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2018 Annual Assessment

In 1945, after the Nazi extermination camps were exposed and the severity of the carnage wrought by anti-Semitic ideology across the continent of Europe and to the Jewish people in particular, European countries adopted policies rejecting in principle any expression that could be construed as fomenting racism or bigotry. Aside from a few individuals – who dared not speak out in public – a sense of empathy for Holocaust survivors prevailed over Western Europe, accompanied by widespread sympathy for the newborn Jewish state, which lasted at least through the Six-Day War.

Despite the cracks forming in Europe’s sympathy to the Jews and Israel, the grace period continued, in practice, until September 1982 (Sabra and Shatilla). Since then, criticism and condemnation of Israel have become the dominant media narrative. The consolidation of the critical discourse on Israel gave renewed legitimacy to Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic discourse, which had been marginal. Gradually, the Palestinians replaced the Jews in the narrative of victimhood. In this binary construction of oppressor and oppressed, the variety of accusations cast against Jews for hundreds of years in Christian Europe can once again be heard. They are depicted as cruel, blood-thirsty child killers rapaciously gobbling up native lands, the ignominious heirs of the biblical conquerors. After nearly five decades of repression, outbursts of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel anger are increasingly intense and frequent. The expression “the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz,” attributed to the Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rex, reflects Europe’s discomfort with confronting the memory of the Holocaust. Obsessively vigilant scouting out of transgressions committed by Israelis and Jews has become a prominent strategy for assuaging Europe’s collective guilt.

In the 1990s, largely as the result of the Claims Conference activity which sought to return Jewish property stolen during World War II, several Western Europe countries officially took responsibility for their role in the Holocaust; some even asked forgiveness for their actions. Nationalist elements within some of these countries were angered by what they perceived as the obsequious, preferential treatment of Europe’s Jewish citizens.1

In the 21st century and especially since the Second Intifada (2000-2004), hatred directed at Europe’s Jews has become the norm among Muslim immigrant communities and among far-right populist elements in Europe. Increased anti-Semitic incident rates in Europe have resulted from a constellation of factors: widespread internet access, the new platform for the unhindered spewing of hate speech (without consequences); growing popular discontent with the dominance of the post-nationalist discourse that has characterized Europe since the end of the Second World War; economic globalization, blamed for outcomes leading to instability in the social order; and the continued influx of immigrants that heightens the sense that national identities are under threat. The continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides either an occasion or a pretext for rising violence against Jews and Jewish institutions, and the wars in Iraq and Syria have generated an element of jihadi propaganda that has translated into deadly acts of terror not only against Jewish communities but against the general European public.

Today, after 70 years of Jewish sovereignty, which began only a few years after the Holocaust, when measuring the broadest swathe across societies anti-Semitic sentiment in Western Europe continues to decline. Still, owing to an increasingly vocal and mobilized minority, the wide publication of serious incidents amplifying the experiences of daily life, and shifting demographics, Jews are concerned about their future and many do not feel safe to express their Jewish identities in public. A third of European Jews are considering emigrating, and many more do not see their children’s future on the continent (see table below). We can identify three centers of anti-Semitic hatred in Europe: radical Islamists, the far right, and the far-left (the far-left’s anti-Semitism often takes the form of anti-Israel rhetoric). These three groups combined constitute between one-fifth and one-third of the total population in the various European countries, and could become a critical mass that (unofficially) blocks the comfortable participation of Jews as Jews in the local public sphere.

The immigration waves washing over Europe are arousing nationalist and conservative sentiments across the continent that could threaten the stability of European Union countries and their common political vision. The future scenarios portrayed for Europe do not bode well for its Jews. It is not implausible that a significant portion of Europe’s Jews will emigrate in the coming decades, given the continent’s economic concerns, demographic shifts, political swings, undermined sense of personal security, and the anti-Semitic violence that local governments, despite good intentions, will have difficulty in preventing.2