European Jews are beginning to question the viability of a life and future in the countries they call home
The idea of focusing a Jewish Action cover story on anti-Semitism was first suggested more than a year ago. Clearly, as a quarterly magazine, Jewish Action cannot attempt to report the news or even try to be au courant when events around us move so fast. But alarmed at the dramatic increase at that time in attacks on brit milah and shechitah in various countries in Europe, our editorial committee felt that history demanded that we sound the alarm and convey to our audience our apprehension concerning these ominous circumstances.
In the course of the passing year, however, the story has changed with frightening rapidity. Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza somehow engendered anti-Semitic outbursts throughout Europe during the summer of 2014. In short order, our fear of an increase in attacks on Jewish religious practices turned into horror and dismay at a string of murders of Jews.
As we go to press with appalling events in Denmark and Paris still very fresh in our minds, we hope and pray that no further terrorist attacks will have pre-empted our attempt here to review and evaluate what is happening around us. The Haggadah, which we will soon be reading, tells us that in every generation we must be prepared to face those who hate us and want to put an end to us. It is only through our faith in the Almighty that we have the confidence to know that we will endure whatever onslaughts are still to come.
In January 2006, Ilan Halimi, a Jewish cell phone salesman, waited on an attractive young woman who seemed to be showing more interest in him than in the merchandise. She asked for his phone number. He gave it—a fatal mistake.
Her ploy led Halimi into the hands of young French Muslim terrorists who held him prisoner. For twenty-four horrendous days they took turns torturing him and left him for dead. Halimi was found naked, handcuffed and bound to a tree, with burns over 80 percent of his body.
To the French Jewish community’s dismay, French authorities initially did not view the murder as a hate crime. Subsequently, they changed their minds. When the gang leader was found guilty, he proclaimed, “I killed a Jew, and for that I will go to Paradise.”
Shortly after the murder, Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, noted in an article that appeared in Newsweek that Halimi was the first French Jew murdered after World War II simply because he was Jewish.
Ongoing attacks, most notably the recent murder of four Jews in a kosher market in Paris, make one fact exceedingly clear: anti-Semitism has returned to the streets of Western Europe. And while in some ways the anti-Semitism of the twenty-first century resembles the same old Jew-hatred that has persisted in Europe for centuries, in other ways, it is markedly different.
The Jihadi Threat
One of the major factors responsible for the “new anti-Semitism” is the growing number of Islamic extremists who call Europe their home. European governments—France in particular—are finding themselves hard-pressed to deal with the growing number of radical Muslims in their midst. “You have a thirty percent Muslim population in cities like Brussels, Manchester and Malmö; forty percent of the births in Germany are Muslim,” says Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The governments are overwhelmed; they have not successfully found a way to control [the growing extremism].”
Along with the changing demographics in certain European countries, the failure to integrate their Muslim populations leaves some of its followers open to extremist influences. As an example, Hoenlein looks at Germany, which attracted a lot of Muslim workers. “They are secular or moderate for the most part, but their children and grandchildren are radicalized.”
Hoenlein sees the demographic factor as a serious concern. “I remember a Muslim leader telling me a decade ago, ‘You guys have it all wrong; we don’t need a nuclear weapon; our nuclear weapon is demographics.’”
A second factor contributing to the escalating anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism. In some European circles, being overtly anti-Semitic is still considered politically incorrect, but espousing anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is regarded as entirely legitimate.
“Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimization, defamation and demonization of Israel,” wrote Robert Wistrich in an article entitled “Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism” (available at http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-wistrich-f04.htm). Professor Wistrich holds the Neuberger Chair of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Israel has been the excuse,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in Los Angeles and a contributing editor of Jewish Action. “The prevailing mood makes it possible for people to say things publicly that they used to get shot down for.
“Talk show hosts who would have pushed the suppress button if people went on anti-Semitic tirades have become more tolerant. Look at the comment boxes on hundreds of web sites; anytime you see something about Israel, you’ll find people chiming in with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments. The way the media has treated Israel for decades, as well as the majority of those teaching in Middle East departments on [college] campus[es] . . . is fiercely anti-Israel.”
Professor Wistrich concurs. “The rise of jihad has created a climate of unprecedented violence and a great deal of the jihadi agitation is fundamentally linked to hatred of Jews and Israel. There is a complete failure in the West to address this in any kind of honest fashion, to take [the extremist] ideology seriously,” he says. “Many of my colleagues in academia don’t want to talk to me about it; they just turn away.”
