Considered by the international community the most fatal day in the crisis so far, July 20 marked the 12th day of the renewed and ever more violent Palestine-Israeli conflict, with little signs of tensions abating. Israel upped the ante with a ground offensive and heavy fire attack on the Gaza town of Shujai’iyaon Saturday night. The aim was to destroy Hamas’ weapons and bases, but the offensive also obliterated the neighborhood, leaving whole families dead and many with little place to flee.
Despite UN, US and Egyptian efforts at negotiations to obtain a ceasefire from both sides, neither Hamas nor the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) showed signs of laying down their weapons, irrespective of the rising death tolls.
Israel’s ground attack, during which an Israeli tank shell rammed into the Al-Aqsa hospital in the Gaza strip, has led to increase international criticism of the Israeli government and military, as the Palestinian death toll has risen to over 500. At home, Israel, having also lost around 27 lives, continues to gather widespread support for its defense policy on its home turf. However, this latest crisis is Gaza is causing a new wave of anti-Semitism abroad, and a rise in explicit attacks on the worldwide Jewish community.
France: “we may leave”
The case of France with regards to recent treatment of Jews is particularly disturbing, as pro-Palestine protestors have turned increasingly violent and straight out anti-Semitic, with some bearing signs calling for “Death to the Jews” and attacking synagogues in Paris.
On July 20, in the aftermath of Israel’s first ground strike on the Gaza strip, protestors wrecked havoc in the Parisian Jewish suburb of Sarcelles, also known as “little Jerusalem”. Despite efforts by police to protect the community, rioters burnt down local businesses, set fire to cars and a market, and attacked a synagogue, while calling out “Hitler for President”.
Despite the increasing intensity of the crisis in Gaza and the worrying wave of anti-Jewish sentiment it is creating, support to Palestinians should never translate into hatred towards Jews. Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, rightly announced that while “protest against Israel is legitimate, nothing can justify such violence” and anti-Semitic acts.
In what one could call the epitome of the revival of neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic trends in Europe, France is heading down a dangerous path in history, where recent violence has left many Jews to consider moving to Israel.
Indeed, in a clear sign that fascism and all its branches are on the rise in the country, 20% of French people have stated that they would not want “people of another race” as their neighbors. Since the beginning of 2014, 1,400 Jews have emigrated, four times the number that left during the same period last year.
Europe’s age-old foe: anti-Semitism strikes again.
Similarly, the explosive gains of the extreme right parties in the May 2014 European elections should send chills down the spines of all who have not forgotten what happens when far-right and far-left ideologies gain access to the levers of power. European populist parties such as France’s Front National, the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party and Hungary’s Jobbik party toe a clear anti-Semitic nationalistic line, hidden behind their rhetoric of anti-immigration and anti-Europeanization.
Just take the surreal appointment of neo-Nazi German MEP Udo Voigt to the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, which sparked outrage amongst Jewish communities worldwide, committee members and European citizens. Voigt has been characterized as a Holocaust denier, claiming approximately 350,000 Jews died in the Holocaust as opposed to the 6 million figure engraved in the history books. Though he has been convicted in the past for his praise of the Waffen SS and Hitler, he still managed to make his way to this very influential committee.
The move is likely to further smear the reputation of the EU, which is now being seen as turning a blind eye to abuses and trampling on its own mandate of anti-discrimination by awarding a powerful institutional voice to such individuals. As Stephen Kramer of the American Jewish Committee’s European Office on Anti-Semitism puts it “the idea of a neo-Nazi as a guardian of European human rights is sickening.”
The way of indifference is not our way
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Sevastopol, Vladimir Putin also echoed these rising threats in a meeting held with Rabbis from Israel, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and France, during which he discussed his concern over the revival of neo-Nazi ideology in Europe and the need to eradicate it.
The memorial ceremony the following day, which was supported and funded by Putin and the Russian government, attracted hundreds of visitors from the international community to commemorate the tragic events of the Holocaust and in Crimea on July 12, 1942, when 4,200 Jews were shot dead by Nazi forces. Speaking at the event, Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, mentioned efforts to deny the historicity of the Holocaust, as one of the many reasons these ceremonies need to take place.
As both Hamas and Israel continue on the offensive, we need to be careful as to how we address the delicate situation, and ensure that the entire Jewish community is not attacked and unfairly targeted on the basis of the Israeli government’s actions.
Indeed, recent neo-Nazi advancements and aggression in Europe give all the more reason to support memorials and Holocaust memorandums such as the one in Sevastopol and Berlin. These efforts should be coupled with educational programs at the EU level, which will study the common ideals shared by all religions, to put an end to the increasingly prevalent and worrying trend of extremism that could very well threaten the moral future of our society.