May 16, 2019
The Viability of Europe’s Jewish Communities in the Face of Rising Anti-Semitism
Holly Huffnagle, Assistant Director, AJC Los Angeles
Why is anti-Semitism in Europe increasing? Why is the viability of Europe’s Jewish communities—some which have had roots on the continent for over 2,000 years—being threatened? The spike is occurring against the global backdrop of rising economic uncertainty, societal failure to integrate immigrants, an increased emphasis on national identity and race, and a widening schism between the political right and left over the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
In Europe today Jews are facing anti-Semitism from the far-left, from the far-right, from within a small segment of the Muslim community, from Holocaust denial and revisionism, and even under the surface of mainstream society. It is this complexity of anti-Semitism, coming from all these different sides, that creates the biggest challenge to combat it.
And because anti-Semitism is so incredibly complex, we need a complex, variegated solution to combat it. One effective solution—or at least a proven factor in lessening anti-Semitism—is coalition building. Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem. It is a societal one. And effectively countering it requires non-Jews. Coalition building must happen between religious groups, across governments, and across civil society organizations to combat anti-Semitism.
Why is anti-Semitism in Europe relevant for us, as Americans? To begin with, we are witnessing anti-Semitism rising in our own country. The ADL’s 2018 national audit of anti-Semitic incidents, for instance, indicated a 60 percent increase here in Washington state between 2017 and 2018. Now one thing the U.S. did not have regularly, which continued to threaten the viability of Jewish communities in (especially western) Europe, was violence. Yet today, the U.S.—especially after Pittsburgh and most recently in Poway—is not immune to this violence and hatred. (Seattle experienced this visceral hate much earlier in 2006 with the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting, which took the life of Pam Waechter, may her memory be a blessing.) In the same way we have witnessed law enforcement in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK, stepping up security for Jewish institutions in the past 5-10 years, we will be seeing the same here in the U.S. But the situation here is also different and still, thankfully, for the better. For instance, Europe was very slow to recognize the connections between anti-Israel sentiment and persecution of Jews as Jews. Fortunately, those protections are more secure in the U.S. We also have a much stronger civil society here—and while free speech is protected—if anyone says an odious, anti-Semitic statement—they will face social ostracization. Europe is catching on to the critical value of civil society speaking up and speaking out. Because at the end of the day, anti-Semitism is the world’s early warning sign. All forms of ethnic and religious prejudices are major threats to freedom, human dignity, and the very foundation of liberal democracies.