WASHINGTON (EJP)—The issue of alarming rise to prominence of anti-Semitic political parties in Europe was raised at a hearing of the US Congress Subcommittee on Human Rights that examined Wednesday the growing threat of anti-Semitism.
Using Hungary, Greece and the Ukraine as examples of a rise in European anti-Semitic political rhetoric, Andrew Srulevitch, Director of European Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL, said that the rise to parliamentary prominence of such groups as Jobbik (Hungary), Golden Dawn (Greece) and Svodoba (Ukraine) confirmed the findings of last year’s ADL survey which concluded that, following research across ten European countries, “large swaths of the population (were) subscribing to classical anti-Semitic notions such as Jews having too much power in business, being ore loyal to Israel than their own country, or “talking too much” about what happened during the Holocaust”.
One third of those surveyed were found to harbour traditionally anti-Semitic ideals, revealed Srulevitch.
Conceding that events in the Middle East were frequently used as a catalyst for anti-Semitic incidents, he paraphrased the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) 2011 report on anti-Semitism, which characterised a form of it as “the use of anti-Zionism as a way to circumvent prevailing taboos that still exists around using old anti-Semitism”.
Other contributors included Willy Silberstein of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism who related the growing phenomenon of anti-Semitic incidents in his hometown of Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, as he cautioned that “a society that accepts hatred against Jews will surely pick another group, be it Muslims, or Christians or others”. “A fight against anti‐Semitism is therefore a fight for the right for all minorities. It may start with the Jews but it will surely not end with that,” he added.
Paying tribute to Congress for “bringing our spotlight to a rise in anti-Semitism in a continent that has endured so much hatred already”, he contended that that very fact “shows that we at least have learnt a lesson, silence is not an option”.
Also addressing the Congress sub-committee was Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, who sought to draw a critical distinction between the anti-Semitism of western Europe and that of Ukraine, as he outlined the two traditionally prevalent strains of anti-Semitism in the Eastern Europe country as “the nationalist grass roots animosity between Ukrainians and Jews” and “the Government-sponsored anti-Semitism”, which he said had all but disappeared in the wake of Ukrainian independence in 1992, as he further emphasised that violence, vandalism and literary anti-Semitism were similarly rare.
In spite of this claim, Rabbi Bleich insisted it was not his intention to be an apologist for Ukraine, its government or its people, as he concluded that “the 7% of the Parliament seats in Ukraine occupied by members of the Svoboda party is definitely something that should concern us and should not be downplayed or ignored”.
Contending that Svoboda had little defining rhetoric or untied political momentum other than its parliamentary representation, he nevertheless cautioned that “if the politics of right-wing nationalism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, are allowed to fester and are total ignored the danger of this 7% growing is possible”. In this vein, he thanked Ukrainian Prime Minister Azarov for committing never to negotiate with Svoboda or any party promoting an anti-Semitic agenda, as he expressed hope that his fellow European leaders would enable their countries’ Jews to “live as full citizens of the countries of Europe. That the anti-Semitism, anti Zionism and other negative feelings of discrimination and xenophobia were overpowered by feelings of respect and harmony”.
Kicking of the panellists’ testimony was Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Director of International Jewish Affairs and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Personal Representative on Combating anti-Semitism, who maintained that in light of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe’s smaller as well as larger Jewish communities, “governments have a basic obligation to provide for the security of their citizens”. The lack financial and security assistance available to many communities, however, he argued “ultimately pose an existential threat to the future of Jewish life in Europe”.
Conceding that the well-documented threat of prejudice from right-wing, neo-Nazi groups still remained of some concern, “the recent increases (in anti-Semitic incidents) that are documented in France and elsewhere in Western Europe largely come from parts of the Arab and Muslim communities”.
Seemingly invoking the FRA’s analysis of the inconclusivity of its report on anti-Semitism across the EU’s 27 member states, he added: “Knowing the source of attacks is necessary in order to devise ways to prevent them—through law enforcement in the short term and education over time. Yet some governments willfully do not want to know, and they have limited their monitoring tools so that they will not be confronted with the facts.”
Referencing a OSCE conference in 2011 which noted that as the Jewish global population is comparatively small, popular attitudes about Jews are often derived from inherited prejudices and media coverage as opposed to first-hand experience, as he asserted that negative depictions of Israel in the Media at times “crosses over into anti-Semitism”.
When Israel is demonised, when its legitimacy as a Jewish state is questioned, when its actions are compared to those of the Nazis this is not mere criticism,” he charged.
Describing it as a uniquely European problem, he further contended: “Jews and Israel are conflated, and incidents in the Middle East and the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict trigger attacks on Jewish targets in Europe. European Jews have their own views about Israel, and they may vary widely. But only they are being told that they must publicly condemn the Jewish State as the price for support and civic inclusiveness.”
Equating the success of extreme right parties in Europe to their skill in crafting an anti-foreigner agenda, he insisted “these xenophobic appeals vie for primacy with equally hateful anti-Semitic messages”.
“As a result of election successes these words are no longer confined to street corner rallies; they also echo in the halls of Parliaments. Jobbik leaders demand a public listing of Hungarian Jews whom they accuse of undermining national identity. The Golden Dawn party now attacks Holocaust education in Greek schools and calls for the reversal of the Parliamentary decision that established an official commemoration day. Local rallies of the Svoboda Party often featured anti‐Jewish rhetoric. Now that they sit in Parliament they defiantly defend the use of the word “kike” in their speeches,” he raged.
Attributing the rising intolerance towards Jewish ritual practice across Europe, which has seen several EU member states advocating legislation banning the practice of ritual slaughter (shechita) and religious circumcision (brit milah), to the increasingly secularisation of Western European society, he warned that “we should not lose sight of the fact that if a ban on these age old precepts of Judaism were to be imposed it would also threaten the future of Jewish life”.