As Israel attacks Gaza, Jews elsewhere feel an impact

July 16, 2014


As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel — and sometimes, by extension, Jews — in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There’s a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London — and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine. 

People from Sri Lanka didn’t live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government’s suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments’ actions?

Jews, by contrast, are held responsible by large numbers of non-Jews in Western democratic countries for Israeli actions. That’s all Jews, whatever their views on the Israeli response to the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Sometimes, the reaction goes much further than disapproval. 

Over this past weekend, a synagogue in Paris was firebombed, and there were a couple of small demonstrations featuring signs saying “Death to Jews.” The attack further inflamed tensions that were already running high since before the latest violence in Gaza. In May, four people died when a gunman opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels. Many of those interviewed said they were not surprised, given the rise in the level of verbal and some physical violence against Belgian Jews in the past decade.

France, home to half a million Jewish citizens, has seen rising rates of emigration to Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom. So pronounced has this become that two senior French ministers, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, authored an article contending that violence and incidents against Jews in France had been falling — and that, while recent incidents were wholly unacceptable, the fear that prompts the uprooting of families and businesses was unwarranted. Tensions, they wrote, especially emanating from immigrants and new citizens from North Africa, rose after the financial crisis of 2008 but were being actively combatted.

The French ministers are somewhat right. A Pew report based on polling showed that anti-Semitism in some countries had fallen, and that those saying that they didn’t like Jews had fallen in some cases to quite low levels — to 7 percent in the United Kingdom and — the lowest — to 5 percent in Germany (disapproval of Muslims was much higher).  In France, 10 percent of respondents expressed disapproval of Jews, but in other countries the numbers were significantly higher — with crisis-ridden Greece the highest, at 47 percent, Poland at 26 percent (that number represents a sharp fall over the past five years) and Italy, which tends to pride itself on its anti-anti-Semitism, at a robust 24 percent.

But rising violence can and apparently does co-exist with a general fall in disapproval of Jews. In their article, the French ministers mention the strong growth in far right politics since the early 2000s. The far-right groups are not always anti-Semitic, however. The Dutch Freedom Party is strongly pro-Israel, and even the French Front National under Marine Le Pen has dropped most of the anti-Jewish rhetoric of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her predecessor. But many of the others continue to attack Jews verbally, and a few — like the Hungarian Jobbik and the Greek Golden Dawn — are virulently anti-Semitic. They and their supporters are often behind the attacks and the vicious rhetoric, much of it on the Internet.

There’s a subtler half-life of the old prejudice still widely prevalent. David Hirsh, a sociologist at London’s Goldsmith College, writes that because nearly everyone can happily agree that Nazism was hideous and the Holocaust a horror, we miss the fact that anti-Jewish prejudice is embedded in many of the responses expressed to “capitalism and banking, nationalism, modernity and imperialism … it was comfortable for us to imagine anti-Semitism as appearing only with a silly moustache and a fascist uniform, and as being permanently discredited.” Because we tend to think in ready-made categories, Hirsh believes, we have to see Jews either as victims of pogroms or as imperialist oppressors of their neighbors. The complexities are sacrificed to a more satisfying striking of attitudes.

Yet since they are pressed into having an attitude toward Israel, politically active Jews have to navigate the rapids of events with some care. Those who do will often fall back on a defensiveness: Yes, the killings are awful, but the country is surrounded by enemies, and Hamas and other groups who wish to destroy Israel are now able to send missiles to the country’s urban centers — what would any country do? There’s truth to that. The problem, though, is in that tricky word “but.”

Because there are plenty of “buts” on the other side, too. And many Jews understand that.

In a lucid article in The Atlantic, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg discusses the “justifications” he has heard for the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a young Palestinian, allegedly by a group of Jews looking for revenge for the killing of three Jewish teenagers. He cites a piece by Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles, in which the rabbi asks people to “please don’t say but. The words after ‘but’ invalidate everything that comes before. As – ‘he’s a nice person but he does steal from the company.’ See? ‘But’ is a meaning duster, sweeping all that comes before it.”

What Wolpe says can be taken as a broader lesson for the entire region. There is no “but” to justify attacks on either side.

In the long term, Israel has to find a lasting peace with the Palestinians, and its neighbors. So, too, do those on the other side. The moral lessons seem clear. Reality, of course, is more difficult, but there is no other way.

