BRUCE BAWER: ON EUROPE’S ESCALATING ANTI-SEMITISM
No Hebrew, Please — This Is Europe
I wrote about it here recently: Israel’s ambassador to Denmark and the head of Copenhagen’s Jewish community have both warned Jews in that city that if they don’t want to be roughed up on the street by anti-Semites, they’d better not wear anything that would identify them as Jews – and, for good measure, they should also lower their voices when speaking Hebrew. The other day, in a supremely depressing article for Israel National News, Giulio Meotti provided a round-up of similar developments from around Europe.
For instance: a Jewish theological seminary in Potsdam has asked its rabbis not to wear yarmulkes in public. Pupils at a Jewish school in Berlin have been warned to speak German, not Hebrew, on school trips – and to wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes “so you don’t give stupid people something to get annoyed about.” Jews at Rome’s main synagogue now remove their yarmulkes when leaving services; so do Jews in Malmö, Sweden. A Jewish teacher at an adult education center in Kristiansand, Norway, has been told “that wearing the star could be deemed a provocation towards the many Muslim students at the school.” And so on.
The reason for all this cautious behavior, of course, is to avoid the fate of people like the Paris Metro passenger who, Meotti noted, was recently beaten unconscious by a mob who pegged him as Jewish because he was reading a book by Paris’s chief rabbi.
Even Meotti’s laundry list didn’t come close to covering the full range of despicable anti-Semitic outrages, and reactions thereto, that have occurred in Western Europe of late. One example: in early December, it was reported that in the wake of episodes at Edinburgh University in which an Israeli diplomat was “mobbed” and a speech by Israel’s ambassador was “disrupted by chanting students waving Palestinian flags,” many Jewish students, fed up with the “toxic atmosphere” (and, in some cases, scared to publicly identify as Jewish) had left for other colleges – and other countries.
Meotti is among the few journalists who have been sounding the warning for some time about the rise of Jew-hatred in Europe. The last few weeks, however, have seen a flurry of articles on the topic in relatively high-profile places. Can it be that the see-no-evil approach to this international catastrophe is finally giving way under the increasingly heavy weight of reality?
For example, Haaretz, which in late December ran an article entitled “France’s Jews on High Alert,” followed it up on New Year’s Eve with a piece by one Joel Braunold, who – after recalling that as a Jewish kid in London he found Americans’ and Israelis’ comments about anti-Semitism in Europe “hyperbolic,” ignorant, and almost racist – admitted that Europe does indeed have “a serious anti-Semitism problem” now, and that “the number of safe European capital cities has shrunk to a tiny number.” To make matters worse, Europe’s governments “are not taking the issue seriously”: either they dismiss anti-Semitism as a far-right pathology, or they blame it on Israel. This, Braunold says, won’t do:
As Europe’s demography changes, governments have to start systemically educating their citizens that hating Jews is not ok, and that it is unjustifiable. This means going beyond Holocaust education and getting into touchy, hard topics such as Israel and Palestine. If the hate, fear and loathing come from today’s political situation, states have the obligation to make sure their citizens are not being brought up on a diet of racism. That starts with educating each and every child.
Nowhere in Braunold’s piece, incidentally, does he mention Islam or Muslims. There’s nothing unusual about this, of course: this is the New Reticence, to which millions around the world now devoutly subscribe. Yet I would submit that this reticence – this readiness to acknowledge the offense but not name the offenders – is an essential part of the problem that Braunold claims to be determined to help overcome.
Also on New Year’s Eve, the website of Public Radio International ran a piece headlined “Anti-Semitism a growing problem in France.” Noting that France has Western Europe’s largest Jewish and itslargest Muslim populations, and that the Toulouse school shootings last March were only the most widely reported of “an alarming number of anti-Semitic attacks across France this year,” PRI quoted anti-Semitism expert Sammy Ghozlan as saying that French Jews now “avoid going out late, going to certain neighborhoods, wearing yarmulkes.”
PRI also interviewed a rabbi who travels around France with an imam, meeting young Muslims and trying to talk them out of their Jew-hatred. The rabbi explained that many Muslims justify their prejudice by citing Israel’s purportedly brutal treatment of Palestinians. Curiously – but, alas, not very surprisingly – the rabbi, instead of informing his Muslim interlocutors that they’ve been fed lies about Israel, said that he tells them not to think about Israel, but to focus rather on France. Sigh.
To its credit, PRI didn’t try to hide the fact that the problem at hand is, indeed, anti-Semitic prejudice and violence by Muslims. On the other hand, it did what it could – in familiar mass-media fashion – to spread the guilt around, as it were, making references to intercultural “tensions” and suggesting that the answer lies in “mutual understanding.” Needless to say, anyone who understands Islam understands that those whose mantra is “mutual understanding” just don’t understand at all.
Another article, on December 18, sought to sum up recent developments in Western Europe that have negatively affected people of faith. The authors referred in passing to bans on kosher and halal slaughter and to efforts to outlaw circumcision – matters, in short, of concern to both Jews and Muslims. But anti-Semitic violence? Not a word. Not even the Toulouse massacre rated a mention. On the contrary: the article’s main thrust was that a certain religious group – not Jews – is currently the object of cruel, widespread, and systematic attack:
• “France and Belgium now ban people from publicly wearing full-face veils while Switzerland, the Netherlands, and other European states have debated similar prohibitions. Islamic dress restrictions for teachers exist in some Swiss and German states.”
• “The distinctive dress of conservative Muslims has fueled a fear of ‘the other’ …The increasing restrictions on religious practice and expression in Western Europe both arise from and encourage a climate of intolerance against religious groups, especially those with strong truth claims and vigorous demands on their members. Muslims, in some instances, clearly are being targeted. This increasingly hostile atmosphere in turn triggers private discrimination, and sometimes even violence, against members of these groups.”
The authors’ conclusion: “If the lamp of liberty is to remain lit, Western Europeans must accept that the age of conformity to an official monoculture – secular or religious – is at an end. In the coming year, their countries should embrace their religiously diverse future and accord religious freedom to all.”
Where did this mischievous, duplicitous piece of nonsense appear? In the National Interest, no less. And who wrote it? Two members of an “independent, bipartisan, federal body” called the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF): Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and former American ambassador to the Holy See who was appointed to the commission by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Azizah al-Hibri, a lawyer and philosopher who writes about “women’s issues, democracy, and human rights from an Islamic perspective” and who was named to the commission by President Obama.
In other words, the very arm of the federal government that should be joining Meotti and others in raising the alarm about the crisis of Muslim anti-Semitism in Western Europe would seem to be making a very explicit point of pretending that the crisis doesn’t exist at all – and of pretending, moreover, that the perpetrators of faith-based violence are, in fact, its victims. The grim truth about the plight of Jews in Europe, then, is starting to be articulated here and there – but U.S. authorities are doing their best, apparently, to turn that truth on its head.
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