In Europe, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia go hand in hand


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In Europe, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia go hand in hand
Both scourges are projections of the illiberal mind
 
Paul Hockenos

Paris — The spate of anti-Semitic violence in Europe might appear to justify Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for European Jews to move to Israel where, he claims, Jews can be safe.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country,” Netanyahu said on Feb. 15, “but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters, ‘Israel is your home.’ We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe.”

Europe’s Jewry should nevertheless reject Netanyahu’s call. It’s a populist ploy ahead of Israel’s March 17 election. Jewish citizens in Europe should instead be active participants in the societies in which they live, continuing to promote democracy, civil liberties and tolerance of diversity as they have done energetically in the past, to Europe’s enormous benefit.

Nowhere, even in long-established democracies such as France, can the liberal order be taken for granted. Every generation has to fight anew to maintain (or even, in a best case scenario, improve on) the quality of democracy as its circumstances change. Anti-Semitism is one challenge to this struggle, Islamophobia another. The two illiberal ideologies and their implications for open societies are more closely linked than they appear.

Anti-Semitism in Europe

Anti-Semitism is on the rise across Europe, propelled by familiar and new antagonists. The Jan. 9 shooting of four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris followed a string of lethal assaults on Jews across the continent in 2014. Last month an attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, left one man dead and two police officers wounded. The incident forced Jewish schools in Belgium and France to close temporarily. Last year the Jewish Museum in Brussels was bombed. At least eight synagogues were attacked in Europe in July 2014. In Germany, Jewish men wearing the skullcap, or kippa, were harassed, cursed and beaten up on the street.

A 2012 European Union survey of 6,000 Jews in eight European nations, which together account for 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population, found that 66 percent believed anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe; 76 percent said anti-Jewish sentiment increased in their country since 2007. In a survey a year later, almost half of the respondents said they were concerned about being verbally insulted or attacked in public. Seventy years after Auschwitz’s liberation, which is being commemorated across Europe, Jewish graves have been desecrated, and Jewish citizens are uncomfortable in certain neighborhoods, particularly those with high proportions of Muslims.

Anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon in postwar Europe. But its usual standard bearers were Europe’s far-right groups. Far-right and populist groups still propagate hatred toward Jews, although in its more muted form than in recent decades. (There’s an anti-Semitic stripe in the far left as well, closely linked with anti-Americanism and sympathy for the Palestinian quest for statehood.) Parties such as the National Front in France, Austria’s Freedom Party and Belgium’s Vlaams Bok have long traded in anti-Semitism. Opinion polls show residual anti-Semitism in most European populations, which is largely understood as a reaction to globalization, modernity and urban values. In Central and Eastern Europe, where there was no postwar reconciliation, anti-Semitism burns hotter as part and parcel of old-school volkish nationalism.

Muslim leaders have to fight anti-Jewish mindsets as actively as Europe’s Jews must help dispel the falsehoods fueling the anti-Islam discourse.

But the far-right anti-Semites now have a more opportune target: Islam. The same tools and tropes that were once used to create fear of and resentment toward Jews have been turned against Muslims. They claim that Muslims are swamping their countries and diluting their national cultures — claims once made against Jews. Whereas Jews were claimed to partake in blood rituals, Islam is cast as an inherently violent religion and all Muslims as threats to European security and identity.

Germany’s PEGIDA movement, which took to the streets in Dresden and elsewhere in Germany in late 2014 and early 2015, offers a perfect example. While PEGIDA’s foremost target was the Muslim community, its closeness to neo-Nazi groups and anti-Israel currents was manifest. One man with an Israeli flag was chased from a PEGIDA demonstration, and marchers carried posters reading “Just say no to Israel” and “Let Germany finally be Germany,” the latter a resentful reference to Germany’s war guilt and coming to grips with the Holocaust. Just as contemporary anti-Semitism is often strongest in places with no Jews, PEGIDA support was the highest in Dresden, a city with a population less than 0.5 percent Muslim. In other words, as with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia is highly irrational.

Muslim anti-Semitism

The chief perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence and terrorist attacks, however, are not the far right ideologues but radicalized elements in Europe’s Muslim community. It goes without saying that not all Muslims are anti-Semitic. (Collective guilt is almost always wrong-headed.) But polls show that anti-Semitism is strikingly high among European Muslims, particularly younger Muslim men and women.

