The rise of antisemitism in Europe is exaggerated. Why? A mix of paranoia and a means of deflecting criticism from Israel. European Jews have never enjoyed such freedom and successby Antony Lerman / August 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
When assessing the threat of antisemitism today, can we distinguish between true menace and fear of our own shadows? Given that antisemitism wreaked such havoc in the 20th century, you might think that there would be clear answers to questions like “How serious is antisemitism in Britain?” or “What threat is it to Europe’s Jews?” Many voices claim to provide such answers-they are, however, contradictory.
The case that antisemitism in Europe is deadly serious and getting worse was put in a famous article by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. “In Europe,” he wrote, “it is not very safe to be a Jew… What is odd is not the antisemitism of today but its relative absence during the past half-century. That was the historical anomaly. Holocaust shame kept the demon corked… But now the atonement is passed.” Dissenters are equally trenchant. In the Guardian, Rabbi David Goldberg wrote: “The alleged recrudescence of antisemitism strikes me as paranoid and exaggerated… By any objective criteria, the modern, acculturated, broadly successful Jew in the western world has never had it so good. We should never be complacent about antisemitism. But at the present time, it is far easier and safer to be a Jew than a Muslim, a black person or an east European asylum seeker.”
The confusion is thrown into even sharper relief when the views of the past and present chief rabbis of Britain’s main orthodox denomination, the United Synagogue, are compared. The current incumbent, Jonathan Sacks, is among those arguing most strongly that antisemitism has reached unprecedented levels. He called “the wave of anti-Jewish incidents that have gone round the world in recent months… the real, ultimately murderous thing.” His predecessor, the late Lord Jakobovits, repeatedly emphasised that antisemitism was in significant decline. Speaking at the commemoration ceremony for Kristallnacht in 1998, he said: “For the first time in over 2,000 years of the Jewish experience, there is not a single Jewish community anywhere in the world where Jews are officially persecuted because they are Jews.” Is it conceivable that so much could have changed in three and a half years to allow both Sacks and Jakobovits to be correct?