A young French Jew is kidnapped, tortured and left to die by a band of Muslims. An arson badly damages Geneva’s largest synagogue. A 13-year-old girl on a London bus is robbed and kicked unconscious after her attackers ask if she is “Jewish or English.”
Anti-Semitism in Western Europe apparently is out of control.
That is the consensus of a dizzying array of recent reports, the latest of which was released this week at a conference combating discrimination under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Representatives of dozens of European governments were expected at the June 7-9 meeting in Bucharest, Romania, a follow-up to a 2005 conference of the OSCE conference on anti-Semitism in Spain.
The 2007 Hate Crimes Survey by the U.S.-based organization Human Rights First goes beyond the data included in many of the studies to suggest that most European governments are woefully inept at measuring and thus prosecuting hate crimes.
Human Rights First says the survey is the first by a U.S. non-governmental organization to examine racist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-religious crimes in Europe. While the report includes analysis of Russia, Ukraine and even North America, the focus is on Western Europe.
It is also the only one of the recent reports to raise the specter of a Europe teetering on the verge of a Hitler-era epidemic of racist hatred.
“Today the parallels with the 1930s include the seeming indifference of many governments and broad sectors of public opinion to the rising violence and fear that once again threatens European Jews, and with them members of other minorities,” says a separate, companion report that focuses exclusively on anti-Semitism.
“As it did in the 1930s, the reactivation of ancient prejudices and the transformation of new hatreds into deadly violence have been largely overlooked outside the Jewish community,” the report concludes.
In mos t European countries, “anti-Semitic violence and other hate crimes still are largely unacknowledged in public policy and action,” according to the survey by Human Rights First, formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Paul LeGendre, who directs the anti-discrimination program for Human Rights First, told reporters from the group’s New York office, “One of our findings is that governments are not doing enough to report on hate crimes. We have a sizable data deficit.”
The companion survey says that the data that has been collected “reveals both a general trend toward a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and a trend toward violent crimes against Jewish people in a growing proportion of such incidents.”
The analysis comes just weeks after a May 24 fire that badly damaged the largest synagogue in Geneva. The fire was labeled as arson several days later, sending shock waves through Swiss Jewry.
Many Jews are also protesting anti-Semitism they say is disguised as criticism of Israel throughout Western Europe. The latest examples come from Britain: the proposed boycott of Israeli academics, which the largest British teachers union voted last month to disseminate to its membership for a final decision, and the country s largest trade union, with more than a million members, deciding to consider a boycott motion on Israel at its upcoming conference.
Reports issued since Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer and widely covered in the international media showed a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents, rhetoric and attitudes in the 27-member European Union.
The picture, however, may be more complicated as anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment have spilled over into what some hope are only cyclical rises in hostility based on world events and not on actual antipathy to Jews. Similar spikes occurred during the first and second Palestinian uprisings.
But others argue that anti-Israel and anti-Jewish behavior have become indisti! nguishab le.
As tensions flare in the Gaza Strip, European Jews may be wondering whether this summer will repeat last year’s record number of attacks against them, their synagogues and their cemeteries.
In an Anti-Defamation League survey on European attitudes toward Jews released in early May, 51 percent of respondents in five countries said Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home country, and 52 percent said Israel’s actions have lowered their views of Jews.
European leaders are now discussing, with Israel s participation, how to improve the country s image.
A European Jewish Congress report issued last November revealed a dramatic rise in anti-Israel discourse during the Lebanon War both among leftist politicians and media in Europe, as well as on the extreme right. The discourse, the report said, often morphed into anti-Jewish sentiment.
For Ilan Moss, author of the report, this trend was illustrated best when someone anonymously laminated a Guardian newspaper photo of victims from the Israeli airstrike in Qana that killed 28, including 16 children, and taped it to the front of a London synagogue.
“The message was clear: You Jews are responsible for this massacre,” Moss said.
Other reports recounting violent anti-Semitic incidents in 2006 by specific Jewish communities revealed an upsurge in attacks and the desecration of Jewish sites not seen in decades.
Among the developments:
* In Britain, the Community Security Trust reported the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since it began monitoring in 1984, with a 60 percent increase in the second half of the year after the Lebanon War. There were 594 anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in 06, up 31 percent from 2005, according to the group that monitors anti-Semitism in Britain on behalf of the country’s main Jewish organization, the Board of Jewish Deputies.
Explaining at least one cause of the jump, CST spokesman Mark Gardner complained ! of the m edia’s ongoing portrayal of Israel in a negative light.
“If people think Israel is a mad, bloodthirsty, apartheid state, they will think those who support Israel should be socially isolated, boycotted and perhaps even deserve a good kicking now and then,” Gardner told JTA.
* In France, the country’s main secular Jewish umbrella organization, CRIF, recorded a 24 percent rise in anti-Jewish incidents in general, to 371 from 350, and a 45 percent increase in violent incidents, to 99 from 72.
Perhaps no attack was more representative of the trend toward anti-Semitic violence in Europe than the January 2006 torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a Jewish student in Paris, by a gang dominated by African Muslims. The gang leader was quoted in the French press as having singled out Halimi because he thought Jews have money.
* In Germany, the government recorded 1,024 anti-Semitic acts, a 21 percent increase from the previous year.
The German media has been full of reports about how Jews for the first time in decades will not wear yarmulkes in public for fear of their safety. In Berlin alone, violent neo-Nazi attacks doubled last year, although Jews were not the lone targets.
