Is the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe an indication of a universal threat?

TOPSHOTS Anti-Zionist, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with Israeli police as they protest against the removal of ancient tombs in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, on June 16, 2010 where construction is due to take place at the site where religious men say Jewish graves are located. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo Credit should Read /AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, June 11, Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, hosted AJC Cincinnati’s symposium, The Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe: A European Perspective, and moderated by Rabbi Jonathan Cohen,  Dean of the Cincinnati campus, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It was a presentation by two experts of European and world affairs: Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Director of AJC Paris and Dr. Philipp Ackermann, the Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the German Embassy in Washington, DC.

There was acknowledgment that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, not only in Germany and France, but also in Scandinavian countries. These are countries with the largest immigrant Muslim populations and the two speakers attributed that as one of the factors in the surge. The second reason – mentioned by Miss Roden-Benzaquen – is the growing far right and far left ideologies. She noted however, that this may not be so much of a threat because the ideologues don’t have one common issue.

A third factor noted by both speakers but underplayed by both – in my view – is the worsening relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Both Dr. Ackermann and Miss Roden-Benzaquen pointed out the role of the media in painting a negative picture of Israel. However, when we are talking of perspectives (European vs. American, for example) we need to recognize that the European public is far more internationally informed and takes greater interest in international affairs than its American counterpart. As a result, injustices in Israel, real or perceived, will have more negative impact in Europe than, say, the U.S.

Both speakers also emphasized the efforts by European governments to combat anti-Semitism through education. While such efforts are absolutely necessary, the bigger challenge is whether education is enough to change the public views of injustice.

As Dr. Cohen remarked in his closing statement, this is but just the beginning of what ought to be an ongoing dialogue, especially among people of faith.

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