March 7, 2019 8:39 pm
Updated: March 8, 2019 9:33 pm

The rising worries about anti-Semitism in Europe

WATCH: Reports of anti-Semitic incidents are increasing across Europe. While violence and abuse against Jewish people is being condemned by many, anti-Semitism is being weaponized by parties on both sides of the political spectrum. Redmond Shannon reports.


From the desecration of Jewish graveyards in France to concerns about the pointed language used by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Jewish people in Europe feel they are being subjected to more racism.

A recent European Union survey of 16,500 Jewish people across the continent showed that 28 per cent of respondents reported being harassed within the past year. A staggering 89 per cent consider online anti-Semitism to be a problem.

The report mentioned the increasing need for security protection at synagogues and Jewish schools, the pervasiveness of online hatred and a theme of anti-Semitism within political movements across many EU member states.

WATCH: French president Emmanuel Macron recently announced new measures to tackle online anti-semitism. It came after a series of incidents targeting Jews in France. But right across Europe, record numbers of Jews are reporting anti-Semitic incidents. Redmond Shannon dug beneath the numbers to hear from two British Jews from very different generations.

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“For the last three years, we’ve recorded record totals of anti-Semitic hate incidents across the U.K.,” said Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, a Jewish security charity.

“In 2018, there were 1,652 incidents reported to us.”

The most recent census figures show there are fewer than 300,000 Jews living in the U.K.

The French government says there was a 74 per cent rise in reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the country last year.

READ MORE: France rallies against anti-Semitism following racist speech at Yellow Vest march

WATCH (Aired Feb. 20, 2019): Britain’s May says she never thought she’d see Labour accused of anti-Semitism by former member

In February, Yellow Vest protesters in Paris were filmed hurling anti-Jewish insults at famous philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. Days later, vandals sprayed swastikas on 90 Jewish gravestones in eastern France.

In Germany, police say anti-Semitism is at its worst level in a decade.

“The most common type of incident we get reported to us will be a Jewish person walking down a street like this,” said Rich, standing outside Carmelli’s Bakery in Golders Green, one of London’s mainly Jewish neighbourhoods.

“Possibly, they’re visibly Jewish because they wear religious clothing or a school uniform from a Jewish school, and some random stranger walking past or driving past will shout anti-Semitic abuse at them.”

WATCH (Aired Feb. 18, 2019): 7 lawmakers quit U.K. Labour Party over handling of Brexit, anti-Semitism

On Thursday, the U.K.’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission said it was considering a formal investigation into anti-Semitism in the main opposition Labour Party.

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader in 2015, he has regularly been accused of not taking the issue of anti-Semitism within the party membership seriously enough. He continues to reject the accusations.

Last month, eight Labour MPs left the party, partly because of Brexit, but some also cited the issue of how anti-Semitism was being dealt with by Corbyn.

READ MORE: Eighth lawmaker resigns from U.K.’s Labour Party amid anti-Semitism row, Brexit concerns

“The leadership has willfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks,” said MP Luciana Berger on the day she left the party.

“I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation. I look forward to a future serving with colleagues who respect each other and who are committed to working together for our great country.”

In Europe, anti-Semitism is associated with right-wing fascism, but Labour is a centre-left party — one that has swung more to the left under Corbyn. Labour has traditionally been seen as a natural home for Jews. Not anymore.

“I was brought up in the Labour Party. My dad came from the east end (of London) and probably, as a youngster, flirted with communism,” said 61-year-old Jewish Londoner Michael Cohen.

“It was the party for justice and the party that looked after minorities and was an anti-racist party, and as a teenager, I used to go out and canvass for the Labour Party.”

Londoner Michael Cohen has been a lifelong Labour Party supporter. He gave up his membership in February because of concerns about anti-Semitism within the party.

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Cohen, who says he’s never directly encountered anti-Semitism in his life, gave up his Labour membership two weeks ago.

Cohen is a proud Briton. He’s a big fan of the Chelsea F.C. soccer team and cricket, and on weekends, you might find him in a North London pub, performing under his jazz/rock pseudonym “The Fabulous Micky C.”

“It’s just so clear that there is a form of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which is sometimes hard to define but it’s clearly there and it’s clearly not being tackled by the Labour Party,” said Cohen.

“Which is indefensible and deeply upsetting and deeply worrying to myself and to my family.”

Leaving for Israel

Abe Rietti is another a British-Jewish musician but from a very different generation. The 23-year-old has little interest in party politics, but he has experienced anti-Semitism.

“I remember walking in town, in Tottenham Court Road a few months ago, and I was wearing the kippah, and some guy walked past and they said, ‘You effing Jew,’” said Rietti.

“And I was like, there’s no [context] to that. He didn’t even have a reason to say that. And he was around my age.”

Rietti’s rap songs tackle issues like discrimination, anti-Semitism and the generational scars of the Holocaust.

His parents moved to Israel with six of his eight siblings two years ago, partly for religious reasons.

“They felt that the country was becoming a little bit more… well, less accepting to Jewish people, especially the religious people,” said Rietti.

“They felt that by moving to a Jewish/Israeli country, they would be able to live more happily, more content.”

READ MORE: Anti-Semitic acts spike 69% in France, punctuated by 37 Holocaust survivor gravestones vandalized

Orban vs. Soros

Last year, Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, launched a verbal attack on Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. The language he used raised concerns among Jews across the world.

“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open but hiding, not straightforward but crafty, not honest but base, not national but international, does not believe in working but speculates with money, does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world,” Orbán said.

Britain’s biggest Jewish organisation, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, criticized Orbán at the time for his language and for his handling of issues affecting Hungarian Jews.

In February, the group’s president, Marie van der Zyl, was invited to meet with Hungary’s Deputy State Secretary for Civil Society Relations Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky at the Hungarian embassy in London, where she raised her concerns.

WATCH (Aired Feb. 19, 2019): France rallies against anti-Semitic attacks 

“It was a very forthright meeting,” said van der Zyl.

“A number of concerns, which have been well documented in the news, were raised, in particular, anti-Semitic tropes used against George Soros, in particular in relation to money.”

After the meeting, Szalay-Bobrovniczky wrote to the Board of Deputies, rejecting their criticisms and telling them to “please mind your own business.”

“Which shows they are not really interested in listening at all so I’m not really sure why they wanted to see us, but it is our duty to call out right-wing anti-Semitism, and we have told them that in no uncertain terms,” said van der Zyl.

Root Causes

Prof. David Feldman is director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck College, University of London. He says anti-Semitism is an old, recycled political tactic used by different political movements to different ends.

“It’s been driven, to a great extent, by the rise in populist politics, which itself is a response to the austerity, to the hard times, to the rising inequality that followed the crash of 2008,” he said.

WATCH (Aired Feb. 21, 2019): Macron announces measures to combat anti-Semitism

“It’s not that society as a whole is becoming anti-Semitic, but it is the case that those in society that have anti-Semitic views are becoming bolder, and they’re finding spaces in which they’re able to express them.”

Feldman says social media is that space — and is amplifying the issue everywhere.

In the wake of the anti-Semitic incidents in France in February, French President Emmanuel Macron told Jewish leaders he will introduce legislation aimed at cracking down on online hate speech.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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