For those who live in English-speaking nations, anti-Semitism is something rarely seen outside of history class. Perhaps they see it sometimes—from a raving drunk on a train, or in some nut’s online comment—but they’re not used to it. They think of anti-Semitism as a historical phenomenon. They know it was a problem 100 years ago, and marvel that so many ordinary people got caught up in what seems like a bizarre conspiracy theory. To them, though, it is a problem for the historian, not for the modern man.
But such thinking is wrong. And it leads to a dangerous complacency. Even in Europe, with a wealth level and society similar to that in Britain and America, the reality is very different. There, anti-Semitism is a modern problem. Radical Islam is the most obvious cause, but it is certainly not the only one.
Terrorist and Other Attacks
On May 24 in Brussels, Europe experienced one of its most violent anti-Semitic attacks in recent years. A man walked into the Jewish Museum of Belgium, pulled out an AK-47 and shot four people dead. The suspected murderer was arrested six days later. He is 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, a French-born Muslim who allegedly just returned from Syria after fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group.
Such attacks may be rare, but the beatings, intimidations and verbal abuses of Jews are so common that they don’t reach headlines.
The scale of the problem can be seen in the steady increase of Jews moving to Israel. In 2012, fewer than 2,000 Jews emigrated from France to Israel. In 2013, it was more than 3,000. Between January and March this year, nearly 1,500 left. Ariel Kandel, the head of the Jewish Agency’s French chapter, said, “If the current rhythm continues, there will be more than 5,000 French people leaving for Israel, something that has never happened since its creation in 1948.”
Kandel blamed the increase in part on Europe’s worsening economic situation—but even more on a “climate of anti-Semitism.”
More Than a Muslim Problem
The worst of these attacks come from radical Muslims. But they occur within societies in which minorities are allowed to develop such a murderous hatred for Jews without being confronted. After the Belgium attack, Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, wrote, “The real shock of the murder of four Jews at a Brussels museum on Saturday is … that it hasn’t happened long before” (May 27).
He warned: “For years the authorities have operated a de facto tolerance of Islamist groups on the basis that anti-terror forces will leave them alone if they leave Belgium alone. This has been toxic. The British authorities are often criticized for refusing to take seriously Islamist hate speakers, but the Belgians give these groups near-free rein to spread their poison.”
As Pollard pointed out, this takes at the very least a radical unconcern for the welfare of Jews from Belgian authorities.
“I worked in Brussels between 2001 and 2008 and found it one of the most openly racist, anti-Semitic places I have come across,” wrote Pollard. “A few months into my time there, I was out for a meal with a friend, who looks Jewish. I was asked by the waiter (who clearly didn’t think I also did) what ‘the Jew girl’ wanted. When I said that both Jews would now leave, he replied they’d only have served one Jew, anyway, not two.”
Statistics back up Pollard’s anecdotal evidence. The Anti-Defamation League (adl) published the results of a global survey of over 50,000 adults in over 100 different countries on May 13. The study concluded that 26 percent of the adult population of the world harbors anti-Semitic attitudes. That’s more than a billion adults worldwide. But in the English-speaking world, half that—13 percent—have these attitudes. In the United States, it is 9 percent; the United Kingdom, 8 percent.
In Europe, however, the rate is 24 percent. In Belgium and Germany, it is 27 percent. In France, it’s 37 percent.
The adl measured anti-Semitism by giving 11 anti-Jewish stereotypes (see a list of these statements on the bottom of this page). Those who said that at least six of the statements were “probably true” were classed as harboring anti-Semitic attitudes. That’s a robust test. It is debatable whether harboring just one of these views makes someone anti-Semitic. But it’s hard to imagine someone could agree with six of them without being anti-Semitic.
These statistics also prove conclusively that anti-Semitism is not simply a Muslim problem. Between 5 and 10 percent of France’s population is Muslim. So if every single French Muslim was anti-Semitic (a supposition that certainly is not true), Muslims would still account for less than a third of the total number of French anti-Semites.
In fact, the adl study concluded that 29 percent of Muslims in Western Europe are anti-Semitic—a rate only slightly higher than that of the general population. The study found that in Eastern Europe, Muslims are, on the whole, less anti-Semitic than the average person. Only 20 percent of them have anti-Semitic attitudes, compared to an overall prevalence of 34 percent.
Further proof that Europe’s anti-Semitism goes beyond its Muslim community came in the European parliamentary elections in May. Voters gave surprising victories to a number of extreme parties that are anti-Semitic.
The French vote was the most dramatic. For the first time, the far-right (as it is usually referred to—though far-left would be more accurate) National Front came in first in a national election, winning 25 percent of the vote. In 2009, it held three seats in the European Parliament. It now has 24. This election also marked the worst performance ever by President François Hollande’s French Socialist Party, which won only 14 percent.
“It is hard to overstate the momentousness of what has just happened in France,” wrote the bbc’s Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield. “A party that just two or three years ago was regarded as not just contemptible, but untouchable, has won a national election” (May 26).
National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen is an extremist who was convicted for Holocaust denial. His daughter, Marine Le Pen, has tried to rebrand the party. But, as United Kingdom Independence Party (ukip) leader Nigel Farage put it, “anti-Semitism and general prejudice remains in the dna of the party.” Supporters of Le Pen the elder have not left the party, and his daughter’s changes seem to be more style than substance.
Evidence of this fact came early this year when the National Front won the leadership of several French towns. The party announced that Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren would not be offered an alternative meal if pork was served—they must either eat the pork or go without. That incident sums up the National Front. Its members are not Nazis, but they’re not very friendly toward Jews either. It is also reminiscent of the 1930s, when restaurants banned Jews by refusing entry to those with “dietary requirements.”
