The Irish Times view on anti-Semitism: bigots and their enablers

A resurgence of anti-Semitism should provoke alarm across the world

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the vandalised Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, eastern France, on Tuesday. French residents and public officials from across the political spectrum geared up Tuesday for nationwide rallies against anti-Semitism following a series of anti-Semitic acts, including the swastikas painted on about 80 gravestones at the Jewish cemetery. Photograph: Frederick Florin/ AP

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the vandalised Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, eastern France, on Tuesday. French residents and public officials from across the political spectrum geared up Tuesday for nationwide rallies against anti-Semitism following a series of anti-Semitic acts, including the swastikas painted on about 80 gravestones at the Jewish cemetery. Photograph: Frederick Florin/ AP

 

For generations after the second World War, anti-Semitism remained a taboo in Europe – a disease that appeared to afflict only the most irrelevant bigots on the fringes of political debate. That caused complacency, because today, just 70 years after the Holocaust, anti-Jewish feeling has raised its ugly head once more. Across the world – in parts of Europe, the United States, the Middle East and elsewhere – Jewish communities face harassment, intimidation, assault and worse on an alarming scale.

The fear that France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, is becoming a dangerous place for Jews brought 20,000 people on to the streets of Paris on Tuesday night. The same day, President Emmanuel Macron visisted a village in Alsace where, the previous night, about 90 tombs were daubed with blue swastikas. Although the recent rise in anti-Jewish incidents predates the emergence of the anti-establishment gilets jaunes movement, several have occurred during the group’s demonstrations.

Last Saturday, protesters surrounded the prominent French Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut and yelled anti-Semitic insults at him near his home in Paris. The statistics suggest a trend. The French interior ministry recently reported a 74 per cent increase in the number of offences against Jews last year. “Anti-Semitism is profoundly rooted in French society,” prime minister Édouard Philippe told parliament.

France is not alone in struggling with the problem. The largest survey of Jewish sentiment on the issue, carried out last year by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, found that anti-Semitic hate speech, harassment and an increasing fear of being recognised as Jewish were becoming the new normal. Anti-Semitic attacks rose by more than 60 per cent in Germany last year. In the UK, MPs are leaving Labour because they believe its leadership is not doing enough to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz, led by Viktor Orban, has run vitriolic campaigns, drawing on long-standing anti-Semitic tropes, demonising the Jewish financier George Soros. In the US, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 per cent in 2017. The shooting dead of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October was the deadliest assault on Jews in US history.

All of this presents a major security challenge – one that must be met head-on. But this is fundamentally a political and social crisis caused by a confluence of factors, including the increasing influence of far-right groups and governments, the rise of conspiracy theories and a general increase in the violence of public discourse. And as Deborah Lipstadt argues in a new book, Anti-Semitisim: Here and Now, the resurgence of anti-Semitism owes as much to its political enablers who are not openly bigoted as it does to the committed bigots who are.

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