The Illusory Golden Age

Those who expected more effective steps against anti-Semitism in Europe could not help but be disappointed at the results of the international conference on ant-Semitism in Cordoba last month.

There is no better bridge between Israel and Europe than the Jews of Europe, said Pierre Besnainnou recently when he was elected president of the European Jewish Congress. Besnainnou, one of the leaders of French Jewry, was in the news recently after protesting against too much intervention on the part of American Jewish organizations in the affairs of European Jewry. This Jewish community - which is still facing anti-Semitic incitement, calls for a boycott of Israel and violence on the part of extremist Muslims - will now also be forced to navigate through the greatest political crisis that has faced the European Union since its inception.

Those who expected more effective steps against anti-Semitism in Europe could not help but be disappointed at the results of the international conference on ant-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia - held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Cordoba last month. In view of the Muslim pressure, it was decided to include among the subjects on the agenda of the conference - attended by representatives of 55 countries from Europe, North America and Central Asia - expressions of lack of tolerance against Muslims and other minorities in an attempt to diminish the presentation of anti-Semitism as a unique phenomenon.

The conference ended sotto voce if its resolutions are compared with those of the previous conferences in Vienna and Berlin. This, despite the fact that the reports presented to it demonstrated the danger of burgeoning anti-Semitism in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe and stressed that, in most countries, there are significant shortcomings in law enforcement, prevention and follow-up.

The Jews of Europe, worried about the continued rise in anti-Semitic acts, are also embarrassed by the defeat suffered by supporters of the EU in the referedums held in France and Holland. Observers consider the rejection of the proposal for a European constitution there, and the failure of last month's EU summit in Brussels, to be a severe blow to the process of unity in Europe.

Among the Jews of France, for example, the attitude to European unity is divided between those who consider unity as a positive process that will damp down feelings of nationalism and those who feel that Europe is trying to take on a new identity based on anti-Americanism that also includes anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli feelings. Reports from France talk of some of the Jews voting against the constitution because of the EU's shortcomings in the struggle against anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policies, and others because of fear of economic reforms. Nevertheless it is clear that opposition to the constitution reflects anti-Semitic and nationalist tendencies on the part of the extreme right that called to vote against it.

The Jews in Holland did not like the desperate attempt by supporters of the constitution, albeit liberals, to scare the public by invoking the Holocaust. Television ads in favor of the constitution showed pictures of the expulsion of Jews to the death camps as a means of warning that failure to unite would bring back Nazi atrocities to Europe. The ads were stopped because of public pressure.

The skepticism and embarrassment that characterize the Jewish community in Europe constitute a dramatic change when compared with the enthusiasm and hopes that accompanied the unification process a decade ago. At that time, Jewish leaders and intellectuals hailed the union as a great hope for the creation of a political structure that would be based on democracy and equality, would curb nationalism and strengthen the multicultural pluralism of Europe. The Italian-French-Jewish sociologist, Diana Pinto, mirroring the mood of the Jewish community in Europe, said that the union would give the Jews a historic opportunity that they had never previously experienced, to integrate socially, and called for the formulation of a Jewish-European identity that would establish European Jewry as the third force in the Jewish world, after Israel and the U.S.

The organizers of the conference said that Cordoba had been selected to host the conference since it had a tradition of tolerance from the Middle Ages when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived there side by side. Indeed there are many testimonies to interfaith coexistence in Spain at different times, but modern historical research tends to be more cautious and critical and to have reservations about the euphoric approach that characterized the descriptions of the "Golden Age" of Jews in Spain.

According to experts on Islam, the description of that era in idyllic terms stems from the imagination of Jewish historians in central Europe, particularly 19th century Germany, who were disappointed with the wave of anti-Semitism that threatened all the achievements of Emancipation. Those historians wanted to prove to the democratic-liberal Europe of that period how tolerant the Muslim regime had been to its Jews in the Middle Ages. In Cordoba and Europe of the summer of 2005, the illusions about the "Golden Age" of the EU have dissipated and what remains are only the doubts concerning the future of Europe and its Jews.