OpinionMiddle East

Europe’s Jewish malaise

In the realpolitik of the 21st century, Europe will have to decide whether its discomfort with Jews outweighs its professed values.

The European Parliament. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The European Parliament. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Michael Sussman
Michael Sussman

The U.S.-Backed Abraham Accords, signed on Sept. 15 between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, were considered by many around the world to be a major triumph—a solid step toward the end of the “intractable” Arab-Israeli conflict.

Even the typically anti-Israel Saudi newspapers praised the agreements. The Arab News daily paper ran an exuberant front-page headline, “Salam…Shalom…Peace!” above a hopeful new motto: “The voice of a changing region.”

Yet, noticeably absent from both the White House signing ceremony and the excitement surrounding this watershed moment, that holds the potential to change the face of the Middle East, were representatives of the European Union.

Why would an entity whose core values are respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law—and that is one of the Palestinians’ primary donors—stay away from such a peace ceremony?

Even if the Accords mark a break with the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli framework of the past, which the European Union supports, the nagging suspicion remains that the true culprit here is classic European attitudes towards Jews.

Indeed, one need not delve deep into history to find evidence of European anti-Semitism. It is openly displayed on the streets of today’s Europe for all to see.

A parade in Belgium last February featured a procession where participants dressed as anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews, with exaggerated Chassidic garb, stereotypical long, hooked noses and with the word “OBEY” sewn on their lapels in big brass letters.  As if that were not enough, these anti-Semitic characters marched in front of a float featuring two replica chimneys from Auschwitz, representing the crematorium where Jews were burned alive, as well as gold bars and others dressed like vermin.

This was not one of the infamous Nazi rallies of 1930s Germany—it took place in 2020 in the so-called “politically correct,” “multicultural” atmosphere that allegedly defines modern Europe. Nor was this conspicuous anti-Semitic event held in some boondock rural town, but rather in Aalst, a suburb 30 miles from Brussels, the capital city of both Belgium and the European Union. Nor was it organized by some alternative fringe group—it was put on by the New Flemish Alliance, an official political party.

Far from being denounced, this malignantly racist event was attended by tens of thousands and defended by the city’s mayor as “free speech,” part of the “city’s sense of humor.” One spectator even commented: “I think it’s squeamish of those people that they feel targeted again.” Anti-Semitism is so mainstream in parts of Europe that people do not even recognize it.

The Carnival in Aalst was no isolated event. Only two weeks later, in the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain, a carnival showcased young men dressed in replica Nazi uniforms, toting rifles, walking in the notorious Nazi “goose-step” before a group of young women dressed as concentration camp prisoners and carrying Jewish flags.

Recently, French rapper Freeze Corleone was reprimanded for inciting anti-Semitism through his lyrics, which made statements like, “Too many Cohens, Jews in finance, Jews in politics, Jews plotting, Jewish school books … Against them is the courage and bravery of the 3rd Reich and its heroic mysticism.” While Freeze was reprimanded, the video got five million YouTube hits.

Meanwhile, in the diplomatic world, on the day the Abraham Accords were signed the E.U. Foreign Ministry posted a picture of cartoon characters The Smurfs cleaning garbage from a swamp, as if the ongoing battle over environmental issues was more important than the historic peace agreement.

In addition to more or less ignoring the peace agreement, the European Union applied the familiar tactic of protecting the world from the nefarious plans of “the Jews” by attempting to stop Israel from “harming the Palestinians,” rather than promoting peace and security itself.

Like a double-edged sword, most reactions by its members resembled their official statement, which welcomed the Agreements but did so on the basis that they did not extend to Judea and Samaria, what they call “occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Observers of the Middle East may be surprised by the fact that the Arab League is becoming more open to the Jewish state than is Europe, but historians will not be. While Jews lived as second-class citizens in Middle Eastern countries, most of them did not suffer the hundreds of years of often violent anti-Semitism that was the fate of their European brethren.

In the realpolitik of the 21st century, Europe will have to decide whether its discomfort with its Jews outweighs its professed values. For if it does not reconcile this tension, it will never be able to live up to its own values.

The writer is CEO of Sussman Corporate Security and editor of the book “Variety of Multiple Modernities: New Research Design.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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