Antisemitism in Europe

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					Antisemitism in Europe

The General Assembly:

5. Remembered with deepest sorrow the atrocity of the Holocaust and commemorated with
   thanksgiving the liberation 60 years ago of Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps.
6. Viewed with anxiety the continued evidence of antisemitism in Europe, including instances in
   Scotland, and condemned unreservedly both such acts and the attitudes which lead to them.
7. Called on those who criticise policies of the Israeli government to do so in ways which cannot
   thereby be seen to be critical either of all Israeli citizens or of Jewish people in general.
8. Instructed the Church and Society Council to consider what measures might be taken so that the
   Church does not benefit those firms and organisations which support or profit from the Israeli
   occupation of Palestinian lands, and in its consideration to pay regard to the recommendations and
   research of the Presbyterian Church USA, the World Council of Churches and other bodies such
   as the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, and to report to the next General Assembly.


1. Commemoration
To the wintry weather that seeped into Westminster Hall was added the deeper chill of words, images
and memories icy enough to freeze the heart. Outside, the muffled chimes of Big Ben struck three, the
hour at which, 60 years before to the day, even the hardened troops of the Soviet Army were
confounded by the sight that greeted them as they broke down the gates of Auschwitz. Inside, 600
survivors of the Nazis‟ industrial genocide, and an equal number of their friends and families,
watched a video in which Susan Pollack, who had stumbled as a skeletal teenager out of the gates of
Belsen into the arms of Allied liberators, revisited the death camps. She spoke of the moment she
learnt that her mother had been gassed and did not cry. “There was no good crying; crying is part of
normal life. There was nothing normal there.” During her recent visit to Belsen Mrs Pollack lit a
candle. Its flame, safe inside an old-fashioned miner‟s lamp, was brought back to Britain under army
escort and carried through Westminster Hall yesterday to light 60 candles, one for each year since
                                                                      (Alan Hamilton, Times Online)

1.1 In January 2005, the world was reminded starkly of the awful and demonic reality of the
Holocaust (or Shoah) when the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp
was commemorated. The Shoah was the culmination, in modern times, of a history of oppression of
Jewish people. Hitler’s treatment of European Jews was certainly the most extreme manifestation of
destructive and systematic antisemitism, but it is not a modern phenomenon. Throughout history
Jews have often been scapegoated. For as long as history has been written, they have been ostracised,
discriminated against, attacked and vilified. From the Middle Ages onwards, Jews in many different
countries often turned to money lending precisely because they found themselves barred from any
other trade. They were forced to live in ghettoes; were victims of pogroms in Russia and of mob
violence in many other countries; they were deprived of livelihoods and possessions; and were subject
to mass deportation, the first of which was from England. There have also been numerous
manifestations of what can be called the Jewish Conspiracy Theory: that whatever someone regards as
unwelcome, from communism to entrepreneurism, is blamed on Jews.

1.2 The term “anti-Semitism” was first used in the late 19th Century by the German journalist Wilhelm
Marr, and referred specifically to racism against Jews, but antisemitism was widespread and well
documented in Europe and beyond for centuries before this term was coined. Antisemitism is a
deeply sensitive issue. Even the term itself is contentious. Strictly speaking, Jews are not the only
Semitic people; but antisemitism, as it is commonly understood, refers only to a particular hatred of
Jews and of their influence.
1.3 It is a very hard topic upon which to write, especially for the church, which must acknowledge
with sorrow its complicity in much of the history of antisemitism. As far back as the 6 th Century AD,
the Justinian Code defined Jews as second-class citizens. Allegations that Jews ritually murdered
Christians – the so-called “blood libel” – which prompted murderous attacks on innocent Jews, first
surfaced in 1144. In the Middle Ages, through church teaching and popular religious culture such as
passion plays, Jews were accused of being responsible for the death of Christ (only recently was the
text of the Oberammergau play changed to avoid this). It was not until the Second Vatican Council in
1965 that the Roman Catholic Church repudiated this charge. Even now, the Orthodox Church
includes anti-Jewish references in the Good Friday liturgy. And it is not so many years since the
Church of Scotland moved away from a policy of specifically trying to convert Jews to Christianity, a
policy seen by Jews, and indeed many Christians, as deeply insensitive and abusive. It is therefore
important to bring this matter before the Church, in order that we may renew and strengthen our
opposition to antisemitic attitudes and actions.

