It has been seven decades since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, seven decades of a kind of hatred rehab. Europe has been trying hard to kick its lifelong addiction to persecuting Jews, repeating loudly to itself “Never again, never again,” every few years to keep itself on the wagon. For a while, memories of the gas chambers and the distractions of the Cold War were enough to keep the peace, but today, it seems the welcome break is over. Violent anti-Semitism has again taken Europe by storm as vicious and often unpublicised attacks on Jews and Jewish communities threaten to deal the finishing blow to an already much diminished European Jewry. Genocidal organisations and regimes wield significant and potentially nuclear power in the Middle East, while even the United States, a land which has historically been one of the most open and accepting societies to Jews in the world, is witnessing a growth in hate speech and threats of violence. The Internet makes it easy now for radical and hateful groups to spread their message behind the anonymity and perceived credibility of the World Wide Web. A new generation of Jews may grow up, as their more distant ancestors did, under the constant threat of complete eradication and daily ostracism from a society that simply no longer cares.
The streets of Europe’s great cities have always been hostile environments for Jews. Harassed, shut up in ghettoes, forced to wear identification markers, violently targeted in urban violence; these have been features of the urban Jew’s existence dating back to the Middle Ages. With the near destruction of Europe’s Jewish communities during the Holocaust, one would expect modern, multicultural, progressive Europe to have outgrown such bigoted tendencies, out of shame if nothing else. But twin studies by Israeli journalist Tzvika Klein and British journalist Jonathan Kalmus in cities across Europe have recently revealed the true extent of anti-Semitism on the streets. Walking through Europe’s major cities with nothing to mark them as Jewish but the kippa on their heads, they were subject to constant and intense verbal abuse, stalking, spitting, and other expressions of bigotry wherever they went. Phrases such as ‘Fuck you, little Jew,’ ‘Fight the Jewish scum,’ and even ‘Run, Jew, run,’ were hurled with alarming frequency, just for the very act of walking through the city as a Jew. The hateful trend is not limited to the experiences of the two journalists; in Berlin mobs of demonstrators supporting Palestine were heard to chant ‘Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone.’
Ominously reminiscent as slogans like this are, many leaders, especially on the European left, explain it away as public anger at Israeli foreign policy. That anger certainly exists, but when protest organisers have to specifically ask their followers to refrain from chanting popular slogans like ‘Death to Israel,’ ‘Death to Jews,’ and ‘Heil Hitler,’ it seems to point to something much deeper. Jew hating in Europe is back with a vengeance, witnessed not only by vicious language, but increasing by physical violence.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the subsequent massacre at a kosher grocery store arrested the world’s attention and rightfully so. But the tragic fact oft ignored was this: the only reason the latter incident got the attention it did was that it occurred in conjunction with the former. Virtual media silence followed the vicious murder of four Jews at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, as well as the targeted killing of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse two years before that. Conspiracies of silence are nothing new in the history of European media coverage of anti-Semitism; a similar one was decried by Pope Pius XI during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Jewish cemeteries desecrated, Molotov cocktails hurled at filled synagogues, brutal shootings, all are evidence of the resurrection of a hatred that not long ago was considered socially unacceptable for the first time in history.
Europe is not alone in its resurgent anti-Semitism. The most intense and hateful language against Jews comes from the Middle East, where bigotry has combined with geopolitics in a frightening but all too familiar way. Terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas repeatedly state the eradication of the Jewish people as one of their primary objectives; the Jewish people, mind you, not the state of Israel as many try to spin it. Yemen’s new rulers, the rebel Houthi forces, adopted the phrases “Death to Israel” and “Damn the Jews” as their slogan. However, the greatest threat lies in Iran and its nascent nuclear program. Despite the attention given to Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous fatwa against nuclear weapons, the true attitude of Tehran towards weapons of mass destruction was revealed by former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (a ‘moderate’) when he characterised Israel as a ‘one-bomb country.’ Even if the Iranian regime’s genocidal tendencies were not carried out, the arms race resulting from Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would obliterate any remaining semblance of stability in the area and spread the existential threat to Jews across the entire region.
Clichéd though it may be, the repetition of history is one of the greatest analytical tools available to us. Ignoring the vicious violence and hateful language against Jews in Europe and elsewhere not only shows a willful ignorance of history, but endangers an entire civilisation. Israel and the six million Jews living there are living reminders of the horrors of genocide. Since the Holocaust, the international community’s record on genocide prevention hardly inspires confidence. Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Sudan, all can attest to the bloody cost of turning a blind eye to history. Hitler had the most powerful military in Europe and managed to murder six million Jews over seven years. Today’s wannabe mass murderers not only have the greatest communication platform in human history in the Internet, but sympathetic governments on the cusp of nuclear weapons. How long would it take them to achieve similar numbers to the Holocaust? Anti-Semitism may go back millennia, but it has never been more dangerous than this moment.