The deaths of 15 people — including 13 non-Jews — in an apparent terrorist attack last week at a Tunisian synagogue underscores the need for non-Jews to join Jews in fighting a wave of anti-Semitic violence, according to Israel’s deputy foreign minister.
“We have to act with all our strength, Jews and non-Jews alike, because anti-Semitism always undermines the fundamentals of society,” Rabbi Michael Melchior said.
“It’s not just attacking Jews, it’s attacking the fundamentals of any kind of decency. Therefore, we need to work to outlaw this kind of hatred … and be willing to use [the laws against it].”
Ten of the 15 killed in Tunisia when a natural gas truck exploded were German citizens, and Germany sent a police team to investigate.
German police arrested a man in Germany in connection with the attack but released him for lack of evidence.
German prosecutors said the evidence increasingly points to a deliberate attack on the synagogue.
Two London-based Arab newspapers said they received a fax from a group calling itself Al Jihad that claimed responsibility for the attack to avenge Palestinian friends.
And the will of the truck driver, who according to some reports was killed in the explosion, is said to contain a statement in which he said he acted to get revenge against Israel.
In an interview during a brief visit here, Rabbi Melchior said the number of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions has increased in recent weeks. He said he no longer keeps track of the numbers — “there are 10 or 12 incidents every day” — because that would tend to lump swastika scrawling with synagogue burnings and the beatings of Jews.
“I don’t want to focus on the incidents but the atmosphere that has fostered a legitimization of this hatred,” he said.
Avi Beker, the new secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, said his organization has called an emergency meeting of its executive in Brussels Monday and Tuesday to discuss European anti-Semitism and a threat by the European Union to impose trade sanctions on Israel.
“Israel has close to $10 billion in annual trade with Europe,” he said. “The fact that the EU is discussing [trade sanctions] in a businesslike fashion” is of concern.
“Each country threatening [sanctions] creates a momentum of its own, and that’s dangerous,” Beker said. “We would expect Europeans not to use hypocrisy and double standards in statements regarding Israel.”
Officials in several European countries in which anti-Semitic incidents have occurred attribute them to Arabs who are taking out their frustration over the Israel-Palestinian violence that started a year and a half ago and has escalated recently. Rabbi Melchior flatly rejected that assertion.
“Criticism of Israel has nothing to do with it,” he said. “Just as you have to be careful not to label as anti-Semites those who are critical of Israel, you have to be careful to label anti-Semitism when it is anti-Semitism. It demands some intelligence.”
Beker noted that for many years academicians made distinctions between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, but that “in the last few months there is no distinction. Everything is blurred and terms are used interchangeably. Those who use the term [anti-Zionism] are attacking Jews on most occasions. Israel is becoming the Jew among the nations.”
“We are not accepting the excuse we hear in Europe that the incidents against Jewish institutions and individuals are the work of Muslim hooligans,” he added. “This is classic anti-Semitism.”
At next week’s WJC meeting, Beker said, the executive is expected to discuss the launch of a counter campaign designed to rally support from governments and the public against anti-Semitism.
“We are also looking to approve the establishment of a European Jewish information center that will serve as an instrument to coordinate the political campaign against anti-Semitism and Israel,” he added.
Rabbi Melchior pointed out that although the Nazis wanted to rid the world of Jews, the anti-Semitism of today “wants the world to be clean of the Jewish state.”
“It is not only that kind of anti-Semitism [that has surfaced], but it gives a legitimacy to the old-time anti-Semitism,” he said.
Asked about the 50 youths who last Saturday attacked the central synagogue in Kiev, beating worshipers with stones and bottles and breaking windows and other property, Rabbi Melchior said he cannot be sure whether they were out to delegitimize the State of Israel or “just felt that because of the general atmosphere they could go out and do that.”
Kiev’s chief rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman, was quoted as saying the youths marched down the street shouting, “Kill the Jews” before attacking the synagogue and beating the rector of the yeshiva, Rabbi Azman’s 14-year-old son and a security guard.
Among other anti-Semitic incidents in recent days was a demonstration in Amsterdam last Saturday in which some 75 swastika-bearing flags were unfurled and people chanted “Jews into the sea.”
Also, a group of boys on a Jewish football team in Paris were beaten with metal bars and heavy metal balls last week in an organized attack. Most of the attackers appeared to be Arabs, the victims said.
A young Jewish woman wearing a Star of David necklace was attacked at a Berlin subway station Monday. Police reported that the attackers appeared to be of Arab origin. The perpetrators fled and no arrests have been made.
According to one report, two individuals asked the woman about her necklace and whether she was Jewish. They then punched the woman in the face and tore the jewelry from her neck.
In Greece, a monument honoring Greek Jews killed in the Holocaust was splashed with red paint on Tuesday, police said, in apparent protest against Israeli attacks in Palestinian areas.
The word “Palestinians” was written in paint next to the memorial in this northern Greek city.
The incident occurred a day after a large pro-Palestinian demonstration was held in Thessaloniki. Large protests have also been held in Athens.
The memorial, unveiled in 1997, was also vandalized two years ago.