2. Continuation
“Stamford Hill, North London – January 2005: Eight orthodox Jewish men, mostly youths in their
teens and early twenties, easily recognisable because of their strict dress code of black suit, white
shirt, black hats and ringleted hair, have been assaulted by a gang of black and Asian men. Two
victims needed hospital treatment – one had his nose broken by an iron bar, another needed stitches.
But all eight were left terrified at being targeted apparently just because they were Jewish.” (The
Guardian – Jan 21, 2005)

2.1 It is clear that antisemitism did not die when the horror of Auschwitz and the other Nazi
concentration camps was uncovered. Today, there are signs that it is once again on the increase.
Certainly many Jewish groups have expressed such concern, and have pointed to incidents, including
attacks on Jewish property (fire-bombing, desecration, graffiti), assaults on and insults towards Jewish
people, the dissemination of antisemitic material, threatening letters, offensive telephone calls and e-
mails, as well as statements by politicians and articles in the media which they perceive as antisemitic
or at least as giving licence to antisemitism. In the United Kingdom for example, the Community
Security Trust’s report for 2003 revealed that the number of antisemitic incidents in this country had
risen from 369 in 1996 to 609 in 2003. In Italy it has been reported that nearly one in eight Italians
believe the Shoah is a Jewish invention and “Holocaust Denial” is widespread elsewhere.

2.2 Incidents of racist abuse and violence against Jews and Jewish property, such as synagogues and
cemeteries, have been recorded in recent years in the United Kingdom and in other parts of Europe.
Pernicious attitudes persist. Accusations are routinely levelled against Jews that there is a tendency to
over-exaggerate the threat to Jewish communities and to see antisemitism where none was intended.
In some quarters, there is a denial that any actions are antisemitic. It is not uncommon to hear the
view expressed that Jewish people should somehow “get over” the Shoah. Claims are frequently
made that Jews use the charge of antisemitism as a convenient way of deflecting legitimate criticism
of individuals or groups, most notably the Government of Israel.

2.3 A report prepared by the European Union Monitoring Centre (EUMC) on Racism and Xenophobia
looked at the manifestations of antisemitism in the European Union in the year 2002 – 2003. Its
findings were based on information gathered by the National Focal Points of the Racism and
Xenophobic Network (RAXEN) in each of the then 15 member states. It was somewhat hampered by
a wide difference in the quality and quantity of the data from the different countries with only a
minority of EU countries able to supply reliable official or semi-official statistics. Not all states have
well-developed systems for monitoring and recording antisemitic incidents. This means that it is
impossible to make accurate comparisons between member states. However, the report concludes “it
is clear that antisemitism manifests itself with greater strength in some countries than in others, and
there are countries where there is evidence of an increase in the regularity of these incidents over the
past two or three years.” This increase was evident in Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands
and the United Kingdom.
2.4 There are clear problems defined in the EUMC report about making any generalisations about the
growth of antisemitism in the EU: a lack of a common definition of antisemitism, a lack of
comparability between states, a lack of official data, and suspicion that in some states some
antisemitic incidents are under-reported. What is not in doubt is the perception by Jews in EU
countries that antisemitism is on the increase. In a comprehensive study released at the same time as
the above report, 35 prominent Jews from eight different EU countries were interviewed in depth.
They expressed concerns about changes in public attitudes, media distortion, education in schools, the
way in which authorities handle the Shoah, awareness of violent or symbolic attacks on Jews, and the
relationship of Jewish communities with their state governments. While in no country is the situation
comparable to the widespread antisemitic atmosphere which existed in many countries between the
two World Wars, the rise in antisemitism is a matter for serious concern. “Many of the interviewees
appear to believe that in numerous countries, the political elites who are dependant on public votes
have hesitated to recognise the real extent of antisemitism while swearing that another Shoah will
never happen again in Europe.”

