Europe’s Empty Words on Antisemitism
by Manfred Gerstenfeld
This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day was preceded by what might be called “European antisemitism worrying week.” Leading European politicians issued many statements saying that antisemitism is serious and should be fought, but without specifying the detailed measures they will take to do so.
In Brussels, the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said: “Antisemitism is an ongoing issue. Violence against Jewish communities in Europe is increasing.” He added that, to his deepest regret, “Jews are continuing to leave Europe because they feel unsafe. This is unacceptable. We must act and react. We must reach out to citizens, in particular young people. They are the future of Europe.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that it is the obligation of every individual “to bear responsibility that there is zero tolerance against antisemitism, hostility of humans, hatred and racist folly.” But this does not reflect her government’s immigration policies, which let in thousands upon thousands of immigrants from Muslim countries where antisemitism is a profound phenomenon in their societies.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote the following in the daily Die Welt: “Right populist provocateurs relativize the Holocaust. They know that such a break of taboo leads to major attention. People of the right give the Hitler salute. Young men’s kippahs are torn from their heads. Jewish children are insulted.”
But Maas did not write about the fact that many of those who attack Jews are Muslim immigrants and their descendants. In one horrible antisemitic incident in a Berlin school, a Jewish pupil named Oscar Michalski was harassed and insulted. A Muslim student there shot at him with a realistic looking gun. He was also reportedly strangled to unconsciousness.
On another occasion, Maas said that he entered politics “because of Auschwitz.” But attacking one major group of antisemites while remaining silent about another is partial whitewashing of antisemitism.
Last week, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin made a diplomatic visit to France. In a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, Rivlin remarked that in the first nine months of 2018, there was a 69 percent increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in France. Macron said, “Antisemitism is absolutely opposed to our values and everything our democracy represents.” He added: “We will never accept any violence or intimidation in our country. We will do everything we can do to ensure that antisemitism is eliminated.” Yet France has not even adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
If there was really a wish to address the issue of antisemitism in the Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, the following could have been said: “Antisemitism goes against many European values, yet antisemitism has been enshrined in European culture far longer than all these values. European countries should also check immigrant attitudes and block those who are antisemites. All European countries and the EU should adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. All European countries should have antisemitism commissioners.”
To provide a little counterweight to the excess of words and shortage of action announced by other leaders, one European leader said what should be said on a special occasion. Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz told Mohammed Mahathir, the arch-antisemitic Malaysian prime minister, that any form of antisemitism in Malaysia or anywhere else is unacceptable.
The best news around International Holocaust Remembrance Day came from elsewhere. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, because the country was unable to guarantee that Israeli athletes could compete.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.