A recent French survey found that 74 percent of French Muslims said they believe Jews have too much influence over the nation’s economy. (The figure among non-Muslim French was 25 percent.) Seventy percent of French Muslims said that Jews control the country’s media. A 2013 study by the EU found that Jews in Europe felt most threatened by Muslims in their societies. Günther Jikeli in his new book, “European Muslim Antisemitism,” corroborates these findings and argues that anti-Semitism is pervasive in the beliefs of young European Muslims.

The reasons for the new anti-Semitism are part socioeconomic, part political. So far, the young Muslims involved in the recent attacks against Jews have almost always been the kind of poor, disenfranchised young men whose circumstances breed resentment and anger. In Islam they find a home and identity. The politics of Israel in the Middle East have thrown fuel on the fire consistently over the last two decades; the ongoing violence against the Palestinians in Gaza is only the most recent agony. The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has facilitated the mix of a toxic cocktail that targets Jews across Europe.

But Jews are not necessarily safer in Israel than they are on the streets of Paris or Berlin. Europe is facing an enormous challenge in reacting to this new element in its midst and defeating it without encouraging more converts to radical Islam. We saw this happen in the aftermath of United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in response to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Central Intelligence Agency’s black sites and the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

On Feb. 14, the European Jewish Congress called for enhancing existing anti-racism legislation, which is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. It envisions prohibiting the wearing of the full-face veil everywhere in Europe, punishing denial of the Holocaust and hate speech and outlawing praise for a terrorist act. But the proposal is not constructive in the long run. Such measures cast suspicion on all Muslims and would work to alienate rather than integrate.

European countries must devise a way to make Muslims feel part of their societies. Here in Paris it is stunning to experience firsthand how abruptly the City of Light ends at the banlieues, the tenement housing on Paris’ periphery where much of the migrant population lives. Here one leaves the urban wonderland of museums, fine restaurants, graceful apartment buildings and good jobs and enters the underworld of poverty, marginalization, unemployment and ugliness.

There are many ways that French and other European societies can reach out to their Muslim neighbors. This could mean interfaith dialogue, common civic initiatives, integrated schooling and more inclusive governance structures. Projects such as Germany’s Schule Ohne Rassismus, a nonprofit that fights racial bias against Jews, Muslims and others in secondary schools across the country should be replicated elsewhere in Europe. Ultimately, all Europeans, including Muslim communities, must insist on more democracy, civic culture and tolerance. Muslim leaders have to fight anti-Jewish mindsets as actively as Europe’s Jews must help dispel the falsehoods fueling the anti-Islam discourse. This is the way to beat the twin menaces of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Paul Hockenos is a journalist living in Berlin. He has covered the transformations of the EU for over 25 years.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

Europe’s Tea Parties


Political insurgency

Europe’s Tea Parties

Insurgent parties are likely to do better in 2014 than at any time since the second world war

Now something similar is happening in Europe (see article). Insurgent parties are on the rise. For mainstream parties and voters worried by their success, America’s experience of dealing with the Tea Party holds useful lessons.

The squeezed, and angry, middle

There are big differences between the Tea Party and the European insurgents. Whereas the Tea Party’s factions operate within one of America’s mainstream parties, and have roots in a venerable tradition of small-government conservatism, their counterparts in Europe are small, rebellious outfits, some from the far right. The Europeans are even more diverse than the Americans. Norway’s Progress Party is a world away from Hungary’s thuggish Jobbik. Nigel Farage and the saloon-bar bores of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) look askance at Marine Le Pen and her Front National (FN) across the Channel. But there are common threads linking the European insurgents and the Tea Party. They are angry people, harking back to simpler times. They worry about immigration. They spring from the squeezed middle—people who feel that the elite at the top and the scroungers at the bottom are prospering at the expense of ordinary working people. And they believe the centre of power—Washington or Brussels—is bulging with bureaucrats hatching schemes to run people’s lives.

