Just ahead of last month’s European Parliament elections, which saw the rise of far-right and anti-Semitic parties, four people were murdered in the Jewish Museum of Brussels. The shootings underscored that, in addition to political extremism, Europe’s Jews also face the violent threat of jihadists.
Europe’s Jews also face almost daily attacks – both verbal and physical. In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of about 650,000, the situation is particularly severe, with 170 anti-Semitic acts reported by the Paris-based Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) and the French Ministry of the Interior in the first trimester of 2014 alone. According to the French League of Human Rights, nearly 50 percent of all racist acts in France are anti-Semitic, even though Jews represent only 1 percent of the population.
This environment leaves many in the Jewish community, perhaps for the first time since they rebuilt their homes in Europe after the Holocaust, fearing once again for their security and future.
Fortunately, some European leaders have begun to grasp the depth of the problem. As French philosopher Albert Camus said: “To give things their correct name is to put the world right a bit.” In that sense, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has started to put France right.
“Today exists a new form of anti-Semitism that is born in our suburbs,” he said in a radio interview in July 2012. He was referring to young Muslims, as apartment blocks outside French city centers typically house large immigrant communities. At the same time he warned “not to stigmatize fellow citizens notably of Muslim faith.” Mr. Valls went further two years later, in March this year, at a rally against anti-Semitism in Paris. The old anti-Semitism of the French extreme right “is renewed,” he said. “It feeds off hate for Israel. It feeds off anti-Zionism. Because anti-Zionism is an invitation to anti-Semitism.”
Indeed, anti-Semitism in Europe has taken new forms and comes from different segments of society. There is the extreme right with its traditional focus on race and Holocaust denial; the radical left, which seek to demonize Israel; and, as Mr. Valls hinted, there is a problem among some Muslim immigrants. Their motivation is little studied and thus little understood.
So what can governments and civil society in Europe do to combat anti-Semitism?
First, we need more leaders such as Mr. Valls speaking the truth and showing zero tolerance. When demonstrators at so-called “pro-Palestinian” rallies scream slogans like “Hamas, Hamas, Jews into the gas,” as has frequently happened around Europe, political leaders and the media cannot stay silent. Public hate speech must not be tolerated and anti-Semitic acts need to be systematically prosecuted and punished.
Second, not all expressions of anti-Semitism should be fought with the same weapons. Regarding the Muslim community, for example, improving social cohesion is key. Better integrating Muslim Europeans is not only a virtue and a necessity in itself, it can also help lower the susceptibility of these communities to anti-Semitism and radicalization.
It is equally important to empower moderate Muslims. People such as Latifa Ibn Ziaten, whose son Imad was one of the French soldiers murdered by in 2012 by the terrorist Mohammed Merah, and who now visits France’s most difficult neighborhoods, speaking to youth groups and trying to steer them away from the influences of anti-Semites and extremists. There are many other such voices – Muslim entrepreneurs, writers, media personalities, students with the moral courage to confront the extremists within their communities. Let’s support their work and help build their networks.
Third, more needs to be done early on in the process, before people develop anti-Semitic views. New educational programs ought to focus on this problem, assisting students to recognize prejudices. Youngsters need to learn about the culture, history and religion of other communities, by focusing on similarities and shared values.
Fourth, fighting anti-Semitism at home may also have a foreign-policy dimension. The EU recently introduced the “more-for-more principle,” offering stronger partnerships to neighboring countries that make more progress toward democratic reforms. Ending anti-Jewish, anti-Christian and anti-Western hate speech should become part of this bargain.
Much is at stake. Anti-Semitism is always symptomatic of a more profound problem in society, something that might start with Jews but will not stop there.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the AJC Paris office and Daniel Schwammenthal is the director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels. A longer version of this article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.