The dramatic rise of antisemitic violence since 2000 has been in part attributed to anti-Jewish sentiment triggered by the Second Palestinian Intifada. Antipathy toward Israeli policies sometimes translated into racist hostility toward all Jews, regardless of their political views or nationality. In countries where detailed statistics are provided, the number of antisemitic incidents increased several times over 1990’s levels.
Between 2000 and 2005, levels of antisemitic violence fluctuated significantly in direct relation to events in the Middle East, which provided a new impetus for those already predisposed to antisemitism in Europe. Since 2005, this pattern has to some extent changed, with month-by-month patterns of antisemitic violence leveling off, with more uniform rates that show little correlation with events involving Israel and the Middle East. But this does not mean the threat has diminished. In fact, the new norm is for very high levels of antisemitic violence throughout the year.
In the 2007 annual report on global antisemitic incidents, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism wrote that “the rate of violent antisemitic activities in 2007 proved once again that contrary to former assumptions, Middle East events are not the underlying cause. Some community reports, such as those of France, Canada and the UK, have already questioned this supposition.”
Analysts have variously attributed particular patterns and acts to the adherents of traditional antisemitism, including groups of the extreme right; and, since 2000, to a “new antisemitism” that is linked to the Middle East conflict. Ongoing violence tied to organized racial supremacist groups in Western Europe illustrates aspects of traditional antisemitism, as does the creation of a series of nationalist paramilitary organizations in Eastern Europe—for example, in Bulgaria—that are founded on ancient antisemitic screeds. In tracking the “new antisemitism,” in contrast, monitors have focused on members of largely Muslim sectors of immigrant origin who have been influenced by a fusion of antipathy for Israel with the ancient tenets of European antisemitism.
In Bulgaria, the extreme nationalist Bulgarian National Union (BNU) announced the formation of a party militia to provide a means of “self-defense” against national minorities. Jewish community leaders voiced concerns that the measure seized upon an anti-Roma sentiment while pursuing a broader agenda of hatred and exclusion. In an open letter to Bulgaria’s president and prime minister, the chairmen of Bulgaria Shalom and members of the Central Israeli Spiritual Council wrote that “formations such as the national guard could threaten the ethnic peace in the country. Today this guard will ‘protect’ Bulgarians from the Roma, tomorrow from the Jewish people, and then probably from Armenians and Muslims.”
In Canada, B’nai Brith Canada’s annual audit of antisemitism for 2007 provides information on the ethnic origin of known perpetrators. Of the 1,042 incidents registered, there were 24 cases in which perpetrators “self-identified as of Arab origin,”—a threefold decrease in the number of perpetrators of such background since 2006; others included 4 Germans, 4 Polish, 4 Hungarians, and 1 Romanian. B’nai Brith Canada further observed that in 2007 extreme right- and left-wing extremists found a common ground, with some on far left “borrowing Holocaust imagery” in their attacks on Israel, while the extreme right adopted “anti-Israel rhetoric to mask their anti-Jewish animosity.”
In France, some of the most serious reported crimes involved attacks by nationalistic unemployed youth, often described as skinheads. On the morning of February 22, 2008, a group of six young men kidnapped and tortured a 19-year-old man in Hauts-de-Seine. The victim, Mathieu Roumi, whose father is Jewish, was handcuffed and beaten while subjected to antisemitic and homophobic epithets. The six perpetrators, aged 17 to 25 and of French, African, and North African origin, were arrested in the following days. Police said they acknowledged the crime.
In January 2008, Roger Cukierman, the outgoing head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said that changing patterns of antisemitism were “a part of a general change in French society that is becoming more violent, in which values are wavering and sometimes lapsing into barbarity.” He added that this was a matter for the nation as a whole, and in particular required attention to those who feel excluded:
this does not concern only the Jews. But it is clear that antisemitism has touched a new public, that it is no longer the exclusive domain of the extreme right. It is now something for those who feel excluded from society and who are looking for a scapegoat. This situation will improve only if integration progresses, which really implies the involvement of the State, but also the owners of residences, the entrepreneurs.
The new president of CRIF, Richard Prasquier, responding to the February 2008 incident described above, said the incident showed that “antisemitism remains profoundly present,” and—despite the decline in overall numbers of incidents—“the aggressors are young people, and in this generation, violence can very quickly take an antisemitic connotation, as its part of their cultural background.”
CRIF also suggested that “traditional antisemitism” was on the rise in both public discourse and as a motive in antisemitic violence, including what has been described as the “banalization of the antisemitic insult.” In the annual hate crime report, CRIF noted “a return to the most traditional antisemitic formulations, bearing on religion, the notion of race, the collusion of Jews, power, and money.” Since 2004, the organization found that “references to the Israel-Palestine conflict have almost disappeared from the forms of expression that have accompanied or motivated antisemitic acts.” While the mode of expression accompanying antisemitic acts may have changed in this regard, the report cautions that the identified perpetrators of these acts have not.
