Commentary by Erin McCormick
If you were to ask a group of people what they considered to be the worst event of the 20th century, you would almost undoubtedly find that a majority of people would say the Holocaust. The systematic slaughter of 11 million people, six million of whom were Jewish, will forever stand as one of the greatest tragedies in modern times. Since the World War II era, this period in German history has been respected but spoken about in a hushed sort of way in that part of Europe, as if not discussing it too much will somehow undo the damage to the generations of people affected. Post-war Germany had a state-initiated pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli feel to it, with the country doing what it felt it could to mend wounds and, more likely, what it could do to repair its own image.
World War II ended almost 70 years ago. Recently, however, the European continent has seen a re-emergence of publicly anti-Semitic attitudes. Not just in subtle words in propaganda pamphlets or glares on the street, either: four people were shot at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in May, in what authorities concluded was a deliberate attack against Jews. Anti-Semitic riots and protests have been springing up with increasing frequency over the past few years, concentrated in major cities like Paris and Berlin. In fact, the biggest concentration of these issues occurred in France and, more interestingly, Germany, where similar wounds are still healing.
The history of Jews in Europe is not a very bright one, with the Jewish people being the main scapegoat for the continent’s problems since late antiquity. But why the resurgence of these poisonous attitudes?
Much can be said about the relations between Western Europe and the Middle East. Recent years have seen a notable swell in immigration from Islamic countries in the Middle East to Europe, prompting the term “Eurabia” to be coined by writers. In response to this, many nativist, far-right political parties have formed, from UK Independence Party in the United Kingdom to Golden Dawn in Greece, which range from borderline racist to radically and dangerously prejudiced. This spread of incredibly nationalistic attitudes has assisted to the idea of Jews as outsiders and troublemakers. In a different but intriguing perspective, the anti-Jewish attitudes have been matched and in many places exceeded by the anti-Islam xenophobia. Experts have stated that any sort of fight against anti-Semitic racism has been brushed off in favor of curbing prejudice and violence against Middle Eastern immigrants.
Despite this, progressive Europe often is throwing its support behind the Palestinians in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pro-Palestinian position has been morphed by some into a more abrasive anti-Israeli sentiment and a more dangerous anti-Semitic school of thought, likely fueling the hate behind these attacks and riots. Many Muslim neighborhoods within European cities have been cited as places for Israelis and all Jews to avoid when traveling. A number of the attacks against Jews in the past year were done by radical Muslims, including the shooting at the museum in Brussels. Perhaps one of the more notable sources of anger against the Jews is the youth of the white, native-born European population.
On a continent that is still widely feeling the effects of the global recession in a way the U.S. mostly avoided, unemployment is down, especially among the younger populations, and many have found it easy to point fingers at perceived outsiders, like Jews and Muslims as well as other immigrants. In cities and suburbs where more diverse populations work and reside, seeing employed immigrants and minorities has evidently set off a spark in those who are envious and angry.
In France, Germany and Europe as a whole, there is a very old and very quickly aging population that can still recall World War II and all the monstrosities that it brought. The snowballing social acceptance of anti-Semitism, however, is back full-force, though it can be argued that it never really left and was just hidden beneath the surface for decades, waiting for something to set it off.
It is a scary thought, given Europe’s past, and is an issue that needs addressing (and evidence of how the various crises of the Middle East are rolling out into the rest of the world).
Europe could be heading down a dark path, and it needs not to subdue but to fully extinguish these anti-Semitic attitudes before they completely ignite.