CST Blog

A "normative" life for European Jewry?

1 May 2014

The below article was written for the International Business Times, following their request for an article on contemporary antisemitism. It appears on the IBT website under the heading,

Antisemitism isn't just a Jewish problem it threatens all of us

The article in full:

This week’s Israeli news headlines made for depressing reading, stating that Jewish life in Europe was “unsustainable” due to rising antisemitism. The headlines were given added power by their timing, which coincided with Yom HaShoah, the annual Israeli and Jewish day of commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust.

The headlines derived from the keynote speech by European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, launching an annual study on global antisemitism, held at Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

In actual fact, Kantor’s words were more studied than most of the headlines. After citing a groundbreaking survey of the experiences and perceptions of Jews in nine European countries, Kantor stated:

Normative Jewish life in Europe is unsustainable if such huge numbers of European Jews are forced to live in fear and insecurity

He continued,

European governments must be pressed to address this issue with utmost urgency.

The survey was conducted by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union, the body that monitors human rights on behalf of all European citizens, providing data to inform governments and help them create policies.

Uniquely, the survey allowed Europe’s Jews to define antisemitism and related threats as they themselves perceive them to be. So, it covered not only antisemitism from open far right racists, but other factors with negative impacts against Jews, including boycotts of Israel and threats to age old religious practises, such as kosher meat and circumcision.

The survey revealed that many European Jews are fearful for their futures. This is not to say that they believe another Holocaust is imminent (or even possible), but rather to say that current trends must be halted if there is to be any meaningful future for mainstream Jewish communal life.

France and Hungary have significantly different political contexts, perpetrators and rhetoric: but the bottom line for Jewish communities in both countries is one of mounting pressure and distress. The same could be said in Sweden, Greece, Belgium, Holland and elsewhere. There are local differences, but the bottom lines are depressingly similar.

In all of this, there is a very interesting disconnect between Jews and much of the rest of society, whereby the nature of modern antisemitism is misunderstood: and is perhaps not even believed to exist.

The Holocaust sits at the heart of this. For many non-Jews, it is a part of history and so, therefore, must antisemitism be also. Furthermore, if antisemitism is a form of racism, and Jews are white, then how can Jews be targeted by racists? Deeper yet, if racism means poverty and disadvantage, then surely the socio-economic position of Jews proves they do not suffer from it.

Indeed, there are some excellent examples of Jewish regeneration in Eastern Europe. Britain provides a case study in Jewish communal self-confidence, with recent growth including new schools, community centres and public celebrations of Chanukah.

Nevertheless, consider the essence of Kantor’s actual words, particularly the use of “normative”, and he is clearly correct. The facts show this. Statistically, there is the EU’s surveying of Jewish experiences and perceptions; and also the supporting data of antisemitic race hate attacks, collected by Jewish communities and (in patches) by local Police.

Rhetoric is harder to demonstrate than actual statistics, but is there for all who care to look. It comes from various political and religious sources, including Christian, Muslim, far right, far left, nationalist, and Islamist. These sources can come plainly against Jews, or more guardedly against “Zionists”: in either case, the hatred still alleges secret control of governments, the media and global finance. Its resilience is shown by its strength in new arenas, such as the New Age movement, or anti-establishment groups, and is widely spread by the Internet and modern social media.

Then, there is what many European Jews regard as the unfair singling out of Israel for special scrutiny, hatred even. Some regard it as antisemitic per se, others as continuing Europe’s old and unhealthy fascination with Jews. When manifest as anti-Israel boycotts, most Jews consider it antisemitic. All of this alongside a continuing terrorist threat requiring security responses at Jewish communal premises throughout Europe, including armed guards at many sites.

No wonder then, that Europe’s diverse Jewish communities struggle to lead a “normal” or “normative” life compared to their non-Jewish neighbours. It remains to be seen if such abnormal pressures can be sustained by European Jews, and if so, for how long. Kantor is absolutely right that European governments must assist. Jews can fight alone, but they cannot win alone and long-term sustainability can only be achieved with allies who appreciate that antisemitism should be opposed both in its own right: and because of the dangers it forewarns for Europe as a whole.

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