Danger Ahead for Europe’s Jews


State Department officials in recent weeks have quietly
urged their European counterparts to take preemptive action to prevent new
anti-Semitic attacks in the wake of a United States-led military action against
Iraq.

European officials have listened — but that’s about all.
Some have even used the threat of anti-Semitism as one more piece of ammunition
in their effort to block the expected U.S. attack.

The Bush administration is getting high marks even from
Democrats for urging preemptive action by the balky Euros.

But Washington’s impact may be limited, largely because the
expected reaction is closely linked to the surging anti-Americanism that
European leaders themselves have tacitly encouraged.

The potential problem has multiple causes.

Increasingly, the European left is allied with Muslim and
pro-Palestinian forces that have crossed the line from forceful criticism of
Israel’s policies to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement. That has produced
new spasms of anti-Semitism across Europe since the breakdown of
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2000. The prospect of a U.S. war against
Iraq has provided another boost to these forces and created new ties with more
moderate groups opposed to U.S. policy.

A major contributing factor is surging Muslim populations,
especially in France, where Islamic immigrants vastly outnumber Jews. Last week
American Jewish Committee leaders met with French President Jacques Chirac, who
called anti-Semitism a “cancer” and warned that an Iraq war could result in new
attacks against Jews. But characteristically, Chirac seemed more interested in
using that threat as another argument in his effort to block U.S. action
against Iraq.

That attitude — hostility to U.S. policy and indifference in
the face of rising domestic anti-Semitism — is all the more reason why a U.S.
Gulf strike may produce new violence and vandalism against Jewish targets. The
problem is evident in Germany, as well, where anti-Iraq war and anti-Israel
sentiment is running strong, with government encouragement.

All across Europe, antiwar activists and the media suggest
Israeli “aggression” and U.S. “bullying” are two sides of the same coin.

In recent weeks the Bush administration has quietly urged
European nations to take steps now to defuse the potential backlash. In
meetings with leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), top administration
officials revealed that they have quietly urged European leaders to develop
preemptive plans for limiting the backlash, said Avi Beker, secretary-general of
the group.

“They made it clear they take this very seriously,” he said,
“that this is something they have to do as part of their war planning.”

The congressional Helsinki Commission has acknowledged the
potential and urged the European nations to take an inventory of the programs
available for fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, Cardin said.

“In France, in particular, the rise in anti-Semitism in the
past was directly related to Middle East events,” he said. “We expect that when
there is even more tension in the region, there will be more open anti-Semitic
activity; individuals will try to justify their anti-Semitism as based on world
events. So we do believe we will see a rise in open anti-Semitism.”

The administration is right to raise the alarms with
European diplomats, but its influence is limited — in part because it will also
be a backlash against an administration that the rest of the world sees as a
unilateral bully.

European leaders are not in the mood to listen to a
president they dislike, and they aren’t interested in confronting domestic
forces that will seize on the Iraq war to foster and justify new anti-Semitism
at home.

Jewish groups like the WJC, the American Jewish Committee,
the Anti-Defamation League and the Wiesenthal Center are redoubling their
efforts to pressure European leaders to work in advance to prevent a violent
backlash. But they have a tricky line to walk on the Iraq war itself.

Many Israeli leaders are hoping the U.S. effort in Iraq will
succeed and that administration predictions that it will trigger a regional
shift to more moderate regimes prove correct. But Jews in Europe, like their
American counterparts, are divided about prospects for war with Iraq; blaming
Jews for what could prove to be a highly unpopular war is a far-fetched fantasy
that, unfortunately, too many people seem willing to believe.