3. Scotland
3.1 We are grateful to the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities for their help in preparing this
report, and also to individuals within those communities.

3.2 In the 2001 census, 6,500 people in Scotland identified themselves as Jewish; this may be an
under-accounting due to fear of antisemitism. The political opinions of members of Scotland’s Jewish
communities are as varied as among any other groups of citizens – including their opinions on events
in Israel and Palestine. The risk of antisemitic attack is lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK,
and (like fear of crime generally) is over-estimated; but nevertheless it is rising. Jewish organisations
have been advised by the police to improve their security – and are doing so where finances are

3.3 Antisemitic incidents occur regularly in Scotland. Thankfully, they are mostly minor, but
contribute to the rising level of fear. Recent recorded incidents include, among others, graffiti in
Ayrshire, verbal abuse in the centre of Glasgow, and an attempt to firebomb a synagogue in
Edinburgh. Jews in Scotland also regularly report the elision of all Jews with the Israeli government –
with the resultant presumption of responsibility for all its actions.

4. Sources
There is no single source of antisemitism in Europe today. However, research has identified four
distinct sectors within society from which antisemitic views are promulgated: the Christian anti-
Jewish tradition, the antisemitic far right, the anti-Zionist far left, and finally the anti-Jewish and anti-
Israel thinking among some sectors of the Muslim community. To these can be added events in the
Middle East.

4.1 Christianity
Currently, no denomination of the Christian church can accurately be accused of being deliberately
antisemitic. Rather, antisemitism within churches may be associated with a collective unconscious: it
may be perpetuated or passed on in some of the traditional ways of teaching Christian beliefs, and the
ways in which Jews are referred to in teaching Bible stories. Interestingly, in Greece relations with
the Orthodox Church are reported to be positive, despite their dogma still including the charge of

4.2 The Far Right
The threat of far right antisemitism is increasing as extremist parties like the Front National in France
and the British National Party are attracting increasing support and right wing parties in other
countries have been gaining more influence. It is to this element that one Scottish Rabbi attributes
any rise here of antisemitism. While the official line of these parties does not promote antisemitism -
it would be illegal to do so in some countries - it is feared that privately some of their leaders and
many of their grass roots supporters hold strongly antisemitic views. And though the rise of far right
parties in Europe may be symptomatic of a wider anti-foreigner/anti-immigrant sentiment, which
includes a well-documented rise in Islamophobia and attacks on Muslims since September 11, 2001,
the antisemitic dimension to their rhetoric must not be ignored.

4.3 The Far Left
Antisemitism on the left of politics takes a different character. Strong criticism of some of the actions
of the Government of Israel and strong support for Palestinians has regularly been read as being anti-
Semitic and on occasion has drifted into being so.

4.4 Islamic Extremism
There is clear evidence that Islamic extremism is generating antisemitic feelings among Muslims in
Europe. There must be deep disquiet about the discourse of hatred and misinformation spread by
certain sections of the Arab media and the negative effect this may be having.

4.5 The Middle East
Unfortunately, current conflicts in the Middle East undoubtedly have an influence on the rise of
antisemitism in Europe. There is clear evidence that the increase in the number of violent incidents
against Jews coincides with events in the Middle East, sometimes even those with no connection to
Israel or Palestine. In many countries, such an increase was particularly noted in April 2002, when
the Israeli army controversially occupied several Palestinian towns.

5. Israel
5.1 It is clear that a long history of oppression has had a profound influence on shaping not only the
modern history of the State of Israel but also how Jewish people, as part of distinct and definable
communities within many countries, perceive themselves. Jewish writers have written that centuries
of oppression have created deep patterns of behaviour, which include fear, defensiveness, anger and a
determination not to be victims again.

