April 20, 2002
When many in the Muslim world blamed Israel and its supposed desire to
discredit Islam for the September 11 attacks, most Americans dismissed the report
as a deformed joke.
But just as the attacks forced Americans to face the fact that there are
deadly serious groups seeking to destroy us, so some of the anti-Semitic
actions in Europe in recent months cause us to wonder whether, six decades
after the Holocaust, we are witnessing a resurgence of the virulent hatred that
Expressions of sympathy for the Palestinians or criticism of the Israeli military
campaign in the West Bank are of course entirely appropriate. What is troubling
are hateful statements and actions like the bombs thrown at Jewish schools,
centers and groups in France, or the Orthodox Jews beaten on the streets of
Belgium and Berlin or the truck bomb driven into the ancient synagogue in
We worry that such actions, largely by Muslim extremists, touch a
historic chord in Europe that is not being confronted.
Israelis have been too quick, over the years, to view criticism of their
government as motivated by anti-Semitism. But it is hard to think of another
word for the way some critics of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians are
expressing their opposition.
The dark shadow of Europe’s past seemed to be reappearing when the
liberal Italian daily La Stampa depicted a baby Jesus looking up from the
manger at an Israeli tank, saying, “Don’t tell me they want to kill me again.”
Or when a Lutheran bishop in Denmark delivered a sermon in the
Copenhagen Cathedral comparing Ariel Sharon’s policies toward the
Palestinians to those of King Herod, who ordered the slaughter of all male
children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem.
Political opinion in Europe is certainly one-sided when it comes to the Mideast
conflict. Members of the Norwegian Nobel committee have publicly called for
the withdrawal of the Peace Prize from the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon
Peres, but not from his co-winner, Yasir Arafat.
The European Parliament voted to urge member governments to impose
trade sanctions on Israel but urged no action against the Palestinian Authority.
Historically, the far right and far left have not agreed on much. These days they
seem united in their contempt for the Jewish state.
This was evident last summer at the international conference against racism in
Durban, South Africa, which turned into a celebration of Israel hatred. Zionism
was once again equated with racism and Israel’s legitimacy came under
Focusing on the suffering of only one side is also not the same as
anti-Semitism, although it is distressing. Just as there are American politicians
who believe they have no political room to maneuver when it comes to support
for Israeli policies, so there are European politicians with large Muslim
constituencies whose voters do not want to see them acknowledging gray
areas in this fight.
There are also other explanations for the European mood. Guilt over the
Holocaust may be salved with the thought that Jews, too, can act with cruelty.
And given American sponsorship of Israel, being fashionably anti-American can
easily mean being anti-Israel.
But much of Europe has a special responsibility to be cautious. Its cultures are
drenched in a history of anti-Semitism. The mixing of historic European
anti-Semitism with the more modern version in the Muslim world is a dangerous
All this does not mean that Israel should be above criticism. Far from it. But it
does mean that when you read of hooded men shouting “Death to Jews”
attacking a Jewish soccer team in suburban Paris, as happened recently, it
should prompt some profound soul-searching about whether the past has come