Alex Newman is an international journalist, educator and consultant who is currently based in Europe but has lived on four continents. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and has worked for numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Anti-Semitism is on the rise across Europe – big time.
Experts who spoke with WND and recent surveys indicated hatred of Jews is soaring to record levels throughout much of the region.
In some countries, such as Greece, Hungary and Ukraine, anti-Semites are even serving openly in parliaments and official bodies.
Many areas also are seeing surging numbers of reported attacks on Jews and anti-Semitic attitudes.
In France, a radical Muslim gunned down Jewish children last year at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks in recent memory.
The killing spree, perpetrated by Islamic terrorist Mohammed Merah, left three young children and a rabbi dead.
Instead of a major crackdown, however, the attack was followed by a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, according to experts and official data.
“It appears that rather than the Toulouse attacks being a shock to the system, they had the opposite effect and perhaps allowed terrorist groups in Europe to become more emboldened,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor declared after the mass murder.
He cited other attempted terror attacks against Jewish targets in the region in the wake of the killings in France.
Human rights advocates fear that with the rapid rise of anti-Semitism throughout much of Europe, it will not be the last attack.
More recently, an Israeli diplomat stationed in Cyprus was forced to leave the post after her 15-year-old son was bullied and eventually beaten and shocked with an electric device because of his Jewish faith.
“On the physical level, there are bad things going on, especially I would say in Europe, France being the country that right now is seeing most of the physical assaults against Jews,” said Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Indiana University and the author of the recently published book “Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives.”
“There are French Jews today leaving the country – they feel insecure. They’re not leaving in large numbers, but they are leaving,” Rosenfeld told WND. “And other countries as well: in Scandinavia, Jews feel insecure and some are leaving; in Belgium and the Netherlands, things are uneasy. So there’s a lot going on that needs to be taken seriously.”
In parts of Eastern Europe, the problem is getting serious as well, experts say.
As anti-Semitism continues to grow in the region, however, there are forces fighting back against the trend.
One of the key issues in understanding and combating anti-Semitism, not just in Europe but around the world, is actually defining it, experts tell WND.
The European Union’s Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, now known as the Fundamental Rights Agency, defined anti-Semitism non-officially in a document dubbed “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.”
While the definition has come under fire from some “anti-Zionist” forces, it is broadly accepted among experts as a good starting point.
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the EU says in its definition. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
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For example, denying the Jewish people a right to their own homeland or comparing Israeli policies to Nazi atrocities are both considered to be anti-Semitic under the EU’s definition.
Critics of the definition and similar efforts say such tactics and labels are mostly a ploy used to stifle legitimate scrutiny of Israeli policies, especially because even some Jews oppose Zionism or at least the Israeli establishment.
Experts on anti-Semitism who spoke with WND, however, say that vicious hate against Israel as a nation and the double standards applied to it are often simply cover for hatred of Jews.
“Anti-Semitism, as we know, is a hatred that dates back over many, many centuries, but it changes from time to time, so what this EU working definition does is set forth in two pages – it’s not a long document – what anti-Semitism has been and what it looks like today, and it gives specific details for measuring legitimacy and illegitimacy when it comes to criticism of the state of Israel and so on,” explained Rosenfeld.
“So for instance, if somebody has some problems with some of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, that need not be anti-Semitic,” he added. “If, on the other hand, somebody begins drawing analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany, we’re in a new realm.”
Regardless of controversies over definitions, though, there is no question among experts and analysts that anti-Semitism is exploding throughout much of Europe.
A microcosm of the hatred
The southern Swedish city of Malmo was once a refuge for European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitism in other parts of Europe.
In recent decades, however, the city has come to be regarded by observers as a hotbed of hatred against Jews.
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Today, many experts view Malmo as a microcosm of anti-Semitism in Western Europe and even globally to some extent.
According to official figures, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in the city of about 300,000 is climbing to record levels.
An estimated 700 observant Jews live in the area, with probably another 1,000 or more who are less active in the Jewish community.
Already, more than a few Jewish families, concerned for their safety, have fled to places like Israel. Others have moved to safer, more tolerant cities like Stockholm, the capital.
Despite the ongoing departure of Jews from Sweden’s third largest city, however, some 60 anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported in 2012 – a new record and almost triple the average for 2010 and 2011.
In the first half of this year, 35 were reported, putting Malmo on track to beat its previous record.
Lesser manifestations of anti-Semitism in Malmo, as elsewhere in Europe, include shouting slurs at Jews or intimidation.
A local rabbi, for instance, has trouble going out in public without being verbally attacked. He fears for his safety.
More serious incidents range from desecration of property and vandalism aimed at Jewish targets to violent attacks on individual Jews.
