Fomenting Anti-Semitism in Europe

I served in the U.S. Department of State as the first Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006-2009. As the Obama administration considers its options to fill my position, I offer the following analysis on the severity of anti-Semitism in Europe.

During my travels around the world, I visited twenty-eight countries, including many with significant Muslim populations, some of whom espoused a mindset and collection of frightening historical and political biases. I found in many countries with large Muslim populations the relationship a very tense relationship with Jewish communities. On one hand, Muslim community leaders told me that they respect the role Jews made for themselves, admiring the access Jewish leaders have and the influence and relative wealth the community has come to accumulate. On the other hand, there was jealousy. “I want to catch up with Jewish groups organizationally,” one Muslim leader told me in southern France. This leader spoke to me about “a competition of memories” with Jews.

This leader’s concerns centered on Muslims’ perception of their comparative disadvantage in Europe vis-à-vis the Jews. He told me about real societal discrimination against Muslims in employment, religious observance, and in general daily life — not at all the responsibility of the Jewish community. Yet despite their perception of their status, it is the support Jews in southern France exhibit toward Israel that they claim as the real reason for their present situation.

This leader expressed complaints that Jews came as “colonialists” with other Europeans to North Africa, received French citizenship, and then moved to France. Muslims, on the other hand, lived in French-speaking North Africa and also immigrated to France but were denied the same level of acceptance. These same Jews, I was told, now unfairly “appropriated” the history of the Holocaust, which intimates that it was not their history to claim. Now “we Algerians suffer from it,” I was told.

Many Muslims believe their “suffering” locks Muslim communities and individuals in a second-class position. Yet this view, according to the director of one Dutch NGO in Amsterdam, is not necessarily correct. According to him, the community itself is not without blame in this regard. Young Muslims’ own cultural and religious reluctance to integrate does not help matters. Fewer prospects for employment are tied to their reluctance to seek proper schooling or even higher levels of education.

In Dutch schools, as the Dutch NGO director and former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali explained to me, Muslim schoolchildren are disruptive in class, and teachers are reluctant to counter their obstreperous practices. Worse, according to the Open Society study of 2007 for the Netherlands, less than 10% of Turkish and Moroccans students have finished higher education or university there.

As second-generation Muslims, these youths are caught in a netherworld. They don’t feel fully European, and with inadequate Arabic language fluency, they don’t feel fully Arab. Add a lack of education to this mix of circumstances, and the sense of despair is only worse.

Confused European Muslim youths go “back home” to the countries of their parents and grandparents, yearning to acquire that identity, but they are rejected as not wholly Moroccan, Algerian, or Turkish. Spurned in both “homes,” they return to Europe confused, looking for meaning and of course someone to blame, and that is how they fall prey to charismatic Imams, imported from abroad — usually from Turkey, Iran, or Pakistan — and into mosques financed from abroad.

This need to blame as well as the learned hatred is passed on to younger Muslim kids who harass Jews, for example, in West Amsterdam, in the banlieu (suburbs) near Paris and other European cities. I have talked with a number of people in Amsterdam: rabbis, Jewish teenagers, and even elected officials who told me stories of young Muslims who yell “kill the Jews” and routinely throw rocks at Jews leaving synagogues or daring to walk through Muslim neighborhoods. As one Jewish leader in Europe told me, “Jews are the only ones who go to synagogue or school under police protection.”

Due to this ongoing pattern of Muslim harassment of Jews in Europe, it has come to the point that an intentional segregation is taking place. Jewish families are moving out of mixed Muslim-Jewish neighborhoods. Because of the frequency of anti-Jewish harassment, it is simply no longer worth living in these areas.

Moreover, according to Catholic Church officials and Jewish leaders in France, in 2007, nearly 60% of Jewish students attended private schools in France (Jewish or even Catholic), with their parents fearing their security in the public schools. As in the Netherlands, teachers are unable to guarantee the safety of Jewish students.

I was told stories of ongoing efforts at interfaith work with Muslims in the banlieu outside of Paris that produced frightening results. I heard of declarations made by Muslims warning those attempting this work that Jews were a “damned and rejected people.” One Muslim man declared, “Every day I pray for you to become a Muslim so I wouldn’t be obligated to kill you.”

Discrimination against Muslims in Europe is not a myth, yet Muslim communities suggest a greater role for the problem by weaving it into the evolving story of their victimhood, taking on strong notes of succeeding the Jews as the newest victims of discrimination, and all the while blaming them for their ills. “In broader terms,” I was told, “Arabs are Semites, and therefore, ‘Islamaphobia’ is a kind of anti-Semitism.” This sentiment was echoed to me by another source who casually suggested that Islamaphobia in Europe is “ten times” that of antisemitism.” I heard this comparison from Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians, Lebanese, and others around the world.

Relations between Muslim and Jewish communities are overwhelmed by the extension of the Middle East conflict to European shores. The hatreds, jealousies, and historic disputes are now playing out in new lands. The conclusions of the European Monitoring Center’s “Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001-2005” only reinforce this conclusion.

There has been some evidence to support the view that there is some link between the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents and the political situation in the Middle East. … Moreover, some of the data indicate that there have been changes in the profile of the perpetrators. It is no longer the extreme right which is seen as solely responsible for hostility towards Jewish individuals or property. … Instead, victims identified ‘young Muslims,’ ‘people of North African origin,’ or ‘immigrants’ as perpetrators.

The study concluded that in Europe, “Anti-Semitic activity after 2000 is increasingly attributed to a ‘new anti-Semitism,’ characterized primarily by the vilification of Israel as the ‘Jewish collective’ and perpetrated primarily by members of Europe’s Muslim population.”

In many Muslim com­munities in Western Europe and beyond, anti-Zionist rhetoric finds frequent and powerful expression, espe­cially in Arabic-language newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet, and in sermons in mosques. All of these provide a corrosive atmosphere for Jews, fomenting anti-Jewish attitudes and actions. History as well as common decency dictates that European authorities as well as individual Europeans have a distinct responsibility to stop this evil before it again overwhelms the Jewish people…and worse, spreads to other lands.

Gregg J. Rickman, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Religion and Policy, a Visiting Fellow at The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, and a Research Scholar at the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.