High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Make No Mistake: Antisemitism in Europe Is Alive and Well
column Hind Fraihi

Make No Mistake: Antisemitism in Europe Is Alive and Well

From Nazi Germany to the current refugee crisis: Hind Fraihi argues antisemites have always found ways to blame the Jews.

Throughout history, Jews have been scapegoated by regimes that are willing to turn a blind eye to the real causes of various crises. From the pogroms in Tsarist Russia to the Nuremberg Race Laws in Nazi Germany, and the stereotypical beliefs about the diabolical Jew which feature in the wider criticism of the State of Israel by Arab regimes: Antisemites have always found ways to blame the Jews. The current worldwide malaise as well as the climate of fear and the unguided anger looming over the Western world following the banking and refugee crises have opened up the floodgates for a new wave of antisemitism.

In Germany, Jews are advised not to wear yarmulkes in public. According to its president, France is faced with a “resurgence of antisemitism unseen since World War II.” In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom left-wing political parties – including GroenLinks and Labour – are battling the foul odour of Jew hatred emanating from a few of their members. In Belgium, Unia – the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities – warns its people about an alarming surge in antisemitism across various layers of society.

In a recent study large-scale survey of over 16,000 European Jews, about 90 percent of all respondents claimed they experience an increase in antisemitism in their home countries. It appears that, despite teachers addressing the horrors of the Holocaust in school, antisemitism is still alive and kicking in Europe. However, we are not only haunted with the ghosts of a dark and distant past. The presence of significant groups of Muslims on the continent has introduced a so-called ‘new antisemitism’, fuelled by a grudge that has its historic roots in Salafism and Wahhabism (a more strict, Saudi form Salafism) and the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In May of 2016, the people of Flanders were able to experience exactly how much that seed of hatred had taken root. Zakia Belkhiri, a confident and flamboyant Muslim woman, became an overnight success after having taken several selfies alongside Vlaams Belang frontman Filip Dewinter at a protest against the two-day Muslim Expo in Antwerp. About a week later, the so-called ‘selfie Muslim woman’ was caught up in a media firestorm because she had been spreading hateful Tweets, including “Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews, he left some. So we know why he was killin’ them #fuckers”.

Zakia Belkhiri is far from alone in spreading these reprehensible ideas, as a study entitled Antisemitism and Immigration in Western Europe Today demonstrates. Muslims hold proportionally more prejudices against Jews, and are more frequently involved with anti-Semitic violence. The mere existence of the State of Israel seems to evoke hatred among Muslims and part of the populist left. In addition, these same religious and political groups tend to merge the concepts of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

Merging anti-Zionism and antisemitism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, what is claimed to be ‘anti-Zionism’ is all too often just a roundabout way of spreading pure hatred of Jews. On the other hand, what is termed ‘antisemitism’ is the perfect way to shut down any justified criticism aimed at the State of Israel.

To put a stop to this continued mix-up the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) proposed a broad, all-encompassing definition of ‘antisemitism’. The problem here is that this particular definition is by no means flawless either. The IHRA, for example, states that “applying double standards by requiring of it [the state of Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is to be considered antisemitic. In other words: we should take an objective look at Israel.

And therein lies the problem. We simply cannot judge Israel according to the criteria we would use for any other (democratic) country. It is nearly impossible to consider Israel objectively. After all, the Israeli State is somewhat of an outsider. Just take a look at its genesis. Israel’s origins are a textbook case illustrating how in white colonial circles it was believed to be their right to divide the world in every way they saw fit – preferably, without any consideration for the “inferior” local people. Problems that were rearing their heads in their home continent were transferred rather crudely to another continent.

Furthermore, claiming that Israel does not take the rights of its Palestinian population seriously should go down as the understatement of the century. In the 2019 Human Rights Watch’s World Report we can read: “The Israeli government continued to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights; restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip; and facilitate the unlawful transfer of Israeli citizens to settlements in the occupied West Bank.” When it comes to the violation of the Palestinians’ rights, the State of Israel is by no means the only culprit in the area. Among other infringements, we should mention the blatant discrimination of Palestinian refugees in Arab host countries, including Lebanon and Egypt. Yet those countries continually dodge any criticism.

Even though we can justly criticise the State of Israel, some basic principles are simply too important to ignore. One of those principles is that individuals can never be held responsible for a nation state’s policy – especially when they do not even live there. Introducing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the streets of Flanders is anything but a solution for the people still living over there. Moreover, it actually complicates any type of coexistence in our own complex society, causing any mutual sensibilities to be stressed even more. The roots of those heightened sensibilities lie in the past. Jews walk around carrying about 2,000 years worth of prejudices and conspiracy theories on their shoulders. These often originated from various cultural interpretations of the age-old clichés of the money-grubbing Jew, the Jewish fraudster and imposter. In fact, those clichés still pop up during carnivals.

Whether we are dealing with long-established or contemporary antisemitism, it simply has no raison d’être, along with any other type of racism and discrimination. There is not one excuse, not a single reason, to justify criticism or hatred against any people. Therefore, in this case, we cannot tolerate cowardly relativism in any shape or form.

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