Anti-Semitism in Europe: New Prejudice Fans Flames of the Oldest Hatred

European media feeds anti-Semitism by rejecting its existence and drowning it with Islamophobia.

Morten Berthelsen
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Morten Berthelsen

Israeli soldiers harvest Palestinians' organs for profit, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reports in August, following up with an op-ed claiming Muslims are the greatest threat to society since the Second World War. The latest installment is an article on foetus diagnostics under the headline: "It is not wrong to want perfect human beings" - in effect an excuse to discard "weak individuals" in order to breed the ideal. Ideas not a million miles away from the ones that rang across the Rhineland seven decades ago.

Aftonbladet, albeit a mere tabloid, perfectly illustrates the tide that has swept over all of Europe once again.

Take a look, for instance, at the political handling of the three articles mentioned. The article on cultivating perfect human beings fostered no response. Donald Boström's report on the IDF harvesting organs of Palestinian youth caused massive outrage in Israel but no official denouncement from the Swedish government. As it should be. Though the article is highly problematic, unreliable in its web of rumours, assumptions, myths, and whispers, scientifically ludicrous and the author's agenda seems crystal clear, the Swedish government was right in minding its own business.

And that is exactly the reason why the entire political spectrum's harsh condemnation of the op-ed by Sweden Democrat Jimmie Åkesson on the Muslim threat to Sweden, and therein Europe, is that more conspicious. Politicians should stick to their own affairs, and not interfere. Their indignation can partly be explained by the fact that the piece was an actual political statement - a man with a mission to combat Islam. But in a rhetorical perspective the need to defend Muslims but not Jews is nonetheless remarkable.

The double standard should be obvious, but aren't. There is no comment on the fact that the op-ed's criticism of circumcision, a lack of New Testament and "ritual slaughter" also targets Jews. All party leaders condemned the piece. One government minister even claimed that Islamophobia has replaced anti-Semitism, as though the latter has ceased to exist.

Ancient demons reawoken

It is beyond any doubt that the scourge of Islamophobia intensifies and comes under extreme scrutiny as Muslim populations increase all over Europe. But even though it is blatantly obvious that anti-Semitism is very much alive and back with a vengeance, this ancient demon of Europe is being silently suffocated by the wave of anti-Islamism.

In an otherwise important piece by The Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the growing aversion towards everything Islam in Europe, she surrenders to the grave mistake of describing Islamophobia as "a yellow star [of David, a symbol of Nazi persecution of the Jews] ... of our time." This only weeks after she on Yom Kippur wrote a column characterising Israel as "fanatic and aggressive" as Iran, referring to the Goldstone Report as "the long, sober, unbiased UN report on the last assault on Gaza", and citing images from Operation Cast Lead.

Alibhai-Brown is dead right, though, in pointing out the hatred of "the enemy within", namely, the Muslims, based on the deeds of the "soldiers in Allah's mercenary army" - the radical Islamists. Here, the dimension of fear plays a key role. It has become commonly accepted to equate Islam with fanaticism and terrorism, an appaling misconception that will only result in marginalisation, stigmatisation, and an amplified impact in a self-fulfilling prophecy with increased radicalisation. Much in the same way that persistent jealousy in a relationship stimulates adultery. Keep calling me a cheater, and I will become one.

New anti-Semitism

But while European Islamophobia mostly manifests itself in straight forward hatespeech, and should be slammed and fought as such, the anti-Semitism of today is far more sophisticated. It originated from the same extreme right that fuels anti-Islamism, but right-wing anti-Semitism has not evolved. Neo-Nazis spout the same gall, but are widely despised, if even heard, and as such cannot be considered dangerous.

In the words of Andrei S. Markovits, paraphrasing an American automobile commercial: "Right-wing anti-Semitism was your father's anti-Semitism. It is obsolete." It is the perilous language of the left that has gained a strong foothold across all of Europe. It's the left's disturbing discourse that echoes through the mainstream, swaying a susceptible audience.

The left hides conveniently behind the cloak of "new anti-Semitism," that, not being new at all, vilifies the State of Israel and not the Jewish people in a wider sense, thus maintaining the European self delusion of not being anti-Semitic. On top of that, it is comme il faut to define Israel as an occupational force because the land has been bestowed on the Jews, and the question about who actually holds the rights to it is so delicate and tangled that it is easiest to uphold that view. In their version of recent history, the Holy Land was taken from the Palestinians and given to the Jews, who accepted it. Like knowingly buying stolen goods. That the history goes much further back, and is in no way simple, seems to be of less interest. For instance, when Western European media report from the Middle Eastern witches' cauldron, timelines begin at 1948, not 1917, 1010, or 1047 BCE for that matter.

Reporting from a distorted truth

In common parlance, Israel is still demonized, Nazified; it is the harbinger of all evil, racism, colonialism, imperialism and ethnic genocide. This is evident through practically the entire European media, in news reports, op-eds, editorials, cartoons - and the anti-Israel approach of the media is becoming far more distinct with the emergence of an Arabic media ocean of hostile messages dished up as journalism, religious spin, and children's TV shows.

Add to that selective reporting even from journalistic powerhouses, notably the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, El País, El Mundo, Le Monde, and you will be excused for cursing the child-mutilating Jewish pariah. In Europe, you hear not of the daily threats of annihilation against the Jewish people, of Hamas test-firing Tel Aviv-bound rockets, of the seized Iranian ship carrying hundreds of tons of arms and missiles for Hezbollah. You will, however, read the same Gaza tunnel report over and over, and hear of settlers pillaging West Bank olive harvests, of Israel stealing water from the Palestinians, of a rabbi condoning murder of all "subhuman" gentiles, of Ahmadinejad's Jewish heritage. White phosphorus in Gaza? No doubt. Qassams in Sderot? Where?