France’s official anti-discrimination body, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), noted that “international affairs and particularly the tensions in the Middle East had no appreciable influence on the pattern of antisemitism in 2007, in contrast to previous years.” At the same time, in line with the findings of other European monitors, CNCDH cited a resurgence of traditional antisemitism, with its expression founded in references “to race, religion, money and the extermination of the Jews during the Shoah.” This, in turn, was held to demonstrate the urgency of measures of public authorities to put into place “preventative measures and education oriented more specifically toward the fight against prejudice and stereotypes.”
The CNCDH report for 2007 noted that the perpetrators could not be identified in 54 percent of reported antisemitic incidents. In 27 cases (33 percent) those identified were from “the Arab-Muslim milieu,” a rise of 5 percent from 2006, while the “extreme right” attackers remained at 11 percent of the total. Despite a 32.5 percent decline in documented antisemitic incidents, the report concluded that there was a need to remain vigilant, and that the statistical record since 2000 showed both “that such violence had become deeply rooted and a certain banalization of the phenomenon.” This notwithstanding, there was a concern that trigger events, international or domestic, still had the potential to provide surges of antisemitic violence.
In Germany, where public security measures to combat antisemitism fall within the framework of laws and policies to suppress right-wing extremism as a threat to the Constitution, preliminary statistics showed a rise in violent acts of antisemitism, from 43 in 2006 to 59 in 2007.
Germany’s national leaders continued to condemn antisemitic acts in the course of the year. On January 25, 2008, in advance of an annual memorial day commemorating the victims of Nazi Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against both the prejudice commonly ascribed to economically poorer parts of German society, and “a more disguised form of antisemitism, that is not so readily defined.” Merkel observed that “there is, in broad parts of the population, an awful silence when faced with all the historical images, with our own history, and this silence is always a danger” and “a form of middle-class antisemitism.”
In the Netherlands, the Racism and Extremism Monitor observed that the contribution of extreme right-wing participants to racial violence as a whole (including antisemitism) has risen sharply (from 38 incidents in 2005 to 67 in 2006). While the group of extreme right political parties has since 2006 “receded further and further in importance,” new significance was gained by “more loosely organized extreme right-wing groups.” The latter includes informal movements of extreme right-wing young people (often termed “Lonsdale youth” or skinheads), and neo-Nazi groups characterized by “the absence of formal organizational elements such as a legal personality, statutes and an administrative board.”
The Monitor also provided some information on the ethnic background of perpetrators, noting that in the overall survey of cases for 2006, “information was sufficiently available in 123 (of 265) cases to enable us to identify the (alleged) perpetrators as native Dutch or ethnic minorities: 97 native Dutch and 26 ethnic minorities.” In the case of antisemitic violence, they found that “four of the 35 incidents had ethnic minority perpetrators.”
The adoption of language demonizing Israel by extreme right organizations that are both antisemitic and anti-Muslim, and more broadly racist and anti-immigrant, has been observed in a number of countries. B’nai Brith Canada, for example, cites a bulletin of the neo-Nazi website Stormfront in the annual report on antisemitism for 2007, showing that the old antisemitism is alive and well and seeking a new gloss—substituting Zionists for Jews—for its ancient hatreds:
reproduced here in the original, spelling mistakes and all, is the advice Stormfront gives to its supporters: “Remember to say ‘Zionists’ … or ‘Israel Firsters’ instead of ‘Jews’ when making public speeches or writing articles. … It is entirely possible to stay within the bounds of the law and still promote our cause.”
Similarly, a 2006 report on the Netherlands by the Tel Aviv-based Stephen Roth Institute observed that antisemitic adherents of the far right increasingly sought to portray their views as anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli, on the grounds that this is more politically acceptable than open advocacy of Nazi positions. The same report added that this political overlay applied broadly to acts of generalized hatred and intolerance, ranging from desecration of Holocaust monuments to arson attacks on synagogues. In a November 2007 report, the Dutch monitoring organization Centre Documentation and Information on Israel (CIDI) expressed concern with the numerous incidents reported on May 4 and 5 (the anniversary of the German surrender in 1945), in which monuments to victims of the Holocaust were defaced or destroyed. These actions were seen to be directly related to “the rise of the extreme right,” with monuments scrawled with swastikas and neo-Nazi slogans.
Extreme nationalist parties in some countries used antisemitism as a central tenet of their campaigning, while combining anti-Jewish slogans and epithets with a broader message of hatred and exclusion. Increasingly, public appeals of extremist parties have centered on a message of hatred toward immigrants, including demands for mass expulsions, while still professing a virulent antisemitism as a core organizing principle. Nationalist literature and statements to the media have been accompanied by public demonstrations in which this message of broad spectrum intolerance and hatred was taken to the streets, often accompanied by violence.
The extreme right threat also evolved in other ways. In Ukraine, on December 8, 2007, supporters of the Freedom Party and the Patriots of Ukraine organization took part in a torchlight march through Kyiv, chanting antisemitic, ant-immigrant, and pro-white power slogans, including “one race, one nation, one motherland.”