Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Europe: Escalating Anti-Semitism

Date: Tuesday 23 July 2002
Subj: Europe: Escalating Anti-Semitism
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator

There has been a shocking surge of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe since the Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000. Anti-Semitic violence escalated further in early April 2002, corresponding with the Israeli offensive in the West Bank.

Although violence against Jews has been reported from the Ukraine to the UK, France has been the most severely hit, with some 360 anti-Semitic attacks in the first few weeks of April 2002 alone (BBC - see link below) - everything from graffiti and abuse to the firebombing of synagogues. Recent events in the UK and Italy show that the disease is continuing to spread and will not be extinguished without a decisive strategy.


On 19 July, the New York Times (NYT) reported the desecration of the Jewish section of the historic Verano cemetery in Italy. In all, thirty-four graves were desecrated and one coffin was partly ripped open. According to Frank Bruni's article entitled, "Nearly 40 Jewish Graves Are Desecrated in a Rome Cemetery", it was " a chilling scene that marked the arrival in Italy of a wave of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe."

Tullia Zevi, the former president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, is quoted in the NYT article as saying, "I think it's a very complex phenomenon. Is it the old anti-Semitism which has been nurtured for centuries and reached its tragic climax in the concentration camps, or is it something that has a kind of link with the Middle East situation? Whatever the case, our civilization is somehow unable to prevent or counteract this violence." Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lamented, "Italy has a deep-rooted tradition of civility, but not even Rome is immune from the barbarity of anti-Semitism."

An Associated Press article entitled "Culprits Desecrate Jewish Tombstones", AP 18 July 2002, quoted Italian Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini as saying that the desecration "unfortunately shows that our society isn't immune from the risk of new and odious forms of anti-Semitism.'" The new anti-Semitism, he said, is "often masked by a violent criminalisation of Israel." A spokesman for Milan's Jewish community, Yasha Reibman, was also quoted as saying, "in Italy and in Europe, a new, political anti-Semitism is growing, which uses as an alibi all that's happening in Israel."

On Thursday night 11 July, vandals broke into a synagogue in Swansea, South-western Britain. Mike Whine of the Community Security Trust, which oversees security in Jewish communities, told the Associated Press, "There was a big sign saying 'T4,' which we believe is a reference to the Nazi euthanasia program in the concentration camps. Excrement was left, and there was a failed attempt to set fire to the place." According to the Associated Press report, a swastika was daubed in green paint on the rabbi's lectern, an ancient scroll was destroyed and the prayer shawls had been hurled to the floor.

The European governments have been quick to denounce anti-Semitism. On Sunday 21 July, France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, pledged to catch and punish anyone found complicit it anti-Semitic attacks, saying an attack on France's Jewish community is an attack on France.

Not since the end of World War II has Europe seen such aggressive anti-Semitism. The situation is complicated, with the perpetrators coming from various reaches of society - from the political far-right neo-Nazis / anti-immigrant skinheads, and from Muslim immigrants, mostly Arabs from North Africa.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC http://www.wjc.org.il ) charge that while the majority of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have been perpetrated by Muslims, it is Europe's social and intellectual elites that have made Jews and the Jewish state the targets of an intense campaign of public vilification and demonising. The WJC insist that these elites have helped create the present climate where anti-Semitism (cloaked of course behind a self-righteous indignation over Israeli policy) is somehow acceptable and even justifiable. (WJC: see link below)

But surely violence and vilification against Jews is not justifiable on the grounds of Israeli aggression in the West Bank, just as violence against Arab Muslim immigrants could not be justified on the grounds of Palestinian Muslim aggression in Israel.

Once again Europe is facing a moral testing and the way this issue of rising anti-Semitism is handled will certainly direct the future of the continent that some 50 years ago said, "Never again!"

- Elizabeth Kendal

BBC: "Jews warn of rising anti-Semitism" - 23 April 2002

The Word Jewish Congress, Policy Dispatches, number 77 - April 2002
"The 'New Antisemitism': A haunting reawakening of anti-Jewish
violence stirs memories of the Holocaust".