Marine Le Pen. Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters

Fight against Le Pen must continue


As a young girl who fled Iran, I lived in France for several years during the mid-1980s before coming to the United States. I attended a French public middle school, one of only three Iranian students in the entire school. The tension between “Arab” and “French” people was palpable on a daily basis.

Despite the external challenges, I was enduring my own internal cultural conflicts, or, perhaps I should say, tectonic shifts. I had escaped the tumult of the Islamic Revolution and a country where I was forcibly covered from head to toe on a daily basis, only to find myself now exposed to a new environment where women comfortably walked the beach without even a bikini top! I remember the images of men and women casually socializing, holding hands, even kissing in public.

It was overwhelming , but I cherished the freedom France offered. I was a young girl, liberated from the hijab that covered not only my hair, but also my dignity and identity.

In those years, the National Front movement led by Jean-Marie Le Pen — whose daughter Marine Le Pen succeeded him as head of the party and just lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron — was just beginning to pick up steam. It was particularly gaining popularity among troubled students who I knew. These teens expressed their disenchantment by greeting one another with straight-arm salutes, shaving their heads, donning army attire and boots, and occasionally harassing and spitting at Arab students.
Before too long, they discovered I was an easy target as a young Middle Eastern Jewish girl, barely able to communicate in French and still adjusting to my new surroundings. So they teased and harassed me, yelling “Arab!” at me. I tried to reason with them, explaining that I’m not an Arab, I’m Iranian — Persian! I once said Iranians are of the Aryan race, hoping to score points, but they still saw me as I was — a dark-skinned Middle Eastern girl, a despicable foreigner, “the Other.” The fact that I was Jewish enabled me to seek refuge within Jewish community life, but it proved little more than a liability with the Le Front National.

As a vulnerable teenager, life was hard. Beyond the Jewish community, I never was included in any social activities with peers, never invited to parties, never received phone calls from friends after school. I do recall one time when the phone rang. It was a classmate asking for me. Flattered, I picked up the receiver to hear the voice of Florence, a girl from school. I always thought she was friendly, not too cool or snobby. But as soon as I said hello, Florence said, “Tu es une sal Juive Iranienne — You’re a dirty Iranian Jew — and hung up the phone.

This was a painful but clarifying moment. In an instant, I realized that, no matter how much I boasted about my Iranian (not Arab) culture or my Jewish roots, I still would always be “the Other,” the undesirable threat to their heritage.

It’s undeniable that terrorism and radical Islamists pose real challenges to French society. But white nationalism and neo-fascism are real problems, too. I have experienced this threat firsthand. I know the pain and it causes. I know the anger it breeds and the destructive cycle it sustains.

I’m grateful for my life in the West. I freely can practice my religion, express my opinions and, yes, freely expose my hair and dress however I wish. But I would never align myself with fascists with the false hope that I could preserve these freedoms. Empowering these authoritarians by ignoring and excusing their behavior is immoral, futile and self-defeating.

For those people seeking a quick fix to the decades-long problems of France and the radicalization of elements of its Muslim population, Marine Le Pen’s idea of banning religious attire and head-coverings might have some initial appeal. To Persian-Americans, it might seem reminiscent of Reza Shah’s revolutionary mandate to forcibly remove the hijab from women in an effort to catapult Iran toward rapid secularization. But we live in a vastly different world today.

Ask the majority of French Jews residing in Israel today who voted against Le Pen. They know that Jews — along with other religious minorities, including Muslims and Hindus — all would suffer serious consequences with a ban on the hijab. Despite what the neo-fascists might say, this would not be the end, but rather the beginning, of religious oppression for people of all faiths.

After her defeat, Le Pen apparently is seeking to “rebrand” the National Front party. Such marketing strategies may ameliorate Le Pen’s image, presenting a softer side and a more patriotic mission that may increase her appeal in some quarters. I can imagine that a new generation of voters may develop new impressions of this movement.

Some might be drawn to Le Pen because of a lack of better alternatives, others because their hatred for radical Islamists and foreigners is far stronger than their love for their democratic values and fellow French citizens. And yet, those of us who are familiar with Le Pen must raise our voices. We should not accept such distortions.

Some are saying that Le Pen has lost the battle but the war is yet to come. For this reason, we must be prepared to fight. With our votes and with our voices, we must speak out, because we cannot afford to yield an inch in the fight against fascism. This is a fight for ourselves. ”


MARJAN GREENBLATT is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), Iran.

Number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria rises strongly


The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent last year, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling, an Austrian group said on Wednesday.

Jews across Europe have warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, while far-right movements have gained popularity because of tensions over immigration and concerns following militant Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which began monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, said 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being internet postings hostile to Jews.

The total number of internet postings reported to Austria's constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, according to an interior ministry spokesman.

“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), said.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) urged the European Union and its member states in January to increase efforts to combat widespread anti-Semitic cyber hate, arguing that anti-Semitism in the region did not show any sign of waning.

IKG's Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said it was difficult to clearly tell who committed some anti-Semitic acts because offenders could not be identified and internet postings were usually anonymous.

But there was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria from Muslims, the Jewish community representative said.

“There is an increasing concern in our community that – if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees – this could become problematic for us,” Fastenbauer said.

Austria has mainly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa but has absorbed a similar number of asylum seekers relative to its much smaller population of 8.7 million.

Protesters in Sweden chant ‘slaughter the Jews’


Hundreds of protesters in the Swedish city of Malmo were filmed chanting in Arabic about slaughtering Jews and stabbing soldiers.

Pro-Palestinian groups organized a rally Monday in the city center against what they consider Israeli violence and to show solidarity with Palestinians amid deadly measures taken by Israeli authorities to stop the recent spate of attacks on Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

Isaac Bachman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, posted on his Facebook account a video taken at the rally showing hundreds chanting “’slaughter the Jews, stab soldiers.” In other slogans, the chanters encouraged “heroes to carry out attack after attack” and to “start a third intifada.”

“These are extremely troubling instances of a grotesque but nevertheless very real – and murderous – incitement which must be dealt with by the full force of the law,” Bachman wrote.

His wife, Osnat, wrote about the video: “Swedish people: Is this what you believe in? Is this what you bargained for? Are these your morals? Since I know the answers I feel ashamed in your name.”

Separately, the Scandinavian airline SAS announced on Wednesday that it would stop flights from Copenhagen to Tel Aviv at the end of March, along with Ankara and Russia, citing profitability issues.

SAS spokeswoman Trine Kromann denied claims made in the Israeli media that the line was profitable — the Israel Hayom daily reported Tuesday that the line had seen a 41 percent increase in traffic in 2014 over 2013 — and denied that the decision to stop the flights to Israel was in fact politically motivated.

Kromann said SAS did not share or discuss traffic statistics, “which in any case are only a part of the commercial calculation for determining profitability.”She added: “We also look at, for example, the price we can get per ticket and operating costs.”

The line to Tel Aviv is a particularly costly one for SAS, Kromann also said.

In Israel, European Jews warn of growing anti-Semitism


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

European Jewish leaders say there is more anti-Israel sentiment and more anti-Semitism in Europe today than at any time in the past 60 years. A new poll found that nearly 150 million Europeans think Israel is an apartheid state and even uses Nazi methods.

A group of European Jewish leaders who are visiting Israel on behalf of the Israel Jewish Congress told Knesset members that they have been subjected to harassment and death threats. For example in London, residents are bracing for a large neo-Nazi rally next month, and many Jews in Europe say they do not display any Jewish symbols for fear of an attack.

“Anti-semitism has been increasing a lot,” Saskia Pantell, the Executive Director of the Zionist Federation of Sweden told The Media Line.

“Jewish children in one Jewish school in Stockholm have not been allowed to go outside during recess for security reasons. We had a winter camp cancelled for security reasons. It’s getting very limited in regards to freedom. Most Jews don’t say their Jewish or wear a kippa (skullcap) or Star of David.”

She herself has been the target of death threats, and said the community in Sweden, which numbers 15,000 – 18,000 Jews was shaken by the shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen in February.

Even in Germany, which has a broad program of Holocaust education, and has been especially sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish acts are up 25 percent over past years.

“We always say that Jews feel safe (in Germany),” Itai Abelski, a young Jewish leader in Germany, which has an estimated 125,000 Jews, told The Media Line. “But how does a Jew feel safe if he doesn’t show he is Jewish?”

He said there is a discrepancy between government positions, with Israel and Germany being close allies, and what the general population believes. There is also an increase in Germany of radical Muslim sentiment.

Some of these Jewish leaders say that growing sentiment against Israel, especially since last summer’s war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement that left more than 2100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead has intensified the tensions. The United Nations Human Rights Council this week released a report criticizing both Israel and Hamas for possible war crimes, and saying that about 1400 of the dead were civilians – a number Israel disputes.

More Europeans are calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, or at least from areas that Israel acquired in 1967. The European Union is currently considering this type of labeling, and some private companies have begun to divest from Israel. Stephane Richard, the CEO of the Orange telecommunications company, sparked a furor in Israel when he said he would dump Israel “tomorrow” if he could, although he later apologized.

“They see a lot of conflation between attacks on the state of Israel and on them as Jews,” Arsen Ostrovsky, the director of research at The Israel Jewish Congress told The Media Line. “There is a blurring of the lines between attacking Jews and attacking the state of Israel.”

The Congress brought 35 Jewish leaders from 26 European countries to meet Israeli officials to try to find ways to fight anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement known as BDS. In France, Ostrovsky said, half of all hate crimes are directed at Jews even though Jews represent only one percent of the total population in France. It is still the largest Jewish community in Europe with about 500,000 Jews.

“Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same thing,” Gil Taieb, the Vice-President of the Jewish community in France told The Media Line. “We saw that wherever there was a demonstration in favor of BDS, they spoke in favor of anti-Semitism.”

He said the community is still reeling from the January shootings of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris. The four were buried in Israel, partly because government officials feared their graves could be desecrated, he said.

At the same time in some Jewish communities in Europe, some Jews are pushing back against the harassment.

“Many are sick of it and are starting to wear large Jewish star necklaces,” Pantell of Sweden said. “They get death threats but they say they just don’t care anymore and they will speak out for Israel.”

This Passover, raging anti-Semitism, ascendant Iran facing Jews


This post originally ran on Fow News.

On Friday night Jewish families in Israel and throughout the world will celebrate our Passover Seder, a wondrous interactive event remembering we were once slaves unto Pharaoh and celebrating our freedom and first baby steps as a nation. In the middle of the symbol-rich ritual, we fill a cup of wine–Elijah’s Cup – and then open our doors to ‘welcome’ the spirit of Elijah the Prophet. The biblical prophet has a special place in the Jewish narrative, as every newborn boy is placed on “Elijah’s Chair” for his circumcision. Why Elijah? Our tradition teaches that he is the messenger who one day will return to announce the advent of a messianic era of peace.

But Israelis worry that a series of moves by foes and friends are effectively slamming shut the door towards peace and hastening the next catastrophic war in The Holy Land.

Uppermost in everyone’s mind is the looming reality that Iran will have clear path to nuclearization with the means to deliver a bomb atop a missile or in a terrorist suitcase.v While Israel ponders her next move, Arab nations are already scurrying to obtain their own nuclear options. And with their traditional US protector AWOL, these same states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are already responding militarily to Iran’s power grab in Iraq and Yemen, further destabilizing the raging fires of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, even as negotiations in Geneva finally yielded a preliminary agreement with Tehran, Israelis were subjected to earlier this week, the latest direct threat from Iran’s chief of the Bajiis militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, who declared– that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” Not a peep of protest from P5+1 leaders. Tehran is already launching new actions to bolster their bluster. Last year,Naqdi confirmed Iran was increasing efforts to arm Palestinians on the West Bank and the Mullahocracy has taken new measures to threatenIsrael’s northern border.

A senior Israeli Defense Ministry official confirms that Iran is converting Zilzal unguided rockets into accurate, guided M-600 projectiles by installing accurate warheads.

The Algemeiner quoted Israeli Colonel Aviram Hasson describing Iran as a “train engine that is not stopping for a moment. It is manufacturing new and advanced ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. It is turning unguided rockets that had an accuracy range of kilometers into weapons that are accurate to within meters.” Hezbollah “is getting a lot of accurate weapons from Iran. It is in a very different place compared to the Second Lebanon War in 2006,” he warned.

Now comes word from The Times of London that Tehran is developing a new front against Israel as its allies in Syria are crushing anti-Assad rebel groups in the Golan Heights.

Israel could soon be confronted directly by Iranian troops on their border Iranian short-range missiles targeting Israeli communities.

Tehran is once again aiding Gaza-based Hamas that has been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars, logistical, and military support from the Iranians.

