There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried

February 11, 2016
Members of LEGIDA, the Leipzig arm of the anti-immigrant movement  Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) march past anti-LEGIDA protestors (top R) during a demonstration in Leipzig January 21, 2015. The weekly PEGIDA demonstrations began last October as a local protest against the building of new shelters for refugees, and have been growing in size. Counter-marches have taken place across Germany, with far larger numbers, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the group in unusually strong language as racists "with hatred in their hearts." PEGIDA leaders deny they are racist and say they distinguish between the secular majority among Germany's 4 million Muslims and those trying to spread Muslim values.           REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke (GERMANY  - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY IMMIGRATION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Members of LEGIDA, the Leipzig arm of the anti-immigrant movement, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) march past anti-LEGIDA protestors (top R) during a demonstration in Leipzig, January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The Weimar Republic, Germany’s flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today’s paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control — vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France — and elsewhere in Europe — increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar’s combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany’s 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

Graves desecrated by vandals with Nazi swastikas and anti-semitic slogans in the Jewish cemetery of Brumath close to Strasbourg, October 31, 2004. It is the third time in the last six months that Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated in the Alsace regionREUTERS/Vincent Kessler  VK/WS

Graves desecrated by vandals with Nazi swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans in the Jewish cemetery of Brumath close to Strasbourg, October 31, 2004. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country’s Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions — as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today’s National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar’s political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France’s, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States’, where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

French author Marek Halter cleans the word 'quenelle' written on "The Wall For Peace" at the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris January 6, 2014. The expression "la quenelle" literally translates into English as meaning an elongated creamed fish dumpling but is also a reference to the French comedian Dieudonne's trademark straight-arm salute. France is considering banning performances by Dieudonne M'bala M'bala whose shows have, according to Interior Minister Manuel Valls last December, repeatedly insulted the memory of Holocaust victims and could threaten public order.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier   (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS)

French author Marek Halter cleans the word ‘quenelle’ written on “The Wall For Peace” at the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, January 6, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Yet the jihadist incidents are — in numerical terms — a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

People attending an anti-immigration demonstration organised by rightwing movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) walk past opponents of PEGIDA behind police cars, in Dresden, Germany October 19, 2015. PEGIDA held a rally on Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of the group's formation.     REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Anti-immigration protest organized by right-wing movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) faces off against opponents behind police cars, in Dresden, Germany, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture — which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” (Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens’ patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

anti-Hitler_1928

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring with SA stormtroopers at Nuremberg in 1928. National Archives

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters’ League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don’t take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe’s Jews are so worried.

12 comments

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Good and thoughtful article!

Posted by dan9876 | Report as abusive

It’s a mistake to think that importing the procedures of democracy will necessarily result in a just society. In recent years, we have seen many examples of countries that have experienced “regime change” from an autocratic system to a democratic system. In most of those cases, the result has been to increase both authoritarianism and anti-Americanism. This seems to be because the average person in those countries, if given the choice, always would have preferred a more authoritarian system and always harbored antipathy for the United States.

The procedures of democracy do not create a just society if the voters want something else.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

The addition of so many Muslims Has increased the anti Semitic views in Europe Had they thought this through they should not have allowed all of these Muslims into their nations. i would not have.

Posted by JamesD115 | Report as abusive

There is a glaring absence in the story: the extreme left-wing parties, which are largely pro-Muslim and anti-Semitic. Never mind that Islamists are the first ones to reject left wing ideology, they still have the unstinting admiration of the extreme left

Posted by peterwinner | Report as abusive

@Bob9999

Very true. Also if you study history, these tribes have been at war since biblical times and no amount of regime change will change anything. I feel sorry for the people caught in the crossfire.

Posted by TheTruth01 | Report as abusive

Did you read that: http://www.politico.eu/article/donald-tr ump-blasts-angela-merkels-tragic-mistake -migration-crisis-refugees-bataclan/
In America weapons are in free sold, in Europe not! How could you deduce of that a more dangerous situation for the Jewish population in Europe than in the USA.

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive

The Jewish population of Europe and the rest of the world is bearing the ill will caused by the actions of the ultra-nationalist government in Israel. That government tries to portray all criticism as “anti-Semitic” while creating an almost perfect fascist state at home to limit domestic criticism. The virulent racist rhetoric from ultra-Nationalists combined with their violent acts, repression of dissent, and the illegal appropriation of Palestinian land should be a cause for concern for all Jews everywhere because they will be seen as enablers and supporters regardless of their personal feelings. The cause of the downfall of ancient Israel may also become the cause for the downfall of modern Israel.

Posted by elcantwell | Report as abusive

The Jewish population of Europe and the rest of the world is bearing the ill will caused by the actions of the ultra-nationalist government in Israel. That government tries to portray all criticism as “anti-Semitic” while creating an almost perfect fascist state at home to limit domestic criticism. The virulent racist rhetoric from ultra-Nationalists combined with their violent acts, repression of dissent, and the illegal appropriation of Palestinian land should be a cause for concern for all Jews everywhere because they will be seen as enablers and supporters regardless of their personal feelings. The cause of the downfall of ancient Israel may also become the cause for the downfall of modern Israel.

Posted by elcantwell | Report as abusive

elcantwell writes: “The virulent racist rhetoric from ultra-Nationalists combined with their violent acts, repression of dissent, and the illegal appropriation of Palestinian land …”

These are all false accusations unsupported by evidence.

There has been no “illegal appropriation” of so-called “Palestinian land”.
There is no repression of peaceful dissent.
There is no “racist rhetoric” coming from the Israeli government.

I will add ….

Since the Palestinian Authority permits such things as ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilian and the creation of invasion tunnels into Israel, they in fact forfeit ALL moral right to their territory.

Add to this, the PA’s daily, brutal repression of their own citizens and the clearly professed aim of their major organisations to implement Islamic law and wipe out Israel entirely. With this they forfeit their right to govern.

Since elcantwell is so concerned about repression, do these issues also show up on his radar? I hope so.

Israel is a magnificent, beautiful, and moral nation.

It is a model for the world to emulate.

Posted by PRODOS | Report as abusive

They have good reason as their govts are more concerned with enabling muslim invasion than protecting productive taxpaying citizens.

There is no future for Judaism in Europe. Europe’s leaders have embraced islam in every way unspoken.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

Odd that the author refers to the anti-Semitism of the far-right, but not the far left, which is also virulent. And because the left increasingly allies with radical Islamists, potentially much more dangerous.

Posted by JohhnyB | Report as abusive

The fact that Jews figure prominently advocating and bringing in refugees – e.g. George Soros, Barbara Spectre, Gregor Gysi, Simon Schuama – will alienate much of the indigenous population. All the more so as Israel turns away refugees. Israel’s advocacy to take down Saddam and Assad have alienated Moslems who are pouring in to Europe. Being at the forefront of Revolution and Change has a backlash.

Posted by GFZZ | Report as abusive