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Major EU study finds antisemitism on the increase - Expert Comment

profileAccording to a new report from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, antisemitism in the EU is getting worse and Jews are increasingly worried about the risk of harassment.

Dr Christine Achinger, Associate Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, comments:

“The current rise in antisemitism has a number of different, but connected roots:

    • A rise of nationalism on the Right: Hatred of ‘strangers’, minorities and vulnerable members of society has risen across the board in Europe (verbal and physical attacks on migrants, Muslim minorities, disabled people, lesbian, gay and transgender people etc. are also on the rise in many European countries and the US), coupled with a move to the right and the emergence of increasingly illiberal governments. Since the early 19th century, in many European states Jews have been seen as undermining the national community, an image that is reactivated in the present context.
    • A lack of understanding of antisemitism in parts of the Left: In an often Manichean worldview that tends to see the world as divided into oppressor and oppressed, often with little understanding of the historical and political complexities of conflicts and developments in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Israel has come to stand in for the sins of ‘Colonialism’, ‘the West’ or global capitalism in general. Little distinction is often made between antisemitic and non-antisemitic ways of criticising Israel’s actions. This discourse on Israel replaces more adequate analysis, and reveals a poverty of theory and politics in parts of the European Left today. Very sadly, this has also facilitated a separation of the struggle against racism from that against antisemitism.
    • ‘Secondary antisemitism’ – an antisemitism specifically ‘after Auschwitz’ that perceives Jews as drawing political or financial gain from their victim status, controlling public opinion and/or attempting to insulate Israel against criticism – is a familiar topos in particular in German, Austrian and Eastern European political discourse, but can also be found in other European countries across the political spectrum.
    • Modern antisemitism as a response to capitalism and its crises: Since the 19th century has attributed abstract and secret, but immense power to the Jews: the power to control financial markets, governments and the media. This was a response to the threatening and seemingly incomprehensible developments of capitalist modernity that sought to explain them by seeing Jews as the hidden actors behind the dynamics of capitalist modernity, and rose in strength in response to social crises. These conditions are also in evidence today: at a moment in time where liberal capitalism seems less and less able to integrate all members of society (see, e.g., the ‘left behind’, de-industrialising areas of the UK or the US that strongly supported Brexit or Donald Trump), and where fears of being overrun by migrants or losing one’s place in society are rife, it seems easier to blame these developments on George Soros or on Jews in general who are seen to be a powerful group in society.
    • Some members of Muslim minorities in European countries see themselves as – and very often are – victims of racist discrimination and are socially and economically excluded. This makes people more vulnerable to Islamist and antisemitic radicalisation. In France, e.g., this can lead to a perception of Jews as the ‘successful’, integrated minority that is co-responsible for the exclusion of other minorities, and everywhere in Europe makes people more receptive for importing the Israel-Palestine conflict into European societies, where Jews are made responsible for the alleged or real misdeeds of the Israeli government and are attacked as representatives of Israel and ‘World Jewry’.

    "Given that many of these developments are rooted in profound social problems that cannot be easily or quickly remedied, there can be no silver bullet.

    "Certainly better education on antisemitism – how it works and what is characteristics are, that Nazi antisemtisim is not the only form of antisemitism, what the differences between antisemitism and other forms of racism are, which forms of criticism of Israeli politics are anti-Semitic and which aren’t – might make people more resistant to buying into anti-Semitic stereotypes. This would need to happen in schools, but also other social bodies and institutions."

    11 December 2018




    Alice Scott

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