Jews ‘Stuck In Middle’ In A Changing Europe


Charles Asher Small is founder and executive director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). He is also a fellow at Stanford University and a professor at the Moshe Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University.

ISGAP is an international organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism “on the battlefield of ideas,” striving to study and debate contemporary anti-Semitism as a legitimate area of study. It runs academic programs at several universities — including Harvard and Columbia — and this year launched a two-week program that taught 30 teachers how to create courses on contemporary anti-Semitism. With the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) movement reaching into universities, concert halls and product labeling, we reached out to Small for a Europe-wide perspective. This is an edited transcript.

Q.: There are those who believe that the recent decision of the European Union to require all goods made in the West Bank to be labeled as such is just the first step towards a wider boycott designed to punish Israel. Do you agree?

A: I don’t necessarily agree. I think we have to recognize the BDS movement for what it is — an organized movement out to delegitimize and dehumanize, and for many, eradicate the State of Israel.

At times there is legitimate criticism of Israel, and our response should be nuanced. Sometimes there are allies who want the best for us — it’s a leap to say the EU wants to destroy Israel. But I would strongly urge it — given the rapidly changing dynamics of the Middle East — to adjust its policies to confront this group. Labeling products from the West Bank is not its most pressing issue.

In recent days, two Swedish leaders have claimed that Israel is carrying out extrajudicial killings of Palestinians and that knife attacks in Israel fail to meet the internationally accepted definition of terror attacks. Each later retracted the statements, but what’s going on in Sweden?

The Swedish government is losing all international legitimacy as Jewish citizens are forced to move from urban neighborhoods such as Malmo because they are not safe there any longer. Malmo, in which Jews lived for centuries, has now become basically Judenrein because the extraordinary anti-Semitism and violence there against Jews made them flee. …

After World War II, Sweden established a reputation for social democracy and inclusiveness. But over the last several decades this model appears to be crumbling rapidly and the government should focus on its own problems rather than making bizarre statements that have no grounding in fact or scholarship.

Last summer during Israel’s fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, there were a series of attacks on Jews in several European countries. In Germany, there were cries for Jews to be gassed and burned. One Jewish leader there said it was not just anti-Israel rhetoric but “pure hatred of Jews.”

Today’s anti-Semitism focuses on attacking Jewish notions of peoplehood. For the last two generations, Israel has been delegitimized and denigrated by European and Western intellectuals and journalists. This delegitimization argues that Israel is a racist or an apartheid Nazi state. If this is true, then Jewish communities in the diaspora and young students in liberal university environments who express any connection to Israel and the Jewish people or who have strong religious and cultural ties to the land are vulnerable to the same dehumanization and anti-Semitism. This is an affront not just to Jewish communities and students but also to the very fabric of democratic societies and values.

How do you understand what is happening in the Netherlands, which last year saw a 71 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, including a shopkeeper who turned away a Jewish woman in Amsterdam saying, “We don’t currently sell to Jews.”

The general atmosphere is shifting and when Western countries and leaders engage with radical political Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian revolutionary regime — which advocate as a fundamental ideological principle the eradication of the State of Israel and the killing of Jews — is it any wonder that anti-Semitism is increasing in Europe and in North America?

France’s hard-right, anti-immigrant National Front party just scored some impressive election victories. What does this mean for Jews?

The moderate center is under increasing pressure in Europe. You have the rise of radical Islam there and the silence of the liberal-intellectual-moderate center. That is leading to the rise of the extreme right, and Jewish communities find themselves stuck in the middle between radical elements of the Muslim community, the extreme left and the extreme right. This is most acute in countries like France, Belgium and even the United Kingdom.