The EU delegation to Israel, together with all embassies of EU member states, joined people in Israel commemorating the Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.
The day was commemorated today (5 May) with the sound of sirens all over Israel. In a two-minute silence car drivers and pedestrians stopped in streets and roads.
“Six million Jews – innocent men, women and children – were murdered simply for being Jewish,” says the EU statement. “Remembering the Shoah (Holocaust) means for us recalling our joint responsibility for the future, continuing to stand strong against anti-Semitism, prejudice and racial discrimination in all their forms.”
The statement goes on saying that “it is our duty to fight against anti-Semitism on every front. We cannot and will not accept that Jewish communities in Europe do not feel safe. Attacks on Jews are attacks on all of us – against our way of living, against tolerance and against our identity.”
Since Wednesday evening Israeli TV has shown documentaries and films about the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors have given testimony about their sufferings during the Holocaust and how they were rescued, often thanks to non-Jewish neighbors who risked their lives to hide them and give them shelter.
The major ceremony took place on Wednesday evening at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. President Reuven Rivlin and the Prime-Mnister Benyamin Netanyahu stressed Israel’s determination to defend itself by itself as the most important lesson learned from the Holocaust.
Both speakers addressed the danger of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, the continent where the Holocaust took place. Netanyahu drew a link between the Nazi incitement that preceded the Holocaust and today’s anti-Israeli propaganda.
He referred to recent reports about anti-Semitism in the British Labour party – where MPs and local politicians have been suspended for anti-Semitic remarks – and to “senior Swedish officials”.
Netanyay might have been referring to the former mayor of Malmö, a city which has become infamous for its negligence in dealing with anti-Semitism among its Muslim immigrants. After the mayor left municipal politics in 2013, he has continued his career in the governing Social-Democratic party.
Rivlin addressed part of his speech to the Holocaust survivors. He apologized to them that Israeli society did not understood them when they arrived in Israel and did not give them the respect and support they deserved. Still today many of them are living in poverty because of the failure of the Israeli bureaucracy in supporting them.
In a statement which could be interpreted as a defense of universal human rights President Rivlin said that “beloved is man created in God’s image”. He continued:
“The Holocaust will forever place us, the Jewish people, as eternal prosecutors on the stage of humanity, prosecutor against anti-Semitism, racism and ultra-nationalism. Prosecutors against pacts with the devil that trade human dignity and life for interests. Prosecutors against indifference, against the relativism of evil. Beloved is man, every person, created in the image of God.”
Kenan Malik wrote yesterday (4 May) in the International New York Times that bigotry, the embrace of identity politics and fear to confront anti-Semitism among Muslim constituencies are reasons behind anti-Semitism among the British left and presumably also in other countries.
To explore some of the questions surrounding the debate on anti-Semitism in Europe, The Brussels Times contacted Dr Mikael Shainkman, a researcher on anti-Semitism at the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at the University of Tel Aviv.
Q. Do we witness a return of the old antisemitism in Europe? Does the antisemitism today remind us about the situation in the 30-ies?
A. Of course history never repeats itself since every occasion is unique but anti-Semitism is undoubtedly on the rise in Europe today. With that said, the situation is also vastly different. For instance, there is no European country with anti-Semitic laws on the books — on the contrary, all European countries have robust anti-racism, anti-discrimination laws.
Q. Is Israel, by its foreign policy and the occupation, to be blamed for the increase in anti-Semitism?
A. We see a clear connection between the number of anti-Semitic incidents globally, especially in Europe, and the situation in Israel. Meaning, whenever there’s a war or some major military operation here, we see a spike in the number of such incidents. As soon as the situation calms down, the number of incidents also goes down — but interestingly enough never to the same level as before the latest round of violence.
That does not, however, mean that these military operations — or other Israeli actions – cause antisemitism. They only trigger anti-Semitic incidents. The idea that you can avenge Israeli actions by attacking local Jews in Europe is in itself a racist idea, just as it would be to burn down mosques in Europe in protest against this or that policy or action taken by some Middle Eastern government.
In other words, a person who isn’t anti-Semitic to begin with wouldn’t attack European Jews to express anger at Israel. That response is only logical if you believe that all Jews are a cohesive collective with a unified agenda and that all Jews everywhere have signed off on all actions taken by any Jew anywhere or by the Israeli government.
Q. Where is there more anti-Semitism today – in Western or in Eastern Europe?
A. Antisemitism tends to look different in Eastern and Western Europe. We see much more classic anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, whereas that kind of Jew-hatred is relatively rare in Western Europe. The exception to this in the West is part of the immigrant community with roots in the Middle East. Here, one can also find classic anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In Western Europe, it’s much more common to see criticism of Israel that crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and not all critics of Israel are anti-Semites. However, every now and then, this line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel is crossed. When that happens, one can also note that it’s challenging — and sometimes impossible — to make people understand that it’s anti-Semitism.
The Brussels Times