Many, perhaps President Obama among them, would argue, that such an array of existential and strategic challenges against Israel should push Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a quick deal with Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA).

However, the PA has proven to be part of the problem, not the solution.  It has lost support of the West Bank Palestinian street through its serial corruption and failure to call elections. It has been said that diplomats sign treaties but only people make peace. If so, the Palestinian Authority itself has been signaling their Israeli neighbors that they are preparing their kids for war, not peace. The important NGO, Palestinian Media Watch continuously documents how PA uses education and culture to promote haters and terrorist murderers of Jews.

Now PA President Abbas has exercise his so-called nuclear option by joining the International Criminal Court in Geneva enroute to bring war criminal charges against the very leaders he supposedly is committed to negotiate with.

This Passover Israelis and Jews the world over are incensed and worried by the thundering silence of the United States, the European Union in face of the increasingly brazen Iran-led threats to the Jewish State, the blatant Jew-hatred promoted by Palestinian leaders and the spiking anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

This isn’t about a personality or policy clash with Bibi Netanyahu; it is about the safety of 8 million Israeli citizens and endangered Jewish communities in Europe. The threat of the US abandoning Israel to the wolves at the UN Security Council won’t bring peace, but only further chaos and violence to the imploding region. If world leaders are truly committed to a safe and secure Jewish state and to combat anti-Semitism, they need to address these real-world concerns with deeds—not empty Holocaust Memorial Day Never Again slogans.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Let my people stay


It’s spring, and fear is busting out all over.

In the past three weeks, I’ve been to two events memorializing the Holocaust. The speakers alternated between the necessity of remembering the Nazi genocide even as its last surviving victims die, and confronting the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

The message was, in short: “Remember they tried to kill us, and — don’t forget — they’re trying to kill us.”

In the interim, I read Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy investigation in The Atlantic, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Just as I got to Goldberg’s answer — which is, basically, hell yes! — out came New York Times columnist David Brooks’ dirge-like column on the rise of anti-Semitism, along with the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual survey of anti-Semitism in America, which reported a 21 percent increase.  And as I write this, the Web is throbbing with warnings that the Obama administration’s negotiations over Iranian nuclear development will hand the Jew-hating mullahs all they need to wipe Israel off the map.

So, anyway, Happy Passover!

Actually, I’m thinking a lot about Passover these days. I’m wondering if not a few of our neuroses stem from the story we retell each year at our seder table. It is, at its climax, about the necessity of running away. Pharoah enslaves the Jews. God intervenes. And, in a moment of high drama, the Jews make a run for it.

We flee so fast, we don’t even wait for our bread to rise. And that, it seems, has become our M.O. The matzah we grabbed on the way out of Egypt became the 20th-century suitcase we carried onto the trains out of Hitler’s Europe, became the EU passport Israelis keep ready in their drawers, became the pied à terre French Jews have waiting for them in Tel Aviv.

Our stories and our history have taught us to sleep with our shoes on. But now, in 2015, is it time to rethink our reactions?  Is it possible that this year is different from all other years?

Let’s start with this: Never before in our history have Jews been as free, as beloved, as wealthy and as powerful as we are in the United States. And never before in our history have Jews been as well defended and as powerful as a sovereign nation among nations as they are in Israel. These two facts alone should give us a fundamentally different feeling about our situation in the world today.

With such power and freedom comes the ability to confront challenges, rather than fear them.

Take Europe. I can understand why Goldberg’s go-to question would be whether it’s time to flee — flight is in our DNA — but a bolder, better question would be this: What do European Jews need to do to stay?

The situation is bad — I’m not second-guessing the desire of any Jew to leave. But the tools at our disposal to counteract the hate directed at Jews from parts of the Muslim community and the far left and right are far greater than in years past. The actual attacks are coming from a relatively small subset of people. Jewish communities there and abroad can target these groups in various ways — with education via the Internet, by working with local governments and by working with religious leaders abroad. I know some of this is already taking place, but have we really exhausted the possibilities?

For instance, instead of just supporting the various Jewish defense organizations, we should also be supporting those Muslims speaking out against the status quo and the extremists within their own communities. They are growing in number and in influence, and, with support, they can help change a dynamic that is not yet set in stone.

We have tools we never had before for reaching people’s heart and minds — the Internet especially, via social media and more traditional media, in general. We have the talent and expertise to use them — hell, Jews invented some of them. We have the support of governments, here, in Europe and in Israel. “Pharoah” is on our side, even if some of his minions are riled up. And in the most powerful country in the world, we have a deep well of philo-Semitism—yes, love of Jews. The ADL ought not be allowed to release statistics on the 750 or so incidents of anti-Semitism each year without also reminding us that according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, Judaism received the “warmest, most positive” rating of all religions from a majority of Americans surveyed.

We have to learn, hard as it is, to take the good with the bad. To overcome our narrative of flight, which made sense in ancient Egypt, and in Hitler’s Europe, but not so much in today’s European Union or United States.  We have earned our pessimism, sure, but we haven’t earned despair.

Happy Passover.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Poland is the safest place in Europe for Jews today


I survived the Holocaust in a sub-cellar in Tarnopol (Ternopil), a city now located in western Ukraine that once had a thriving Jewish as well as Polish population. Before coming to the U.S., I grew up after the war in France when philo-Semites like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Pierre Mendès France, the country’s second Jewish prime minister, were luminaries. Jewish origins have been an important part of that nation’s genius from Montaigne to composers as different as Giacomo Meyerbeer and Jacques Offenbach; to painter Camille Pissarro; to the inventor of sociology Emile Durkheim; to the writer Marcel Proust; to the philosopher Henri Bergson; to the actor Sarah Bernhardt; to the movie superstar Jean-Pierre Aumont; to the groundbreaking writer Georges Perec; to the multitalented Serge Gainsbourg … to mention only a few. 

Today I am under the impression that France has forgotten about its Jewish cultural roots. The televised events from the streets of Paris and Marseilles fill me with sadness and consternation. In the middle of July, thousands of Muslims, along with some anti-Semitic French Catholic demonstrators, walked through the center of Paris shouting “death to the Jews.” They burned cars, vandalized Jewish stores and, as reported by the press, a number of them, armed with knives, threw stones and bottles at the Isaac Abravanel Synagogue not far from the Bastille.

I read that the polls indicate that as many as 40 percent of French Jews hide Jewish symbols. It is not surprising, as so many incidents of anti-Semitism happen daily in France.

It is not better in other parts of Western Europe. A bomb was planted in the new synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany; swastikas were painted on stores in the Jewish quarter of Rome; Israeli soccer players were attacked in Austria. These are but a few examples of the daily realities faced by European Jews. It is not just a one-time eruption of anti-Semitism by Muslim immigrants caused by the actions of Israel in the Gaza Strip. The hatred of Jews in Western Europe has been growing for many years. More and more, it is expressed by elites and the educated middle class.

Italy’s most popular philosopher and inveterate anti-Semite, Gianni Vattimo, told interviewers on Italy’s Radio 24 that he wanted Europeans “to buy Hamas some more rockets” to “shoot those bastard Zionists” because Hamas’ current arsenal is limited to “toy rockets that don’t really kill anyone.” He wants to forget and not have to apologize for his fascist grandparents’ atrocities committed in Abyssinia, Guernica, the Balkans and Greece. One of Spain’s most popular playwrights, Antonio Gala — an obvious anti-Semite — has written justifying the historical Jewish expulsions with the implication that Western Europe should become Judenrein again to punish Israel for supposedly slaughtering innocent Palestinians. He seems to ignore the fact that after the expulsion of Jews from Spain, his country slid into scientific and intellectual obscurity. Today Spain, with a population 25 percent larger than Poland, boasts fewer than half of Poland’s Nobel Prize recipients.

The problem has been noticed and taken up by world media. From a Newsweek cover story, to newspaper pieces titled “The Next Kristallnacht” or even “The Next Holocaust,” the stories about current and future prospects of European Jewry are extremely grim.  A month or two ago, the Economist magazine ran an editorial arguing that, all things considered, Jews were safer in Europe than in Israel. Of course, that was before the latest eruptions of “violent anti-Israel riots threatened to turn Paris into the West Bank.”

If history repeats itself, then perhaps the unthinkable — an exodus, under threats of physical harm to Jews — will again become thinkable. I want to propose the hypothetical question: If Western Europe’s Jews need to leave again, en masse, in what direction should they go? And where would they find the most hospitable welcome? I assume here, for the sake of argument, that they would not choose to go to an embattled, unsafe and crowded Israel.

Let us focus first on whether America would offer safe haven, as the New World sometimes has for half a millennium. I myself was among the fortunate survivors ultimately embraced by the U.S., where I advanced to the Ph.D. candidacy in French literature at UCLA in the early 1960s before going into business and becoming a  hotelier. If you had asked me when I first came to America as a young man whether America would provide safe haven to a new mass Jewish influx — a subject in which I developed a keen interest — I would have had grave doubts.

Let us not forget that in America levels of anti-Semitism were sky high both before World War II (when Father Coughlin was admired by tens of millions of radio fans for his anti-Jewish diatribes) and during World War II (when it wasn’t safe for Jewish youngsters to walk the streets of Boston). Rafael Medoff, in his latest book, has documented the political timidity and/or prejudice that caused FDR not to “lead from behind” on the refugee issue like President Obama is now doing, but not to lead at all. Remember that open German immigrant quotas were unfilled during the 1930s because of anti-Semitic U.S. consular bureaucrats. Remember also the fiasco of the 1938 Evian Conference, when the U.S. and Britain refused Hitler’s offer to deport as many Jews as they would accept, and the turning away in 1939 of the doomed SS St. Louis, which the Coast Guard prevented from landing on the shores of Florida. 

Even immediately after the war, U.S. polls reflected strong opposition to admitting large numbers of Jewish DPs (displaced persons). This was “the post-Final Solution” proposed, for example, by anti-Zionist Jews who vainly promoted it as an alternative to creating the state of Israel. 

Only later did the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution of 1956 begin to change attitudes in a big way, making admitting non-Jewish anti-communist refugees fashionable, and after 1960, when JFK sold himself as president of “a nation of immigrants,” a vision that posthumously triumphed in the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. Then in 1967, Israel’s underdog victory in the Six-Day War electrified Christian as well as Jewish Americans, and anti-Semitism began to ebb dramatically.

I would argue that America is still passing through a half-century window of opportunity for a Jewish haven, beginning in the 1960s, when American Jews, though declining as a percentage of the population, achieved unprecedented success and influence in the intellectual, economic, cultural and political realms.

However, I think it is appropriate to pose the uncomfortable question: Is the current window of favorability toward Jews — and probable hospitability of the U.S. sheltering a new Jewish influx, if that proved necessary — destined to last forever? If Jewish-Muslim conflict continues at a high level in the Mideast; if the American Muslim population increases over the course of time from 2-3 percent to 8-10 percent, on the order of France now; and if New York and Washington politically take on the coloration of Paris, will the favorable window to a new Jewish influx persist — or will that window close to a mass influx of Jewish refugees?

This leads me to my last question and challenge. Should European Jews cover their bets, not by abandoning Europe, but by moving east the way their ancestors did when expelled in the hundreds of thousands from practically every part of Europe from the 13th to the 16th centuries? Despite the reality of anti-Semitism promoted by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community of Poland-Lithuania, from the time of the Statute of Kalisz (1263), achieved an unprecedented level of communal autonomy. This translated into economic dynamism; a last flowering of kabbalah; new religious creativity among both the Chasidic and the anti-Chasidic movements, including both traditionalists and modernizers; Jewish self-government through the kehillah system;  and Jewish-Polish cross-fertilization reflected, for example, in Jews fighting for Poland in both the anti-Russian revolutions of 1831 and 1863. During much of these long centuries, Poland was the only country in Europe to willingly admit Jews — for that, we Jews owe Poland an everlasting debt of gratitude. Also inadequately understood is the degree to which Jews reciprocated this hospitality by enriching Polish intellectual and cultural life.

Today’s March of the Living, during which young American Jews renew their Polish family roots before visiting Israel, has some unfortunate side effects. One is to reinforce the current view of Polish-Jewish history as a white versus black affair generating nostalgic sentiment for the shtetl, on the one hand, and nightmarish recoil from the Holocaust on the other. There was much more richness, complexity and nuance to Polish-Jewish history over more than 700 years than suggested by shtetl sentimentality versus Holocaust horrors.

I believe that Poland, once again, could become a beacon for West European Jews wanting to start over in a safe family environment but not to abandon Europe. Poland could even serve as a haven and headquarters country for European Jewish business elites whose interests are global. Some reasons are the hospitality of the Polish people, despite residual prejudices kept alive by a slow-to-reform Catholic Church; the openness of the Polish economy to Jewish entrepreneurship; and Poland’s receptivity to Jewish culture, as reflected in the concept enunciated by Polish intellectuals and journalists of the phantom limb. The once-thriving but now near-extinguished population has been compared to the missing limb of an amputee that no longer exists but still has feeling. Many intellectuals and students paraphrase the greatest Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, who may himself have had Jewish roots — Jew, “you are like health, cherished only once it had been lost.”

