Growing up as an active Jew in London I always hated when Americans or Israelis would comment on anti-Semitism in Europe. Always hyperbolic and often boarding on racism, their declarations of doom and destruction of the Jewish community of Europe was as unwelcome as it was uneducated.
Yet looking at the events of the past few years, and from my new home in North America, I can say that Europe has a serious anti-Semitism problem. With the recent advice that it is no longer safe for Jews to openly walk around Copenhagen, the number of safe European capital cities has shrunk to a tiny number. London and Berlin are some of the last holdouts for Jews to feel safe walking around with a kippa on. Europe is definitely going backward.
This is not just the vain imagination of the Jewish community. A few weeks ago, the Economist ran a story about the ingrained nature of Hanukkah in U.S. culture, leading it with, “On the London Underground or the Paris Metro, only a brave passenger would dress as a Jewish version of Santa Claus. Such an outfit would risk stares, grumbles about Israeli policies, or worse.” This is not news to the Jews of Europe. Indeed, the new chief rabbi-designate of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, has recognized this as a growing issue that will be on his agenda. The Community Security Trust, a British Jewish communal group, has set best practice on the reporting and prevention of anti-Semitism across Europe, often being highlighted by the U.K. government as a glowing example of how communities can work with local law enforcement.
Yet to the governments of Europe, at a local, regional, national and pan-European level, this issue is not being taken seriously enough. European decision makers often have two reactions when the subject of anti-Semitism is raised.
The first reaction is to section anti-Semitism off as a problem only of the far right. There is a growing problem with far right extremism on the rise in Hungry and Austria alongside nationalists in many European countries remembering their Jew hatred of the past. Today, however, the solutions to anti-Semitism cannot be found by only using the familiar coalitions against the far right.
The second reaction is one of abdication of responsibility. They see anti-Semitism as directly tied to foreign policy and thus blame others for the lack of safety of their own citizens. This is appalling. Regardless of one’s feelings for the Middle East, hateful and violent demonstrations against Jews and Jewish property is never justifiable.
European anti-Semitism is a domestic public policy problem that cannot be fixed with a magic wand, and blaming the victims of hate crime – something that the Mayor of Malmo does often – is an unacceptable solution.
As Europe’s demography changes, governments have to start systemically educating their citizens that hating Jews is not ok, and that it is unjustifiable. This means going beyond Holocaust education and getting into touchy, hard topics such as Israel and Palestine. If the hate, fear and loathing come from today’s political situation, states have the obligation to make sure their citizens are not being brought up on a diet of racism. That starts with educating each and every child.
Jews not living in Europe have a role to play as well. In America,supporting the office of the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism is a good start. Jews in Europe need the United States and Canada to lobby their own governments to put pressure on the European Union to take the issue seriously. European Jews do not need Israelis or North American Jews to tell them about their own problem, but to support them in helping to make sure that their governments take it seriously.
Lastly and importantly, the global Jewish world must allow European Jews and their agencies, such as the Community Security Trust, to define what constitutes anti-Semitism. The Jews of Europe know their societies, their nuances and cultures better than anyone else. The Jewish world has an obligation to support the Europeans in this existential fight, but they must let the Europeans lead if we are to have any hope of victory.