Nazis in Parliament
Meanwhile, actual Nazis will be taking up seats in the European Parliament. In Germany, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (npd) won a seat in the European Parliament for the first time. The seat will go to Udo Voigt, who has called Hitler a “great man,” encouraged voters to rise up in “armed combat,” and demanded that “German lands” taken after World War ii be returned.
The success of the npd does not come because of any surge in popularity—it received only 1 percent of the vote—but instead because the German Constitutional Court recently changed Germany’s EU election laws. Previously, parties had to win at least 3 percent of the vote to get a seat in the European Parliament. Now there is no threshold.
Greece is the other country sending neo-Nazis to the European Parliament. There, the Golden Dawn party won 10 percent of the vote, making it Greece’s third-most popular party. Six of its leaders are currently in jail, and 18 of its politicians are under investigation and could face criminal charges. The Anti-Defamation League’s poll found Greece to be the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, where a shocking 69 percent harbor anti-Semitic views. Here, 53 percent agreed that “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” and 38 percent agreed that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.”
Cause for Jews’ Concern
In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party won just under 20 percent of the vote in the European Parliament elections. The strength of Austria’s far right in earlier elections caused an Israeli foreign official to warn: “We are very concerned over the rise to power of people who promote hatred of foreigners and Holocaust denial, and befriend neo-Nazis. We see it as a disturbing development and are following the matter very closely.”
In Hungary, Jobbik was the second-most popular party, with more than 14 percent of the vote. This was, in fact, a step back—it won 20 percent in Hungary’s parliamentary elections on April 6. The party denies that anti-Semitism is part of its platform; however, it seems to be prevalent among its top members. In 2012, Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary leader, Márton Gyöngyösi, said that Israel’s brief conflict with Hamas in Gaza meant that it is “timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
Last year, the party publicly railed against the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, saying it was protesting against “a Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary.”
These are only the extreme parties. Other, more mainstream ones have tried to outlaw circumcision or prevent Jews from killing their animals in the manner prescribed by the Old Testament. Still others promote a distorted view of Israel—painting the Jews as modern-day Nazis and terrorist groups like Hamas as innocent victims.
Israeli and Jewish organizations are concerned. Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, warned that these elections could be “the beginning of a new and very dangerous era in which openly fascist and anti-Semitic parties might attain entry into government coalitions, which would significantly change the current constellation of political power in such a way that could seriously jeopardize the future of European Jewish communities.”
The head of the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, Benjamin Albalas, said, “A great number of European citizens seem to have forgotten what happened during the Holocaust and World War ii. Racism and anti-Semitism are again hitting Europe.”
It is important to note that these criticisms do not apply to all the non-mainstream parties who made large gains in the European Parliament election. Some, for example, have tried to tarnish Britain’s ukip with the same brush as these other parties. That is wrong. There is no evidence that anti-Semitism is more prevalent in ukip than in Britain’s other major parties.
The Danger for Israel
The irony is that in the short term, the rise of these extreme parties will probably benefit Europe’s Jews. These groups are already pushing Europe’s mainstream parties to crack down on radical Islam—the source of the most violent anti-Semitic attacks.
And all of these parties are forced to hide their anti-Semitism. They get accused of making anti-Semitism cartoons or jokes—not of saying that they want to gas all the Jews. Public anti-Semitism is considered beyond the pale, though the adl’s study indicates that in private, it is much more common.
But this does not mean European Jews have no reason for concern.
These anti-Semitic parties have been sprouting up in the countries that have been hit the worst by Europe’s economic crisis. In Greece, brand-new or previously insignificant parties now play major roles. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn does shockingly well. Meanwhile, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which has dominated Greek politics since the 1970s, wins only 8 percent of the vote. Its support has collapsed completely since Greece received its disastrous bailouts.
In the 2009 European Parliament elections, Spain’s top two parties, the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, won over 80 percent of the vote. This time, the two parties received less than 50 percent. The upstart left-wing Podemos party—meaning “we can”—formed only two months earlier, yet managed to win 8 percent of the vote.
It’s an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1930s, when extreme parties started receiving small but significant shares of the vote. This made it hard for the major parties to form a government, forcing them to create messy, ineffective left-right coalitions. As you would expect, these coalitions were useless, meaning more voters drifted to the extreme groups.
The political crisis of the 1930s was caused by an economic collapse. We are seeing the same process today. Europe’s financial crisis has rocked its political structure. That structure has not fallen, but it has developed some major cracks. And that crisis is not over; though currently in remission, its fundamental causes have not been addressed. Europe’s traditional political system is struggling. How will it survive when conditions get even worse?
When this economic crisis resumes in earnest, Europe’s anti-Semitism is sure to take off. The tide of anti-Semitism that flooded the planet during the 1930s is rising again. If we understand history, we can know that this torrent of hate and violence, when it reaches its high-water mark and finally overflows its banks, will not only engulf the Jews and the Jewish state, but will also spill over and swamp entire nations and regions.
In fact, biblical prophecy shows that it will engulf the planet! Two prophecies in particular, one in Hosea 5, the other in Zechariah 14, indicate anti-Semitism—manifested in hatred for the Jewish state and a desire to purge Jews from Jerusalem—will play a central role in end-time events. Thankfully, these events are prophesied to immediately precede the return of Jesus Christ to this Earth! His government will finally put a stop to all racial prejudice (Acts 10:34).
The storms of the current crisis have now uncovered important traces of European anti-Semitism, like a long-hidden ancient ruin. The signs show that there is much more just beneath the surface. All it will take is another storm.