Last year, an explosion rocked the Malmo Jewish community center, sparking even deeper fears among Swedish Jews.
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There have been no convictions in the cases so far.
Jews in Malmo speak out
“The bomb was pretty unpleasant,” Jehoshua Kaufman, a spokesman for the Malmo Jewish community, told WND.
“When the kids came in the morning, they saw the broken windows and all that – it’s kind of worrisome,” he added. “You really have to make a decision if you want to let your kids grow up here.”
His own kids, who attended regular Swedish schools, have also been victims of anti-Semitism.
“It’s more among the young people,” Kaufman said of anti-Semitism in the area. “Young kids are not nice to each other.”
His children have been “called names, harassed, punched a little bit,” he said.
“There hasn’t been any really bad violence, but there is some violence, like you have among kids, but focused on Jewish kids,” he said.
While reliable figures are difficult to find, there is no doubt that some Jews are leaving the city.
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“Jews leave Malmo for two basic reasons, interconnected of course,” Kaufman explained. “One is that it’s a decreasing community, meaning that less people mean less Jewish activity, and less Jewish activity means people want to be somewhere else where it’s more easy to be Jewish.
“The second reason is because there is a fear of anti-Semitism and people have a feeling that they don’t want their kids to grow up in a city where there are so many people with negative attitudes toward Jews,” he added.
While Kaufman said that anti-Semitism has undoubtedly been on the rise in Malmo over the last decade or two, he did not see the surging number of hate-crime reports as an indicator per se of soaring anti-Semitism in recent years.
“I think the tendency to go to the police is rising because we’re trying to help people understand that they don’t need to be victims,” he said. “For the past 15, 20 years, it has been growing, but in the last four or five years, people are starting to press charges.”
The situation and the solution
After scandals surrounding anti-Semitism in Malmo made international headlines, the government started to take the issue more seriously, albeit slowly and under immense global pressure.
However, neither local Jews nor outside experts believe that the problems can or will be resolved anytime soon.
“The last few years, [the authorities] have started to talk about this, but I don’t think the situation will change in the short run – perhaps in the longer run – but I don’t think it will make a difference for the Jewish community,” Kaufman said.
“It’s mostly about education,” he continued. “They have educational programs for police and teachers.
“As people go on getting more aware – people saying things like f****** Jews or kill the Jews or stupid things like that – people will not passively react, so there will be slow change,” he said.
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“You have the biggest problem – as everywhere else – among the young population, young males, and I think the incidence of anti-Semitism will not decrease, but I think, over the long run, there might be change,” he said.
“Already, if I look back 10 years, there has been a change, and I think 10 years from now there will be even more change, but I don’t think it will be significant enough,” he continued.
There are multiple efforts under way to tackle anti-Semitism in Malmo. Whether they will be effective or not, however, depends on who is asked.
“We are part of interreligious activities, and of course there’s a change, but it’s among people who are already open to this way of thinking, while a large number of people are not open to this – uneducated people,” Kaufman continued. “Over time, the school system, if it works, can slowly change people’s attitudes.”
In response to the soaring figures on anti-Semitic hate crimes, Malmo’s new mayor, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, issued a statement pledging to crack down.
“Every hate crime committed is one too many,” she said. “Each report must be taken seriously and the whole city has to engage in countering the attitudes and opinions that lead to people being forced endure the suffering that hate crimes bring.”
The former mayor until a few months ago, Ilmar Reepalu, however, suggested that Jews themselves were largely to blame for the anti-Semitism.
Reepalu even urged the Jewish community to distance itself from Israel if it hoped to remain safe.
“When people say that we have a right to take your land because we have some form of 1,000-year promise from God that this is our land, then it creates conflicts,” Reepalu was quoted as saying regarding the state of Israel and the Jews.
His comments were widely criticized by the Jewish community.
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“Then they say that I am anti-Semitic when I put this across,” added the former mayor, who has indeed been accused of anti-Semitism by more than a few Jewish leaders. “I am flabbergasted that they are then able to tie all this together.”
Aside from the political class, analysts say the government-subsidized or government–run media has played a role in perpetuating and downplaying the problem as well.
“The media is as responsible as the politicians,” said Ingrid Carlqvist, editor-in-chief of “Dispatch International,” an independent-minded news organization based in Malmo that regularly lambastes Sweden’s establishment press.
“They have refused to write about it for many years, and when they started, they refused to write about the real problem – the big Muslim group in Malmo,” Carlqvist told WND. “So people from other parts of Sweden got the impression that blond Swedes were behind the harassments against the Jews.”