But there is another reason. Let us be candid — Anti-Jewish Islamization hasn’t happened and isn’t expected to happen during the next half-century the way it has in Western Europe and may even happen in America. It is also reassuring to know that Poland’s neighbor to the west, the most powerful country in Europe, is its ally and the ally of Jews and Israel. For generations now, Germany has taken upon itself the task to oppose anti-Semitism in Germany and beyond and has staunchly supported Israel and its right to exist. Germany has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews, has encouraged further growth of its Jewish population and would have great allure were it not for its large and growing Muslim population that is not immune to radicalization.  All of this creates a new Polish “window of opportunity.” 

Among other benefits to Poland, the returning Jews would bring with them their experience of teaching at the highest level of academia and further enhance the Polish institutions of highest learning. (It is worth noting that about a third of the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences are Jews.)  Their knowledge of economics, international trade and business in general would help turn Warsaw into a major European financial center. Jews have a highly developed sense of responsibility for the community at large; an example of which would be Leopold Kronenberg’s construction in 1875 of the Warsaw Business School and later the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, for which he was the initiator and one of the main benefactors. The presence of a significant Jewish community would no doubt spur the creation of hospitals, schools, museums, theaters and music venues, as has been done in other parts of the world.

Once again, history repeats itself. Centuries ago, Jewish folklorists, feeling secure in Poland, played creatively if inaccurately on the etymology of the word “Poland.” They argued that it derived from the Hebrew word “polin,” meaning “here find a haven.” One Jewish folktale related that when Jews first came to Poland, they found a wood, the forest of Kawęczyn, in which on every tree one tractate of the Talmud was carved.

Maybe the time has come to dust off the bark of those trees.


Severyn Ashkenazy was born in Poland in 1936 and survived the Holocaust with his parents and brother. He founded and is past chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. He founded Beit Warszawa Association, Heritage and Rebirth, Beit Polska and Beit Warszawa foundations as well as Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland.

Israel’s most valuable Muslim ally


Jews worldwide will soon mark the onset of a Jewish New Year with the specter of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. Amid the preponderance of daily bad news, it is uplifting to celebrate narratives of tolerance and respect. Earlier this month, I was one of 12 rabbis meeting with two distinguished Los Angeles-based diplomats, Consul General of Israel David Siegel and Consul General of Azerbaijan Nasimi Aghayev. We broke bread together and discussed our shared goal of shining a positive light on the unique story of Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation that enjoys positive relations with the United States, Israel and its own Jewish community.

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5774: For Europe’s Jews, a year of upheaval and uncertainty


A laconic man who abhors hysteria, the president of France’s CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities is not naturally inclined to emphasize his community’s fear in public, preferring to underscore French Jewry’s achievements and capacity to prosper despite recent hardships.

But in a filmed interview posted this month on the CRIF website, Roger Cukierman was uncharacteristically candid in describing this summer as “a time of fear, which we shared with our Israeli brethren” who suffered weeks of bombardment from Hamas rockets.

The fear was not merely the significant uptick in violent attacks on Jews in recent months, but a mounting sense that public authorities could no longer be relied on to provide the community with protection. The events, he said, “left the Jewish community with the impression of being isolated within the nation amid attacks by another population.”

Across Europe, Jews have encountered measurable increases in anti-Semitic activity over the past year, prompting both increased immigration to Israel, or aliyah, and a creeping sense of uncertainty over the future of their communities.

Cukierman’s description of a growing Jewish sense of isolation is especially true in France, where Europe’s largest Jewish community lives in an often uneasy coexistence with a large Muslim population. But the situation is hardly unique.

In the Netherlands, where one of the chief rabbis saw his house vandalized for no less than the fifth time in July, several anti-Israel rallies in The Hague featured chants about killing Jews. Similar calls were heard at a rally in Belgium, where the community is still reeling from the slaying in May of four people at Brussels’ Jewish museum — the bloodiest attack on a Jewish institution in Europe since the 2012 murder of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Just this week, arson was the suspected cause for a fire at a synagogue near Brussels.

Belgium also saw three instances in which Jews were denied professional services, including one case of a doctor who advised a 90-year-old Jewish woman from Antwerp to seek help in Gaza. In both the Netherlands and Sweden, people were beaten for displaying an Israeli flag.

The summer war “emboldened jihadists in a way never seen before, resulting in a coming-out of sorts,” said Manfred Gerstenfeld, a prominent Israeli scholar on anti-Semitism. “Mostly it intimidated Jewish communities, but it also produced some pushback.”

For example, in Greece, two years after its entry into parliament, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was feeling a strong response from the establishment. With many of its leaders jailed or on trial since September 2013 for crimes linked to the racist violence encouraged by its members, the party must now contend with a new law that criminalizes Holocaust denial and increases penalties for “inciting acts of discrimination, hatred or violence.” 

Among the European leaders who spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who last week addressed a Berlin rally against the hatred of Jews. Before a crowd of several thousands, Merkel called German Jews a “national treasure.”

Meanwhile, at Europe’s eastern edge, Jews also felt themselves under assault, though for much different reasons. In Ukraine, Jewish immigration to Israel skyrocketed as Jews fled the bloody battle zones where Ukrainian troops clashed with pro-Russian militiamen.

The intensity of the attacks on Jews — some European politicians have referred to it as “the import of the Middle East conflict to Europe” — caught several European governments off guard, exacerbating the Jewish sense of abandonment and prompting some Jews to take the quest for security into their own hands.

In Paris, where police consistently failed to enforce a recent ban on Gaza-related protests, officers stationed outside the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue, or the Roquette Synagogue, found themselves vastly outnumbered and besieged by dozens of young men who splintered off a nearby anti-Israel protest rally on July 13. Dozens of young Jews, many from the far-right Jewish Defense League, fended off the mob in a violent street brawl as six police officers waited for backup.

Similar scenes unfolded in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, where riot police acted as a buffer between an Arab mob and approximately 100 Jews who on July 19 had gathered outside a synagogue — many with clubs in hand — “to prevent a pogrom,” as local community leader Serge Najar described it.

In France, particularly in Paris, violent assaults against Jews became an almost daily occurrence in April and May, months before the onset of the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Jewish Agency officials said the violence contributed to a dramatic increase in French aliyah.

More than 4,500 immigrants have left France for Israel this year, making France the No. 1 source of immigrants to Israel for the first time in decades, topping the United States and even the embattled Ukraine by a considerable margin.

The figures do not include the French Jews who left for countries other than Israel. Jewish communities from Montreal to Miami reported a rise in the number of French congregants in what some are calling “a silent exodus.”

“I left because this country is no longer the France I knew,” said Lionel Berros, a former kosher supervisor in his 40s who was born in Paris and moved to Netanya in July. “I used to take the bus to school wearing a kippah, but now have to cover it with a baseball cap and worry that maybe someone is going to kill my daughter at her school. I’m sad because of what happened to France, but am happy to leave it.”

Jewish leaders have hardly acquiesced to the dwindling of their communities. Cukierman has vowed that after 2,000 years of French Jewish history, the “Jewish presence in France will continue.”

Still, the increase in aliyah is significant and evident across the continent. While aliyah from Britain and Holland remained stable, 272 Belgian Jews immigrated to Israel in 2013, the highest figure recorded in nine years. Jewish emigration from Italy also rose, climbing to 209 in the first eight months of 2014 from 162 in 2013.

The identity of the suspected assailant of the Brussels museum attack — an alleged jihadist named Mehdi Nemmouche who reportedly honed his killing skills while fighting in Syria — “demonstrates the profound change in the nature of the threat we are facing,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor told JTA. “No longer the odd hate crime but trained killers with the ideology, know-how and weapons to carry out massive attacks.”

Immediately after the museum attack, EJC and the local Jewish community set up a crisis management center, the result of a two-year effort initiated after the Toulouse attack by the EJC’s Security and Crisis Center, the body responsible for providing medical, psychological and security services in times of crisis. In addition to the EJC effort, the governments of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, among others, allocated millions of dollars toward security for Jewish institutions.

“The threat is still being treated on an individual state basis, whereas what’s needed is a coordinated multi-state effort similar to the one launched against drugs or tax evasion,” Kantor said.

Fear was a factor also for many Jews in Ukraine, where a revolution that erupted in November brought with it a number of violent assaults by unidentified assailants who appeared to target Jews. The attacks ceased after the ousting in February of President Viktor Yanukovych, but they were replaced in the country’s east by an arguably worse fear — being caught in the crossfire between government troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Despite some disagreements about the political situation, Jews in Ukraine and Russia responded with a coordinated effort. In Ukraine, it included assistance to thousands of Jews affected by the war. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and local Jewish communities and philanthropists all pitched in to help evacuate thousands of Jews from the battle zones.

In total, some 15 Jews died in the fighting, according to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which along with local Chabad officials helped set up a refugee camp for the internally displaced.

And as in France and Belgium, the crisis in Ukraine also resulted in substantial growth in emigration, with 3,252 newcomers leaving for Israel in 2014 compared to 1,270 in the corresponding period last year.

Taken together, the crises prompted a sense that something fundamental had shifted for Europe’s Jews. Over the summer, Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who as chief of the Jewish Agency is the top Israeli official responsible for aliyah, suggested that the current period “may be the beginning of the end for European Jewry.”

 

We need to understand hatred better if we’re serious about fighting anti-Semitism


The recent surge in antisemitic hate crimes in Europe was, unfortunately predictable.  This much we know about antisemitism: since the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, whenever violence in the Middle East involves Israel, hate crimes against Jews and Jewish-linked property increase, dramatically, particularly in Europe.

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen attacks at synagogues (mob-like), attacks on individual Jews, attacks on Jewish-linked property, refusal of a business to serve Jews, and the shuttering of Jewish museums for fear of attack. France, Norway, England, Ireland, Turkey, Belgium, Ukraine, you name it.

We also know that because the shooting between Israel and Hamas has stopped for the moment, and with it the cessation of fresh images of dead Palestinian children, the hate crimes in Europe should likely deescalate too. Until the next time.

But other contemporary antisemitic-linked challenges remain: the rise of the far-right in Europe, the full-throttled import of classic antisemitism into the Muslim world, and the vilification of Israel as the stand-in for the classic Jew, to name but a few.

We seem to be loosing this battle. There are many reasons for this disturbing trend, but the most significant one is a matter of insufficient imagination and not enough serious thinking.  

We fight antisemitism in many ways. Some ways are probably somewhat effective, as far as they go, but are really seat-of-the-pants, we’ve-always-done-it-that-way strategies. Not a single means of countering antisemitism is rooted in academic research, let alone testable theories, to tell us if what Jewish NGOs choose to do will be effective, and if effective, moreso than something else they could choose to do. Too often they do things because they’ve done them before, they sound “strong,” and “determined,” and – not coincidently – can be used as centerpieces for fundraising.

There are five major tools in the current anti-antisemitism arsenal: attitudinal surveys, political pressure, education, legal approaches, and press releases.

The purpose of this essay isn’t to delve deeply into each approach, but rather to give a hint of their limitations.

§  Press releases (and blogs) put Jewish organizations “on the record” when an antisemitic act occurs (so they don’t appear unconcerned or uniformed), and are useful for fundraising more than for effecting any significant change.

§  Educational programs, largely targeted to high school students and frequently using the Holocaust as a centerpiece, expose teenagers to important issues, but there is no convincing evidence that they result in long-term attitudinal changes. And, in any event, there are many well-educated antisemites.

§  Legal tools, such as hate crime legislation and training, are important, but also limited in what they can accomplish, and attempts to use legal tools against speech (on campus in the U.S., against Holocaust denial in some other countries), are actually counterproductive as they change the debate from antisemitism to “free speech,” and/or give a disincentive for political leaders to speak out against antisemitism (because, they claim, a case is before the courts).

§  Political pressure, especially applied abroad, to speak out against and crack down on antisemitic crimes, political parties, or incidents, is, while important, of limited effectiveness, and ironically at times, works because of antisemitic stereotypes (a belief by some leaders who want access to the U.S. government, that the U.S. Jewish community holds the keys to Washington, DC).

§  Attitudinal surveys tend to look at classic antisemitic stereotypes, and then classify people as antisemitic or not, when antisemitism isn’t a black-and-white issue (most people are probably somewhat antisemitic, like most are somewhat racist). Further, most surveys fail to address all contemporary forms of antisemitism, and very few employ any comparative analysis: if x percentage of people believe Jews have too much power, is that a small number or a large number compared to what people think about other groups?

