Even as French leaders prepared to march against anti-Semitism in Paris on Tuesday, it was learned that vandals had defaced almost 100 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in the eastern part of the country, underscoring the frightening rise in public incidents of hateful speech and actions against Jews in Europe, and efforts to counter them.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Strasbourg-area cemetery, pledged government action and spoke out, asserting that “every time a French person, because he or she is Jewish, is insulted, threatened — or worse, killed or injured — the whole Republic” is attacked.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who led government officials at the Paris march in Republic Square, observed that “anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in French society. We would like to think otherwise but it is a fact.”
The latest report on anti-Semitic acts in France quantified the sense that the situation is growing more grim. Incidents increased from 311 in 2017 to 541 last year, up 74 percent. Both anti-Israel Muslims and far-right nationalists have been involved in hateful acts. And there are reports of anti-Semitism pervading the Yellow Vest protests.
The problem in Europe is not confined to France. There is evidence of growing anti-Semitism on the left, particularly in England, often couched as anti-Zionism but targeting Israel in ways that no other country is called out. Anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have been well documented, including praise for Hezbollah and Hamas, leading seven officials to leave the party in protest this week.
The World Jewish Congress issued a statement this week citing the brazen displays of anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi sentiments among young people on the far right in European countries, including Sweden, Poland and Germany. It cited a planned parade in Sofia, Bulgaria, honoring a World War II general known for his anti-Jewish, pro-Nazi behavior, and called for bans on marches and parades where “far rightists … parade unfettered through the streets with swastikas, SS symbols and messages of hate.”
Closer to home, as noted on these pages in recent weeks, several recently elected progressive Democrats in Congress have criticized Israel harshly and unfairly, at times employing anti-Semitic stereotypes and images. While Democratic leaders have been quick to speak out against their colleagues’ statements, they should take note that Britain’s Corbyn started out as an outlier and now heads England’s opposition party and could well become prime minister one day. All the more reason to take action against anti-Semitism, quickly and directly, whenever and wherever it is expressed.