Do Jews Have a Future in Europe? What about Christians? Are they a “Protected, soon to be, Minority” to Islamists?

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SIMONE RODAN-BENZAQUEN and DANIEL SCHWAMMENTHAL
The Wall Street Journal
June 10, 2014

Just ahead of last month’s European Parliament elections, which saw the rise of far-right and anti-Semitic parties, four people were murdered in the Jewish Museum of Brussels. The shootings underscored that, in addition to political extremism, Europe’s Jews also face the violent threat of jihadists.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French Muslim, was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. He appears to have been radicalized in prison, and is believed to have fought for Islamist rebels in Syria. Like Mohamed Merah, who murdered three soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi two years ago in France, Mr. Nemmouche appears to have mixed gangsterism with radical Islam, anti-Semitism and hatred of the West.

With roughly 1,000 European fighters like Mr. Nemmouche estimated to be in Syria, European Union officials are working to devise better strategies for combating radicalization and detecting the movements of people to and from Syria.

But Europe’s Jews also face almost daily attacks — both verbal and physical. In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of about 650,000, the situation is particularly severe, with 170 anti-Semitic acts reported by the Paris-based Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) and the French Ministry of the Interior in the first trimester of 2014 alone. According to the French League of Human Rights, nearly 50% of all racist acts in France are anti-Semitic, even though Jews represent only 1% of the population.

Such attacks take place in the context of an extremely charged public debate. French comedian Dieudonné has managed not only to popularize an openly anti-Semitic discourse, but to forge the most unlikely of alliances. Though his father is from Cameroon, Dieudonné has united behind him individuals from the extreme right such as Alain Soral, a self-described “national-socialiste intellectual,” National Front founder Jean-Marie le Pen and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.

In nearby Belgium, Laurent Louis—until last month a member of parliament—is trying to reproduce Dieudonné’s mass appeal. In early May, Mr. Louis organized a conference to unite French and Belgian anti-Semites, which the Belgian authorities canceled at the last minute.

Government attempts to silence Dieudonné and his followers by prohibiting his shows have failed, largely thanks to the Internet. Dieudonné’s anti-Jewish YouTube diatribes receive millions of viewers within hours of uploading.

This environment leaves many in the Jewish community, perhaps for the first time since they rebuilt their homes in Europe after the Holocaust, fearing once again for their security and future. Fortunately, some European leaders have begun to grasp the depth of the problem. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has started to put France right.

“Today exists a new form of anti-Semitism that is born in our suburbs,” he said in a radio interview in July 2012. He was referring to young Muslims, as apartment blocks outside French city centers typically house large immigrant communities. At the same time he warned “not to stigmatize fellow citizens notably of Muslim faith.” Mr. Valls went further two years later, in March this year, at a rally against anti-Semitism in Paris. The old anti-Semitism of the French extreme right “is renewed,” he said. “It feeds off hate for Israel. It feeds off anti-Zionism. Because anti-Zionism is an invitation to anti-Semitism.”

So what can governments and civil society in Europe do to combat anti-Semitism?

First, we need more leaders such as Mr. Valls speaking the truth and showing zero tolerance. When demonstrators at so-called “pro-Palestinian” rallies scream slogans like “Hamas, Hamas, Jews into the gas,” as has frequently happened around Europe, political leaders and the media cannot stay silent. Public hate speech must not be tolerated and anti-Semitic acts need to be systematically prosecuted and punished.

Second, not all expressions of anti-Semitism should be fought with the same weapons. Regarding the Muslim community, for example, improving social cohesion is key. Better integrating Muslim Europeans is not only a virtue and a necessity in itself, it can also help lower the susceptibility of these communities to anti-Semitism and radicalization.

It is equally important to empower moderate Muslims. People such as Latifa Ibn Ziaten, whose son Imad was one of the French soldiers murdered by Merah, and who now visits France’s most difficult neighborhoods, speaking to youth groups and trying to steer them away from the influences of anti-Semites and extremists.

Third, more needs to be done early on in the process, before people develop anti-Semitic views. New educational programs ought to focus on this problem, assisting students to recognize prejudices. Youngsters need to learn about the culture, history and religion of other communities, by focusing on similarities and shared values.

Fourth, fighting anti-Semitism at home may also have a foreign-policy dimension. To this day, Saudi and Qatari money is pouring into European mosques, helping to spread an extremist form of Islam. In addition, we know that through satellite television and the Internet, Islamist and anti-Semitic content can easily be accessed in Europe. Much of it is unfortunately produced in the Arab world.

Much is at stake. Anti-Semitism is always symptomatic of a more profound problem in society, something that might start with Jews but will not stop there. So it is not just the well-being and future of the Jewish community in Europe that is at risk, but the very values Europe stands for.

Mrs.Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the AJC Paris office and Mr. Schwammenthal is the director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.

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