Mainstream politicians in Europe have tried to marginalise the insurgents, by portraying them as unhinged, racist or fascist. But it is not working, partly because many of the insurgents are making a determined effort to become respectable. UKIP, the FN and the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands could each win the most votes in European Parliament elections in May. In France, 55% of students say they would consider voting for the FN. The Progress Party has joined Norway’s government. Slovakia has a new far-right provincial governor. Count insurgents on the left, such as Syriza in Greece and the Five Star movement in Italy, and mainstream parties in Europe are weaker than at any time since the second world war.

The insurgency is doing well partly because the mainstream has done so badly. Governments encouraged consumers to borrow, let the banks run wild and designed the euro as the pinnacle of the European project. In the past five years ordinary people have paid a price for these follies, in higher taxes, unemployment, benefit cuts and pay freezes.

This newspaper is sympathetic to the Tea Parties’ insight that the modern state often seems designed to look after itself, rather than the citizens it is supposed to serve. It is true that the EU has no answer to the problem that minorities of voters in many countries feel it lacks legitimacy—a looming threat to the euro. But Europe’s insurgents go further than that.

When Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV, calls the Koran “a fascist book” and Islam “a totalitarian religion”, he is endorsing intolerance. When Ms Le Pen demands protection for French firms from foreign competition, she is threatening to impoverish her compatriots. When UKIP promises British people prosperity outside the European Union, but within a free-trade zone of its own devising, it is peddling an illusion. Increasing inequality and growing immigration are the corollary of technological progress and economic freedoms that most people would not willingly give up.

Such details do not detain Ms Le Pen who, with the swagger of a politician on the rise, predicts that she will be in the Elysée within a decade. That is highly unlikely, partly because national elections are less susceptible to protest votes than European elections are, and partly because as they get closer to power almost all Europe’s Tea Parties are likely to reveal themselves as incompetent and factional. Yet the insurgents do not need victory to set the agenda or to put up barriers to reforms. That is why Europeans need to see them off.

Honesty in all things

Attacking the insurgents as fascists worked when Hitler’s memory was fresh, but many of today’s voters rightly see it as mostly a scare tactic. Even as the mainstream demonises the insurgents, it also panders to them by adopting pale versions of their policies—against immigration, global finance and the EU. But the mainstream is inhibited by a sense of what is possible and an understanding of what is legal. So it ends up flattering the idea that something needs fixing, while seeming to lack the courage to do anything.

The lesson from America is that if Europe’s politicians do not want the insurgents to set the agenda, they need to counter their arguments. As long as Republican leaders have indulged Tea Party demands to put purity above the work of governing (for instance, by shutting down the federal government) they have sunk lower in the public esteem. The hardline positions of Republican candidates satisfy the party faithful but drive away undecided voters, costing the party Senate seats in recent elections and arguably the presidency in 2012. Politicians need to explain hard choices and dispel misconceptions. Europe’s single market is the source of prosperity: enlarge it. Workers from eastern Europe pay more into government coffers than they take out: welcome them. Politicians prepared to speak out will find that most citizens can cope with the truth.

Ultimately, though, the choice falls to voters themselves. The Tea Party thrived in America partly because a small minority of voters dominate primary races especially for gerrymandered seats. In elections to the European Parliament many voters simply do not bother to take part. That is a gift to the insurgents. If Europeans do not want them to triumph, they need to get out to the polls.

Think the Tea Party Is Crazy? Europe’s Rising Neo-Fascism Is a Taste of What’s Coming If Austerity Prevails in America


Think the Tea Party Is Crazy? Europe’s Rising Neo-Fascism Is a Taste of What’s Coming If Austerity Prevails in America

Cutting social programs and government investment is a recipe for the growth of fascism.

     

American political dysfunction looks pretty bad — but just take a look at what’s going on across the Atlantic. A poisonous wave of right-wing, neo-fascist parties is emerging in response to the continent’s ongoing austerity and hugely ineffectual policy response to the resulting jobs crisis.

The U.S. could be headed in the same direction if the austerity-pushers have their way. Europe is a case study in what happens when mainstream parties on both the right and the left fail to deliver relief to the people. Extremists seize the opportunity to assert themselves, and things get ugly very fast.

