Three synagogues were firebombed, a kosher butcher shop was shot at, and a young Jewish couple was beaten — the pregnant woman so seriously that she was hospitalized. All of this happened last weekend in France, the latest in a series of more than 400 anti-Semitic attacks there in the past 18 months.
But the 600,000 Jews of France are not alone in facing what observers are calling the worst anti-Semitism since World War II.
On the eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust remembrance day, anti-Jewish attacks have again reached alarming proportions. But unlike the 1930s and ’40s, they are not confined to a few European countries. The attacks appear to be a worldwide phenomenon fueled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that began 18 months ago and carried out largely by Muslims, according to The Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism, an official Web site of the State of Israel.
All the more troubling, experts say, is that this new wave of anti-Semitism comes despite unprecedented levels of Holocaust education and interfaith dialogue across Europe.
Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said the 280,000 Jews of Britain are now suffering under the worst anti-Semitism since the Holocaust. Efforts must be made to stop it, he warned, before words and deeds turn to violence and bloodshed.
Australia’s 110,000 Jews have witnessed a spike in anti-Jewish incidents since Palestinian violence was launched against Israel in September 2000. Between the start of the attacks and the end of last September, there were 119 physical attacks and 243 threats and incidents of harassment, according to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Among the incidents were firebombings, beatings of those wearing kipas, graffiti and hate mail. And after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, there was another surge in attacks, including several firebombs being hurled at Jewish centers in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
In Belgium, the beating of the chief rabbi of Brussels was just one of several serious anti-Jewish attacks, most coming from the local Muslim community. The rabbi, Albert Guigui, 57, was attacked by five youths while leaving a restaurant with a companion. The youths, yelling “dirty Jews” in Arabic, jumped on the men and spat in their faces. The two victims ran onto a nearby railroad car; the attackers followed and kicked Rabbi Guigui in the head.
Belgium is considering trying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged war crimes he is said to have committed as defense minister during the incursion into Lebanon in 1982.
In October 2000 alone, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said there were 70 attacks on Jews in France, 29 in Canada, 22 in the United States and 20 in Great Britain. Most of the incidents in France occurred in Paris suburbs and other neighborhoods where Jews and Muslims live in close proximity to each other, according to the center.
A recently published book by French Jewish students and an anti-racism group placed the number of anti-Semitic incidents in France at 405 between Sept. 1, 2000 and Jan. 31, 2002. Just last weekend, the number rose dramatically with a series of four attacks, including the firebombing of synagogues in Lyon and Strasbourg.
In the Lyon attack, hooded vandals crashed two cars through the synagogue’s main gate, then rammed one of the vehicles into the sanctuary and set it on fire. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said he was “revolted” by the attack and called for “respect of religions.”
Other synagogues — including one in the southern port city of Marseilles set ablaze Sunday night — have also been firebombed, as has a Jewish elementary school in southern France where the arsonists also left a painted message: “Death to the Jews.”
The cause of the Marseilles fire that destroyed the Or Aviv synagogue has not been determined, but on Monday French President Jacques Chirac called on the government to tighten security at religious sites and pledged to “severely punish those responsible for these crimes.”
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, said at a Jerusalem press conference in January that France, which has 5 million practicing Muslims, led the world in the number of attacks on Jews since the Palestinian uprising began. And, he lamented, the “French public doesn’t want to deal with it.”
Some have claimed that Chirac and Jospin, candidates for president, have remained relatively silent about the anti-Semitic attacks for fear of alienating Muslim voters for the two rounds of elections this month and in May.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement released Monday, welcomed Chirac’s condemnation of the weekend violence. But, Foxman said, “President Chirac must state unequivocally that attacking people because of their religious beliefs is morally repugnant and unacceptable.”
He said French Jews “are now living in daily fear for their safety.”
A Grave Threat
The situation has become so bad worldwide that Foxman told his national executive committee in February: “I am convinced that we are facing a threat as great, if not greater, to the safety and security of the Jewish people than we faced in the ’30s.”
Rabbi Sacks told the Associated Press that he found the upsurge all the more remarkable because since World War II, countries throughout Europe have been engaged “in one of the most intensive education campaigns in all history — Holocaust education, interfaith dialogue, conferences on racism — and now we are seeing it return, despite everything.”
Over the weekend, thousands of Jews gathered across France in support of a Palestinian state. Some 2,000 people marched to the Israeli consulate in Marseilles, yelling “Free Arafat” and “Sharon SS.” Elsewhere, others carried scrolls reading “Thou shalt dissolve Zionism.”
Irwin Cotler, a human rights expert and member of the Canadian parliament, pointed out that although the United Nations’ infamous Zionism-equals-racism resolution has been rescinded, it still lives as a new kind of anti-Jewishness, what he calls “ideological anti-Semitism.”
