The World Today for November 15, 2023


Shattering Glass, Splintering Peace


Eighty-five years ago, the Jewish cemetery in Vienna was one of the main targets of Kristallnacht – a Nazi pogrom against Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria.

And so it was again, reported CNN.

On Nov. 1, an arson attack left parts of the building close to ruins, scripture in tatters, and swastikas emblazoned on the walls outside.

“This takes us back to the darkest times,” Chief Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer told CNN. “It’s unbelievable that 80 years after Nazi times, we go back to such times and have antisemitic acts here, in the center of Europe.”

The cemetery attack is just one of the latest incidents targeting Jews in Europe since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, and Israel began its bombing campaign of Gaza. Those occurrences are multiplying at a frightening pace across the continent, European leaders say. For example, Austria, with a Jewish community of around 12,000 people, has seen 167 incidents over the past month.

Similarly, France, with the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, has seen an enormous spike in such hate crimes: In the past month, there have been more than 800 antisemitic acts in the country, nearly twice as many as in all of 2022. It’s a similar story in the United Kingdom and Germany, where Jewish community centers and synagogues have long been protected by police.

In London, for example, the police reported a 1,353 percent rise in antisemitic offenses compared with 2022. (London police said there has been a 140 percent increase in Islamophobic incidents.)

This has left European Jews wondering again if they are safe in Europe. They face attacks from the far left, the far right, and from the Muslim communities that greatly outnumber them, the Wall Street Journal reported. Already, routines have changed, children are being kept home from school, and some have contemplated moving. “I have not left my home in days and my daughter is not going to school,” Mirna Funk, 42, of Berlin, told the Journal.

The rise in antisemitic attacks has prompted demonstrations such as one in France over the weekend, when tens of thousands of people marched in Paris against such hate.

Meanwhile, as European leaders increase patrols on streets, subways, and across Jewish areas of their cities, they have also moved to ban protests against Israel, or the war on Gaza.

France since Oct. 7 has tried to impose one of the broadest bans in Europe on protests in solidarity with Palestinians because, as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin put it, “they are likely to generate public order disturbances.”

But activists and others in Europe say that is a violation of civil liberties.

“It is outrageous, it is shocking, it is unacceptable not being able to express yourself,” Walid Atallah, 61, president of an association of Palestinians in France, told the Washington Post. His group was barred from holding an Oct. 14 protest in Paris because of a risk of violence and also the group’s failure to condemn Hamas, according to police.

Still, across Europe, protesters have defied bans, with hundreds ending up detained. Police, meanwhile, have been accused of stepped-up brutality against European Muslims, while officials have tried to ban Palestinian flags, slogans and even the keffiyeh, a scarf worn in the Middle East.

Some analysts say these extreme measures to support Israel come out of a sense of debt that European countries – especially Germany, with its legacy of instigating the Holocaust – owe to Jews because of what happened during World War II when six million Jews were murdered.

Still, these measures have gotten pushback, also from Jewish communities.

“As Jews, we reject this pretext for racist violence and express full solidarity with our Arab, Muslim, and particularly our Palestinian neighbors,” wrote more than 100 German Jewish writers, scholars and artists in an open letter in Taz, a German newspaper.

“What frightens us is the prevailing atmosphere of racism and xenophobia in Germany, hand in hand with a constraining and paternalistic philo-Semitism,” it added. “We reject in particular the conflation of anti-Semitism and any criticism of the state of Israel.”

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