This past summer, as Israel and Hamas were engaged in a war, I posted a piece on this website about the intensely ugly and often blatantly anti-Semitic response to this conflict on the streets of Europe. In Paris a synagogue was attacked by an angry mob, in Belgium a doctor refusedto treat a woman who happened to be Jewish, based solely on her ethnicity, and in Denmark a Jewish school was vandalized. These are just a few examples of the kind of hate and violence which rapidly bubbled to the surface in July and August, cloaked in a filthy veneer of legitimacy by those who used opposition to the war between Israel and Hamas as an excuse for anti-semitism.
Many of these hate-filled individuals and organizations did not need the war for an excuse. Over the past few years brazen attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions have been on the rise. However, with constant media coverage of the 2014 Gaza war (much of it willfully distorted, either out of bias or because of real fear on the part of journalists as to what Hamas would do to them if they reported the truth) it became very easy in July and August for terrorist sympathizers to whip up ordinary people into a frenzy. The result was perhaps predictable: Anti-Semitic graffiti and signs in shop windows, physical assaults and vandalism.
Since the summer, the streets of Europe have remained less safe for Jews than those in America. Although many European governments have been very responsive and are working closely with the organized Jewish community to improve physical security, my sense from the media coverage is that it is probably more dangerous to wear a kippah (Jewish skull cap) today on the streets of Paris or Brussels than in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Last month, within the span of a few days, we saw the attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and the anti-Semitic terror attack on the Kosher market in Paris. This weekend, another terrorist targeted a free-speech event in Copenhagen and then a synagogue where a bat mitzvah was taking place.
Clearly Europe has a major problem when it comes to Islamic fundamentalist extremism and those carrying out these violent attacks have two major targets: Jews across the continent and European civil society itself. In the short term, there is a serious need for increased physical security, counter-surveillance and better planning around all kinds of threats between the Jewish community and security services. Doing this will at least buy some time and provide some sense of safety while European leaders, at all levels of society, begin to tackle the deeper root causes of both threats. The people who want to kill satirical cartoonists, police officers and champions of liberty and free speech, need to be removed from society in the short term, but in the long-term governments must also be willing to work directly with the communities in which young adults are becoming radicalized, to divert them from a path of death and destruction. Another key factor in limiting terrorism in Europe and the west lies in preventing European passport holders who go abroad to places such as Syria and Iraq, for both ideological indoctrination and tactical training, from returning to Europe.
Europe cannot afford to ignore these incidents or what they may portend – if steps are not taken to safeguard the Jewish community, as well as the institutions of civil society and the liberal values that define modern Europe, the end results will be disastrous. The resulting chaos will ultimately spread beyond the borders of the continent, damaging societies around the globe and fueling further conflict.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2015.