Many streets in our European cities have become hunting grounds for Jews, and some Jews are now forced to avoid community institutions and synagogues as a result
Anti-Semitic violence rose by nearly 40 percent in 2014 over the previous year, according to a report by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University.
A total of 766 violent incidents were recorded worldwide, a “sharp increase” over the 554 tallied in 2013, according to the European Jewish Congress, which contributed to the report.
“Many streets in our European cities have become hunting grounds for Jews, and some Jews are now forced to avoid community institutions and synagogues as a result,” said EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor. “Some are choosing to leave the continent, many are afraid to walk the streets, and even more are retreating behind high walls and barbed wire. This has become the new reality of Jewish life in Europe.”
The Kantor Center characterized European Jewish sentiment as that of a people “living in an intensifying anti-Jewish environment that has become not only insulting and threatening on a daily basis, but outright dangerous” and asserted that “there are no more taboos and restrictions when it comes to anti-Semitic manifestations.”
The Kantor Center defined violent incidents as acts perpetrated either with or without weapons and including such crimes as arson, vandalism, and threats against Jews and their institutions.
There were 68 incidents of armed violence against Jews and their property, including the shooting attacks against Brussels’ Jewish Museum, a Copenhagen Synagogue, and Paris’s Hyper Cacher supermarket – double the number in 2013. There were a further 101 incidents of unarmed violence.
“From 2004-2014, except for 2009 which was worse in terms of numbers of violent cases and anti-Semitic atmosphere, 2014 was one of the worst,” mourned Kantor Center director Prof. Dina Porat, adding that there has been a “rise in attacks against persons” as a percentage of the total number of incidents.
Anti-Semitism has been steadily rising since the late 1980s, but spiked during 2009’s Israel-Hamas war.
According to the Kantor Center, in 2014 a total of 306 people were targets of attacks, an increase of “no less than 66%” while attacks against synagogues rose by 70% to 114. Arson cases have tripled over the past year.
Porat said that the “atmosphere has changed” and the question being asked by increasing numbers of European Jews is “what future do we have as individuals and for our communities.”
Last September Britain’s Community Security Trust, an anti-Semitism watchdog, reported that three hundred incidents had occurred over the course of July, the highest level since it began keeping records in the early 1980s.
According to a recent report by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research British Jews are evenly split in their assessment of the severity of anti-Semitism, with around half of respondents saying that they feel that such sentiments are either a “fairly big problem.”
Moreover, around onethird of respondents reported being worried about themselves of those close to them “becoming a victim of antisemitic harassment or verbal attack.” One-fifth reported concerns over becoming the victim of a physical assault.
JPR likewise reported that one-third of Italian Jews polled “thought that hostility towards Jews in public places had increased in the past five years, and a similar proportion thought that there had been an increase in desecration of Jewish cemeteries, vandalism of Jewish buildings and institutions, and anti-Semitism in political life.”
Over 40% expressed concern over the possibilityof verbal abuse or harassment, while 30% indicated that they are worried about those close to them suffering physical abuse as Jews.
According to a recent study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), 21% of French Jews reported experiencing at least one anti-Semitic incident during 2013.
A third of Jews from across Europe who were polled by FRA in 2013 stated that they refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, with an additional 23% avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
While 66% reported anti-Semitism as having a negative affect on their lives, 77% did not bother reporting abuse or harassment. Almost a third are mulling emigration as a response to heightened anti-Jewish sentiment.
France once again led the pack in terms of increases in anti-Semitic incidents, with 164 recorded in 2014, up from 141 the year before.
Describing a “sharp rise” in Britain, Porat cited last year’s 141 incidents, 46 more than in 2013. The number of incidents in Australia tripled to 30 and more than doubled in Germany, rising to 76. Italy more than doubled, rising to 23, while Sweden rose from only three incidents in 2013 to 17 last year. Belgium rose to 30 from 11 and South Africa to 14 from one.
In Eastern Europe, even in countries with neo-Nazi political parties such as Hungary, or countries in which accusations of anti-Semitism are used as a political weapon such as Ukraine and Russia, incidents did not rise nearly as much; with small bumps or even, in the case of Russia, a drop.
Russian media, however, still contain anti-Semitic content.
Anger over Israel’s military actions in Gaza this past summer played a large role in stimulating a rise in violence against Jews, Porat and the Center believe. Protesters from the extreme Left and immigrant Muslim population compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis and blamed them and Jewish supporters of Israel for “every evil on Earth.”
A European crisis of values, coupled with “profound ignorance” drives “confused youngsters” to search for “easy to catch black and white symbols” and many of the European protesters were likely unaware of the full historical context of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Holocaust to which they compared the situation in Gaza, the report asserted.
While such sentiment certainly contributed in the rise in violence, however, “classical anti-Semitism with no connection to Israel” also played a part, Porat said, noting that, during protests ostensibly against Israel, people attacked synagogues instead of Israeli embassies and chanted “Jews to the gas” rather than Israelis to the gas.
According to the report, the use of classically anti-Semitic caricatures of hooknosed Jews killing children “reflect the return of classic anti-Semitism, which has not been noticed for years, and now gains increasing ground, if not instead of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism then at least alongside them.”
Moreover, the center asserted, “biased” western and Muslim media enhanced such stereotypes by “transmit[ ing] a certain Jewish-Israeli image.”
Among the problems facing European Jewry is the fact that, despite efforts by European leaders to combat anti-Jewish hate, these have had “no meeting point with the street,” the Kantor Center reported.
“The fight must be taken to the attackers instead of allowing it to affect the everyday lives of the victims. We need to move from defense to offense,” said Kantor in a statement distributed with the report.
“We need a pan-EU body that will coordinate intelligence efforts between member states and the sharing of such information, assist with legislation changes to enable the member states to address this challenge with proper tools, and deal with training and security measures in the protection of Jewish institutions by the authorities.”
Last month, the foreign minister of the EU, Federica Mogherini, endorsed this concept, telling an Italian newspaper that she will push for the formation of a continental task force on anti-Semitism.