Bringing countries together in the European Union was supposed to make violent nationalist conflict a thing of the past. Member countries were supposed to prosper economically. But now countries like Greece and Spain are fracturing politically and falling into a downward economic spiral.

The creators of the euro were like parents fixing an arranged marriage. They knew that they were locking together countries with very different economies and political cultures. But they hoped that, over time, the new partners would grow together and form a genuine bond.

The European Union was banking on three forms of convergence: economic, political and popular. At the time the euro was launched, there was much hopeful talk that a surge in trade and investment between the euro zone nations would create a truly unified European economy, in which national levels of productivity and consumption would converge on each other.

It was also assumed—or perhaps just hoped—that the euro would create political unity. Once Europeans were using the same notes and coins, they would feel how much they had in common, develop shared loyalties and deepen their political union. The designers of the single currency were also hoping that elite and popular opinion would come together. They knew that in certain crucial countries, in particular Germany, the public did not share the political elite’s enthusiasm for the creation of the euro. But they hoped that in time, this would change.

Enter reality.  At first, people saw most regulations and orders coming from Brussels as annoying and occasionally inconvenient. Rulings on things like what kind of fat chocolate may contain seemed objects of ridicule, not the stuff of revolution. The European Commission was seen as something distant with little day-to-day relevance for the lives of most citizens living within the European Union. But everything changed with the Great Recession of 2008. Ruinously destructive austerity policies took hold in the councils of Europe, notably in the form of economic austerity packages demanded of Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, etc. The consequences have been monstrous.

Politically, the implementation of the euro-zone’s stability pact has been largely left in the hands of unelected bureaucrats—the so-called “Troika,” in particular the IMF and European Central Bank, operating out of institutions that are devoid of any kind of democratic legitimacy. They implement “fiscal rules” on the basis of some arbitrary numbers that have no foundation in economic theory or reality.

Here’s a perfect example. A former senior budget ministry official in the government of former French president François Mitterrand was recently revealed as being the inventor of a phony “rule” repeated by governments both right or the left that the public deficit should not exceed 3 percent of the national wealth. The French official had this to say when asked about the origins of the 3 percent rule:

“We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money… We needed something simple. 3%? It was a good number that had stood the test of time, somewhat reminiscent of the Trinity.”

So highly paid unelected bureaucrats in Brussels pull magic numbers out of the air, and then policy makers use them to call for nations to cut welfare, wages, jobs and the like. The result? People have already started dying in riots in Athens, Madrid and Rome. Backlash in France produced Marine Le Pen’s surprisingly successful candidacy in the last French presidential election for the Front Nationale (FN). If the name sounds familiar, it’s because fascism runs in the family: She is the youngest daughter of the French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, former president of the FN and currently its honorary chairman. In last year’s French presidential election, she polled some 18 percent in the first round and finished in third position behind winner François Hollande and the previous incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Anti-EU parties of the sort Le Pen represents are on the rise across continental Europe. They are growing precisely because the mainstream parties conspicuously continue to ignore the prevailing social disasters they are imposing on their respective electorates.  As the New York Times recently reported, the far right is quickly gaining ground:

“In France, according to a recent opinion poll, the far-right National Front has become the country’s most popular party. In other countries — Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland and the Netherlands — disruptive upstart groups are on a roll.”

While the European leaders are now talking about moving to a fully fledged political union (a “United States of Europe”) they are doing so within a culture of austerity, which simply exacerbates the prevailing social stresses and leads to further populist challenges to the mainstream.

Time is not on the side of Europe’s policy makers. The stock of private debt remains very high and policy makers are beginning to fret about the possibility of a genuine Great Depression-style debt deflation leading to another lost decade. That was the hidden message behind the ECB’s recent cut in interest rates, although the real answer must surely lie in a fiscal response that will break the fall in incomes and preserve living standards.

That’s the main reason America has not seen a comparable rise in fascism. In this country, we still have institutions, such as Social Security and Medicare, which were designed during the New Deal and the Great Society and by and large work extremely well. Europe, unfortunately, seems determined for now to go in an opposite direction, reviving old historic enmities and rivalries in the process. That could be in store for us if we follow a similar route, which would make the Tea Party seem like a tea party in comparison.

Marshall Auerback is a market analyst and commentator.