The spectre of anti-Semitism once again hangs over Europe. The news coverage of early 2015 has been overshadowed by two shootings, in Paris and in Copenhagen, which involved attacks on Jewish places (namely a kosher supermarket and a synagogue).
Europe is in danger of reverting to an ugly old habit – ‘a return to the European norm,’ according to Charles Krauthammer on Fox’s Special Report at the end of January. Serial opportunist/Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since called for Jews to go ‘home’ to Israel. This was widely criticised, including by Denmark’s chief Rabbi Jair Melchior, but where is this new wave of anti-Semitism coming from?
There has in fact been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, as documented by the Community Security Trust (CST), a research group seeking to represent British Jews. This has led to almost 11% of Britain’s 300,000-strong Jewish population considering emigration, a survey for the Jewish Chronicle found. The CST report describes a 118% rise in anti-Semitic crimes in the United Kingdom in 2014 from the previous year, which coincides with a number of political happenings:
The hard Right is on the rise throughout Europe. The French party Front National looks as though they have a chance of winning the presidential election in 2017; The Dutch Party for Freedom, The Finns Party and Flemish Interest are all making inroads towards influence, and all parties have made strained (and often failed) efforts to distance themselves from the overt racism of their supporters. The same is not true of Golden Dawn in Greece, who came third in the recent general election, winning 17 seats with 6.3% of the vote. They are openly neo-Nazi.
“The CST report describes a 118% rise in anti-Semitic crimes in the United Kingdom in 2014 from the previous year”
Just like during the 1930s, austere governmental spending is breeding hatred. Disaffection with the centre pushes people towards the ends of the political spectrum, seen most clearly in Greece, where austerity has been applied particularly heavily, with Golden Dawn and the left-wing Syriza. Generally, radical left movements are less popular than their right-wing counterparts, with Podemos in Spain being the other most notable exception.
This is also true in the UK, although the shift towards extremes has been milder. The British National Party is now largely irrelevant, but the populist Right party UKIP are polling at an average of 15%. Other right-wing movements are less easy to trace, as they are less politically conformist. Britain First is the most-liked political party on Facebook and, although they do field candidates for election, they do not push very strongly for votes. New British fascism is almost anti-political.
These new movements do not focus their hatred on Jews as they may have done in the past. Britain First and the similar organisation the English Defence League pay more attention instead to Muslims. Even though a UKIP MEP views Jews as “collateral damage” of their policies, their focus is more generally anti-immigrant. Leader Nigel Farage famously told LBC host James O’Brien that he didn’t want Romanian neighbours.
“Disaffection with the centre pushes people towards the ends of the political spectrum”
Fascism has less to do with Judaism now than ever in its history, but anti-Semitism is still on the rise. Perhaps this is due to other factors. A Chatham House survey has revealed that 35% of British people view Israel unfavourably – more than Iran, and only less than North Korea of the countries from outside Europe. The author suggests that this may be due to the study taking place during August 2014, when Israel’s offensive on Gaza was prominent in the news. Given many people’s propensity to conflate things that they ought not to, perhaps Israel’s bad PR ends up colouring popular perception of Jews on a wider scale.
Linked inexorably to suspicion of Israel is conspiracy theory culture. The pseudo-left in Britain, many of whom may hold David Icke as their prophet, has long held Israel to be the centre of global plots, and might never excuse its close relationship with the US government.
The attacks in Copenhagen and Paris were anti-Semitic, and are indicative of the broad problem in Europe of Jew-hatred. But because they were perpetrated by Muslims, they have also highlighted and exacerbated Islamophobia.
“The pseudo-left in Britain, many of whom may hold David Icke as their prophet, has long held Israel to be the centre of global plots”
One of the focuses of Leftist thinking is power, and once some people have decided that the Jews hold the power, these people lose sympathy. Anti-Semitism is a pseudo-intellectual position in this way. Islamophobia, now held by much of the Right, is a pseudo-moral position.
The pseudo-morality of Islamophobia bases itself on the perceived oppression of women and homosexuals, and with the more contentious phrases in the Qur’an. These misconceptions ignore the fact that most of the far-right Islamist views are held by younger Muslims, who are radicalised outside of mainstream Muslim opinion. These fringe Islamist elements are highly anti-Semitic, and contribute heavily to the wider conspiracy culture.
Conflations abound, fringe elements of the Left have replaced elements of the Right as the chief antagonists of European Jewry. This is not to say that the charge of racism can be dropped against the far right – far from it – but there appears to have been a shift away from anti-Semitism, in the UK at least.
The mainstream needs to accept conspiracy culture into common dialogue; it thrives on the sidelines. Challenge the ideas properly, allowing the authentic disaffection with current politics proper debate, instead of letting it run down this hateful and dangerous path.
Image by Rob Stothard/Getty Images