In today’s political arena, anti-Semitism emanates from both the right and left, depending on the country. “It is extremely important not to lump different [anti-Semitic] phenomena together,” says Rabbi Joshua Spinner, executive vice president and CEO of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, based in Berlin. In most places in Europe, the far left stands firmly against Israel. “In Germany, the left is wildly pro-Israel,” says Rabbi Spinner. “There is a different ideological root in the far left here,” he explains. “Some [leftists] are Communist but are against any expression of German nationalism and fascism.” He has witnessed this firsthand.
“I went with my wife to a [left-wing] demonstration against the Muslim extremists. They were dressed in black, had tattoos, [were] smoking cigarettes, drinking beer . . . [some were] wrapped in Israeli flags, chanting ‘free Gaza from Hamas.’ We went over to one of them and said, ‘We want to thank you for coming out.’ He responded, ‘No. Thank you. We’ve been here every year for the past fifteen years; it’s about time the Jewish community came.’ There were about 500 of them. Definitely unique.”
Irrespective from which end of the political spectrum it springs, condemnation of Jews is on the rise. A 2012 opinion poll on attitudes toward Jews in European countries, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), revealed that anti-Semitic beliefs continue to fester in nearly one-third of those surveyed.
Helping to spread the “new anti-Semitism” is the fact that it’s been seventy years since the Holocaust. “For decades there was a sense of responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, to instate laws . . . that is waning,” says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the SWC. “Holocaust shame” is no longer a reality in Europe.
Hate Gone Viral
Additionally, the Internet has given anti-Semites an unrestricted platform from which to spew hate.
“The Internet is the main battlefield; it’s the ultimate marketing tool,” says Rabbi Cooper. “The huge number of hits on an [anti-Semitic or anti-Israel] Facebook or Twitter posting has people thinking, ‘Wow, 32,000 people [like this]; this must have some truth to it.’ It has been an unprecedented instrument for extremists to fine-tune their message and draw a straight line to young people anywhere in the world.”
“You could be a concerned, conscientious parent, but the Internet bypasses all of the traditional firewalls,” says Rabbi Cooper. He illustrates with a chilling case. He read a recent news report about three American-born Muslim teens from a Chicago suburb, raised on basketball, Batman and Walmart, who were arrested at O’Hare International Airport. They were on their way to join the fight with Islamic State militants in Syria. Their shocked parents said they had maintained close control over their children’s Internet usage. “That didn’t prevent them from accessing Twitter on their cell phones,” says Rabbi Cooper. “They were radicalized [via social media].”
To counter the Internet hate blitz, the SWC launched the Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, which monitors how extremist groups are leveraging Internet technologies. “We actually grade the companies,” says Rabbi Cooper. “Facebook gets between an A- and a B+ and Twitter gets between D- and an F; it remains the technology of choice for terrorists around the world.”
Fortunately, Jews are not the only ones concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe. The British, French and German governments have strongly spoken out against anti-Semitism. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy issued a joint statement in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, condemning anti-Semitic acts and protests, saying they “cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe.”
In January, spurred by the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris and escalating anti-Semitism around the world, the United Nations held its first-ever meeting on global anti-Semitism. Non-Jews such as Willem Kortenoeven, director of the pro-Israel lobby organization Netherlands-Israel Public Affairs Committee (NIPAC), a Dutch equivalent of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are courageously voicing their opposition to the rising tide of anti-Semitism. “It’s like Damocles—right here in the skies over Europe,” says Kortenoeven.
“[People] think, ‘as long as it is happening to the Jews, they might not come for us,’” says Kortenoeven. “People will never explicitly say it, but they think it deep in their hearts. That’s a terrible mistake.”
France has Western Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations (approximately 500,000 Jews and five million Muslim). Following the decline of the French Empire in the 1950s and 1960s and the Six-Day War, some 300,000 Sephardic Jews emigrated to France from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Unlike their Jewish counterparts, many of the second-generation Muslim immigrants have not managed to successfully integrate into French life and society. A large percentage of these young Muslims represent a disaffected segment of French society, living on the fringes of urban areas, particularly Paris, where frequent rioting and clashes with police continue to shake up the country.
With Muslims comprising 7.5 percent of the total French population, France has inadvertently provided a stage for Jew hatred. Aliyah from France reached nearly 7,000 in 2014; more immigrants arrived from France to Israel this past year than from any other country.
The recent murders of four innocent Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris will likely lead to an even greater exodus from France. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 TV, Yohan Cohen, one of the hostages who hid in the freezer during the hostage-taking, said he would now move his wife and four children to Israel. “On Monday I am going to make aliyah,” he said. “We are not going to wait around here to die.”