The current approach has limited effectiveness because it largely looks at antisemitism as if it were an isolated phenomenon, and not – as we must – a subset of a larger human challenge: hate.

Looked at as separate from the human capacity to define, and then dehumanize and demonize some “other,” we can see only a small hint of what antisemitism is, and that frequently out of context. This blindness also limits our ability to identify what to do to curtail it. (The same can be said about other hatreds too – sexism, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, etc.) It’s as if we look at it through a peephole, when, in order to see the object clearly, we need to use a wide-angled lens.

How narrow is our lens? We tend to default to “common wisdom” answers focusing on Jews or antisemitism alone, with little or no evidence to support these strategies. Holocaust education, as mentioned. Knowing about the Holocaust is important, but there is little evidence knowing about the Holocaust reduces antisemitism – in fact, some who apparently have received that education use the vocabulary of the Holocaust (“ethnic cleansing,” for instance) as weapons to vilify Jews in general and Israelis in particular. And what makes us think that teaching about Auschwitz is going to change the way a young Muslim male in France thinks of Jews, especially when he sees pictures of Israeli soldiers with weapons, trained on his co-religionists?

Another piece of narrow “common wisdom,” frequently reflected in blogs and press releases, is to combat antisemitism by noting what Jews, individually and collectively, have accomplished. We’re smart. You wouldn’t have cures for polio or the latest computer gadget without Jews. There’s some academic-based evidence to suggest that it is difficult to hate and have empathy at the same time, but that’s quite different from suggesting that admiration (or jealousy?) or gratitude is an antidote to hate.

And another is the questionable notion that antisemitism – particularly for Israelis from Palestinians – can be countered with economic prosperity. There is little evidence to show that having the capacity to buy more consumer goods because Jews have lifted the economic boat in Palestine can somehow remove a more powerful thought: that people who you perceive as your religious inferiors have an upper – and heavily armed – hand in a land you (and God) believes – belongs to you, alone.

These pat strategies of questionable effectiveness for combating antisemitism are endorsed because no one is demanding an investment in testable theories, based on understanding how human hatred works, to define what to do instead. And we can no longer afford the luxury of such ignorance.

Interestingly, after World War II, inspired by the antisemitism of Nazism, there was an attempt to go to the academy for insights about prejudice and hatred. Theodor Adorno wrote “The Authoritarian Personality.” Social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the “Robbers Cave” experiment, concluding that people (in this case summer campers) were likely to have prejudiced views of competing groups, but that when they had a common challenge which involved a superordinate goal, these views diminished.

There is much in evolutionary and social psychology that suggests that hatred isn’t something that’s learned – it is hard-wired (although we need help figuring out whom to hate, and sometimes how to find and identify “others” in creative ways – for example, a study noted that Greek and Turkish Cypriots identify each other by the brand of cigarettes smoked). And academics such as James Waller have made compelling cases that most of us, in the right circumstances, have the capacity not only to hate passionately, but also act on that hatred.

Sociologist Kathleen Blee, writing on women in the Ku Klux Klan, found that her subjects explained their racism and antisemitism differently. They could recount an interaction with a black person that they believe sparked their animus, but with antisemitism it was more of an “aha” moment, about secret forces and how the world really worked.

But while research in various fields offer some insights into how humans identify and dehumanize others, including Jews, there are very few multi-disciplinary efforts to pull together insights from these various fields – psychology, social psychology, law, religion, anthropology, economics, political science, history, and many others – to enable us to look at the many moving parts of any hatred simultaneously – how hate operates on the individual, group, societal, national, international levels, all at the same time.

By expanding the academic study of hatred, so that we understand better what motivates people to hate, what effectively controls hate, and how our institutions should have a better understanding of how they may intentionally or unintentionally impact hate (such as the unintended but foreseeable consequences of political actions, such as in Iraq), testable theories would emerge about what to do, and what not to do, to impact growing antisemitism.

Antisemitism, after all, isn’t really a problem for Jews, it’s a problem largely about how others think of Jews, whether they be Islamic extremists, neo-Nazis, or the less violent, but still disconcerting, more “normal” percentages of various populations (including those living in places where there are no Jews as neighbors).

To understand what they think about Jews, and why they think what they do, and how they are motivated to act on those beliefs (such as voting for antisemitic parties in parts of Europe), we need to energize the academy to produce new interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary theories and research tied into how human beings intersect with hate – as individuals, groups, societies, nations.

The starting point of analysis must be from the macro – that humans hate, why they hate, how hate impacts them, those around them, and their institutions – and then to the micro – that some humans hate Jews (and then how Jew-hatred manifests itself).

Sometimes the most important questions (and answers) will have nothing to do with Jews directly. For instance, when Jewish groups spoke with leaders of various European governments over the last two decades about the antisemitism of the far-right, rather than speaking about just about Jews and the importance of “tolerance” of Jews to democracy, might it not have been wiser to draw those leaders’ attention to research, such as that of Professor Terri Givens at University of Texas – Austin, documenting the specific actions mainstream parties should undertake (and avoid) to maximize the probability that extremist parties remain marginal? (She argues that when mainstream parties make clear they will never join a coalition with extremist parties, those parties tend to lose votes in subsequent elections.)

One complicating factor to developing an approach to antisemitism grounded in a better understanding of the human capacity for hate is that the Jewish community usually insists that antisemitism is “unique.” And of course in some ways it is – it is one of the longest hatreds, it is one that occurs on the political left and the right, and it is one fueled by ideology and theology, usually packaged in conspiracy theory.

There are, of course, some logical reasons why the Jewish community leadership insists on antisemitism’s uniqueness. Politicians – especially in some European countries – have too many times tried to eliminate antisemitism from an articulation of their concerns, even while Jews are under attack. Isn’t it ok, they sometimes ask, to speak out against racism and xenophobia, isn’t antisemitism covered by the implicit “etcetera?” But this attempt to back-burner antisemitism (recall French officials in the early 2000s blaming “hooliganism” rather than antisemitism when synagogues were torched – but if this was “hooliganism,” why were synagogues, and not churches and mosques, being “hooliganized?”) is the problem of people who want to avert attention from antisemitism. The answer to them is not to ghettoize antisemitism further into a dark corner of limited thinking. It is to emphasize that hatred is a huge human problem – just look at all its manifestations every day in the news – and that to understand any subset of it better (including antisemitism), we have to expand our thinking. Maybe empirical research about how best to respond to hatred, rather than raw political pressure from Jewish groups, will provide recalcitrant politicians convincing evidence of the need (and the benefit to them) to call any hate by its name, quickly and loudly?

To know why people hate Jews, we have to know first why people hate. For as long as there have been human beings – no matter where, when, what the major religion, economic or political system – people have divided themselves into “us” and “them,” and then found ways to identify the “other” as not only alien, but a danger.

Antisemitism, it has been said, is in some ways like a disease. Each disease is different, but doctors who specialize in researching any particular disease all start from the fundamental departure point – the knowledge that people get sick. They may know how brain cancer differs, say, from heart disease, and their research may delve deeply into minutia. But their starting point, and overall framework, is predicated on the understanding that their particular disease is a subset of something that impacts the human body. We need a similar comprehensive approach to know everything we can about hate if we are ever going to understand everything we must about antisemitism.

Kenneth S. Stern is an attorney and author who has written widely about hatred and antisemitism.

Anti-Semitic fliers delivered to Sydney Jewish neighborhoods


Anti-Semitic fliers were dropped in the mailboxes of private homes in Jewish suburbs of Sydney.

Residents of Bondi Beach and Double Bay, which contain large numbers of Sydney’s 40,000-plus Jewish community, found the flier in their mailboxes on Monday.

“Wake up Australia,” the flier reads. “Jews have been kicked out of countries 109 times through history. … Could it be that having them in a European country is harmful to the host?”

The flier included an invitation to join Squadron 88 and check out the local white supremacist group on Facebook. It also included a reference to Stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website, and to check them out on Facebook.

“The flier is an appalling litany of racist stereotypes, all too predictable from neo-Nazi organizations,” said New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff. “It’s no coincidence that 88, which appears on the flier, represents HH, which stands for Heil Hitler.”

The flier also reads, “The Jews own all Hollywood studios & 97% of US newspapers and media. Any movie or tv show you watch may well be coming straight from Israel.”

Police are investigating the flier, the latest episode in a spike of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Australia since the start of the war in Gaza seven weeks ago.

Alhadeff said his organization complained to Facebook, but the social media platform said it had reviewed the Squadron 88 page and it “doesn’t violate our community standards.”

“It is very disappointing that Facebook fails to grasp the import of what is expressed in the flier,” Alhadeff said. “If the people at Facebook who are tasked with monitoring its standards don’t consider this flier to be hate speech, what is?”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose district includes the two suburbs, condemned the flier as “a crude and vicious attempt to intimidate and insult the Jewish community.” He added, “Racism must be opposed, called out and condemned wherever it is found.”

It’s over for the Jews of Europe


It is now almost three years since I moved with my family to the United States. Life for a Jew in the USA is markedly different to the European experience. American Jews are proud of being Jewish, understandably, and they project that pride without equivocation. The idea that you would take off your kippah to avoid anti-Semitism, for example, is a complete anathema to American Jews, although removing your kippah in public is absolutely normal for a Jew in Europe. American Jews are deeply entrenched in the political system as Jews, and they show public support to candidates who advocate for Jewish causes and for Israel. In Europe, Jews involved in politics constantly hedge their views so that they are seen as neutral on ‘Jewish issues’.

I have discovered that American voters, including Jews, feel that it is their right and duty to actively engage in political issues to ensure that the right candidates are elected to public office, in other words, people who represent the views of those who vote for them, and support them. Every voter is expected to lobby, and Jews do so with vigor and in full public view. In the case of Israel, the Jewish lobby, made up of tens of thousands of unpaid citizen lobbyists, namely Jewish and pro-Israel Christian voters, argue that their cause is not just good for them, but for the national interests of the United States as a whole.

Very soon after I arrived in Los Angeles I became involved with AIPAC. This incredible organization runs an annual Policy Conference in Washington DC, attended by more than 14,000 people. This past March, I led a group of high school kids from Los Angeles to the conference, as part of an effort to educate teenagers about their civic rights, that includes the right to lobby for issues you care about right at the heart of government. Our group of 40 boys and girls – the largest high school group to attend – met with multiple senators and congressmen, and attended sessions addressed by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The final session at the conference was attended by almost every member of congress. As I sat there listening to unashamed public support for Israel by Jews and non-Jews, all of them senior politicians and leading public figures, and as I listened to the thunderous applause that followed each pro-Israel soundbite, I was struck by how such an event could simply never happen in the UK. No British cabinet minister would stand up in front of 14,000 people and say that the future of his country is tied to the future of Israel. No British Christian leader would declare that ‘Israel is not the problem – the problem is the Arab rejection of Israel’s right to exist!’ Even 25 years ago that would have been unbelievable. Today it would be totally impossible.

That is when the penny dropped. To be a Jew in the UK and in Europe is to be someone who is constantly defensive and apologetic, hoping against hope that the non-Jews will continue to tolerate us even if we love and support Israel, and even if we have Jewish sounding names. It dawned on me that as the memory and guilt of the Holocaust slips ever further into history, the age old European anti-Semitism, dormant for decades, has reemerged and is growing, like a cancerous tumour eagerly destroying any healthy tissue in its way.

European Jews might say that there has never been more children attending Jewish day schools, and that Jewish social and communal life in Europe is thriving and vibrant. And they might point out that in the United States things are not perfect either. College campuses across the US are rife with student groups advocating for BDS, and President Obama is largely perceived as being far less supportive of Israel than his immediate predecessors were. But such a reaction is naïve and misguided. Life in pre-war Europe, in countries such as Holland, Belgium, France, and Hungary, was thriving and vibrant too. They had schools, synagogues, cultural centers, yeshivot, and every other kind of communal organization and institution. In fact they had far more than exists in Europe today.

Of course historical analogies are never very accurate, as no two situations are absolutely alike. It is certainly true that mainstream politicians in Europe, unlike the politicians of the pre-war period, are extremely wary of anti-Semitism, and it is not politically acceptable to propose the persecution of Jews. But, frankly, from my vantage point here in Los Angeles it seems that power is inexorably ebbing away from mainstream European politicians. This is most evident in France where, notwithstanding any public criticism by French leaders of anti-Semites, it is clear that the streets of France belong to Muslim hatemongers. Muslim demonstrators frequently chant ‘France is ours, France belongs to us!’ and many French Jews believe that it won’t be long before this prediction becomes a reality. France is sleepwalking into a reverse takeover by Islamic fanatics, much as Germany allowed itself to be hijacked by the Nazis, and Russia allowed itself to become the bastion of autocratic communism.

