The virus of antisemitism persists in haunting Europe. In recent months, antisemitism has been exhibited all too often in European countries, not just in theory but in practice. France has been the scene for the murder of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse; attacks on Jewish property in Paris and Dijon; desecration of Jewish graves in Nice, and anti-Semitic graffiti throughout the country. Malmo, Sweden, with a now considerable Muslim population, has witnessed increasing outbreaks of violence against Jews. It is disquieting that Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor of the city, has denied these attacks, and dismissed criticism of his denials as the work of the "Israel lobby."
Over the last decade, antisemitic incidents have occurred not just in France and Sweden but also throughout Europe; some of the more notable have been in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin populated by Palestinians and Turks; even more significantly, in other neighborhoods of Berlin that are not populated by Middle East immigrants; in Stockholm, Amsterdam, and major French cities besides Paris; on the island of Corfu in Greece, and in Rome.
In the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Union called for joint efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination experienced by individuals and groups on the basis of their ethnic features, cultural background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability. As a result of this treaty, comprehensive data and an analysis of the state of discrimination in Europe with special emphasis on antisemitism is now available in a just-published comprehensive study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin.
This study, Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination: a European Report, was based on interviews with sample populations of 1,000 people in eight European countries. It examined negative attitudes and prejudices against groups defined as "other," "foreign," or "abnormal." The overall result -- showing widespread intolerance, racism, sexism, dislike of Muslims, concern about immigrants, opposition to homosexuals and gay marriage, and antisemitism -- is dispiriting.
Although the prejudices against the various groups differ, the study suggests that they are interconnected: that people who denigrate one group are also very likely to target other groups. Prejudices against the different target groups are linked and share a common ideology, one that endangers democracy and leads to violence and conflicts. The problem that democratic countries and well-meaning people now face is how to confront and overcome these prejudices that are so observable.
The overall saddening conclusion of the report, which deals with a number of areas of discrimination, is that group-focused enmity towards immigrants, blacks, Muslims, and Jews is widespread throughout Europe; and that anti-Semitism is an important component of this hostility. The Report defines anti-Semitism as social prejudice directed against Jews simply because they are Jews. Being Jewish is seen as a negative characteristic. Current antisemitism takes many forms: political (the Jews have a world conspiracy); secular (the Jews are usurers); religious (the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus); racist (Jews through their genetics are not people to be trusted). The report continues with additional detail: Jews have too much influence; Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era; Jews in general do not care about anything or anybody but their own kind.
Two additional troubling points of view were documented: the first is why people do not like Jews when one considers Israel's policy; the second is the belief that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.
Even though the study deals with a limited number of individuals and European countries, its findings are significant. The details are a warning of possible future danger. The study shows that animosity against Jews is strongest in the Eastern European countries (Poland and Hungary) and in Germany, moderate in France, Italy, and Portugal, and weakest in the Netherlands and Britain. A recent shift appears to have occurred from traditional anti-Semitism to a new anti-Semitism in relation to the Holocaust. Ominously, an inversion of perpetrator and victim has taken place.
Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945, but the of the Final Solution seems to have been forgotten in the view of European citizens. The study shows that 72% of Poles, 68% of Hungarians, and 49% of Germans believe, strongly or somewhat, that the Jews today are benefitting from the memory of the camp and exploit the Holocaust. Even in the countries with the lowest expression of prejudice, the percentages of people who hold the view that Jews exploit the Holocaust are alarming.The figure for the Netherlands is 17% and in Britain 21%.
The most frequently expressed-anti-Semitic perception is the certitude that Jews have too much influence in the country of the respondent. Nearly 70% of Hungarians hold this view. In Poland, where few people even know a Jew since Poland has such a small Jewish community, some 50% hold this belief. The lowest figures are in the Netherlands where this view is held strongly by 6% and in Britain where 13.9% profess agreement with this assessment. The other four countries around 20% concur with this statement.
On the question of Jews caring only about themselves, the range of views is different. Portugal joins Hungary and Poland in agreeing, 51-57%, while the other six vary between 20 and 30%. Somewhat surprisingly, a majority in all eight countries believe that Jews have enriched the culture of the country; the highest figures are in the Netherlands, (72%), Britain (71%) , and Germany (69%).
Not unexpectedly the animosity towards Jews extends to the state of Israel. Nearly 40% of the Europeans in the survey believe that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians. The Polish figure is 63%. The other countries range from Portugal (48%) to Italy (37%). A similar range was found in the accompanying question; nearly half in some of the countries think that attitudes of antisemitism result from disapproval of Israel's activities, Poland (55%) to Germany and Britain (35%).
It is the task of political education to overcome those factors that favor prejudiced attitudes: a low level of education, low income, and a culture, especially in Eastern Europe, where prejudice in general is more widespread than in Western Europe. For this purpose some generalizations are pertinent. Antisemitism is prevalent among people in age group 50-65, and disappointingly in the 16-21 group, and lowest among the 22-34 group. Hostility generally increases with age, making the level of hate in the 16-21 age group worrisome. Although European educational systems are diverse, it appears that people with the median level of education are not significantly different from those at a low level, and are more antisemitic than well educated people. Gender plays a minor role; women, however, more likely to be prejudiced than men regarding immigrants and Muslims, are not more antisemitic than men.
The report was restricted to attitudes and beliefs. It therefore did not include physical acts of anti-Semitism such as the overt harassment of Jews through threats or attacks, both physical and verbal; the vandalism of Jewish property, institutions, and memorial sites; the use of cyberspace to convey hostile messages; the revival of blood libel charges; the widespread allegation of Jewish conspiracies, the rise of openly anti-Semitic parties, and the success of Islamist parties and groups. Neither does the Report deal with the newest form of antisemitism, that of Muslim extremists.
The Ebert Foundation is allied with the German Social Democratic party. Not surprisingly. Its report is mainly concerned with right wing or populist political attitudes, not with those of the political left. It finds that the further to the right of self-identification, the more it is that people hold prejudicial views. It did also mention, nevertheless, that extreme left groups and individuals, probably because of their authoritarian attitudes, were more prejudiced than those of the moderate left. It does not belittle the importance of the report to comment that it minimizes the degree of antisemitism displayed by a number of individuals from well-educated groups, and by the media and the academic community. These last groups repeatedly issue international condemnations against Israel with their calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, and their attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel. These attacks can be explained in a number of ways, but certainly a major one would be an implicit antisemitism. A warning for these groups: "Teacher heal thyself: prejudice and discrimination are on display."