The backlash in Europe against Israel has been underway since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. In each country the protests have similarities. And in each they are spear-headed by the same motives and often by the same people.
In London the protests have been dominated young Muslims with the usual smattering of far-left fellow-travellers. They have carried Socialist Worker Party banners saying "Stop Israeli State Terror." But some went off-message, apparently deciding it did not matter if their targets were Israeli or "just" Jews. There have also been the predictable banners comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Adolf Hitler. Others have a more confused relationship with this sinister conflation. One young protestor was photographed at a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in London with a poster saying, "Hitler you were right!" Elsewhere the protests have spilled over into occasional outbursts of violence.
Scenes from Europe, July 2014: Left, an anti-Israel protestor in London holds up a sign saying "Hitler you were right". Right, one of a group of anti-Israel thugs who stormed a soccer field in Austria assaults a player from the Israeli team Maccabi Haifa.
People who are "visibly Jewish," people wearing identifiably Jewish dress, have found themselves targeted for abuse. Demonstrators at the biggest central London march assaulted and verbally abused a Jewish woman who had expressed her support for Israel, calling her a "Jew Zionist" among other things, before stealing her mobile phone. In North London, a rabbi was abused by a group of 'youths' who shouted "F*** the Zionists," "F*** the Jews" and "Allah Akhbar."
All of this is mild compared to what has been going on across the English Channel in France. In suburbs and parts of central Paris the violence being perpetrated against the Jewish community culminated in the disturbing spectacle of Parisian Jews barricaded in a synagogue by a crowd of young North Africans seemingly intent on violence. When the police failed to turn up in any numbers, the Jews fought for themselves. These were not all "Jewish vigilantes" as some of the press disturbingly reported -- Jews in their 40s and 50s fighting their way through a mob.
Since then, the French authorities have banned -- as French authorities have the right to do -- some other planned "pro-Palestinian" protests. But the bans seem not to have worked. "Youths," as the media are prone to title the rioters, who mainly come from the suburbs of Paris and other cities, have taken to the streets, anyhow. There are videos of them smashing up pavements in order to get chunks of asphalt to hurl at police. A Paris suburb with a large Jewish -- not Israeli, just Jewish -- population has been a particular focus of protestors. In some video footage, protestors have been shown attacking police cars and assaulting public and private property. The French authorities are clearly trying to get a handle on the protests, but to a considerable extent, events have slipped from their control.
Similar scenes have been seen across the continent. In the Netherlands -- fresh from witnessing a pro-ISIS rally in Amsterdam -- there have been serious incidents at protests. There have been anti-Semitic chants, and the home of the Chief Rabbi in the Netherlands has been attacked twice in one week. In Austria, a soccer game involving an Israeli team had to be called off after Palestinian demonstrators broke onto the pitch. The stands had people waving anti-Israel banners and Turkish flags. But once they were on the pitch, the protestors assaulted the Israeli players, doing flying kicks at them and then further kicking and punching them. Some of the Israeli players fought back and the game was halted.
Most disturbing of all, perhaps, have been events in Germany. During pro-Palestinian protests in Berlin and other German cities, there were chants of "Death to the Jews" and "Gas the Jews." The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, described some of the demonstrations as "an explosion of evil and violence-prone hatred of Jews. Never in our lives did we believe it possible that antisemitism of the nastiest and most primitive kind would be chanted on the streets of Germany."
And it is in Germany that such sentiments have met their most appropriate public and political opposition. There, at least, the nature of these protests has not been glossed over. On the contrary there has been a suitable soul-racking over this. How could such a cry have gone up in this country, of all countries? The major German magazine, Bild, has run a cover with the headline, "Raise your voice: Never again Jew Hatred!" The cover is dotted with famous figures in German public life from the President and Chancellor Merkel to other political and public figures. The montage sends out a powerful message. The question is, of course, whether that is enough.
Certainly, across Europe there is a new hatred in the air -- but this hatred is also the old one. The people on the streets of Paris, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and other cities across Europe include the descendants of some of those who fought against, fought for, allied or collaborated with the evil regime which spurred this hatred on last time. But most of the perpetrators are not those people. Most of them are of immigrant backgrounds. In Britain, these are mainly from the Indian sub-continent (with a smaller group from the Gulf countries); in France and the Netherlands, they are from North Africa; in Germany and Austria, largely from Turkey.
All the peoples of Europe can see this but none of them want to identify it. We live so in terror of being politically incorrect. We live in a rightful disgust for racism of any kind. And yet here we see -- and nowhere more clearly than in Germany -- the new racist nightmare for Europe. We thought we had abolished the beast of anti-Semitism from our shores and had made it totally unacceptable. And yet here are people Europe has imported in their millions, failed in varying degrees to assimilate and who now (in considerable numbers) look as if they have taken up precisely the hatred we had all hoped to have left behind. These are dark days in the Middle East. But they are darker days in Europe. Whether we deal with this returned evil or not will be the challenge of this generation.