Which brings me to my final point. Europe has shown that it is powerless to address the rise of Islamic assertiveness and aggression. We are seeing changes occur that threaten the national identities of European nation states. No one is immune, and certainly not my own country of birth, the United Kingdom, where a marriage of convenience between Muslim fanatics, the hard left, right wing anti-Semites, and anti-war campaigners, has seen the growth of a multi-headed anti-Semitic hydra that it would be folly to dismiss or ignore.

Almost ten years ago, when dangerous anti-Semitism first reared its ugly head in France, and the late Ariel Sharon suggested that French Jews should move to Israel, I wrote an article arguing that for the Jews of France to move to Israel as a way of staying safe would be foolish, seeing as Israel remains in the crosshairs of some of the most evil people on the planet, and – at a time when Israeli Jews were being regularly massacred by suicide bombers – perhaps French Jews would be wiser to stay put. But it was I who was foolish. The one country in the world that has proved time after time that it is willing to defy every kind of taboo, and to use all its resources, to defend the life of any and every Jew, not just in Israel, but across the world, is the State of Israel. And incredibly, the one western democracy that understands this fully, and supports it unequivocally, is the United States of America.

So, unless I am missing something, or a miracle occurs, the writing is on the wall for the Jews of Europe. The indigenous citizens of Europe should beware. Jews are always the canary in the mineshaft. The weakness of democracy and its ideals is its insisted tolerance for any creed and ideology, even if they undermine the very democracy that allows them to be expressed and acted out. Even as Europeans pat themselves on the back for having a system that allows reactionary Islamic hate preachers and their odious followers to terrorize the streets, they are thoughtlessly presiding over the decline of the very system they celebrate, and that they fought so hard to establish. I am hopeful, though, that by the time France, Germany and, yes, even the UK, have become countries governed by Sharia law, the Jews will have long gone.


Rabbi Pini Dunner is Senior Rabbi at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He is also the executive director of the West Coast branch of Mitchabrim, an organization, partly sponsored by the government of the State of Israel, that reaches out to the expatriate Israeli community in the United States.

U.N.’s Ban bemoans upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks over Gaza


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “deplored” the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks, particularly in Europe, as a result of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

Ban “emphasizes that the conflict in the Middle East must not constitute a pretext for prejudice that could affect social peace and harmony anywhere,” read a statement issued Monday by his spokesman in New York.

Anti-Semitic attacks, violence and hate speech have increased as a result of demonstrations throughout Europe and elsewhere against Israel’s military effort in Gaza to eradicate Hamas tunnels and rocket fire from the coastal strip.

Ban in the statement also called for an “immediate cessation of violence” in Gaza and negotiations.

The statement came a day after Ban condemned the shelling of a U.N. school serving as a shelter for displaced Gazans, calling it “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law.” The United Nations and the Palestinians blamed Sunday’s shelling, which killed at least 10 Palestinians, on Israel.

The Ebola-like plague of anti-Semitism sweeping the West


My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors.  They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France.  Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.” 

Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a  speaking tour of Southern Africa.  In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza.  In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.

In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.

In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country's leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.

And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.

In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”

Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized.  Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalelled outbursts of anti-semitic activity and sentiment in their countries.

The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of  the world's capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.

For it surely is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping  Western Africa  –  deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world. 

If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?

That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?

Theodor Herzl's words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words.  Despite whatever you read in the world's newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world's most sophisticated armies.  United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies.  That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East.  It is an age old  war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of anti-Semitism and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own schedule .  The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakeable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.

I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia. 

Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked:  “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”

As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering  in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without  hesitation I wrote back: 

” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.” 


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in  Israel.

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas


Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Germany, France, Italy jointly condemn Gaza-related anti-Semitic acts


In a joint statement the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy condemned anti-Semitic acts arising out of the recent wave of anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini met in Brussels Tuesday to coordinate a response to protests in Berlin, Paris, The Hague, Antwerp and Brussels that have included chants calling for the murder of Jews and that in France have devolved into riots targeting synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic agitation, hate speech against Jews, attacks against people of Jewish belief and against synagogues cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe,” the ministers’ statement reads. “We strongly condemn the outrageous anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks in our countries in recent days,” the joint statement said.

Nine synagogues in France have been targeted over the last week, Jewish groups said.

On Wednesday, approximately 10 youths assaulted a disabled Jewish woman in southeastern France, the French Jewish community’s SPCJ security unit reported. The youths hurled stones at the woman and chanted slogans about killing Jews.

Speaking at a Holocaust commemoration in Paris on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the phenomenon as a “new anti-Semitism.”

“Traditional anti-Semitism, this old disease of Europe, is joined by a new anti-Semitism that cannot be denied or concealed, that we must face,” he said. “It happens on the social networks and in workers’ neighborhoods, among ignorant young men who hide their hatred of Jews behind a facade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.”

European anti-Semitism is focus as Jewish leaders, Democratic senators meet


Talk at the annual meeting between Democratic senators and Jewish groups kept coming back to anti-Semitism in Europe.

The recurring theme, brought up both by the 24 senators who attended and the Jewish leaders, was a measure of the anxiety aroused by recent reports of attacks on European Jews, according to participants at the meeting, which took place on Wednesday.

“There was almost more energy around anti-Semitism than around Gaza,” said a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting in the Capitol’s stately Mansfield Room was off the record.

JTA spoke to eight meeting participants from Jewish groups. Some spoke on the record to describe their own statements, which was allowed under the meeting’s rules.

The dialogue, which went 15 minutes over its allotted time of an hour, touched on the range of issues typical to these discussions, which have taken place every year since early in the administration of President George W. Bush: Israel, with a focus on the Gaza war; Iran; women’s rights; immigration, and religious freedoms.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader who convened the meeting, set the tone with his opening remarks, which referred to a return to “old fashioned anti-Semitism” on the continent. He noted particularly anxieties in Hungary.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) also spoke at length about the topic, with Cardin noting that he had this week convened a hearing on the issue as the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Participants said such awareness was important because of the influence that senators have both within the United States and overseas.

“We spoke about doing public messaging on it,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union.

The O.U. delegation attending the meeting with Democratic senators also met Wednesday with GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as well as administration officials. In all cases, the outbreak of anti-Semitism was a lead issue, Diament said.

“There are things that senators can do to shine a light on how unacceptable it is,” in meetings with constituents, diplomats and when they travel abroad, he said. “We talked about how disturbing it is and how the anti-Semitic feature seems to be getting obscured by virtue of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

Leaders from another Orthodox group, Agudath Israel of America, also attended the meeting. Additionally, a delegation of 30 Agudath Israel activists held meetings the same day with lawmakers of both parties.

“There is obviously reason for concern that a vicious storm is brewing for acheinu bnei Yisroel, one that poses more than just an imminent physical threat — but a threat to the long term stability of Jewish communities across the globe,” said a statement from the Agudah, using the Hebrew for “our Jewish brethren.”

At the session with the senators, Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, outlined a litany of recent events including the firebombing of a synagogue in Sarcelles in France, German and Dutch pro-Palestinian demonstrations where protesters shouted threats against Jews and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s likening of Israel to the Nazis.

“We asked them to use diplomatic and parliamentary contacts to raise the issue and urge European officials to crack down on anti-Semitic incidents,” he said.

Jewish leaders who had other agenda items departed from prepared remarks to refer to the phenomenon.

“I raised the issue of anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as religious freedom issues for Christians in the Middle East who have been under attack,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, whose focus otherwise was RAC’s support for legislative efforts to counteract a recent Supreme Court ruling that watered down a contraceptives coverage mandate.

“There was a good deal of discussion, a couple of senators came back on that issue who were deeply concerned about the anti-Semitism,” Saperstein said.

Other topics addressed included Israel’s war with Hamas, with Bob Cohen, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, each beginning their remarks with expressions of regret for the casualties on both sides.

Cohen squarely blamed Hamas for the conflict, while Ben-Ami made his focus backing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s bid for an immediate cease-fire.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked the Jewish leaders whether the views of Israel’s newly inaugurated president, Reuven Rivlin, an opponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would adversely affect U.S. efforts to advance the peace process. The National Jewish Democratic Council’s chairman, Greg Rosenbaum, said Rivlin, like other politicians, would likely moderate his views in office.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a former comedian and Saturday Night Live regular, noted his continuing popularity as a campus speaker and said he would use that platform to push back against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which he called “pernicious.”

Cohen of AIPAC said the lobbying group did not oppose the extension of nuclear talks between Iran and major world powers, although earlier in the week AIPAC had said it was “deeply disappointed” in the agreement governing the four-month extension to Nov. 24. He said the group would oppose any deal that would allow Iran to advance to a nuclear weapon.

Cohen said AIPAC would back new Iran sanctions at the “appropriate time,” according to sources.

The previous effort foundered earlier this year when Democrats in the Senate quashed the legislation, heeding protests from President Obama, who said the new sanctions could scuttle the talks. AIPAC, while maintaining its support for such legislation, has backed away from pressing for a vote on the issue.

Other topics raised at the meeting included the immigration crisis. Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, the Jewish immigrant advocacy and aid group, called for funds to assist the tens of thousands of undocumented children who have arrived at the border and to hire more judges to hear their cases.

Other speakers at the meeting backed passage of bills that would enhance law enforcement capabilities in combating violence against women and that would reverse a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Germany, France, Italy condemn anti-Semitism in anti-Israel protests


The foreign ministers of GermanyFrance and Italy on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia that have marred rallies against Israel's role in its conflict with Hamas in which about 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died.

After 10 days of bombardment, Israel on Thursday also launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire out of the territory. So far 29 Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died in the fighting.

On Sunday, French media showed the burnt-out front of a kosher grocery shop in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, which is home to a large Jewish community, and clashes between pro-Palestinian marchers and riot police outside two synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic incitement and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish faith and synagogues have no place in our societies,” the three foreign ministers said in a joint statement issued in Brussels.

France's Laurent Fabius, Italy's Federica Mogherini and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such actions here in Europe.”

The ministers' statement on Tuesday came as Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting.

French authorities had refused to allow several pro-Palestinian protests scheduled for the weekend due to fears of violence, but gave the green light for a rally planned in Paris on Wednesday.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups of violence in the Middle East often add to tensions between the two communities.

In Germany, police in Berlin said it had detained 13 people after demonstrators pelted police with stones after a pro-Palestinian protest on Monday. Police also banned an anti-Semitic slogan used by protesters, according to media reports.

“We will do everything together and in our countries so that all citizens can continue to live in peace and safety, unoffended by anti-Semitic hostility,” the ministers said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed the statement from the three ministers.

“The situation has reached unexpected dimensions. The wave of anti-Semitism in the course of pro-Palestinian demonstrations is getting worse from day to day,” said Deidre Berger, director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish relations.

U.S. intervenes in Europe’s circumcision wars


The Obama administration’s anti-Semitism monitor has added an issue to his office’s portfolio: defending circumcision in Europe.

Circumcision has become a top focus for Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. He has been using the pulpit his office provides to warn European governments that moves to ban ritual circumcision could lead to the demise of their countries’ Jewish communities.

“Because circumcision is essentially universal among Jews, this can shut down a community, especially a small vulnerable community,” Forman said.

No European country has outright banned the practice, but there is increasing pressure to do so, and some countries have imposed restrictions such as requiring medical supervision.

Forman is the State Department’s third anti-Semitism monitor. While he has maintained his predecessors’ focus on anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric worldwide, he said that protecting circumcision has become urgent because calls for bans are gaining legitimacy, particularly in Northern Europe.

In the past six months, Forman has raised the issue in meetings with ambassadors to Washington from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He says he plans to raise it with envoys from other Northern European countries, where pressures to ban circumcision are most acute.

He also has asked the relevant desks at the State Department to have U.S. diplomats raise the issue in their meetings in their host countries.

Forman, who is Jewish, contrasted efforts to prohibit circumcision with bans on ritual animal slaughter — in place in some countries for decades — which at least have workarounds, for instance by importing frozen kosher meat.

“Circumcision, if you ban it, you have three choices: You do it underground illegally, you take a little 8-day-old baby across state lines — and if you have contiguous states [with bans], doing that becomes harder and harder — or three, you emigrate,” he said.

A comprehensive 2012 survey of European Jews by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found substantial majorities of Jews classifying a hypothetical ban on circumcision as a “big problem.”

“I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila,” the survey quoted a German respondent as saying, using the Hebrew phrase for ritual circumcision. “This will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany.”

Leaders of Jewish communities in countries that are contending with public pressure to ban the practice similarly warn that such a move could spur an exodus of Jews.

