Rising concerns over anti-Semitism in the West

Some leaders who have condemned anti-Semitism have come under criticism for alleged hypocrisy.
Sunday 18/11/2018
People hold banners and placards during a protest against fascism and anti-Semitism in New York, on November 10.  (William Volcov)
Rising concern. People hold banners and placards during a protest against fascism and anti-Semitism in New York, on November 10. (William Volcov)

LONDON - There has been a rising concern about anti-Semitism in Europe and North America but some leaders who have condemned the hate crime have come under criticism for alleged hypocrisy.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said there has been a 69% rise in the number of anti-Semitic acts reported in the first nine months of 2018, compared to the same period last year.

Philippe’s announcement coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Nazi attacks November 9, 1938, against Jews in Germany and Austria, often referred to “Kristallnacht” — “the Night of Broken Glass.”

“Why recall, in 2018, such a painful memory? Because we are very far from being finished with anti-Semitism,” Philippe wrote on Facebook.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier marked the occasion by warning against the rise of far-right groups, amid a “new, aggressive nationalism” that “conjures up an idyllic past that never existed.”

Steinmeier’s comments were seen a veiled reference to Germany’s biggest opposition party in parliament, the far-right anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen marked the Kristallnacht anniversary with a warning against a repetition of history. “We must see history as an example of where the politics of scapegoating, incitement and exclusion can lead,” he said. “Let us be vigilant that degradation, persecution and the stripping away of rights may never again be repeated in our country or in Europe.”

Jewish leaders expressed alarm over the apparent rise of hate sentiments.

“It would be impossible to mark this seminal event in Jewish history without noting the frightening climate of anti-Semitism and xenophobia currently spreading across Europe and the United States,” Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told Agence France-Presse.

“The far right is gaining power at an alarming speed and neo-Nazis are feeling emboldened to march in the streets shouting hateful slurs and advocating the most dangerous brands of nationalism and hatred,” he added.

In Poland, Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz banned far-right extremists from marching on the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence. “Warsaw has suffered enough because of aggressive nationalism,” she said.  Gronkiewicz-Waltz said the main organiser of the march was the National Radical Camp, a group that has anti-Semitic roots.

In October, 11 people were killed in an anti-Semitic attack against a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States. In neighbouring Canada, there was a record number of anti-Semitic attacks in 2017. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on all citizens to “stand up against xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist in our communities, in our schools and in our places of work.”

“Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continue at an alarming rate,” he told parliament in a speech in which he apologised for Canada’s refusal to admit Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi Germany before the start of the second world war.

Far-right groups were not the only parties to receive criticism. French President Emmanuel Macron drew condemnation from French Jews after he praised Marshal Philippe Petain, who served France in the first world war but became a notorious Nazi collaborator in the second world war.

“I am shocked by this statement by Macron,” Francis Kalifat, president of CRIF, a leading Jewish organisation in France, told the Associated Press. “Petain was the person who allowed the deportation of 76,000 French Jews to death camps.”

Despite its rhetoric against anti-Semitism, the coalition government in Austria includes members of the far-right Freedom Party, whose list of founders included former Nazis.

In the United States, the Trump administration has been accused of being too soft on, if not tolerating, anti-Semitic views among its supporters despite proclaiming to defend the Jewish self-determination in its support of Israel.

Israel, which is one of the most vocal critics of anti-Semitism and names itself as the Jewish state, has been accused of being more hypocritical than the United States in its stance towards attacks on Jews in the West, particularly if they have been carried out by Islamist extremists.

“Unlike in France, where [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu has repeatedly called for French Jews to leave for Israel in the wake of terrorist attacks, there was no such call after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre,” wrote Mairav Zonszein, a journalist who splits her time between the United States and Israel, in Foreign Policy. “The message seems to be that keeping diaspora Jews safe comes second to fawning over Trump.”

Israel’s right-wing government is being viewed as accommodating to European anti-Semites.

“Aiming to counteract the EU’s critical stance towards the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine, Netanyahu has formed coalitions with right-wing leaderships internationally,” Merav Amir, a lecturer of human geography at Queen’s University in Belfast, wrote in the Conveastion.com website. “He therefore has embraced some of the world’s bluntest anti-Semitic leaders, including Viktor Orban of Hungary and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.”

“It is not only that the Israeli leadership conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, it also increasingly seems to have little to say when faced with the real thing.”