Europe’s Jews on edge as anti-Semitic violence rises to record levels

07-12-2023

European Union

Kathryn Idema, CNE.news

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold up the Hamas flag on the Republique square in Paris, ahead of a banned demonstration against Israel's military operation in Gaza and in support of the Palestinian people in 2014. Photo AFP, Kenzo Tribouillard

As the Israel-Hamas war continues to rage, many Jewish communities in Europe are seeing sharp rises in hate-based crimes. “This feels like being in Poland in 1941.”

Several Jews now feel that they can no longer wear the star of David in public. Some have taken down their Jewish mezuzahs that were once nailed to the sides of doors. Even muttering “Jew” or “Jewish” has sparked fears of getting insulted, according to one Jewish woman who spoke to NRK. It was only when she read her Facebook wall that she realised the hatred against her people.

“Two comments appeared that shocked me. And the one comment, translated to English, was "Hitler didn't do a good enough job with you." And the other comment was "Human garbage." And that led to me almost immediately blocking these two friends and deleting the comments,” she said.

Heritage

Long seen as a symbol of God’s protection, the Jewish mezuzah is a wooden cylinder that contains a scroll with verses from the Torah. It is often nailed to the sides of a front door. One elderly Jew in Norway said that she no longer feels safe in displaying her Jewish heritage.

“Long time since I took off my Star of David. But now after October 7, I have taken down the mezuzah too! Feels like being in Poland in 1941,” she said in the NRK report. Her father fled to eastern Poland from the Nazi regime. The only households he could trust were ones with mezuzahs tacked to the front doors.

Forces of anti-Semitism have also been found in many Norwegian schools. One Jewish teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said that she has experienced several threats since the start of the war. Some students have hurled insults such as: “Heil Hitler” and “Damn Jew.” Another teacher had a group of students surround her classroom and chant in Arabic: “We are the army of Palestine! Slaughter all the Jews. The incident continues to be under investigation, according to NRK.

Average

Norway is not the only country to experience a sharp spike in anti-Jewish violence. As more hate crimes continue to surface, a recent report from the Federal Association of Anti-Semitism Research and Information Centers (Rias) in Germany revealed that the number of “anti-Semitic incidents” have risen at least four times from the average compared to last year. Approximately 994 incidents or 29 per day show a relation to the war and Hamas.

As Germany reports record cases of hostility against Jewish communities, almost 60 have been committed in the private setting, according to the Rias report which was published in PRO. In the central town of Giessen, two men broke into an Israeli home and removed the Israeli flag that hung in an apartment window. When it comes to the nation’s universities, at least 37 cases have been deemed “anti-Semitic.” Many Jewish students reported that students blamed them for Israel’s actions and asked them not to come to the university. What’s more, approximately 177 gatherings have been classified as “anti-Semitic”.

Police interference

In Denmark, the sharp increases in attacks have prompted police interference. According to a report in Vart Land, the country has beefed up their security at synagogues and the Israeli embassy. Soldiers have been called to protect these areas, as threats of terrorism continue to loom over the country.

Throughout Spain and Austria, significant increases in hostility against Jews have also been witnessed, according to another Vart Land report. Great Britain saw cases surge to 651 per cent. France’s foreign minister Gérald Darmanin recently announced that at least 857 “anti-Semitic offences” have occurred since the war began. Even as the country continues to house Europe’s largest Jewish population, this figure remained twice the amount than the documented cases in 2022.

As solutions, France and Germany have implemented a ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations, as many believe these might spiral into violence against Jews. However, the measures continue to face fierce opposition from human rights groups.

Surprising

Religious researcher and lecturer at the University of Lund, Svante Lundgren, said that the recent rises are not surprising. He emphasises that European Jews should “not be held responsible for the war” and that the cases are indeed “hate crimes” targeted toward Jewish groups.

“Some people believe that the Jews are in one way or another responsible for or complicit in the war, regardless of where in the world they live or what relationship they have with Israel. They feel that Jews are a legitimate target,” he said in Vart Land.

As the blame games continue to evolve into violence, uncertainty remains for Jews living everywhere, not just Europe.

“In the past, the thought has been that ‘In Israel, we are safe, there we don't live in an environment that can suddenly turn against us.’ It was in Israel that it happened: The worst massacre against Jews since the Holocaust,” he said.

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