Ten miles north of the center of Paris is a suburb with wide avenues, cafes and a growing anger. Famous for its Sephardic Jewish community and colloquially known as “Little Jerusalem,” Sarcelles is the product of several waves of immigration from North Africa and the Caribbean that have swelled its population — and ethnic tension.
In the past few days, a spate of demonstrations that began as peaceful protests against the Israeli invasion and bombing of the Gaza Strip turned violent. Images show smoke-clogged streets, shattered storefronts and police clad in riot gear. They show dozens of youths, some of them masked, clutching smoke bombs and setting trash fires. And they show hatred.
A synagogue was attacked, along with a Jewish owned grocery store. “They were shouting: ‘Death to Jews,’ and ‘Slit Jews’ throats,'” a Jewish sound engineer told London’s Sunday Times. The man had lived in the community for 49 years, but when the Times reporter recently asked for his full name, he demurred. The chants, he said, “took us back to 1938.”
But it wasn’t just that protest, that suburb, that day. The New York Times has reported chants of “death to Jews” and “Hitler was right” in other Paris demonstrations. In Berlin, according to the Associated Press, protesters shouted, “Gas the Jews!” In the Netherlands, a rabbi told the Jewish News Source unknown assailants shattered a window in his home with stones. “The fact that these attacks are recurrent shows the depth of hatred that exists against Jews,” he said.
Every war casts long shadows. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict casts longer than most. And this most recent conflict, which has killed more than 600 and shows little sign of waning, has elicited protests worldwide. Most have been peaceful. Some, however, have not. Though many of them appear led by ethnic North Africans or Arab peoples, analysts said outbursts of anti-Semitism nonetheless reflect a growing trend across Europe as nations grapple with the complications of immigration, unemployment, ethnic tension and surging far-right nationalist movements.
Across the European Union, there is “a worrying level of discrimination [against Jews], particularly in employment and education, a widespread fear of victimization and heightening concern about antisemitism online,” found a 2013 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report. Such discrimination, it said, “all too often remains unreported and therefore invisible.”
A recent survey suggested France had the highest percentage of residents — 37 percent — who were openly anti-Semitic, reported The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola. In Italy, one-fifth of the population felt that way; in Germany, more than one-fourth. Other studies also found rising levels of anti-Semitism in other parts of Europe.
“Over the past few years, levels of anti-Semitism have increased most dramatically in Hungary, the United Kingdom and Spain,” found a 2012 Anti-Defamation League report. The poll indicated significant portions of Europeans think “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust” and that “Jews are more loyal to Israel” than their own countries.
Europe has a long history of anti-Semitism. But its manifestation in violence in recent years is often linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A 29-year-old Frenchman, for example, was recently arrested on charges of shooting dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. When he was arrested, his gun was wrapped in a sheet emblazoned with the name of the Islamic State. “He spent over a year in Syria, where he seems to have joined the ranks of combatant groups, jihadist terrorist groups,” a Paris prosecutor told France 24.
Such violence and other factors caused more than three-fourths of European Jews surveyed to say they feel more discriminated against than five years ago, according to the Agency for Fundamental Rights. At least part of the reason may be the visibility of anti-Semitism in social media, the report suggested. It quoted a British woman who said she experienced more anti-Semitic comments since getting a Facebook account “than I ever have done throughout my whole life. This is very dispiriting. The speed at which hostile comments and misinformation can be passed around is frightening and leads to a sense of deep unease.”
That unease has prompted nearly one-third of Jewish Europeans to consider emigration for security concerns, according to the New York Times. Such findings “paint a clear picture of an issue in Europe today that we need to address more firmly and take seriously,” Morten Kjaerum, the Danish director of the Fundamental Rights Agency, told the Times.
“We have reached a new level of hatred and violence in all of Europe that cannot even be compared to the anti-Semitism seen during previous conflicts in Israel,” Stephan Kramer of the American Jewish Committee in Brussels told the Associated Press.
Leaders across Europe, following the recent anti-Semitic protests, are now trying to do just that. “Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies,” three foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy said in a joint statement on Tuesday, urging a fight against “acts and statements that cross the line to anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”