“I have said that a country which saved the Jews during the Second World War, if they would establish any law against circumcision, they would have done what Hitler wanted to do,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, chief rabbi to Denmark’s Jewish community of 7,500.

European officials say their countries have instituted protections for circumcision in response to public pressures.

“A ban on circumcision is not in question for the Norwegian government,” Frode Overland Andersen, a spokesman for his country’s Foreign Ministry, told JTA. German and Danish officials have issued similar assurances.

Jewish communal officials appreciate the assurances that circumcision will not be banned. Nonetheless, Jewish communal officials warn that the danger of circumcision bans in Europe has not substantially diminished.

“The trend is really moving against us in one considerable way, and that’s in terms of general European public opinion in Northern and Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs.

Calls to ban circumcision gained momentum after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution last October that called for a public debate on the “rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity.” It lumped male circumcision with female genital mutilation and corporal punishment.

The assembly, however, lacks power. In April, the council’s leadership advised members that male circumcision was “by no means comparable” to female genital mutilation and recommended against further attempts to target the practice.

Nonetheless, children’s ombudsmen in a number of Northern European countries have called in recent years for restrictions on the practice, as have medical professionals’ groups.

Jewish leaders say that as Northern Europe becomes increasingly secularized, its populace tends to place more value on freedom from religious coercion than on freedom to practice religion.

“These are post-religious and post-ritual countries,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israel-based chief rabbi to Norway’s 800 Jews. “And the vast majority of the population don’t have a clue what ritual is. They see ritual in general as something which belongs to some dark evil — they have medieval conceptions [of rituals] which have nothing to do with modern society.”

In one way, some Scandinavian governments have nodded toward circumcision opponents by including in their laws requirements that circumcision take place under medical supervision. Norway’s parliament passed such a law last month. Norwegian Jewish leaders applauded the measure because it allowed the rite to be carried out under a physician’s supervision.

In Sweden, said Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the country’s 20,000-strong Jewish community, circumcision is permitted until two months, which effectively shuts out the Muslim community, in which boys are often circumcised as toddlers.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe helps drive the anti-circumcision clamor, Jewish communal leaders say. If anything, sensitivities in Northern Europe about the 20th-century record on Jews are what has led governments to protect circumcision.

“One of the important parliamentarians told me it is convenient for us to put the Jews at the front of this issue,” Melchior said. “Because in the public in Norway still, it is much more difficult to go out against the Jews than the Muslims.”

Jewish officials said that anti-Semitism, while a concern in other areas, is not a factor in the debate, although Jewish stereotypes have emerged in its wake. When pro-circumcision activists in Germany cited American studies showing that the practice was practically harmless and had possible medical benefits, opponents suggested that American Jewish doctors had skewed the studies.

The key to preserving circumcision, according to Ervin Kohn, president of Norway’s Jewish community, is lobbying the political class, which is sensitive to international image.

“For most of the Norwegian people it is strange, so they believe all sorts of things and don’t know too much and are easily impressionable,” he said, regarding views on circumcision. “Those who know are the politicians — they made the right decision.”

Jewish communal leaders in the Scandinavian countries said that blunt intervention from abroad could backfire, noting the hackles that were raised when Israel’s government issued dire warnings against banning circumcision after last year’s Council of Europe vote.

However, they welcome Forman’s more subtle overtures, saying that the Obama administration’s signaling of its interest in ensuring a future for European Jewish communities has proven salutary.

“I’m still on a high from presenting President Obama to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah,” said Posner-Korosi, describing a visit to Stockholm last year during which Obama also honored Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. “It conveyed such a strong message, not just about Raoul Wallenberg but about anti-Semitism, about recognizing minorities.”

Looking out for minorities is the point, Forman said.

“Our priority is to make sure these communities don’t go out of existence,” he said. “It would be a tragedy not just for the communities. It would be a tragedy for Europe, for these cultures.”

Brussels attack arrest underscores threat of returning jihadists


It was the threat that European authorities dreaded — and Europe’s Jews suffered the first blow.

The suspect arrested in the attack last month at the Jewish museum in Brussels that left four dead was a French-born jihadist who had returned home from fighting in Syria.

Now European Jewish institutions are left to reckon with the danger of European jihadists coming home from Syria with deadly new skills, extremist fervor and malicious intentions.

“There has been a change and it requires us to fundamentally reconsider the degree of threat posed to Jewish targets not only in France, but across Europe,” said Sammy Ghozlan, a French former police officer and president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti-Semitism. “That is the only way to prevent attacks like the one in Brussels.”

On Friday, police in Marseille arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, on suspicion that he carried out the May 24 attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. French police found an assault rifle, handgun and a small video camera in Nemmouche’s bag.

Nemmouche, who was born on France’s border with Belgium, is believed to have traveled via Brussels in 2012 to fight with jihadists in Syria’s civil war. Western intelligence agencies have feared that European Muslims fighting in Syria will return and commit terrorist attacks in their home countries.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in January that the threat of jihadists returning to Europe is “the greatest danger that we must face in the coming years.” He added, “It’s a phenomenon of unprecedented size.”

Ghozlan has called on his government to revoke the citizenship not only of jihadists who leave to fight but also of their families.

“Our synagogues and schools already resemble fortresses,” he said. “It’s time for the perpetrators, not the victims, to fear for their families.”

France already has hardened its line on French nationals who undergo Islamist indoctrination and weapons training abroad as part of its security services response to the actions of Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical from Toulouse who in 2012 killed three soldiers and four Jews.

Merah, who died in a shootout with police, had undergone training in Pakistan and Afghanistan and visited Syria and Jordan two years before the murders. He had surveyed and filmed Toulouse’s Ohr Hatorah Jewish school many days before he killed three children and a rabbi there.

To the Israeli Jewish Congress, a 2-year-old group that aims to strengthen ties between Israeli and European Jews, the phenomenon means that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks ”are becoming much more sophisticated and professional in their combat training.”

The danger is thus “exacerbated not only from professional lone wolf attacks like in Brussels, but potentially also attacks on a much larger scale,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, the group’s director of research.

Experts on the security of Jewish institutions in five countries told JTA that since the war in Syria, they have observed a substantial increase in cases involving the gathering of intelligence on Jewish institutions by unidentified individuals.

“We see the gathering of tactical intelligence on Jewish targets occurring more often, we have security camera footage of it happening,” said Michael Gelvan, the Copenhagen-based chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, which serves the Jewish communities in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. “It suggests the emergence of new and very serious threat which, unfortunately, not everyone has understood.”

Two days after the Brussels museum attack, a police receptionist near Paris received a report that lit up all sorts of warning lights at her emergency call center: Three men had been seen pointing a small video camera at the entrance to the local Otzar Hatorah Jewish school, according to the report given by the receptionist to the dispatch unit on May 26.

Officers hurried to the scene, but the three men had fled, realizing they had been spotted, according to a report by the Le Parisien daily. Some of Europe’s Jewish communities spend more than a quarter of their budgets on security, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Sophisticated attacks that entail surveillance, planning and prowess are nothing new for European Jews, who have seen many attacks by Palestinian terrorists during the 1970s and 1980s, noted Ghozlan, the ex-French police officer.

Some of the deadliest attacks occurred in Antwerp, where terrorists in 1981 detonated a car bomb near a synagogue, killing four people.

Yet the terrorist groups were limited in the number of attacks they could carry out because their operations required substantial investment in training operatives and covertly sending them abroad, whereas “thousands of European Islamists operating independently constitute a drastic quantitative change from a risk-assessment point of view,” said a spokesman from British Jewry’s Community Security Trust, or CST.

Ghozlan also identifies a qualitative change.

“The fervor introduced by Islamist indoctrination creates a new kind of determination in people who believe that killing a Jew is their ticket to heaven,” he said. “In a sense, we are dealing with [the equivalent of] kamikaze.”

‘Aftermath’ exposes dark secrets in Poland


The Nazi occupation of most of Europe during World War II and the Holocaust tested the moral fiber not only of the individual citizen but also of entire nations.

Today, 68 years after the guns fell silent in Europe and the Far East, historians and filmmakers not-yet-born in 1945 are still wrestling with the questions of moral courage, indifference and depravity that comprised the human mosaic in that era.

Most films dealing with the years of the Holocaust focus on the bravery of the resistance and some on the villainy of collaborators, but only a handful of German and French movies have examined the much touchier issue of national guilt.

This is certainly true of American producers and directors, who can smugly pat their nation on its collective back, because it never had to face the harsh test of living under enemy occupation.

Given this preamble, the Polish movie “Aftermath” is a particularly valuable contribution to the examination of national guilt or fortitude.

In the collective Jewish memory, the old Poland was a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and there are enough personal and historical accounts to validate the attitude. Yet in the Yad Vashem listing of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors non-Jews who risked their own and their families’ lives to shelter or otherwise aid Jews, Polish Catholics outnumber the rescuers of every other country.

But if the Polish nation, one of the chief victims of Nazi barbarity, had its heroes, it was also home to numerous perpetrators who happily denounced their Jewish neighbors and took over their houses, businesses and fields.

That duality is at the heart of “Aftermath,” a movie so powerful and provocative that its lead actor has received numerous death threats in Poland, while the movie won the Yad Vashem Award at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

“Aftermath” is set in the recent past and opens with the arrival of Franek, who has lived for the past 20 years in Chicago and is returning to his native village in Poland to visit his younger brother, Jozek.

Jozek works the family farm, but, to his brother’s puzzlement, is the hostile target of the villagers, who throw rocks through his windows, paint Zyd (Yid) on his barn door, and finally burn his fields.

Gradually, Franek learns that Jozek’s initial offense was to damage public property by excavating the gravestones that had been taken from the Jewish cemetery during the war and used as road pavement. He carefully hauled the old headstones back to his farm, where he established his own impromptu Jewish cemetery.

Jozek has a hard time explaining this strange behavior, even to himself, except that “there was no one else to take care of them.” He has even taught himself the Hebrew alphabet to decipher the names on the grave markers.

But worse is to come. The young farmer starts exploring the village’s dark secret, and eventually Franek, though dismissive of Chicago’s money-grubbing “Yids,” joins in his brother’s quest.

After the German army occupied the village, two SS officers approved a plan by some of the leading citizens to avoid the bother of deporting some 340 Jewish men, women and children.

The proposal called for rounding up all the Jews, locking them inside a barn and then burning the place down. After the Germans gave the green light, the villagers put the plan into action with great enthusiasm, drinking vodka and cursing the incinerated “Christ killers.”

Afterward, the villagers took over the homes and fields of the dead Jews.

The main characters in the film are fictitious, but the central horror, the burning of the village’s entire Jewish population, is based on a wartime atrocity.

For decades, during Poland’s postwar communist regime, the official government version had it that the actual mass killing and burning were the work of the German army.

But in 2001, Jan T. Gross, a Polish-American professor, wrote the book “Neighbors,” which documented in devastating detail that the Polish citizens of the small town of Jedwabne had incinerated hundreds of their Jewish neighbors in a large barn on July 10, 1941.

The book’s revelations were contested and bitterly denounced by nationalist politicians and media as “part of a Jewish conspiracy to tarnish Poland’s reputation,” but among many younger Poles, the exposé triggered a curiosity about the Polish Jews they had never known.

One was the Polish filmmaker Wladyslaw Pasikowski, who started to write the screenplay for “Aftermath” 10 years ago.

In one interview, Pasikowski explained that the film is about one “one of the most painful chapters of Polish history. We already have a huge number of movies on the horrors committed by the Germans and the Soviets, and I think it is time to show the horrible things we did ourselves.”

(Originally, the film was to have been titled “Kaddish,” and the present Polish title, “Poklosie,” translates as “Consequences.” Either choice would arguably have made for a more apt title than “Aftermath.”)

The movie has its Polish heroes, foremost the brothers Jozek, played by Maciej Stuhr, one of his country’s best-known actors, and Franek (Ireneusz Czop), as well as an elderly priest, but it is unsparing in depicting the anti-Semitic mob mentality of the mass of villagers.

Predictably, “Aftermath” aroused a storm of controversy in its native land, split mainly along political right/left lines. The primary target has been the actor Stuhr, shown on magazine and newspaper covers as a traitorous “Zyd.”

In an e-mail exchange, Dariusz Jablonski, one of the film’s producers, noted that Stuhr was the public face and defender of the film, championing the “new” Poland against the prejudices of the “old” Poland.

Asked, “What made you decide to produce this film, knowing that many of your countrymen would bitterly resent it,” Jablonski responded, “It is not easy to tell uncomfortable truths to your nation, but that is an artist’s/filmmaker’s job. The truth is unconditional, and when I read Pasikowski’s script, I felt obliged to do it.

