions. A December 2018 study by the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that this idea ranks among the most frequent expressions of antisemitism in many European countries. Another aspect of antisemitism in Europe is the return of the word “Jew” as a general curse word. It is also used as an invective by non-Jews against other non-Jews.

State antisemitism against Jews has become marginal in the EU. If one applies the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, however, both the EU and many of its member countries commit antisemitic acts by singling Israel out for discrimination at the UN and elsewhere.

Despite all this, there are hardly any non-Jews pointing out that antisemitism is part of European culture. One of the very few such voices is the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. He has said that antisemitism is entrenched in British culture.

In 2017 at Yad Vashem, he observed that “within European culture, the root of all racism, I think, is found in antisemitism. It goes back more than 1,000 years in Europe. Within our Christian tradition, there has been century upon century of these terrible, terrible hatreds in which one people … [is] hated more specifically, more violently, more determinedly, more systematically than any other people.”

And he is right.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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