Euro Anti-Semitism?

"Europe has a problem" -- or so says Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

And no, he is not referring to the suspension of the rules governing the euro. Nor to the creation of a rival military force to Nato. Nor to the disagreement over the proposed European Union constitution. Nor to the recent publication of the Geneva Accords for Middle East peace -- dismissed by his pal William Safire as "rejected politicians representing not even a minority of the parties in the dispute [posing] for cameras while signing an agreement in the benevolent presence of Jimmy Carter."

Rather, Sharon is referring to the spate of attacks on Jews and Jewish interests that have plagued the European continent throughout 2003.

Sharon has added his heavyweight voice to a chorus of concern about the rise of European anti-Semitism -- a chorus outnumbered only by those who say there is no European anti-Semitism worth worrying about, and if you believe Sharon and co., the anti-Semites themselves.

With Turkish suicide bombs, Parisian firebombs, the destruction of nearly 400 Jewish graves in East London, a German MP blaming the Jews for Bolshevism and repeated cases of anti-Jew graffiti appearing the length and breadth of Europe -- and that's by no means an exhaustive list -- concern is warranted.

At the very least, in the words of John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, "anti-Jewish outbursts and attacks have become an undeniable and embarrassing pattern."

So, what's going on?

Writing in the London Times this week, Mark Mazower, a professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, called anti-Semitism one of the "old catch-all labels of the past," entirely inappropriate to the current situation in Europe. "What has emerged," argued Mazower, "is not at heart a racial antagonism but a political one -- an anti-Zionism which takes Israeli rhetoric at face value by conflating Israelis and Jews."

Sharon says, "You cannot separate here. Israel is treated as a Jewish state," which manages to both make Mazower's argument and refute it. What we are seeing, Sharon maintains, is a re-emergence of "an anti-Semitism that has always existed."

According to Mazower, "contrary to what Sharon has indicated, only a few odd-balls regard expressions of anti-Semitism as politically or culturally acceptable ... What is new in the present equation is the violence mostly in France by young Arab youths against Jewish targets, a spill-over into Europe of the kind of anti-Zionism already described."

Two weeks after the bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul and the firebombing of a Jewish school in Paris, it is hard to know whose point is proved by the news this week that 27-year-old Shadi Abdellah, a Jordanian Islamic fundamentalist, was convicted in a Düsseldorf state court of planning with the al-Tawhid terror group to bomb the Jewish Museum in Berlin and a Jewish-owned disco or bar in Düsseldorf.

The question perhaps has moved on from the always difficult, "When is an attack on Israel anti-Semitic?" to the even more difficult "Do attacks by Muslims on Jews and Jewish targets in Europe equate to European anti-Semitism?"

Writing in Slate after the bombing of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Christopher Hitchens wrote: "The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews."

The next day, in response to Jacques Chirac's "Attacking a Jew in France is an attack on all of France," John Vinocur noted in the IHT that the French president "made no references to the motors of the new French and European anti-Semitism alongside his determination to eradicate the problem, anti-Semitism's perpetrators were left, in descriptive terms at least, as phantoms."

And so it remains. Last week, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia ( EUMC, the EU's anti-racism body) suppressed a report it had commissioned from the Anti-Semitism Research Institute of Berlin's Technical University, after the findings proved controversial.

The EUMC stands accused of shelving the report and orchestrating a cover-up. Why? Well, because the report found that young Muslims were to blame for many of the attacks on Jews. The authors of the report say they "were told several times by the European Union to change their conclusions" ( Daily Telegraph). Although never giving what one would call clear reasons for refusing to publish the report (the EUMC website offers little if any explanation, except to say "The EUMC is currently facing a challenge of its credibility and there is danger that this could destabilize the Centre and draw it away from its core business"), the EUMC claims the report was badly written and talked about contractual obligations.

Juliane Wetzel, co-researcher on the report, believes, "The EUMC didn't want to publish the report because it's not politically correct. The results give the EUMC problems because it wants to protect precisely these groups."

"It was totally clear [the report] was for publication," says Werner Bergmann, author of the report. "We would not write it for someone else to rewrite it and include in something else."

The EUMC sent the Berlin centre a letter saying, "The EUMC must be seen as bringing groups of people together, not as acting divisively ... The authors [of the report] assert a direct connection between anti-Semitism and 'Arab/North African Muslims', 'the Muslim population', 'the Arab-Muslim population', 'young Muslims' in Europe. The authors assert a direct connections [sic] between anti-Semitism and 'immigrants' ... All these generalising statements are made despite acknowledgement on the last page that 'the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination remains a common struggle'. Mention of Muslim people should only be made if it were directly relevant to the specific manifestations of anti-Semitism. Any generalisation should be strictly avoided."

The EUMC has published three reports on Islamophobia, but still not a single report on anti-Semitism.

And here's another thing. The Daily Telegraph says that "Alterations were also sought when [the report] linked anti-Semitism to both anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel."

Back to square one.

Last month, as reported in the Diary, Israel was deemed "the biggest threat to world peace" in a eurobarometer poll.

John Vinocur sought some clarity from French academic Pierre-André Taguieff, author of La Nouvelle Judeophobie, who argues that modern-day French anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Nazism, but was "transported by Islamic radicalism, and relayed by European political groups looking to replace worn-out battle cries of "third-world revolution and anti-imperialism.""

Taguieff points to the anarchists, Trotskyists, Greens and anti-globalists (whose recent demonstrations have included the burning of the Israeli flag) who, he says, "have contributed to making judeophobic clichés and slogans acceptable, and then respectable, on the basis of a nazification of the 'Jews-Zionists-Israelis.'"

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (author of "The Dignity of Difference") is seemingly in agreement. In an interview with the Times this week, Sacks spoke of a political problem sliding into "the demonisation of a whole group" through the actions of "a strange coalition of radical Islamists, the anti-American left and the extreme right, groups who would otherwise have virtually nothing in common."

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, argues that in Europe Jews are the victims of entirely one-sided attacks by Muslim youth gangs. "Not a single Jew in Europe has attacked an imam or set fire to a mosque or hurled stones through the windows," he says.

For those of you interested in the ins-and-outs of the hack trade, the journalist Julie Burchill resigned from Britain's Guardian newspaper this week, saying she refuses to accept the paper's distinction between anti-Zionism (which it supports) and anti-Semitism (which it does not support).

Fresh from briefing the House of Commons anti-Semitism monitoring committee, Israeli expert Robert Wistrich told the Jewish Chronicle: "The wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Europe today is a threat not only to Jews but also to the essence of Western democracy."

Sharon is right -- Europe has a problem.

Dominic Hilton is a columnist for openDemocracy.net.

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