“We Poles have to acknowledge that being one of the main victims of World War II, and having at that time so many brave people saving Jewish lives, so often paying with their own lives, we also had a few perpetrators among us. Why do we have to do that? We owe it to millions of Jews who found their good life for centuries on Polish soil.”

Is the movie based on Gross’ book on the actual mass burning of Jews in Jedwabne?  “The film is not based on any single book or document, but every element in the film is credible and can be identified as coming from documented stories,” Jablonski responded to the Journal’s question.

Despite the controversy, “Aftermath” won the Critics Prize at Poland’s most important film festival at Gdynia, but it was not chosen as the country’s entry for the Oscars’ foreign-language film competition.

“Aftermath” opens Nov. 15 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center in Encino.

Survey: 29% of European Jews considered emigrating due to anti-Semitism


Nearly one-third of respondents to a survey said they “seriously considered emigrating” from Europe because of anti-Semitism.

In the survey of 5,847 Jews from nine European Union member states, 29 percent said they considered emigrating in recent years because they did “not feel safe” living in their countries as Jews, according to Morten Kjaerum, the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which conducted the survey.

The survey polled Jews from Sweden, France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia. The figure for Jews contemplating emigration was particularly high in Hungary, France and Belgium with 48, 46 and 40 percent respectively saying they had considered leaving.

Asked about their definition of an anti-Semite, 34 percent of all respondents indicated that it applied to “a non-Jewish person if he or she criticizes Israel.” In Sweden, only 21 percent of 703 respondents said non-Jewish critics of Israel were anti-Semitic, compared to 42 percent of 1,137 French respondents. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that people who did not consider Jewish citizens of their country as compatriots were anti-Semitic.

On average, 76 percent said anti-Semitism has increased over the past five years. One in five respondents said they had personally experienced at least one incident of anti-Semitic verbal or physical assault in the previous year. Overall, four percent of respondents said they had experienced physical attack or threats of violence in the year before the survey because they were Jewish.

Twenty percent of respondents said they avoided wearing, carrying or displaying items that might help identify them as Jews in public. That figure was 34 percent in Sweden; 29 percent in France; 20 percent in Hungary and eight percent in Britain.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said the survey was “of great importance,” adding that the fact that “Jews are not able to express their Jewishness because of fear should be a watershed moment for Europe.” Kantor called on E.U. governments to study the survey’s results.

Sixty-four percent of respondents who said they had experienced physical attacks also said that they did not report these incidents because they considered doing so ineffective.

The results of the survey were presented Friday at a press conference in Vienna.

Rise of Golden Dawn: A presage of doom


The undisguised extremism promoted by Golden Dawn is a chilling watershed in Greece's post-war democracy. Fascist gangs are turning Athens into a city of shifting front lines, seizing on crimes and local protests to promote their own movement, by claiming to be the defenders of recession-ravaged Greece.

‘The People's Association – Golden Dawn,’ usually known simply as ‘Golden Dawn,’ is a right-wing extremist political organization in Greece. It is led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos and has grown considerably since its inception to a widely known Greek political party with nationwide support.

Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is gaining popularity in the midst of the country’s deepening financial crisis. The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country.

An opinion poll published by KAPA Research in October showed that support for the extremist political group had grown from 7.5 percent of the population in June to 10.4 percent currently.

The Golden Dawn emerged from political obscurity into the mainstream in May after winning 7 percent of the vote in the Greek parliamentary elections. Since then, the country has reportedly witnessed an upsurge in racial violence connected to the right-wing group.

The party entered the international spotlight after some of its members reportedly participated in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Its publication praises the Third Reich and often features photographs of Hitler and other Nazis.

Golden Dawn has manipulated a weak Greek state and disastrous austerity management by European bureaucrats to become, according to recent polls, the third most popular political party in the country — a noxious omen for the euro zone and a worrying challenge and counterpoint to the very idea of the E.U. itself, which received this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Three years ago, Greeks ignored Golden Dawn, seeing its members as neo-Nazi thugs waging war against migrants and giving it a miserable 0.29% of the vote. Last year, however, Golden Dawn — rebranded as an anti-austerity party — won nearly 7% and secured 18 of the 300 seats in Parliament. Its ascent has continued in opinion surveys despite its parliamentary deputies' being filmed attacking immigrant vendors and demanding that all non-Greek children be kicked out of day-care centres and hospitals.

As the cash-strapped government struggles to offer its citizens basic services, Golden Dawn has set up parastate organizations to police the streets, donate to Greek-only blood banks and help unemployed Greeks find jobs. The party has also promised to cancel household debt for the unemployed and low-wage earners. “Soon we'll be running this country,” says Ilias Panagiotaros, a beefy 38-year-old army-supply-shop owner who is now a Golden Dawn parliamentary deputy representing Athens.

Public Love from Fear

“The people love us.” says Ilias Panagiotaros. Golden Dawn draws much of that love from fear. Greece is now the main entry point for at least 80% of the EU's un-documented migrants. Frontex, the EU border-patrolling agency, estimates that 57,000 illegal immigrants slipped into Greece last year and more than 100,000 entered in 2010. Many travel through Turkey, often via a land border that Golden Dawn wants to plant with land mines. Some seek asylum, and because of EU rules, those who want to apply for refugee status must do so in their country of entry — in this case, Greece — which often takes years to review the applications. As Europe turns a blind eye to the immigration crisis, many impoverished foreigners find themselves trapped in an economically crippled country that can't sustain them.

Some Greeks no longer want to be hospitable. In the past year, gangs of vigilantes, many sporting Golden Dawn's black shirts, have beaten and stabbed hundreds of migrants, according to human-rights groups.

In June 2012, a number of them broke into the Piraeus home of Abouzeid Mubarak, 28, an Egyptian fisherman, bashing him with iron rods until he fell into a coma. “It was a hate that was inhuman,” says Mubarak, who is still recovering.

Ali Rahimi, a 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was hanging around with friends outside his building in central Athens when more than a dozen Greeks approached. Several men set upon Mr. Rahimi, one with a knife. Panicked, he fled into his apartment and fought back, managing to push the men out the door. He found blood gushing from just above his heart, one of five stab wounds in his back and chest.

Mr. Rahimi survived and is staying put for now. But his friend, Reza Mohammed, who was also injured in the attack, is considering what was once unthinkable: moving back to Afghanistan, which he feels would be safer than Greece.

Parts of Athens feel like a war zone. Racist gangs cruise the streets at night in search of victims. Themis Skordeli, a member of the group that is accused of stabbing Mr. Rahimi, ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on the ticket of Golden Dawn.

A few blocks down the street, a crowd was leaving a mosque after Friday Prayer. At the mention of Golden Dawn, immigrant men began lifting their shirts to show their scars. A short, sullen-looking young man with a cut across his nose and freshly sutured cheek bone was pushed forward by the crowd. Just the night before, he said, he was beaten and cut with a knife by “fascists.”

“Go into the Omonia police station,” said another man. “You will see how violence is going on.” Several blocks away, I walked into just such a scene. As I stepped out of the elevator at the police station, I saw an officer screaming at a black man and backhanding him hard across the shoulder.

In Athens, Sayd Jafari owns a cafe frequented by fellow Afghans. It has been repeatedly ransacked by mobs of black-clad attackers wielding sticks, chains and knives and performing fascist salutes.

Like others who have been assaulted, Mr. Jafari is also contemplating returning home to Afghanistan. “There, maybe someone has a bomb hidden on his body that he detonates,” he says. “Here, you don’t see where the knife that kills you comes from.”

It's now common to see police lineup immigrants from South Asia and Africa in public squares and along streets in central Athens. Those without legal-residency permits are arrested and sent to detention centres to be deported.

Police claim they have detained nearly 42,000 people since August, though only about 3,400 were arrested for not having residency papers. They defended the crackdown, which was strongly denounced by human-rights groups, by comparing undocumented migrants to the Dorian invaders who purportedly brought down the Mycenaeans in 1100 B.C.

The most recent example of fascism shown by Golden Dawn in its series of discriminating activities is when it said a visit to Greece by American Jewish Committee leader David Harris is meant to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is leading a Jewish delegation to the region to meet with several Greek leaders, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. During the meetings, Harris expressed his “concern and solidarity for Greece during the crisis.”

“The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots – the international loan sharks, who are humiliating the Greek people. His concern most likely is related to the inability of Greece to make the payments of the predatory interest rates of the vile loans,” Golden Dawn said in a statement, adding: “We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”

Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, uses the Heil Hitler salute and has denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps during World War II. Another lawmaker read a passage from the anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The attack on Harris and a separate article titled “Absolute Evil” that was published on the party's website Friday appeared to be a hardening of Golden Dawn's anti-Semitic rhetoric, apparently in anger over pressure from Jewish groups to get the Greek government to reign in the party. The “Evil” statement said that blaming Golden Dawn for Greece’s woes constituted an attempt to divert attention from the real culprits for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They are none other than those who possess most of the international wealth. The people behind the international loan-sharks,” the statement said. “Everyone knows they belong to a certain race, which presents itself as a victim, while in reality it is the perpetrator. Everyone knows that they are none other than those pulling the strings behind the marionettes. They are the absolute evil for mankind.”

The second statement ended with a threat.

“The time will come when the nationalists of the Golden Dawn will take revenge like the horsemen of the storm, and all of them, being the absolute evil, will pay!”

Not content to proselytizing in their homeland, Golden Dawn has started to expand worldwide.

Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece – only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch! They're only giving food out to Greek Christians.

Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto.

What’s at stake is the health of European democracy, and the values and institutions on which it rests. But while the euro crisis touched off a scramble to halt a financial meltdown, European leaders have done virtually nothing to reverse the union’s dangerous political trends.

As recent polls show that its strength continues to grow, and its support runs as high as 50 percent among police officers, who routinely fail to investigate growing numbers of hate crimes.

Far-right ultranationalist groups are exploiting old enmities and new fears across the Continent. Although this is not the Europe of the 1930s, the disillusioned citizens of countries like Greece and Hungary have turned increasingly to simple answers, electing parties that blame familiar scapegoats — Jews, Gypsies, gays and foreigners — for their ills.

Maria Chandraki, 29, an unemployed beautician, hadn’t heard of Golden Dawn until the last election. “Their positions may be extreme,” she said, holding plastic bags of food she’d just received. “But the situation is extreme as well. So we need extreme measures.” She went on, “We can’t have so many nations and so many different sets of values and ideals under the same roof.”

Beneath the looming basilica of Athens’ largest church, middle-aged men and women in black Golden Dawn T-shirts were busy one bright September morning distributing food to needy Greeks. Kids ran across the courtyard, which was painted with the party’s unofficial platform: “Get foreigners out of Greece.” Clusters of fit, stoic young men in dark glasses ringed the perimeter.

Nikolaos Michos, a square-jawed Golden Dawn Member of Parliament with the build and tattoos of a heavyweight boxer, leaned against a bloodmobile watching. He wore a black polo embossed with the party’s Swastika-like logo. “We’re fighters and we’re not going to back down,” he said, referring to death threats from leftists and the burning of a Golden Dawn office. “But they’re not striking fear into us because every centre they destroy, we’ll build new ones,” he added.

European leaders must not cede the battleground in the war of ideas. They should publicly denounce parties that espouse racist doctrines and spew hate-filled rhetoric and clearly define and defend the shared values of an increasingly integrated Europe.

To do so, they must develop a pan-European approach to monitor hate crimes and investigate right-wing extremist networks that operate across borders. And the European Union must ensure that all member-states, old and new, respect the same criteria that countries currently aspiring to join the European Union are required to meet, especially maintaining the “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.” Otherwise, Europe faces the spectre of more xenophobic violence and the unravelling of the liberal democratic order that has drawn so many persecuted people to seek asylum and opportunity on European shores.

Nikos Katapodis, 69, can see the crossroads where his family has lived since 1863. A bald, chain-smoking funeral-home owner, Mr. Katapodis describes the Greek government with a string of expletives. The flood of immigrants over the last decade created ghettos in central Athens, he explains. Crime rates rose, property values dropped and bars appeared on second-floor windows. “It looks like a prison,” he said, nodding to the street. “Today it reminds me of the late 1940s,” he adds. “You see people scrounging for food in the trash cans.”

Although he didn’t vote for Golden Dawn, he sees it as “the only party that is actually doing things for the Greek people” — a cross between the welfare state and the Mafia. If he needed an escort to walk down the street or help paying for his cancer medicine, he’d call Golden Dawn. “They’re doing what the politicians should be doing,” he said. “There’s a hole, and they fill it.”

Authoritarian elements in the Greek government have a history of using far-right groups to outsource political violence against critics. Recent moves to rein in Golden Dawn came only after it grew too powerful to control and the state felt its own authority was challenged, explained Anastassia Tsoukala, a legal scholar. “They were bitten by their own snake,” she said. And Greece is not alone. Golden Dawn’s rise has parallels across Europe, and its significance should be of Continental concern.


