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A shameful contagion of antisemitism in Europe

By Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Editor-In-Chief, U.S. News & World Report, October 7, 2002

Europe is sick again. The memory of 6 million murdered Jews, it seems, is no longer inoculation against the virus of antisemitism. It has taken hold, on the supposedly liberal left as well as the xenophobic right, all too long unchecked by feeble political leadership with one eye on the vengeful sentiments of millions of anti-Zionist immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. The historic antisemitism denying individual Jews the right to live as equal members of society has horribly coalesced with a new version of antisemitism that denies the collective expression of the Jewish people, namely Israel, to live as an equal member of the family of nations. From Kiev in the East to Bilbao and Barcelona in Spain, and Rome in the South, from Marseilles to Paris to Berlin in the West, the poison is at work. Somehow antisemitism in Europe has outdone every other ideology and prejudice in its power and durability. Fascism came and went; Communism came and went; anti-semitism came and stayed. And now it has been revitalized.

"Fire and Broken Glass." Some of the manifestations of the campaign are spelled out in a report by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights aptly titled "Fire and Broken Glass." The summary of evil deeds can only sketch the daily nightmare. Jews, and people presumed to be Jewish, are assaulted across the region. Attackers, shouting racist slogans, throw stones at school children, at worshippers leaving religious services, at rabbis. Jewish homes, schools, and synagogues are firebombed. Windows are smashed. Scores of Jewish cemeteries are desecrated with anti-Jewish slogans and threats and Nazi symbols on walls and monuments. In Belgium, thugs beat up the chief rabbi. In Britain, the left-wing journal the New Statesman depicts a large Star of David stabbing the Union Jack. In London, a young student reading Psalms is stabbed 27 times on a city bus. A mural in a Scottish church depicts a crucified Jesus surrounded by Israeli soldiers. In Italy, La Stampa publishes a Page 1 cartoon of a tank emblazoned with the Jewish star pointing its gun at the baby Jesus, who pleads, "Surely, they don't want to kill me again." In France, where there have been hundreds of acts of violence, walls in Jewish neighborhoods have been defaced with slogans proclaiming, "Jews to the gas chambers." In Germany, the Free Democratic Party has unofficially adopted antisemitism as a campaign technique to attract Germany's sizable Muslim minority. A former German defense minister blames the power of the Jews for all the perceived ills of American foreign policy. German Jews are advised not to wear anything in public that will identify them as Jewish because their safety cannot be guaranteed. A listing of such incidents could fill, and fill again, this entire magazine - even though they represent just a fraction of the total number of such crimes, their racial origin concealed in routine statistics of ordinary assault and vandalism.

All it takes for evil to flourish, as Edmund Burke reminded us, is for good men to remain silent. That, alas, has been the pattern. When things were getting out of hand a year ago, the French government finally made a forthright stand, and it had an effect. (Kudos to Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, who recently spoke out forcefully against antisemitic trends in U.S. academia.) Many public officials in Europe make racist, anti-Jewish statements but too often escape rebuke. Many Europeans are shocked by the re-emergence of hatred of Jews, but the most common reaction has been complacency. Israel seems to be absorbing Europe's lingering anti-Jewish feelings, which are easier for many to express as anti-Zionism than antisemitism.

How do they do this? By applying two of the oldest antisemitic techniques: the double standard and moral equivalency. The double standard is manifest in the way Jews and the Jewish state are judged in a way no other people would be. With venom unsurpassed in modern dialogue, Europe demands that Israel acts as if it has to win the "moral man of the year" award just to defend itself. Israel is attacked for any deviation, no matter how trivial, as if responding to those that seek its destruction is a moral failure. This pernicious, and intellectually dishonest, double standard has the effect of implicitly denying Israel the right to the same measures of self-defense that any other state would exert. When Israelis take steps to assert their collective rights of self-defense in the face of unprecedented terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, they encounter an almost unanimous condemnation from the European establishment and the European media. European detractors turn every Israeli act of defense into its current euphemism: crimes against humanity. The Europeans took the election of Ariel Sharon as a license to view every act of self-defense as an aggression. They forgot what produced Sharon's election, namely the terrorism that Yasser Arafat launched in September 2000 against the most left-wing government in Israeli history - a government that had just made the most far-reaching proposals to settle the conflict.

