This morning I woke up, yet again, to a series of headlines about unruly mobs screaming vile slogans in the street, and of attempted murder and arson at a Jewish Community Center in Toulouse. And the problem is not confined to France - all across the continent anti-Semites appear to be emboldened in a way the world has not seen in Europe for some 70 years. Until a few years who, I would have thought that stories of attacks on French synagogues and crowds shouting "gas the Jews," belonged more to the first half of the nineteenth century than to 2014. Now I know better.
Despite the best efforts of governments, security services and NGO's, there seems to be an increasingly large segment of the population which is very comfortable embracing not only Nazi ideology and rhetoric, but is willing to put such ideology into action, attacking and killing people for no other reason than their ethnicity or religion. As I have written before, there are two main groups which seem to have no problem turning hate speech into hateful acts: the far right/neo-Nazis and Muslim extremists. From my vantage point, it looks like their combined presence represents a clear danger not only to Jewish communities, but to the very foundations of civil society itself. The fact that these crimes are happening at all should serve as a major wake up call for European leaders, from the highest levels of government on down.
Much of this antisemitism has risen to the surface with protests against the war between Israel and Hamas. Perhaps there is something about the sense of anonymity afforded to one as part of crowd. Perhaps it is the perception that if thousands turn out to protest what is happening in Gaza, that they too must share an ideology of antisemitism which signals to some individuals that actions like attempting to burn down a house of worship are somehow not just acceptable, but sanctioned, by those around them.
Whatever the root causes may turn out to be, it is clear to me that a violent storm is brewing in Europe. These "protests" against Israel may seem at first like bothersome drops of rain, but now we are hearing the first rumbling thunder of violence in the streets of France, Germany and Belgium. Sadly, more and more it feels as though a storm is coming, and we ignore it at our own peril.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.