What can be new in the debate over the "new anti-Semitism" in Europe? It seems in Germany there are some who are interested in intelligent analyses and explanations - even in seeking solutions. At a Berlin conference last week, titled "Anti-Semitism Today - Comparing European Debates" and organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, discussion groups from England, France, Poland, Germany and Israel struggled with this complex task.
Finding a solid common denominator seemed all but impossible, but a few basic questions did come up repeatedly. With regard to the first question, whether there is a new anti-Semitism, there was almost no controversy. The old anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Europe in various guises and strengths.
The upper crust in France still uses the old defamatory expressions. The ancient hatreds and suspicions that various groups in Poland have of Jews has not passed from the world. There are other examples, but only in Germany, noted foundation chairman Ralf Fucks with a wry smile, is old anti-Semitism "unacceptable in the salon."
The Holocaust made Jew-hating politically incorrect. Any politician who uses anti-Semitic expressions in conversation is removed from the system with dizzying speed. The new anti-Semitism in Germany, as in the rest of Europe - although in Germany it has seen no violent expression - is new mainly because the infected population is new, and the influences, interests and reasons for it are new.
A child from a Turkish family, who has probably never met a Jew in his life but can explain that Jews killed Jesus or control the world, is repeating old mantras from a new source. A French Muslim child whose parents, maybe even grandparents, were born in France but live in a poor quarter, who says the Jews took Palestine "from us" is a convenient tool for new manipulation.
The second issue raised in all the discussions rose from expressions like that one - the link between hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews. In today's Europe, with its plethora of problems, Israel is a nuisance. In the past two years, antagonism against Israel has burgeoned mainly on the left, which portrays Israel as a hobnailed boot stamping on human rights in the territories.
Some leftists, Jews among them, believe the concept of a national home for the Jewish people is immoral and illegitimate. This widespread attitude converges easily with racism against Jews, making it difficult for even the loudest critics of the Sharon government to identify with European leftist positions.
On this issue, the German Green Party presented a refreshing position at the conference. "The government of Israel may be criticized for its policies," German Foreign Minister Joschka told the opening session, "but Israel's right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people cannot be denied." Fischer expressed concern over the demonization of Israel and said Europe must change its attitude toward Israel.
"I am a member of the post-war generation," said Ralf Fucks. "I have a sense of responsibility deriving from a deep commitment to the fate of Israel. Islam has legitimately huge space in Europe," he said, "and we will defend the right of the Muslims to it, but it must be made clear that we will not suffer any anti-Semitism that draws on relativism in the matter of Israel."
Although this assertive position, held by two people who grew up in the radical left and became influential politicians and intellectuals, is not typical of the entire German left, there is hope in it. Against the shallowness of ideas on the European new left, which plays into the hands of the Israeli right, such voices are harbingers of a new tendency.
If only here too, on the ruins of Labor and Meretz, such a complex, courageous and assertive left would spring up, it would find it had a partner in dialogue.
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