Ongoing attacks, most notably the recent murder of four Jews in a kosher market in Paris, make one fact exceedingly clear: anti-Semitism has returned to the streets of Western Europe.
David and Rivka Mallet, in their thirties, emigrated from France to Manhattan five years ago.
“I grew up in a neighborhood, the 18th arrondissement in Paris, that was becoming more and more Muslim,” says Rivka. “I never felt very safe. I felt their anti-Semitism. I couldn’t see myself raising my children there. I wanted to live in a country where my kids could wear a kippa and tzitzit and not be bothered.”
Her parents, both immigrants, had fled Morocco in the seventies, hoping that France would be a better place for Jews.
A close friend couldn’t understand her decision to leave, asserting that “it’s not so bad here.” Later, the friend changed her tune. “She witnessed a huge crowd of [radical] Muslims ready to kill Jews outside the synagogue,” says Rivka. “She was shocked that on a Sunday afternoon in Paris, this could happen. She said, ‘You were right [to leave].’”
David says he never walked the streets of Paris with a kippa. “I knew it was something I shouldn’t do. Insults and mockery happen on a daily basis in certain neighborhoods. Every Shabbat you walk out of your home with a kippa on your head and you don’t know what will happen, if you are going to be safe or not. If I go to work with a kippa, I look like an extremist. It’s not something that’s workplace appropriate.
“People are slowly beginning to understand that there isn’t a future for us there. Rivka’s married brother and his family are also considering getting out,” says David.
“They’ve been mugged, spat on,” Rivka says. “There’s no way I’m going back to France.”
Odaia, twenty-seven, living in Manhattan, left France two years ago.
“I never had any big problem [with anti-Semitism] except at work,” she says. Her colleagues would make snide remarks about her leaving early on Fridays. “I took those hours off of my vacation time, but my colleagues just assumed I could leave early and get paid for the hours. They would say, ‘Okay, I’m going to be Jewish too, so I can leave early on Friday.’”
Members of her family were victims of anti-Semitic attacks. “My mother’s cousin has two teenage sons who were beat up by [radical] Muslim men several times. One of my best friends was also attacked. Five guys circled him. People just watched while they beat him and didn’t care.”
It’s not only the Jews in France who are feeling threatened. This is especially true after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. “There are dangerous Muslim [extremists] in every big town in France,” says Rabbi Arieh Marciano, a current resident of Yerushalayim who is from France. “There is [a district] near Paris called Seine-Saint-Denis where [even] the police are afraid to go,” says Rabbi Marciano, who serves as regional director of Olami, a worldwide network of Jewish outreach efforts aiming to inspire deeper Jewish commitment.
“Muslims from this area call the police and fake a reason for them to come. When they arrive, the [radical] Muslims stone them. They are anti-establishment; the police are the ‘enemy,’” he says. “Yet, whenever there is a conflict between Israel and the Arabs, the French non-Jews as well as the government always side with the Arabs.”
Shlomo, who prefers to use his first name only, grew up in France. At twenty-six, he is a management consultant who currently lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
As a child, Shlomo had exposure to Jewish life outside of France; he attended summer camp in the US and yeshivah in Israel—and noticed the difference. “Sometimes when you’re in a room that smells bad, you don’t realize that it smells bad until you go somewhere else,” he says. “I saw Jews walking around with yarmulkes and no one saying anything. [In France,] I would take off my yarmulke when taking an exam, a driving test or a final in school, [because I knew they would be thinking,] ‘Oh, he’s Jewish; let’s not let him succeed.’”
His sisters, while playing in the schoolyard of a Jewish day school, were regularly taunted by passersby. “They’d call out ‘dirty Jew,’” says Shlomo. “There are Muslims, immigrants from North Africa and Senegal, who verbally attack Jews and throw bottles of Heineken, injuring people.” His father, a doctor by profession, bought property in Israel, as have many other French Jews in recent years. “[My father] tells me over and over that there’s no future for Jews in France. It’s hard to leave, but every [Jew in France] I know talks about leaving and has high regard for those who have the courage to leave.”
The official Jewish establishment in Germany is comprised of 108 congregations with about 119,000 members. The German capital is now home to one of the world’s fastest-growing Jewish communities. Berlin’s Jewish revival, as reported in these pages (winter 2012), is boosted by an influx of Russian Jews and a growing number of Israelis.