 

Hatef Mokhtar is the editor-in-chief of The Oslo Times.

Anti-Semitic incidents rise by 5 percent in Britain


Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain rose 5 percent over the previous year, making 2012 the third highest number of incidents on record.

The Community Service Trust, British Jewry's security unit, reported Thursday that there were 640 reported anti-Semitic incidents, compared to 608 in 2011.

Some 100 of the incidents were reported as part of a new joint program with the Metropolitan Police Service, the police force of the Greater London area. Under the new program, there was a reported 55 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in London. Without the police incidents, the report would have shown an 11 percent decrease in total incidents.

Sixty of the incidents were classified as “violent anti-Semitic assaults.” The majority of the incidents, however, included verbal attacks and graffiti. Social media also was  a source of many of the incidents.

“While these statistics show more is being done to share information, they are a stark reminder of the presence of anti-Semitism in our society,” said British lawmaker Eric Pickles, secretary of state for Communities and Local Government. “Every one of these incidents is an affront to decency, and we must continue to remain vigilant to these sort of attacks.

“It is encouraging that the Jewish community are now more confident in speaking out and reporting anti-Semitic incidents to the police and the Community Security Trust, as improved reporting of hate crime makes it easier to assess the scale of the problem and determine what further measures are needed.”

‘Jews live in fear in Europe,’ European Parliament president says


The president of the European Parliament acknowledged the continent's Jews are living in fear.

“Yes, Jewish People are living in fear in Europe but this is not 1929, this is 2012,” Martin Schultz said Jan. 22 at a ceremony commemorating Holocaust victims held at the European Parliament.

He added that the European Union was established “on the lessons of Auschwitz” as a framework for “mutual control to avoid one member passing uncontrollably in a dangerous direction.”

Schultz, who spoke at the European Parliament’s first official ceremony in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was responding to an earlier address by European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, who said: “This is not 1943, but it could well be 1929, with extremists marching in the street and into parliament.”

“I am warning Europe again, wake up immediately and limit your tolerance to racism and anti-Semitism,” Kantor added, citing a 2012 European study in which 63 percent of Hungarian respondents and 17 percent of British ones affirmed anti-Semitic views. Kantor also cited a 50 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2012 and political gains by two virulently anti-Semitic parties: Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.

These developments, as well as “Iran’s determined advance toward obtaining and delivering nuclear weapons,” made 2012 “a time of gathering storm clouds” for Jews, Kantor said.

Over the past seven years, the European Parliament has hosted annual ceremonies organized by Jewish groups to commemorate the Jan. 27 Holocaust Memorial Day, the day in 1945 that Russian troops liberated Auschwitz. The Jan. 22 ceremony was the first since the memorial day was incorporated this month into the European Union’s official calendar.

Schultz said the move represented “a binding agreement” to commemorate the event together with the European Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups.

Alleged anti-Semitism of Rome team’s soccer fans to be investigated


European soccer authorities have opened disciplinary proceedings against the Rome soccer team Lazio for the alleged anti-Semitism of its fans.

The action follows alleged racist chanting and other racist and anti-Semitic behavior on the part of hardcore fans at a match with London’s Tottenham Hotspur team in Rome in November. Tottenham has many Jewish supporters who sometimes call themselves the “Yid army.”

According to a statement issued Monday by the Union of European Football Associations, “Proceedings will also be instigated against Lazio for throwing of missiles and/or fireworks by their supporters, incidents of a non-sporting nature, late team arrival at the stadium, and late handling of the team sheet.”

At the Nov. 22 match, Lazio fans chanted “Juden Tottenham” and unfurled a large banner reading “Free Palestine.” The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Lazio is known for its militant, far-right hardcore fans.

The night before the match, several Tottenham fans were injured when dozens of men wearing masks and helmets, and wielding knives and clubs, attacked them at a pub on central Rome’s popular Campo de’ Fiori.

The UEFA statement said the soccer union “will also commence proceedings against Tottenham Hotspur FC, who face charges related to crowd disturbances.” The UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body will discuss both cases on Jan. 24.

Italian Prime Minister says he will stand by country’s Jews


Italy’s prime minister promised Italian Jews he would stand beside them in the fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

“We know that anti-Semitism has not been eradicated in Europe,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said at a ceremony Tuesday night marking the 69th anniversary of the World War II round-up and deportation of 1,024 Roman Jews to Auschwitz. “We will not leave you alone.”

Monti, who was joined by Rome's mayor, several government ministers and other officials, spoke before several thousand people gathered outside Rome’s Great Synagogue to mark the anniversary. Earlier, many had taken part in a torchlight memorial march through the city.

Monti promised that the government would act against mounting racial prejudice and xenophobia in Europe.

Remembering racist persecution during World War II, he said, “means also assuming a responsibility: to combat every form of anti-Semitism and racism and to work so that minorities are protected and not discriminated against.”

Warning against the dangers of Holocaust denial and revisionism, Monti urged people to remember what Holocaust survivor Primo Levi once wrote: “Those who deny Auschwitz are ready to do it again.”

$70 billion on, Claims Conf. marks 60 years of reparations from Germany


When representatives of Israel, Germany and the newly created Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany met 60 years ago in Europe to hammer out a reparations agreement for the crimes of Nazi Germany, some Holocaust survivors were still living in Displaced Persons camps on the continent.

The mood at the negotiating table was solemn, recalled Saul Kagan, 89, who participated in the negotiations and went on to lead the Claims Conference for more than four decades.

“There were no handshakes, there was no banter or anything else,” Kagan said in a video message Tuesday evening at an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here marking the 60th anniversary of the first reparations agreement.

“We somehow had the feeling that we were not alone in this room,” he said. “Somehow we felt that the spirits of those who couldn’t be there were there with us.”

Six decades on, much has followed from that first document signed in 1952, known as the Luxembourg Agreement.

Germany has paid the equivalent of more than $70 billion to survivors and programs that aid survivors. Israel and Germany have become close allies. Germany has made Holocaust education a centerpiece of its identity, creating school curricula, building Holocaust museums and funding anti-Semitism eradication programs.

This week, Germany took the additional step of changing its funding criteria to add an estimated 80,000 more Nazi victims to those it provides with one-time payments of about $3,150 from the Hardship Fund, which is designated for Jews who fled the Nazis as they swept eastward through Europe. The change, which is expected to affect mostly survivors in Russia and Ukraine, opens the door to funding for the last major group of Nazi victims who have never received money from Germany.

Claims Conference representatives hailed the move as a historic breakthrough.

“This agreement ensures that virtually every Holocaust survivor will be covered,” Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. undersecretary of state who represents the Claims Conference in negotiations with the Germans over Holocaust restitution, told JTA. “It’s really a major upgrading of the whole relationship. It’s the first time since 1952 that Germany has negotiated a new agreement.”

In his speech at the anniversary event, Eizenstat said that “It is a testimony to Germany that we are now negotiating with a third generation of German leaders after World War II, supported by the German people, that have acknowledged their historical responsibility to the Jewish people.”

In addition to agreeing to expand the Hardship Fund to ex-Soviet countries that are not in the European Union, Germany agreed to equalize the monthly pensions it sends to some 60,000 survivors around the world, correcting what until now had been a disparity that saw survivors living in western countries receiving more than those in eastern countries. All survivors will now receive the equivalent of approximately $370 per month.

Germany also agreed to relax the eligibility rules for those who receive restitution payments for being forced into hiding during the Nazi era. Until now, only those who went into hiding for at least 12 months were eligible; now the eligibility threshold will be six months.

Together, the changes are expected to cost Germany an additional $300 million.

“The German government is assuming even greater responsibility than before,” said Werner Gatzer, who as state secretary of the German Finance Ministry represents Germany in negotiations with the Claims Conference. Gatzer made his remarks in a speech Tuesday night at the 60th anniversary event. “This process is about much more than just financial compensation. It’s about the recognition of all these individual, personal destinies that need to be heard and preserved.”

Gatzer said a “spirit of cooperation and trust” guides the negotiations process.

“It’s amazing that we’ve been able to get payment for tens of thousands of the poorest Jews on the planet,” Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told JTA. “It’s an acknowledgement of their suffering at the hands of the Nazis decades ago.”

While the Claims Conference administers Germany’s restitution programs, it also makes allocations of its own from the so-called Successor Organization, which is the legal beneficiary of money from the sale of Jewish-owned properties in the former East Germany for which no heirs have come forward.

On Wednesday, the Claims Conference board approved $136 million in allocations from the Successor Organization for each of the next two fiscal years. The bulk of the money will go to programs that aid survivors, including home care, soup kitchens, meals on wheels and medical assistance programs. Slightly less than $18 million per year will go toward Holocaust education.

The board also voted to create a Goodwill Fund of approximately $61 million for heirs of former East German properties who missed previous deadlines for making claims on those properties.

This year’s Claims Conference board meeting represented something of a high point for the organization. For the first time in three years, the meeting was not overshadowed by talk of the massive fraud that was discovered at the conference in late 2009. The $57 million fraud figure has not grown in recent months, and 12 of 31 people arrested in connection with the case have pleaded guilty.

Because it was the 60th anniversary of the first restitution agreement, the board meeting was moved to Washington from its usual location in New York, and the event at the Holocaust museum amounted to something of a somber celebration.

The next day, the Claims Conference board meeting was followed by a luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building marking the 100th birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary before being arrested after the war by the Soviets and then disappearing. Several U.S. congressmen and senators attended the luncheon, which was organized by The Friedlander Group. The U.S. Senate this week unanimously approved a resolution to honor Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Meanwhile, Claims Conference negotiators already are eyeing the next round of negotiations with Germany. Among the items on the Jewish wish list, according to Eizenstat:

* Extending Germany’s three-year, $500 million program to fund home care for elderly survivors beyond 2014;

* Increasing the payment amount from the Hardship Fund, which has gone unchanged since the 1980s;

* Changing or eliminating the income-and-asset requirements for the Article 2 Fund, which provides monthly pensions of about $370 for some 60,000 poor Holocaust survivors, so that even those survivors who are well off will receive compensation for their suffering at the hands of the Nazis;

* Considering funding for survivors of so-called open ghettos—unfenced areas where Jews were forced to live and faced restrictions on coming and going.

Anti-Semitic Polish priest invited to speak at European parliament


Conservative Polish lawmaker Miroslaw Piotrowski’s invitation to a controversial priest to speak in Brussels has led to a split among the European Conservatives and Reformists group, or ECR.

Tadeusz Rydzyk’s anti-Semitic views voiced on his Radio Maryja and TV Trwam stations have led to condemnation over the years from Jewish groups, the Vatican and Polish Solidarity co-founder Lech Walesa.

The recent invitation was a response to the revocation of Rydzyk’s TV channel license, leading Polish members of ECR to organize a rally against state media censorship. Rydzyk also was invited to speak in parliament last year during a conference on climate change and environmental issues. Poland is under heavy scrutiny due to the Euro 2012 soccer championships and fear of potential racism among fans.

According to The Guardian, some British Tory lawmakers are indignant that one with extreme anti-Semitic opinions has been invited to speak. London’s Tory lawmaker Marina Yannakoudakis wrote to fellow Polish lawmakers in protest.

“I support free speech, but believe that we must draw the line at those like Father Rydzyk who promote anti-Semitic or xenophobic teaching,” The Guardian quoted Yannakoudakis as saying in her letter. “As such, I ask you to never invite Father Rydzyk to the European parliament again.”

The Guardian report also indicated that despite strong denial of the invitation having no connection to the ECR by the chairman of the European Conservatives, Martin Callanan, the group played a significant role in publicizing the event. ECR logos were seen in promotional material and emails, and an ECR press officer promoted the priest’s speech.

Havel joins Israel-friendly initiative


Former Czech President Vaclav Havel joined an initiative to defend Israel in Europe and the West.

The Friends of Israel announced the participation of Havel, a champion of human rights, on Tuesday during the group’s inaugural Washington tour. Havel was not on the tour.

Other former leaders on the initiative, founded in June, include Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister; David Trimble, the former Protestant leader in Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace laureate; and Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru.

Havel, a playwright, was a hero of the left and right in the West during his decades of dissidence against Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

The Friends of Israel initiative was in Washington in part to meet with U.S. congressional leaders who are planning resolutions supporting its aims.

Aznar, in address Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations, said the group’s principle tenet is that Israel’s survival is in the strategic interests of the West.

“Defending Israel is ultimately defending our Western roots, the Western values that many in Europe, and some in America, seem to have forgotten,” Aznar said. “They are not obsolete. And the best proof is precisely Israel and its people. Letting the delegitimation of Israel grow seems to me the best path to weaken not only the freedom of maneuver of Israel but to undermine ourselves.”

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