Let it be clear that critical reports of settler violence, checkpoint harassment, and illegal annexation are based in truth, despicable, and roar through the Israeli media. But when European media wrestles with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is is more often than not reporting from a one-sided, distorted dimension of truth. The path from Christian childrens' blood for matzot to Palestinian childrens' organs for profit is a short one. What would´ve come to pass had the organ story starred a Muslim protagonist?

That scenario was witnessed only far too well after the 2006 Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which resulted in protests and violence across the Muslim world, a commercial boycot of Denmark, the burning of Danish embassies, and left more than a hundred deaths in its wake.

Ssshh, the Holocaust is sleeping

That anti-Semitism is running rampant through Europe should come as no surprise. More than 50 percent of Germans equate Israel's policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of Germans say that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against the Palestinian people. A European poll shows that the nearly 60 percent regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, more than Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. And in a more recent survey, stereotypes prosper as one in five Europeans continue to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

Only there is no room for realising it, admitting it, and standing up to it. It is as if the monster of Holocaust may not be reawoken, and every reminder of the continued existence of anti-Semitism consequently hides in the shadows, chained there by denial. It is as if everything would shatter if the bogeyman was brought to life, named and allowed to breathe. Its comatose state is guaranteed by the cultural crisis and the war of values fought between Europe's Christian-traditional majority ("us") and its Muslim minority ("them"). Everything else is toned down. As if population size decides significance. At the same time Jews are a long-time exiled people that blends in and functions in all aspects of society. But they are present and have a long, tough history of managing in an eternal environment of spite. But in Israel they dominate the culture. Israelis demonstrate strength and exude power. Transformed from Shylock to Rambo, they break the unwritten European code of the underdog. And the Palestinians belong religiously to the majority-minority battle Europe keeps in focus.

Crosshairs on Israel

Anti-Semitism is to a great extent subhumed by Islamophobia as a consequence of being struck by a double-edged sword: The fear of reprisals from extreme Muslim factions - and the fearful realisation that the fundamental European values are collapsing.

Aiming the resultant anger at Israel is the easy choice between two evils. The fear of "Muslim invasion and hostile takeover" on one hand is obvious in both political rhetoric and popular opinion, especially on national level all over Europe. But when the image of "Evil Israel" is simultaneously presented on the other hand, the impact of Islamophobia is mitigated and cushioned.

In turn, the significance of both hatreds is lost. By equating the two, you underestimate both. Amid this smelly fog floats the main differences in the European approach to the two religions. The swollen hate-language against Islam is the voice of fear. It is based on religious clashes and troublesome assimilation. The forked tongue of anti-Semitism speaks in politically correct riddles, with its foundations laid in 1948 just beneath the State of Israel. The former is the blunt weapon of the extreme right and is easily parried. The latter is a cascade of razor blades from both sides of the political sphere and thus harder to repel.

Also, the collective left of European media and public are hypersensitive towards Islam. They cave in to fear and shout foul at any hostile opinion delivered, such as with the Danish cartoons and the Swedish condemnation of the anti-Muslim op-ed in Aftonbladet. Editor-in-Chief Jan Helin justified in advance publication of the opinion piece, dissociating himself from the views presented. When the story on transplant organ theft by the IDF blew up, Helin hit back hard at Israel saying: "It's deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table."

Call out the culprit

Biased reporting and fixation on Israeli crimes - proven or not - is paving the way for neo-Nazis, radical Islamists, right-wing and left-wing extremists to coalesce and form so-called anti-Zionist parties in Sweden and France. Boycott campaigns and anti-Semitic NGOs openly funded by EU member-states feed Islam's battle of rhetoric against the Jews, and it is high time the media realised the link between its inflammatory reporting on Israel and physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in the countries where the reports are published or broadcast.

And the violence has re-emerged - this decade has seen a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes throughout Europe and exploded following the Gaza war of a year ago. The "typical" violent offender has apparently ceased to be the "extreme right skinhead' and is now the "disaffected young Muslim," evidenced by the fact that most cases occur in countries with a large Muslim population, such as Sweden and France, where Jews are often forced to hide their religious identity in public.

To whit, a Danish study published Friday exposes the magnitude of distrust and prejudice against Jews in Denmark. Up to 75 percent of Muslim immigrants from five different countries and approximately twenty percent of ethnic Danes possess anti-Jewish attitudes, the study shows. A figure immediately causing political uproar, with some politicians quoted as saying it is "highly disturbing" and "embarassing", calling for a plan of action to restore freedom of religion and other fundamental freedom rights. The UN commission is now being asked to recommend similar investigations in other member states, to give the public an insight into the extent of anti-Semitism in Europe. Of Muslim immigrants questioned in the study, 31.9 percent say "there are too many Jews in Denmark." In fact, not even 6,000 Jews reside in Denmark, compared to some 200,000 Muslims.

In order to salvage free speech, taken hostage by nationalist preachers who call it theirs and make themselves its squires, the media of all Europe needs to develop some chutzpa and tear it from the hands of those who believe freedom of speech and of the Fourth Estate is the same as printing anything, anywhere. More worrisome is the immunity displayed throughout the European media towards the kind of callous stigmatisation seen in Aftonbladet - no broadside, no foundations shaken. The ghost of 1930s Nazi rhetoric is one we can all see standing behind the curtain, but no one dares point a finger at it.



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