“There is a clear political and social contract that makes threats to Jews and Jewish life unacceptable in a way that is not the case in other Western European countries,” says Rabbi Spinner. “The hot spots [of anti-Semitism] today are France and Hungary, with the Nazi [supporters] and far right. Denmark, Sweden and Belgium are in trouble; it’s all the [radical] Muslim problem.
“I’m not [intending to] paint a glowing picture of the German people, but in terms of security, we don’t share the kinds of anxieties that you hear now from Jews living in France or even from Jews living in the UK. I don’t feel more threatened today than I did two or five years ago.”
German Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel was present, along with other world leaders, at the unity rally in Paris, held in January. In September, a mass rally against anti-Semitism took place at the Brandenburg Gate, one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. An estimated 5,000 people attended, many of them non-Jews. Prior to the rally, Chancellor Merkel, one of the speakers at the event, encouraged people to attend. At the event, she pledged that Germany will do all it can to fight anti-Semitism.
“There’s a certain tension when things are going on in Israel,” says Rabbi David Rose, director of Morasha, a student outreach organization based in Berlin and sponsored by Ner LeElef. “You feel much more aware walking down the street as a Jew.” This past summer, it was actually quite frightening [in Berlin], he admits. “There was a pro-Palestinian demonstration about the situation in Gaza that turned very quickly into rabid anti-Semitic chanting; they were singing ‘Juden schwein [Jewish pigs].’ This was very close to the main synagogue. You could see how anti-Semitism is hovering below the surface and just needs an opportunity to come out. I saw thousands of people screaming; the vast majority were Muslims. I saw many Turkish flags as well. And this was not about Israel; it became about the Jews. It was frightening.”
The biggest concern in Germany, says Rabbi Rose, comes more from the [radical] Muslim population, not from the rest of the German population. “There are extreme-right groups, but they’re very much on the fringe.
“[For the most part,] it’s a manageable situation. Jews can walk with yarmulkes around our neighborhood. On the subway I would hesitate to. A girl with a Magen Dovid around her neck was attacked during the summer. I walk around with a hat [in lieu of a kippa] outside my part of town. The most important thing is that Jews are safe and are able to go about their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the locals like us. The Jewish institutions have policemen standing outside the doors 24/7; every school here has full-time security.”
The Jewish population in the Netherlands is approximately 30,000, about .2 percent of the general population.
On the night of July 17, 2014, bricks were hurled through a window of Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs’ home in Amersfoort, twenty-four miles from Amsterdam. It was the fifth time in the past few years that the residence of the chief rabbi of the Netherlands had been targeted. In 2010, a stone was hurled at his front window, missing him by a few inches. He avoids walking near schools in his middle-class neighborhood and elsewhere in Holland because he doesn’t want to be cursed at by children. Yet, he has no plans to leave.
In a March 2014 report, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) in Hague, a Dutch Jewish watchdog group, reported a 23 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands in 2013 from 2012.
“I remember a Muslim leader telling me a decade ago, ‘You guys have it all wrong; we don’t need a nuclear weapon; our nuclear weapon is demographics,’” says Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Amid the growing negativity toward Jews and Israel, Kortenoeven, a former member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the Party for Freedom, represents Holland’s voice of reason. “I’ve been a pro-Israel activist all my life,” says Kortenoeven.
Kortenoeven and his family, who are gentiles, have actually been harassed by people who thought they were Jews. They painted a swastika on the pavement in front of his home, and called his children “dirty Jews.” “The anti-Semites I’ve encountered were native Dutch people, not Muslims,” he says. He tried to figure out the cause of this overt hatred. “It has to come from the discourse in their homes. This is brutal anti-Semitism; they don’t even know one Jew and they curse Jews or those whom they perceive to be Jews. It’s from stupidity. This is one current.”
He sees “the other current” as a more sophisticated anti-Semitism expressed by politicians. “They think Jews are committing atrocities [in Israel] . . . and need to be punished. The newspapers are telling them this every day, using words like colonialism, settlers and illegal occupation. “Jerusalem is Judaized,” they say. If you have this terrible misrepresentation of facts, it creates people like my neighbors who will subscribe to an anti-Semitic program.”
Meanwhile, armed officers from the Royal Marechaussee (military police) have been standing guard outside the Cheider, Maimonides and Rosj Pina schools in the Buitenveldert District since the start of the school year. In Amsterdam, a mobile police cabin equipped with CCTV cameras has been set up opposite the Cheider to support the military police guard. These precautions were prompted by the vehement summer protests against Israel’s war in Gaza.