What provoked Europe's latest hostility was Israel's incursion into the West Bank, which was in response to the unprecedented campaign of terror, culminating in the Netanya Passover bombing in which 29 Israelis perished and more than 140 were injured. If any other country in the world were bleeding from terrorism at the same rate as Israel, would there be any question of its right to defend itself? To deny Israel's right to defend itself, of course, is to deny the right of the Jews to a state that can perform the minimal function of protecting its own citizens.

The European double standard toward Israel takes many forms. Witness the eagerness with which so many in Europe diminished, and even dismissed, Israel's previously unimaginable concessions at Camp David, swallowing the Palestinian version of events there, despite a forceful American repudiation of that spin. Witness the almost hysterical reaction in Europe to a nonexistent massacre in Jenin, even as it failed to pay attention to the cumulative massacres of civilians in Israel. The Guardian newspaper in London betrayed its historic association with the founding of Israel with the outrageous editorial utterance that Jenin was every bit as bad as 9/11. Witness Europe's virtual acquiescence in the World Conference Against Racism held in South Africa, where Israel, the only democracy in the region with a program of civil rights and full Arab participation in government, was accused of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, and apartheid, while the vicious racism of the Middle East and Africa was ignored.

Paradox upon paradox. The traditional attacks from the right based on national, religious, or ethnic reasons have been surpassed by the more driving force of the extreme left, which invokes political or universal reasons, like human rights, anti-globalism, and socialism. Ever obsessed by anti-Americanism, they have seized on the Middle East crisis as a way to attack the United States and Israel as being unfeeling toward the poor of the world. For them, the Palestinians have become the poster child for Third World victimization. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is portrayed as an extended human-interest story told exclusively from the Palestinian point of view. Unmentioned is the fact that there is not a single democratic state in the entire region, that there would not be a single Israeli soldier in any Palestinian city or any checkpoint were Jews not the daily targets of terror. Ignoring the corrupt, authoritarian regime in Palestine, the critics from the left attack Israel on universalist issues, arguing that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank oppressing the Palestinians. They pay not the slightest heed to the fact that Israel is there because the Arabs made war. Never do they acknowledge that the Palestinians could have had their own state just two years ago, and perhaps be flourishing in peace now, if they had not been incited to still more insensate violence. The paradoxes are dizzying and malign. Israel, a country victimized by terrorism, stands accused of perpetrating terrorism, the Jews described as Nazis, and their Arab tormentors cast in the role of helpless Jews.

Next, of course, is the moral-equivalency trap. When Israel responds to terrorism, Europe treats it as if the response and the terrorism are morally equal; as if there were no difference between the arsonist and the firefighter; as if Israel's response, which seeks to minimize civilian casualties, is equal to the terrorism, which seeks to maximize civilian casualties; as if the premeditated campaign of suicide murder were a sane response to an extraordinarily generous proposal that would have provided Palestinians with a state - a proposal many in Palestine now fervently wish their corrupt and vicious leadership had embraced.

Of course, the point of the double standard and moral equivalency is to create the impression that Israel is an illegitimate state, among the world's worst human-rights violators, and thus legitimize the extinction of a state the Arabs have never accepted. The insight of Amos Oz, a liberal Israeli writer, is pertinent. He is haunted, he says, by the observation that before the Holocaust, European graffiti read "Jews to Palestine," only to be transformed in modern times into "Jews out of Palestine." The message to Jews, notes Oz, is, "Don't be here and don't be there. That is, Don't be."

Europe seems to be unconscious of the virulence of the campaign of lies against Israelis in Palestine and throughout the Middle East, where the fact of the Holocaust is routinely described by media and governments as a Jewish invention, and where teachers foment a hatred of Israel and fail even to acknowledge its existence in history texts and maps in the schools subsidized by Europeans!

The unprecedented and unbridled hatred embodied by jihad, sanctioned by authoritarian Arab states, is, of course, a device to divert their populations from the failures of their own societies. But Europe, the killing fields of so many Jews, should know better. It should be the first to understand that Jews, of all people, have the right to defend, even overdefend themselves from the consequences of hate. Europe has a historic duty to redeem the crimes committed on its soil by first recognizing and then repudiating the persecution Jews face today and vigorously defending the collective right of the Jewish state to defend itself from its legions of hate-blinded enemies.

Anything less defames the glories of a European civilization dedicated to the dignity of man, freedom, honor, and decency.