A young man in his mid-30s walks alone on a crowded European city street as the kippah on his head draws disdainful glances, spits and jeers. Members of a Jewish fraternity awake to find swastikas and threats scrawled overnight on their home. Jewish tombstones are toppled and defaced in a Belgian cemetery. In Paris an angry mob chants “gas the Jews” as they shatter the windows of a kosher deli. A Ukrainian rabbi is beaten and assaulted with cries of “Dirty Jew.”
Not to be mistaken for glimpses of 1930s Germany, these recent events join a disturbing trend of animus towards Jews in 2014 alone, particularly in Europe and on American Universities. What was once considered unthinkable and a dormant nightmare has been reawakened: Anti-Semitism is back with a fresh face and a new flag.
Years of unchecked immigration from Arab countries counts for most of Europe’s near-stagnant population growth. With the shifting demographic, events such as last summer’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict caused an influx in anti-Israeli protests and sentiment across the continent.
Though atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflict, in several instances the anti-Israeli sentiment spiraled into attacks on Jews and highlighted a disconcerting reality; Europe has a growing anti-Semitism problem. Let the facts speak for themselves:
The Community Security Trust, a London-based charity hotline, reported 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents during 2014 in the U.K. alone, more than twice the number from 2013. Another recent study from the Kantor Center found a 40% spike in reported anti-Semitic activity across Europe in 2014, with France as the worst offender. That same year, over 7,000 Jews left France for Israel, doubling the 2013 estimate, while surveys of Jews from Sweden to Hungry showed a third of European Jews had considered emigrating in response to heightened prejudice.
Last July, during a pro-Gaza demonstration in France, Palestinian protesters chanted, “gas the Jews” and “slit the Jews’ throats,” while looting several Jewish businesses and kosher markets in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, also referred to as Little Jerusalem. The mob later surrounded a synagogue, calling for the heads of the terrified worshippers inside until police dispersed the mob.
Similar scenes were repeated through 2014 across Europe, including Berlin, where pro-Palestinian protesters chanted, “Hamas, Hamas; Jews to the gas”, and at a similar rally, “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight on your own.” In August, a Jewish school in Copenhagen had windows broken along with “No peace in Gaza” and “No peace to you Zionist Pigs” scrawled on the building.
Since July reports of politically charged graffiti on synagogues and specifically Jewish buildings, including hateful slogans and swastikas, have skyrocketed. In Rome swastikas were accompanied with slogans of “Dirty Jews,” “Israel Executioner,” and “Anne Frank: Storyteller.”
Sadly, these examples are the tamer version of the new anti-Semitism. In addition to January’s deadly shootings in a French kosher deli, fatal attacks on Jewish people and institutions have included attacks at a Holocaust museum in Brussels and a Copenhagen synagogue.
Europe is not alone. The new anti-Semitism is back in vogue on U.S. campuses, where hatred of Israel and animosity to Jews is nearly indistinguishable. A 2014 Brandeis Center survey of American Jewish college students found that more than 54% had witnessed or been subjected to Anti-Semitism on campus. Swastikas and the familiar phrases, “death to Israel” and “Kill all Jews,” were found across UC Berkeley’s campus in one month alone. Similar incidents, including slurs, vandalism, and violent aggression were reported over a swath of American campuses, including University of Arizona, Columbia, Emory, George Mason, Michigan, Temple, UC Davis, UCLA, Vassar College, and several others.
This should come as no surprise when anti-Israeli speakers and ideas are widely promoted from the ivory towers of elite academia. Last March, a professor at NYU organized a conference on anti-Israeli activism, after which students slipped mock eviction notices under the doors of several Jewish students.
Last May, a pro-Palestinian student organization at New York’s Vassar College posted a vintage Nazi-era anti-Semitic cartoon on their website, while members of another pro-Palestinian group at the University of Michigan taunted Jewish Student Council members with calls of “kike” and “dirty Jews.” Former Virginia Tech professor Steven Salaita, whose tweets last year included, “F—you, Israel” and “Israel’s supporters: Zionists fanatics, CEOs, Christian Zios, Governments, and Chickens—s,” was a guest speaker on Israeli/Palestinian affairs at Columbia, George Mason, Loyola, UCLA, and Northwestern in 2014.
Another academic radical is Rashid Khalidi, who holds a prestigious position at Columbia University. Khalidi, who spent his early years as the spokesman for the radical Palestinian Liberation Organization, has repeatedly called Israel an “apartheid system” and decried the widespread “Zionist propaganda lobby.” Among several instances of praising anti-Semitic terror groups, in 1991 Khalidi allegedly penned a glowing obituary for Salah Khalaf, a fellow PLO supporter and convicted member of Black September, the group behind the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes in Munich.
Before his time at Columbia, Khalidi held court at the University of Chicago, where he befriended a young Barack Obama and supported the future president’s state house bid with a fundraiser in his home. Obama returned the favor with high praise at Khalidi’s going away party in 2003, thanking him for his friendship and policy conversations around Khalidi’s dinner table. He now heads the Department of Middle Eastern Policy at Columbia.
In addition to Europe’s atrocities, the U.S. government’s recent antipathy to Israel has left many prominent American Jewish leaders perplexed and concerned. Last year Secretary Kerry implied Israel was approaching “an apartheid state,” while tensions further escalated last March when the White House denounced and snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. and address to Congress. Most alarming is the Administration’s impassivity in negotiating with Iran.
This was foremost on Netenyahu’s mind in his address, “For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: ‘If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.’” Adding to such concerns, Iran’s supreme Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly called for annihilation of the “Zionist regime” while the nation’s top general stated last month that Israel’s destruction was “non-negotiable.”
There is tragic and almost Biblical symbolism in the exodus of Europe’s Jews to Israel. Roughly the size of New Jersey, the country is but a speck in the sweeping desert of the volatile Middle East. Yet those offended by the country’s mere existence have taken license to loath, slur, and deface Judaism itself.
This report is not intended as a defense of every Israeli policy decision. Yet, as previous examples have noted, it is far too easy for an anti-Israeli demonstration to become an assault on Judaism itself. Israel’s political decisions are not made in synagogues, schools, or kosher delis, nor are they made by the innocent pedestrian or Jewish university student.
History offers cruel but genuine lessons. We must draw from the example of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Catholic writer and philosopher who dared to criticize the spreading anti-Semitism of the Third Reich, and was eventually forced out of Germany.
A present-day exemplar is the Holy Father Pope Francis who, in historic fashion, met with the Conference of European Rabbis this April, calling the recent trend disturbing and urging Judeo-Christian unity.
His message was chilling but clear: “The memory of what took place there, in the heart of Europe, is a warning to present and future generations.” As Catholics, our civic duty calls not only for vigilance, but courage to speak out against the tide of malice and stand united with our Jewish brethren.