“Those demonstrations [against the war in Gaza] were really a game changer,” says Ruben Vis, spokesman for the Netherlands’ CJO, an umbrella of Jewish organizations. “You see thousands of people in demonstrations comparing Israel to Hitler . . . . So many people are so aggressively shouting against Israel, comparing them to Nazis. That hurts. Whether you identify as a religious Jew or not, it affects you.”
The terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have left Dutch Jews feeling uneasy. “The attacker in Brussels traveled there from France,” says Vis. “Because of the open borders between European countries, he was able to travel to Brussels and back to Marseilles with weapons. In several European countries, one could travel [the way Americans do] from New Jersey to New York or from Washington State to California without having to pass through customs. Twenty years ago there were still borders, but not today.”
Although Vis, who wears his kippa “everywhere,” has been called “dirty Jew” while walking down the street, he’s also gotten thumbs-up gestures from non-Jews.
Vis traveled to Paris a few days after the slaughter took place in a kosher supermarket. “In Paris, I witnessed soldiers with M16 rifles in the streets. You enter a kosher supermarket . . . and the supermarket is guarded with military men [carrying] assault weapons. You have to pass them before you can buy a carton of milk.”
Belgium’s Jewish population is about 30,000, about half of whom live in the capital.
This past November, Yehoshua Malik, a Belzer Chassid, was stabbed on his way to synagogue on Shabbat. Fortunately, he survived.During the war in Gaza this past summer, the Brussels community witnessed the murder in broad daylight of four individuals at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital, the first anti-Semitic attack in Brussels since the Holocaust ended. If the man charged for the murders, a French former jihadist volunteer in Syria, is found guilty, this would be the first known case of a European volunteer militant fighter trained in Syria to have carried out an attack upon his return to Europe.
Hoenlein estimates Brussels is nearly 30 percent Muslim and predicts it will have a Muslim majority in a decade. “It is not just the presence of Muslims; [it’s] when you have the radicalization of populations, the breakdown of law and order,” he says. “We know that Jews in Antwerp have difficulty on public transportation and in public places. [There have been] assaults. The rise in anti-Semitic attacks is very significant for Belgium.”
On the night of July 30, 2014, Bertha Klein, ninety, of Antwerp, fractured her hip and asked her American son to call the medical hotline. “I’m not coming,” the doctor reportedly told the son, and hung up. When the son called again, the doctor said, “Send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain.”
Hershy Taffel, Klein’s grandson, filed a discrimination complaint with the police.
“It reminds me of what happened in Europe seventy years ago,” Taffel told Joods Actueel, a Belgian Jewish newspaper. “I never thought those days would once again be repeated.”
The incident came amid a stream of incidents that have occurred since the war in Gaza. An Orthodox Jewish woman was refused service at a clothing store in Antwerp and police removed a sign in French and Turkish from a café that read: “Dogs allowed, but Zionists and Jews are not.”
“Sometimes on the street I’m called ‘dirty Jew,’” says Malka, nineteen, of Antwerp. “When there is a war in Israel, [the level of anti-Semitism] increases, and you have to be more careful. It’s [radical] Muslims, but not only [them].” When asked if observant Jews can freely walk the streets, she says, “People can walk around with yarmulkes [in Antwerp], but in Brussels you can’t; there are a lot of Muslims there.” Nevertheless, she doesn’t want to leave Antwerp, even though she admits that the Jewish school she attended has received threats and the students have had problems with other [non-Jewish] teens on the street.
By Vicki Belovski
The British Jewish population numbers about 290,000.
At the peak of the war in Gaza, when pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London and elsewhere in Britain were attracting thousands of marchers, significant numbers of whom were calling for the annihilation of Israel and some of whom were shouting anti-Semitic slogans, the Jewish Chronicle, the UK’s most widely read Jewish newspaper, conducted a straw poll (August 15, 2014). The paper asked 150 people if, since the protests began, they had discussed whether there is a future for Jews in the UK. Just over 63 percent said they had.
The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the UK in 2014 is set to be the highest recorded in the past three decades, according to an article that appeared in December 2014 in the Telegraph, “British Anti-Semitism Set to Hit Record High.” Incidents could mean violent assaults to attacks on social media. Figures will not be released before this issue goes to press, but the number is likely to exceed 1,000.
Reports such as this made Jews in the UK anxious; Jewish men have begun wearing caps instead of kippot in the street. Many began to wonder if they were like the European Jews before World War II who said “it will never happen here,” and only discovered too late that it could indeed happen there.
