BERLIN, Dec. 1 (JTA) — The study that the European Union’s Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia commissioned was prompted by a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe that intensified in the spring of 2002. The report was suppressed, allegedly to avoid offending Europe’s large Muslim communities. The European Jewish Congress obtained a copy of the report and released it Monday. These are among its findings: • The incidents under examination “were tied to public discussion on the dividing line between legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy and anti-Semitic argumentation.” • In many cases, perpetrators of attacks could not be identified. But in cases where they could, the attacks “were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims mostly of Arab descent, who are often themselves potential victims of exclusion and racism.” • Attacks such as desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, painting of swastikas, sending of threatening and insulting mail, and Holocaust denial generally were attributable to the far-right. • Physical attacks on Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues often were committed by young Muslims. Many of these attacks occurred during or after pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which also were used by radical Islamists for engaging in verbal abuse of Jews. In addition, radical Islamist groups were responsible for placing anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and in Arab-language media. • On the extreme left-wing scene, anti-Semitic remarks were made at pro-Palestinian and anti-globalization rallies and in newspaper articles that used anti-Semitic stereotypes in criticizing Israel. This combination of anti-Zionist and anti-American views formed an important element in the emergence of an anti-Semitic mood in Europe, the report found. Israel — portrayed as a capitalistic, imperialistic power — the “Zionist lobby,” and the United States are depicted as evildoers in the Middle East and as a negative influence generally on world affairs. More difficult to record and evaluate than “street-level violence” against Jews is “salon anti-Semitism,” which is found in “the media, university common rooms and at dinner parties of the chattering classes,” the report said. In public debate on Israeli politics, individuals who are not politically active and do not belong to the far-left or far-right often voice latent anti-Semitic attitudes, the report found. Opinion polls show that in some European countries, a large proportion of the population harbors anti-Semitic attitudes and views, but they usually remain latent. Observers point to an “increasingly blatant anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim media,” including audiotapes and sermons, in which the call is made to fight Israel and Jews across the world. Though leading Muslim organizations sometimes express opposition to such propaganda, calls for the use of violence are assumed to influence readers and listeners. The report also discusses the media’s possible influence on the escalation of anti-Semitic incidents. The question is whether such escalation is due merely to daily coverage of Israeli-Palestinian violence or whether the reporting itself had an anti-Semitic bias. One study of the quality German press concluded that the reporting concentrated greatly on Israeli military actions and was not free of anti-Semitic cliches, but negative views also were applied to Palestinians. The report on Austria found anti-Semitic allusions in the far-right press. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, some Europeans argued that Islamist terrorism was a natural consequence of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for which they held Israel alone responsible. They also believe Jews have a major influence on America’s allegedly biased, pro-Israel policies. This nexus is where anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes could converge and conspiracy theories about “Jewish world domination” could flare up again, the report said. The assumption of close ties between the United States and Israel provides further incentive for harboring anti-Semitic attitudes. Especially on the political left, anti-Americanism is closely bound up with anti-Zionism. Additionally, dovish activists, globalization opponents and some Third World countries view Israel as aggressive, imperialist and colonialist. Such criticism is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but the report found that there are exaggerated formulations in which criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, such as when Israel and the Jews are accused of replicating Nazi crimes. The tradition of demonizing Jews is in some sense now being transferred to the State of Israel, the report found. In this way, traditional anti-Semitism is translated into a new, seemingly more legitimate form, which could become part of the political mainstream in Europe. The report said, “It can be said that the threatening nature of the situation, in particular for the Jewish communities, arose because in most of the countries monitored the increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks, committed frequently by young Arabs/Muslims and by far-right extremists, was accompanied by a sharp criticism of Israeli politics across the entire political spectrum, a criticism that in some cases employed anti-Semitic stereotypes.” Educational campaigns targeting Muslims, which include such arguments as burning “a synagogue is like burning a mosque,” have encouraged dialogue, the report found. For example, a local Muslim group in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, lent its school bus to a local Jewish school after its buses were destroyed in an attack.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.