He noted, for instance, that this year in the African Charter of Peoples’ Rights and Freedoms, a reference is made to Zionism as racism.
“It has long legs and still finds expression today,” Cotler said during the January press conference in Jerusalem.
The amount of anti-Semitic incidents in France has been so alarming that the Simon Wiesenthal Center in January published a special report on it. The report quoted from a Le Monde article by University of Paris Professor Eric Marty, who said the Jews of Paris are “tolerated subjects … but mistreated as perpetual hostages to the political necessities of the moment. …
“There has been no voice of political authority ready to say simply that … there is nothing that can justify a policy of terror against Jews,” he wrote.
But after last weekend’s attacks, Chirac condemned the violence, calling it “unspeakable” and “inadmissible.”
Last week, however, Francis Lott, the French ambassador overseeing his country’s Holocaust-era reparations to Jews, insisted: “There is no anti-Semitism in France.”
He said figures compiled by nongovernmental agencies and the Jewish community found that there had been 119 violent attacks in 2000 and 29 in 2001. The reduction, he said, was because of a crackdown by French authorities.
Lott attributed the attacks to “jobless young people without an education and sometimes coming from Muslim and North African populations. It doesn’t concern only the Jewish population; they ruin everything and destroy everything. We have difficulty with them. That does not mean France is an anti-Semitic country.”
But a principal author of the study on anti-Semitism in France, Patrick Klugman, president of the Union of French Jewish Students, dismissed that excuse.
“To say that the majority of acts are committed by youths of Maghrebin [North African] origin is apparent, a reality, but when a young Arab throws a Molotov cocktail, what should be important — that an Arab threw a cocktail, or that a cocktail was thrown?” he asked.
These and other attacks are part of what Cotler said is a new kind of anti-Semitism. Unlike traditional anti-Semitism that targets individual Jews, the new anti-Semitism involves discrimination against Jews as a people, coupled with the “the denial of the right of Jewish people to live as equal members of the family of nations. … Israel is seen as the enemy of humankind.”
In addition, he said, genocidal anti-Semitism has surfaced in which the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people are openly advocated in the charters of such terrorist groups as Hamas.
Cotler was also critical of the United Nations for singling out Israel for “differential and discriminatory treatment.” For example, 30 percent of all indictments filed by the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva were filed against Israel.
Just last week during a daylong discussion about the Middle East, the majority of speakers before the 53-nation commission sided with the Palestinians. An exasperated Israeli ambassador, Yaakov Levy, decried the group’s “double standard” for devoting so much of its agenda to Israel.
Rabbi Melchior, in a meeting in February with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, urged him to help stop the new anti-Semitism that demonizes the Jewish state rather than Jews themselves.
Foxman of the ADL pointed out that the issue of the Jewish people and “their Jewish racism” dominated a UN conference in Durban, South Africa, last year that was set up to deal with racism in the world.
“The world permitted the hijacking of that conference to delegitimize the Jewish people,” he said.
Avenues Of Hate
Anti-Semitism is also being spread worldwide through the Internet, e-mail and global broadcasting networks, Foxman noted.
“This globalization facilitates the incitement and hate that makes the message of anti-Semitism more potent and very real,” he said. “This technology has given anti-Semitism, hate and incitement a strength and a power of seduction that it has never had in history before.”
On the ABC News program “20/20” last week, Barbara Walters reported that during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia she found textbooks in use that “blame Jews for much of the unrest in world history — including the French Revolution, the First World War and Communism.”
“We talked to three students there who confirmed they had been taught a similar message about the Jews’ disruptive role. Two of them agree that history showed this was the case, and that Jews are in general a bad and dishonorable people.”
Walters said the Saudis were also passionate in their support of the Palestinians. She noted that through their “satellite dishes, Saudis get a barrage of graphic pictures of Palestinians suffering in the conflict with Israel —more bloody and brutal than American television would ever tolerate. In newspapers, too, the news is all about Arab bloodshed and Israeli violence.”
She added that she found Saudis who were convinced that 4,000 Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were tipped off in advance of the Sept. 11 attack and stayed home that day.
Newspapers throughout the Arab world carried that same claim as undisputed fact. The Syrian ambassador to Turkey, Muhammad Saqr, went so far as to say at a conference held at the Iranian Foreign Ministry: “Syria has documented proof of the Zionist regime’s involvement in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S.” He added that the fact 4,000 Jews employed at the trade center did not show up for work that day “clearly attests to Zionist involvement in these attacks.”
The Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism said that what was particularly pronounced in anti-Jewish attacks last year was the “daring of the attackers,” including attempts to run over groups of worshipers and a large number of arson cases against Jewish institutions.
“In our assessment,” it continued, “the trend as seen thus far this year will continue, and Jews all over the world will still be in danger of becoming victims of unbridled incitement and attacks of varied severity.”