Faced with old-fashioned anti-Semitism alongside depictions of Israelis as the “new Nazis,” we must be vigilant and build new coalitions against history’s oldest hate
Carnival is a period of public revelry each year, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade. This year, two such carnivals in Western European democracies celebrated their unique cultures and heritages, replete with colorful floats and fun-loving crowds. Organizers apparently believed that no communal festivity could be complete without the celebration of Jew-hatred.
In the small town of Campo de Criptana, 90 miles southeast of Madrid, carnival participants watched as the memory of 6 million Jews mass- murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust was mocked by gun-toting Nazi soldiers followed by a singer on a float standing between two smokestacks of a death camp.
Meanwhile, in Aalst, Belgium, city fathers defended in the name of free speech and “fun” the depiction of Hassidim as insects, replete with exaggerated stereotypical long noses. Organizers, in the home country of the European Union headquarters, just couldn’t understand what was wrong with poking a little fun at their Jews. They were oblivious to Jewish protests and defiant at losing their UNESCO cultural designation. They, along with conductors from the Belgian railroad who played anti-Semitic songs to passengers en route to a football match, remembered to forget the 25,000 Jews sent to transit camps on special railway cars, from which they were deported to Nazi death camps.
How could it be that such public displays of anti-Semitism, the depiction of live Jews as vermin – just as the Nazis and their collaborators did in the 1930s, and the celebration of the perpetrators of the genocide of Jews would take place just weeks after nearly 50 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem to remember the 6 million and stand up against anti-Semitism?
The answers are many and complex but here are two to contemplate.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, noted author and expert on European anti-Semitism, points out that some 150 million Europeans believe that Israel is doing to the Palestinians today what the Nazis did to the Jews.
For decades – especially since the onset of the Palestinian intifadas, major European media outlets, including state-run channels, have depicted the conflict in the Holy Land exactly in those terms. This was accompanied by a drumbeat of delegitimization of Israel, Jews, and Zionism at the United Nations, in academia and many church groups.
All this had the desired double impact of ridding Europe of its guilt for collaboration and/or apathy over dead Jews while focusing their righteous indignation against live Jews- guilty of the sin of defending themselves in their historic homeland.
And 75 years after Auschwitz, many young people have no idea about the history of Nazi Germany and many Muslim parents in Europe have made clear they don’t want their children to find out. So, in 2020, hating Israel (read “Nazis”) and Zionists (Jew who support the “racist apartheid state”) seem to many, the righteous thing to do.
Secondly, for many, the Jew remains the ultimate outsider: someone to be feared; someone who looks and prays differently; whose successes and perceived powers are presented in conspiratorial terms.
In a just-released European poll of attitudes about Jews, one in five Europeans believe that a secret Jewish cabal runs the world, a cancerous echo of the nefarious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a screed invoked by every major anti-Semite in the last century.
All this hate, all this distrust, is now being served up in multiple languages on social media. We Jews must not only be vigilant but build new coalitions with our neighbors against history’s oldest hate. Without the help of people of goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic, we will face mounting anti-Semitism in our time.