Muslim anti-Semitism puts pressure on West

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"Work sets you free." Auschwitz, 2010. [tsaiproject/flickr]

One after the other, EU leaders took turns reassuring Europe’s Jewish community, following the kosher supermarket attack in Paris, in which four people were killed, writes Joel Schalit.

Joel Schalit is News Editor at EURACTIV.

“Without its Jews, Britain would not be Britain,” said UK Home Secretary Theresa May, at a memorial event, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket murders.

“If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told an American journalist a day later.

First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans added, “If there’s no future for Jews in Europe, there’s no future for Europe.”

Timmermans also argued it wasn’t just anti-Semitism that was the problem, but racism in general.  “If the EU is to survive,” he said, “it is based on the fact that for every community that belongs in Europe, there is a place in Europe.”

Such a statement was a necessary gesture of solidarity with Europe’s Islamic community. Particularly given the discussion that began taking place, in the wake of the Paris attacks, about the systemic discrimination Muslims endure.

If Europe is going to make any progress in curing itself of anti-Semitism, it is going to have to address Islamophobia.

Muslims are obviously not subject to the same violence that Jews once were. But they occupy a similarly negative space in European society to pre-WWII Jewry. Making sense of this in a French context remains more difficult, because of the role that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays in informing Arab violence against French Jews.

Ironically, few understand this difference better than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, following a Palestinian attack on a bus in Tel Aviv last week, said, “This same terrorism is trying to attack us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere.”

Though the Israeli leader is inclined to see a Palestinian hand in more events than not, he is right to assume that the Arab-Israeli conflict places a disproportionate role in destabilising Jewish life around the world.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was even more explicit, going out of his way to blame Turkish President Recep Tayyipd Erdo?an, for helping foster the environment in which the kosher market killings took place.

“It’s bad enough that leaders in Europe fail to condemn blatant human rights violations in Turkey itself, Lieberman said, “but their ignoring of the hatred and the incitement against Israel that this man cultivates is something that we cannot ignore.”

Lieberman was not trying to make a philosophical point. His goal was to take Erdogan to task for criticising Bibi’s attendance of the Paris unity march, following the Hebdo and Hyper Cache attacks.

Accusing Bibi of being guilty of practicing ““state terrorism” against the Palestinians, Erdogan had said, “I also hardly understand how [Netanyahu] dared to go there. For once, you give an account for the children, women you massacred,” Erdogan told a press conference in Ankara, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by his side.

In other words, business as usual in the Middle East. But a not-so- straightforward exchange for Europeans, unable to tie the stresses of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to ethnic and religious conflicts on the continent involving Jews and Muslims.

The Holocaust took place in Europe, not the Middle East, and remains the most extreme expression of European racism. How could contemporary anti-Semitism not be in continuity with this history, and with this culture? Taking responsibility for it, as a uniquely European event, ought to make sense.

The problem is that the sources of European anti-Semitism, today, are not exclusively in religion, as the consensus tends to conflate radical Islam with a theological hatred of Jews.

Immediately after the end of the Hyper Cache standoff, Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman was quick to reiterate the party line. “Anti-Semitism is at the core of Islamic extremist ideology,” he said. “The packaging of anti-Semitic narratives has radicalised followers and influenced numerous international and domestic extremists.”

Foxman isn’t entirely wrong. The issue is the priority he assigns to Muslim anti-Semitism, making it a core ideological issue, rather than a religious response to general upheaval in the Middle East – including the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Though the ADL chief was articulating a typically right-wing point of view, his statement is useful in understanding misconceptions of what motivated the attack in Paris, as well as Muslim antipathy towards French Jews. It’s about scapegoating. That’s what makes this anti-Semitism resemble its European counterpart.

Islamic extremism has historically defined itself through struggles against the West. As has been the case since the Iranian Revolution, it almost always starts with struggles against elites representing Western interests and military power, whether they be Russian, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or, more recently, American, as with ISIS, in Syria-Iraq.

Without these conflicts, fundamentalist militants would have a far narrower idea of who their enemy is, both culturally as well as geographically. They’d still exist, but their impact would be more local.

The ongoing crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians remains one of the most ideologically influential in this regard. It may not be as immediately pertinent as the fighting in Helmand or Kobane, but it helps provide a wider context for militant understanding of such events.

To the degree that their conflict remains unresolved, it is viewed as a continuation of such fights. Because Israel was initiated through European immigration, it represents a normalisation of Western presence, in spite of Jewish origins in the Levant.

In such a context, Europe’s Jews are simply too attractive a target to ignore. Putting pressure on them becomes a convenient way of keeping the West in line. The longer the Arab-Israeli conflict persists, the greater their vulnerability grows, particularly given Israeli disinterest in continuing the peace process.

The involvement of European forces in the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as more recent deployments in Mali, only make things worse. If Europe truly wants to eliminate Muslim anti-Semitism, it has to take responsibility for its role in fostering it.

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