5.2 The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 brought Jewish people the expectation that a peaceful
and safe life within a country of their own was now possible. At the same time there was a hope that
the scourge of antisemitism would disappear once and for all not only in Europe but throughout the
world, and that Jews anywhere would be able to live free from fear and discrimination. It was
assumed that never again would governments and those in power tolerate any kind of antisemitism.

5.3 However, confusion has tended to appear whereby the words “Israeli” and “Jewish” become
synonymous, and assumptions are made that Jews in whatever country they reside are representative
of Israel, and support every action the Israeli Government takes (see above). This conclusion is
entirely erroneous; many Jews deplore the policies of Ariel Sharon and his government, and are
openly critical of them. Many are working towards a just peace and for co-operation between Jews
and Palestinians. However, for some antisemites, every Jew is responsible for what is happening in
Israel; Anne Frank’s words come to mind: “Oh it is sad, very sad, that once more for the umpteenth
time, the old truth is confirmed, „What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew
does is thrown back at all Jews.‟”

5.4 Lucy Michaels, herself Jewish, writing in the New Internationalist in September 2004 says:
“Criticism of Israel‟s policies is not Judeophobic. The way in which it is conducted sometimes is.”
Criticism of Israel may be seen to be antisemitic when it starts to repeat or use some of the traditional
antisemitic themes. One observation often made is that although critics of Israel start off by criticising
Israel, the language of such articles often changes to talk of “Jewish” policies. Jewish people,
including Jewish critics, find it particularly offensive when statements are made comparing Ariel
Sharon to Hitler, and comparing what is happening in the Middle East today to the Shoah experience
last century. These experiences must not be belittled with such careless language. It is a massive
oversimplification to say that the Israelis are repeating history, and wrong to say that they have
become “Nazis”, yet that comparison is often glibly made. We ought to be able to understand how
offensive it is to Jews for the Star of David to be compared to the swastika.
5.5 As Christians, we follow the prophetic tradition of speaking out against injustice, wherever we see
it. We have regularly criticised our own government, as well as those, for example, of Zimbabwe,
Burma, or the United States of America; the government of Israel cannot expect to be exempt from
criticism. Equally, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians is not or need not be antisemitic, but
those who criticise the actions of the Israeli government have to make it clear that their criticism is not
of the whole Jewish people. More than that, they would do well to condemn any show of
antisemitism from fellow critics. On a march against the war in Iraq, cries of “kill the Jews” were
heard; during the campaign to elect Mordechai Vanunu as Rector of Glasgow University, some of his
supporters announced that “Israelis are evil; Jews are evil”; when such things happen, remaining silent
helps nobody. The duty to speak out against injustice applies on these occasions as well.

6. Vigilance
6.1 The legitimate fears of Jewish communities in Europe today must be heard. It is a matter of
concern when language is used carelessly and thoughtlessly, encouraging the misconceptions that
“Israelis” and “Jews” are interchangeable, and that all Jews support the actions of the Israeli
government. It is shameful that misinformation and antisemitic material are still being disseminated.
It is a disgrace when Jews, and Jewish communities, are attacked.

6.2 It is dreadful that other racial and religious groups are also experiencing a rise in attacks, in
prejudice and in discrimination. Europe ought never again to be the place that allowed the Shoah;
safeguards having been enshrined in European laws to prevent it. But vigilance is still needed.
Condemning antisemitism must be part of a wider condemnation of attacks on any religious or racial

6.3 The article with which we began this report goes on to include this: “The Holocaust, Mr Blair
reminded his audience, had not started with the death camps; it had started with a brick through a
Jewish trader‟s window, the burning of a synagogue – countless small but hateful acts that
snowballed into the destruction not only of life, but of human essence.”

6.4 In words that have now been set to music in a new oratorio by James Whitbourn, Anne Frank
wrote: “I see the world being slowly turned into wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder.” As
people who are called to recognise the signs of the times, we are called to see and to hear: to name the
evil of racism in all its forms, and to act against it.