Forces at work
Other than radical Islamists, whose numbers are growing quickly with the ongoing influx of Middle Eastern immigrants, experts say there are other anti-Semitic forces at work: extreme leftists and neo-Nazis, both of which exist in significant numbers in Sweden and much of Europe.
The seemingly bizarre coalition is united by just one belief – that Jews, or at least “Zionist” Jews who support the Jewish state, are inherently bad.
Despite having a rally permit, a 2009 pro-Israel and pro-peace event in Malmo organized by local Jews was viciously attacked by a shrieking mob of leftists and Islamists.
Anti-Israel protesters threw eggs, bottles and even tear gas at the peaceful rally before police eventually forced everyone to disperse, including the Jews who had a permit for the event.
The problems in Malmo eventually became so serious that in late 2010, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the famed global Jewish human-rights group, issued a travel advisory urging “extreme caution” when visiting southern Sweden.
“Unfortunately, it is not out of date and it has not been taken back,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the center.
He added that officials were not taking the threat to the Jewish community seriously, so the travel advisory is still in effect.
“The situation is beyond troubling – there’s just no excuse for this,” Rabbi Cooper told WND.
He called the situation “an outrage” and a “stain” on Sweden.
“It is basically the abandonment of an entire community,” he said.
“The reason for the highlighting of the third largest city in Sweden is the abandonment of a community – refusal to use appropriate measures in terms of policing, indictments, prosecutions, political statements,” he said.
“The signal couldn’t be clearer that, in terms of being held accountable for hate crimes or other crimes against Jews, it’s not going to happen, it didn’t happen, and it isn’t going to be happening for some time yet.”
Parallels in Europe
Some experts see Malmo as a microcosm, albeit more extreme, of anti-Semitism across wide swaths of the region. The same forces, for example, are behind much of the hatred.
“The people counting votes in places like Malmo say, ‘well, there are a lot more Muslims than there are Jews, so who cares about what happens to 700 people,’ so in Europe, it’s a huge problem,” Rabbi Cooper argued.
While Malmo may be “the most extreme example” of anti-Semitism going unaddressed in a democracy, those kinds of attitudes can be found throughout the region, he added.
As in Malmo, the number of documented hate crimes throughout the EU is also soaring to record highs.
A recent survey commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, to be published later this year, found that levels of anti-Semitism are breaking new records.
According to the report, more than one-fourth of Jews in Europe were victims of anti-Semitic harassment in the past year.
Over a third were victimized during the previous five years, with 5 percent of those surveyed reporting property vandalized due to their faith. Seven percent reported being physically hurt or injured.
The problem has become so bad that in some countries – France, Belgium and Hungary, for example – around half of the Jewish population says it is considering or has considered emigration.
A previous report on anti-Semitism by the FRA, published last year, also noted that despite the negative effects of the hatred, only a handful of EU member states actually operate official collection mechanisms to document the incidence of anti-Semitism in real detail.
“This continued lack of systematic data collection leads to gross underreporting of the nature and characteristics of anti-Semitic incidents that occur in the EU,” the document explained. “This blind spot in the policy field means that offenders are able to carry out attacks with relative impunity and Jewish populations continue to face anti-Semitic violence.”
Still, data from other sources also appear to confirm the trend of rising anti-Semitism.
A report released earlier this year by AKVAH, described as the security unit of Denmark’s Jewish community, documented 40 anti-Semitic incidents in 2012 – almost double the number from 2009, the last year for which data is available.
Anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe
A separate survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, found “disturbingly high levels” of anti-Semitic attitudes in 10 European countries studied.
Released last year, the ADL report, dubbed “Attitudes Toward Jews in Ten European Countries,” also showed that anti-Semitism was on the rise across much of the region.
In France, which has the largest Jewish community in Europe at well over half a million, an estimated one-fourth of the population harbors anti-Semitic views, according to the survey results.
Three years earlier, 20 percent held such attitudes.
Other countries had even more alarming increases. Among Hungarians, almost two-thirds were anti-Semitic, the ADL survey found – up from 47 percent in 2009. In Spain, 53 percent harbored anti-Semitic views as defined by the ADL, a 5 percent increase from three years prior.
Even in the United Kingdom, where 10 percent of survey respondents reported holding anti-Semitic views in 2009, the figures have increased by 7 percent.
Among Germans, there was also a slight increase, with 21 percent of the population now admitting to anti-Semitic views, up 1 percent from the last survey.
In all, almost one-third of respondents from the ten nations were identified by ADL as having anti-Semitic attitudes based on its definitions.
“The survey is disturbing by the fact that anti-Semitism remains at high levels across the continent and infects many Europeans at a much higher level than we see here in the United States,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman.
