By Simone Rodan-Benzaquen and Daniel Schwammenthal
11 June 2014
Just ahead of last month's European Parliament elections, which saw the rise of far-right and anti-Semitic parties, four people were murdered in the Jewish Museum of Brussels. The shootings underscored that, in addition to political extremism, Europe's Jews also face the violent threat of jihadists.
Mehdi Nemmouche, a French Muslim, was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. He appears to have been radicalized in prison, and is believed to have fought for Islamist rebels in Syria. Like Mohamed Merah, who murdered three soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi two years ago in France, Mr. Nemmouche appears to have mixed gangsterism with radical Islam, anti-Semitism and hatred of the West.
With roughly 1,000 European fighters like Mr. Nemmouche estimated to be in Syria, European Union officials are working to devise better strategies for combating radicalization and detecting the movements of people to and from Syria.
But Europe's Jews also face almost daily attacks—both verbal and physical. In France, home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 650,000, the situation is particularly severe, with 170 anti-Semitic acts reported by the Paris-based Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) and the French Ministry of the Interior in the first trimester of 2014 alone.
According to the French League of Human Rights, nearly 50% of all racist acts in France are anti-Semitic, even though Jews represent only 1% of the population. Such attacks take place in the context of an extremely charged public debate.
French comedian Dieudonné has managed not only to popularize an openly anti-Semitic discourse, but to forge the most unlikely of alliances. Though his father is from Cameroon, Dieudonné has united behind him individuals from the extreme right such as Alain Soral, a self-described "national-socialiste intellectual," National Front founder Jean-Marie le Pen and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
Meanwhile, Dieudonné's fan base has deep roots in France's immigrant communities. Whatever else may divide the likes of Mr. le Pen and Dieudonné's legions of admirers, they are united by their animosity toward Jews and the Jewish state. In nearby Belgium, Laurent Louis—until last month a member of parliament—is trying to reproduce Dieudonné's mass appeal.
In early May, Mr. Louis organized a conference to unite French and Belgian anti-Semites, which the Belgian authorities canceled at the last minute. Government attempts to silence Dieudonné and his followers by prohibiting his shows have failed, largely thanks to the Internet. Dieudonné's anti-Jewish YouTube diatribes receive millions of viewers within hours of uploading.
The authorities can ban events but not sentiments. Take one demonstration in January this year, of some 17,000 people in the streets of Paris. Officially meant as a general anti-government protest, hundreds of participants wound up chanting "Jews out of France" and "the gas chambers were fake."
This environment leaves many in the Jewish community, perhaps for the first time since they rebuilt their homes in Europe after the Holocaust, fearing once again for their security and future. Fortunately, some European leaders have begun to grasp the depth of the problem.
As French philosopher Albert Camus said: "To give things their correct name is to put the world right a bit." In that sense, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has started to put France right. "Today exists a new form of anti-Semitism that is born in our suburbs," he said in a radio interview in July 2012. He was referring to young Muslims, as apartment blocks outside French city centers typically house large immigrant communities.
At the same time he warned "not to stigmatize fellow citizens notably of Muslim faith." Mr. Valls went further two years later, in March this year, at a rally against anti-Semitism in Paris. The old anti-Semitism of the French extreme right "is renewed," he said. "It feeds off hate for Israel. It feeds off anti-Zionism. Because anti-Zionism is an invitation to anti-Semitism."
Indeed, anti-Semitism in Europe has taken new forms and comes from different segments of society. There is the extreme right with their traditional focus on race and Holocaust denial the radical left, who seek to demonize Israel and, as Mr. Valls hinted, there is a problem among some Muslim immigrants. Their motivation is little studied and thus little understood.
The simplistic notion, though, that their anti-Jewish acts are triggered by the Arab-Israeli conflict is just that—simplistic. It also risks rationalizing criminal behavior. The reality is that the problem of anti-Semitism has long become structural.
After Merah's murders in 2012, for example, anti-Jewish attacks in France skyrocketed 58%, according to the SPCJ, independent of the relatively quiet situation between Israelis and Palestinians. So what can governments and civil society in Europe do to combat anti-Semitism?
First, we need more leaders such as Mr. Valls speaking the truth and showing zero tolerance. When demonstrators at so-called "pro-Palestinian" rallies scream slogans like "Hamas, Hamas, Jews into the gas," as has frequently happened around Europe, political leaders and the media can not stay silent. Public hate speech must not be tolerated and anti-Semitic acts need to be systematically prosecuted and punished.
Second, not all expressions of anti-Semitism should be fought with the same weapons. Regarding the Muslim community, for example, improving social cohesion is key. Better integrating Muslim Europeans is not only a virtue and a necessity in itself, it can also help lower the susceptibility of these communities to anti-Semitism and radicalization. It is equally important to empower moderate Muslims.
People such as Latifa Ibn Ziaten, whose son Imad was one of the French soldiers murdered by Merah, and who now visits France's most difficult neighborhoods, speaking to youth groups and trying to steer them away from the influences of anti-Semites and extremists. There are many other such voices—Muslim entrepreneurs, writers, media personalities, students with the moral courage to confront the extremists within their communities. Let's support their work and help build their networks.
Third, more needs to be done early on in the process, before people develop anti-Semitic views. New educational programs ought to focus on this problem, assisting students to recognize prejudices. Youngsters need to learn about the culture, history and religion of other communities, by focusing on similarities and shared values.
Fourth, fighting anti-Semitism at home may also have a foreign-policy dimension. To this day, Saudi and Qatari money is pouring into European mosques, helping to spread an extremist form of Islam.
In addition, we know that through satellite television and the Internet, Islamist and anti-Semitic content can easily be accessed in Europe. Much of it is unfortunately produced in the Arab world.
The EU recently introduced the "more-for-more principle," offering stronger partnerships to neighboring countries that make more progress toward democratic reforms.
Ending anti-Jewish, anti-Christian and anti-Western hate speech should become part of this bargain. Much is at stake. Anti-Semitism is always symptomatic of a more profound problem in society, something that might start with Jews but will not stop there. So it is not just the well-being and future of the Jewish community in Europe that is at risk, but the very values Europe stands for.
Mrs. Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the AJC Paris office and Mr. Schwammenthal is the director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.