Anti-Semitism is once again on the march in Europe
By Richard Cohen
The title of my recently published book is “Israel: Is It Good for the Jews?” When I started writing it, I did not know how I was going to answer that question. The more I delved into the subject, the more I read and did research, the more I concluded that the answer is yes. The recent events in Paris make me even surer.
In the long and blood-soaked history of Europe’s Jews, the death of four more in a Parisian kosher market is, at best, a footnote. But they were not the accidental victims of the terrorists’ wrath, not just merely in the way or in the line of fire. They were singled out for who they were and not for what they had done — like publish provocative cartoons. They were killed for being Jews.
Why? The conventional answer is Israel — or, to put it another way, the plight of the Palestinians. There is some truth to both of these, yet the Islamic world is not so concerned about Palestinians that it has accorded Palestinian refugees anything like equal rights in the countries where they have sought refuge or protested when whole Palestinian communities were uprooted from Kuwait and other Gulf states after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein — ethnic cleansing of a type. The Arab world weeps for the Palestinians — but only on cue and not too much.
So the supposed madness, the supposedly justifiable anger, that drives some Muslims into sharing core beliefs with Adolf Hitler, is not all that essential to the Islamic or Arab identity. Millions, maybe a billion, Muslims go about their daily business without giving Israel or the Palestinians a thought. They do give a thought, however, to their own helplessness, to the astonishingly high rates of unemployment both in the Arab world and in the minority neighborhoods of European cities. Here is where the Jew plays a role. He can be blamed.
Anti-Semitism is the most durable and pliable of all conspiracy theories. It supposedly accounts for the death of Christ and the Jewish dominance of the liberal media. It carefully noted the disproportionate number of Jews in the communist movement and in the capitalist movement. Anti-Semitism can account for the wealth of the Jews and their scientific and artistic achievements. They are — we are — a most nimble people. We’ve had to be.
Blaming Israel for anti-Semitism misses the point. For at least 1,948 years, anti-Semitism both existed and thrived when Israel did neither. The pogroms of Europe — and the occasional ones of the Muslim Middle East — took place with no Israel in sight. The Holocaust consumed 6 million Jews and not because Hitler was pro-Palestinian. Anti-Semitism infected ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the subtle mind of T.S. Eliot and the tinkering brain of Henry Ford way before any future Israeli had pushed around any future Palestinian. Anti-Semitism does not need a reason. It needs only an excuse.
That excuse is present in contemporary Europe. Its Muslim minority is poor and inordinately unemployed. It loathes Israel for what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians, and it hates Jews for being Jewish — supposedly rich, powerful, secretive, conspiratorial and manipulative.
The remedy — the cure — is education and assimilation. In the United States, high levels of anti-Semitism in the Hispanic population dissipate with assimilation. The Anti-Defamation League tells us that, while 12 percent of all Americans are anti-Semites, the figure for foreign-born Hispanics is an astounding 36 percent. But for Hispanics born in the United States, the figure is only 14 percent. America is adept at assimilation. Europe is lousy at it. Europe needs work.
But non-Muslim Europe needs work as well. Especially on the left, discussions and denunciations of Israel feel like a snowball with a rock in the center: Something aside from protest is being aired. Anti-Zionism may be legitimate, but it too often seems like a way of expressing anti-Semitism. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has always troubled me, but it is governed benevolently compared with the way China oppresses Tibet — and where are those demonstrations?
In researching my book, I came away in awe of anti-Semitism. It may be more durable than most of our current religions — it is older than most — and it made me wonder when it would stage one of its periodic revivals. That now seems underway and, sadly, makes my book title almost irrelevant. The question is not whether Israel is good for the Jews but whether it is necessary. That answer, increasingly, is yes.