A 16-year-old in the former East German state of Saxony Anhalt who raised his voiced against racism in October was forced by classmates to wear a sign that read, “I’m the nastiest swine in town; with the Jews I always hang around.”
* In Denmark, the Jewish community announced that there were as many anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2006 as in all of 2005, with most aimed at Jews on their way to or from synagogue or a Jewish school.
Putting all of the country reports together in April, Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism reported that of the 590 cases of anti-Semitic violence reported worldwide in 2006, 324 were recorded in Western Europe.
The report attributed the high num! bers to the war in Lebanon, calling it probably the main trigger for the intensification of anti-Semitic manifestations in most countries of Western Europe.”
But the war was not the only catalyst, Gardner said.
“It’s also 9-11 and Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. There is a larger anti-Semitic mythology at play here, he said.
When you preach hatred about Zionists and Israel, that hatred has an impact on those who are visually Jewish, or cemeteries or synagogues,” Gardner said, referring to the increasing number of leftist and Muslim extremists.
In evaluating the number of incidents, consider that there is no consistent system of monitoring anti-Semitic events across Europe. Each community brings a different approach, and the culture affects how and why people report events.
“There is a dire need for serious monitoring, Europe-wide, for all forms of hate crimes, said Gidon Van Emden, policy officer for CEJI-A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, a Brussels-based coexistence group founded in 1991. In some countries it’s good, in some it’s bad and in some there is nothing in place.”
Van Emden said the British numbers are so much higher than elsewhere in Europe “because the CST and the police are so serious about it. They are serious about finding out what is going on in the street.”
In many European countries, however, the Jewish community and the police issue separate reports and do not cooperate well.
Van Emden said comparisons with the United States were ill advised.
“Neo-Nazis can march openly in the U.S., whereas in most of Europe they are limited by anti-racist laws, so the types of anti-Jewish activities that occur are very different,” he said.
Van Emden’s criticism of monitoring was backed by the 2006 Annual Report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which concluded that Finland and the United Kingdom were the only European Union members with “comprehensive” ! criminal justice data on racist crimes.
As the Human Rights First analysis of anti-Semitism makes clear, among the seven countries in Europe that do monitoring, much of the information is gleaned from non-governmental and Jewish organizations, taking governments off the hook.
Who’s committing the crimes?
Anti-Semitism stings particularly hard in Europe because the shadow of the Holocaust looms heavily over every act of hatred toward Jews on the Continent. But Jewish communities today are alert to threats from Europeans whose grandparents were in the Middle East or Africa when Hitler came to power.
According to the Roth report, “The proportion of Muslims among the attackers” in anti-Semitic assaults documented in 2006 “is far higher than their share in the population at large.”
Some 20 million Muslims live in Europe, and their numbers are growing much faster than the non-Muslim population.
In Britain, for instance, while the majority of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom last year were committed by non-Muslims, Muslims were disproportionately represented as perpetrators, said the CST s Gardner.
“When we look at the demography of Muslim communities in some European countries, we see there are potential problems, he said. That’s not to say all Muslims are anti-Semitic — far from it.”
Gardner said Muslim anger is often whipped up by “Islamic groups with the international agenda like the Muslim Brotherhood who say that Muslims are all facing an existentialist threat led by America and Israel.”
Moss of the EJC said that until there was total peace in the Middle East, addressing anti-Semitism in Western Europe “is about Jewish kids and Muslim kids being thrown together and fostering a positive connection. I think European governments need to work on that more.”
For Van Emden, the idea that Middle East peace is a prerequisite to ending anti-Semitism in Europe is absurd.
“T here is plenty of anti-Semitism that has nothing to do with the Middle East,” he said.
Van Emden argues that the European Union has not done enough to make anti-Semitic acts a crime, which he believes would make potential perpetrators think twice.
He said the recent enactment of the first European-wide hate crimes law was a failure because it gave countries too many ways to opt out and so many exceptions that the legislation has no teeth.
“So now you can say death to Orthodox Jews, not death to Jews, and get away with it, Van Emden said. If I attack a black lesbian and say it was because she was lesbian, I will get away with it.”
Even in countries with more severe punishments for hate crimes, Human Rights First contends that “in the majority of cases, criminal justice systems neither track nor effectively prosecute bias crimes, while timely, accurate, and public information on these crimes is the exception, not the rule.”
The group accuses governments of indifference, prejudice or political expedience when confronting hate crimes.
In its hates crimes report, Human Rights First offered a 10-point plan to combat crimes motivated by anti-Semitism, racism, Islamaphobia and homophobia.
The group urged government leaders to publicly acknowledge and condemn hate crimes, enact specific laws enhancing penalties for such crimes, strengthen prosecution of offenders, improve monitoring, ensure adequate resources to deal with trigger events and create specific anti-discrimination bodies.
The suggestions pertain to all hate crimes but still, Jewish leaders attending the OSCE meeting in Bucharest are especially pleased that Human Rights First, a well-respected advocate for refugees and other victims of discrimination, is paying so much attention to anti-Semitism in Europe.
“This is a model I’d like to see other human rights groups replicate,” said Ken Jacobson, the Anti-Defamation League’s deputy national director. “You! have a respected human rights group that is sending the message to the world that this is a serious issue and you’ve got to pay attention to it.”