“In Hungary, Spain and Poland the numbers for anti-Semitic attitudes are literally off-the-charts and demand a serious response from political, civic and religious leaders,” he added.
Across the continent, the increasing hatred of Jews is coming from three primary sources: radical Islamists, far-left forces and neo-Nazis who subscribe to modern variants of the anti-Semitic National Socialist ideology of Adolf Hitler.
“Those three groups are groups that typically wouldn’t be on speaking terms with one another, yet when it comes to distrust of Jews, denigration of Jews, hatred of Jews, and most especially, of course, the demonization and delegitimization of the state of Israel, the three come together,” explained Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism Director Rosenfeld, whose new book explores the phenomenon worldwide. “One wouldn’t expect to see it.
“Going beyond Muslim populations, Western Europe – France in particular, but not only France, Great Britain, parts of Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other places are affected similarly by notions of Jewish conspiracy, houses sentiments that breed resentment against what is considered to be undue Jewish power, resentments as well against the notion that Jews continue to harp about the Holocaust and make people feel guilty, it’s pretty nasty business and it’s quite widespread,” he continued.
“Link that to the anti-Zionism-anti-Israelism and once again you have a pretty toxic combination of elements coming together,” Rosenfeld added.
Other experts agree. Norwegian historian Eirik Eiglad, who contributed an essay to Rosenfeld’s latest book on anti-Semitism, has examined the issue in Norway, Scandinavia and Europe, telling WND that “new forms of anti-Zionism are a greater threat than is anti-Semitism in any of its classical guises.”
Studying the anti-Semitism phenomenon on the far left, Eiglad found that “the way it has been possible for anti-Semitism to reenter the public debate is through the anti-imperialist analyses that Maoists provided in the late 1960s and the 70s.”
In that period, he added, Maoists were remarkably strong in Norway, and some elements of their fringe views have survived and even spread.
Policy questions and boycotts
Among the recent developments that have sparked concerns and even some accusations of anti-Semitism is a new EU decree adopted by the European Commission in July.
Under the new rules, EU member states will be officially barred from working in virtually any way with entities in Israel that are not within the 1949 Armistice Line – essentially redrawing Israel’s borders for European purposes to exclude Jews in the Golan Heights, Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem.
Experts also told WND that some European governments were funding anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda being taught in parts of the Arab world, often via the United Nations or under various humanitarian pretexts.
Separately, the powerful Irish teachers’ union became the first educational trade union in Europe to adopt a boycott of Israeli academia.
The measure, adopted unanimously in April, also called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the apartheid State of Israel.”
The rise of political Anti-Semitism
Among the most troubling elements for experts behind the recent rise in anti-Semitism is the fact that real and perceived anti-Semites are getting closer and closer to exercising political power.
“A lot of people say there has been a spike in anti-Semitism in Europe because there has been a radicalization within the Muslim population,” said Rabbi Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “That is true – it’s true in the U.K., it’s true in France, it’s true in Belgium – but that’s not the full story.”
In other parts of Europe, anti-Semitism is moving from the fringes to the halls of power.
In Greece, for example, the Golden Dawn party, which regularly uses Nazi symbols while its members spout anti-Semitic propaganda, entered parliament last year for the first time, earning more than 21 seats out of 300 in the election. While the party rejects the label, it is widely described as neo-Nazi.
The Hungarian Jobbik party, meanwhile, is also regularly condemned for anti-Semitism. A party leader and lawmaker, Marton Gyongyosi, even suggested compiling a list of Jews because they could “pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
After winning 17 percent of the vote in recent elections, Jobbik is now Hungary’s third largest party in terms of representation in the national and European parliaments.
Estimates indicate that over 500,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, making the trends even more troubling for Hungary’s Jewish community and for Jews worldwide.
Even members of the two ruling parties in Hungary have attracted criticism for, among other things, openly celebrating former Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, a self-styled anti-Semite who collaborated with Hitler in persecuting and murdering Jews. While the parties have vocally condemned anti-Semitism, concerns continue to grow in Hungary and beyond.
In Ukraine, the Svodoba is also raising eyebrows among analysts. While the party officially denies that it is anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi, countless sources – especially Jewish – disagree, citing a wide variety of incidents.
Elections held in 2012 saw Svodoba enter parliament for the first time with 37 seats after winning more than 10 percent of the vote, making it the fourth largest national political party.
Members and leaders of all three of the political parties were listed in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs for 2012.
“What you have now is mainstream political movements that openly espouse anti-Semitic views,” Rabbi Cooper, told WND. “Those are the kind of trends that most deeply trouble us.”
WND sought comment from prominent European figures criticized for alleged anti-Semitism. None responded by press time.