However, it is important to note that in the UK, there is a strong intolerance for anti-Semitism that comes from the top. The Queen and the Royal Family have an excellent relationship with the Jewish community and with Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Ephraim Mirvis. In the first few days of the new session of Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about anti-Semitism and responded firmly, saying that he did not support boycotts or the delegitimization of Israel. He said that it is important to maintain the distinction between disagreement with Israeli policy and anti-Semitism and described the rise in anti-Semitism as “completely unacceptable.”
In some European circles, being overtly anti-Semitic is still considered politically incorrect, but espousing anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is regarded as entirely legitimate.
British Jews believe that while there has been a rise in anti-Semitism, the country is generally a tolerant, multi-cultural society. And for those who live in Orthodox enclaves in or near London, such as Golders Green, Hendon and Stamford Hill, the anti-Semitic threat feels distant.
“It’s not so apparent [here],” says Tammy, nineteen, who lives in Golders Green. “There definitely has been a rise in anti-Semitism, but I wouldn’t call it over the top. Once in a while there are riots and slashed tires, graffiti, that type of thing.” She noticed a swastika painted on someone’s house in her neighborhood and admits that when the sun sets, people are more hesitant to venture out. “We do get comments, hurtful barbs like ‘Jews, go home.’ There are incidents on the public bus sometimes; groups of other youngsters would make fun of us and say things about Jews. There’s more of it now. But we don’t talk about it so much really.”
Vicki Belovski, wife of Rabbi Harvey Belovski, is the rebbetzin of Golders Green Synagogue, the community news editor of Hamodia UK and a freelance writer.
Some 18,000 Jews live in Sweden.
Today, Muslim violence against Jews in Sweden, especially in Malmö, the country’s third-largest city, continues to prompt grave concern in the local Jewish community. Since the bombing of Malmö’s Jewish Community Center in 2012, dozens of anti-Semitic crimes have been reported in the city, including the recent beating of a man for displaying an Israeli flag in his window. Jewish hate is on the rise in Sweden, emboldening prominent politicians to voice their own biases against Jews. Björn Söder, a deputy speaker in the Swedish Parliament, upset the country’s Jews with his call this past December for Jews to abandon their religious identities in order to become “proper Swedes.”
“The [former] mayor of Malmö said repeatedly [during the war in Gaza] that the Jews themselves are to be blamed for anti-Semitism, [essentially] giving the Muslims carte blanche to attack Jews,” says Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER).
Rabbi Isak Nachman, a mathematics teacher in Stockholm, sees an increase in anti-Semitism. He has been taunted with anti-Semitic slurs in Arabic while walking in the street. During one incident, he had to jump into a taxi cab when a young man chased him down. He asserts it’s not just the Muslims; he’s received malicious hate mail “in perfect Swedish.” Much of Sweden’s anti-Semitism centers around Malmö, where, Rabbi Nachman says, Jews are not comfortable admitting they are Jewish.
Rabbi Nachman knows of many young couples fleeing Malmö for Stockholm. Some are leaving the country.
“I never thought I would see this hatred again in my lifetime,” Judith Popinski, a Holocaust survivor who settled in Sweden after the war, told the Sunday Telegraph (“Jews Leave Swedish City After Sharp Rise in Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes,” February 2010). During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, [pro-Israel] demonstrators were attacked by angry, violent Muslims and Swedish leftists, who threw bottles and firecrackers. “I haven’t seen hatred like that for decades,” Popinski was quoted as saying. “It reminded me of what I saw in my youth. Jews feel vulnerable here now.”
Despite the bleak picture, European Jews are not willing to give up on Europe so easily. “We’re in stormy waters,” says Rabbi Goldschmidt. “Europe is going through a tremendous identity crisis; the Jewish community is right in the middle of it. More and more Muslim lawmakers are in the European Union, as well as in the legislatures. We’ve got to fight for the right for Jews to live anywhere; we haven’t given up on France.” True to his word, the CER plans to hold its next convention in Toulouse, the city where, in March of 2012, a Muslim terrorist opened fire at a Jewish school, killing a young rabbi and his two young sons and chased down a seven-year-old girl, killing her at point-blank range. “We are going to do everything possible to make sure Jews can live in Europe safely and practice Judaism freely.”
Listen to an interview with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at www.ou.org/life/israel/savitsky_hoenlein/.
Listen to New York City Councilman David Greenfield denouncing antisemitism http://www.aish.com/jw/s/Denouncing-Anti-Semitism-An-Impassioned-Speech.html?mobile=yes.