PHOTO: Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a demonstration in Paris, against the Israeli army’s bombings in the Gaza strip, July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau


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The problem might be the Western governments are really not pressuring Israel to make any concessions. Why might that be?

Posted by PCScipio | Report as abusive

This is Deliberate Collective punishment.
Not the response to the terrorist attacks!
Israel should defend itself with all available force.

Posted by edmull | Report as abusive

Her’s the difference. This is a religious war. It’s not political. Human judgement categorizes the differences and chooses to act or not.

Posted by Goodtimesyall | Report as abusive

Israel has been an extremely reliable ally of the United States, and people are firing rockets at Israel. The reason the rockets are fired is that the people firing them want to discontinue Israel’s existence. The people launching the rockets have installed them underground, beneath residential areas so that their own civilians will be killed if the launch sites are attacked. The only reason to support people like that is to side against Israel. The United States is not going to do that. Indeed, the anti-Israel cause was the cause espoused by the terrorists of 9/11 to justify their attack on the United States. (And they were not alone. Remember all of the dancing in the streets after 9/11.) Any success by these enemies of Israel is likely to encourage threat to the security of the United States. That pattern is clearly established.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Bob9999, please describe “reliable ally” in terms of specific benefits to the U.S. people, other than some intell cooperation. Please keep in mind the governments of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran, Anastasio Somoza DeBayle in Nicaragua, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and a host of other paradigms of good governance were also reliable allies.

Posted by PCScipio | Report as abusive

Couple of points. Muslims have been fighting in this area for 1400 years. I think that Palestinian peace with Israel will probably come after Sunni peace with Shiites and Turkish peace with Kurds.

Second point. the Muslims lie all the time. The PLO/Hamas has been caught in countless lies to the media.
They accuse Israel of genocide. But Palestinian population has tripled since Israel started.
They accuse Israel of violations of international law when they use hospitals, schools, and UN facilities as military bases, in violation of international law.
Israel provides Gaza with free water, free medical care, and free electricity.
Israel so far this year has treated 180,000 Palestinians in Israeli hospitals. Palestinians have treated no Jews.
Israel’s phone calls to civilians is unprecedented in history. Israel is at the leading edge of humanitarianism in a war situation.
Compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Muslim treatment of other Muslims in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, all over Africa, Kurdistan, Egypt, and Pakistan. It sets a standard that Muslims have no interest in trying to match.
In the last 30 days around the world, Jihad has taken the lives of 500 people and injured 700. The score card SO FAR for 2014 10,700 deaths and 13,000 injuries. Where is the outrage?

Posted by Yaakovweeeeeee | Report as abusive

The (democratically-elected) leadership in Gaza IS justified in using force against the state of Israel because Israel is intent on starving the Gazans slowly to death. That situation cannot continue.

Posted by mustafaspeaks | Report as abusive

Hmmm, can’t seem to comment on this article….

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Traditions die hard. Before 1948, Jews were a guaranteed win for tyrants as a scapegoat for their own incompetence, and for general grousing and griping by the ignorant and bigoted everywhere.
Since the founding of Israel however, a sovereign nation with defensible borders, the landscape has changed but the old tradition remains. It’s much harder to rob and kill Jews today than any time since they backed Egypt against Nebuchadnezzar and lost in 597 B.C., and no substitute scapegoat has yet appeared.

Posted by LOTOGO | Report as abusive

Both sides are Abrahamic barbarians – Jews would have us believe the only liars and terrorists are Muslims.

Posted by areyousaying | Report as abusive

Minorities are destined to be skapegoats on our planet , be this minority muslim( In southerneast Asia)or Jews in christian or muslim societies. This fact doesn’t neab that a religious flock has the right to expel other people from their country on the grounds that they have been suffering from many atrocities. A blond from Sweden, a negroid from Ethiopia, a hindu from India, as well as a Khazar from esstern Europe has nothing to do with Palestine (even if they were christians, or jews, or even muslims). Most of the jewry that lived in Palestine and all over the middle east had long ago converted to christianity os Islam and only few stayed as arab jews

Posted by sukoko | Report as abusive

Long live Democracy

Posted by sukoko | Report as abusive

The government of Israel claims to speak for all Jews. Jewish voice for peace and other pro-peace Jews have taken back their voices. By not condemning and disavowing Israel’s evil, people are silently endorsing such heinous acts. I have Christian, and Muslim, and Jewish, and other people of faith and/or conscience among my family and friends that have the courage of conviction to speak out.

Posted by prolibertate | Report as abusive