I come from a long line of people who have survived anti-Semitism. My immediate family fled Europe some seventy years ago just ahead of the Nazis. My father’s family closed the doors of a thriving business in Berlin in early 1933 and went to Paris. That wasn’t far enough. They got out of Paris in May, 1940 on the last train to leave southbound from the Garde de Sud as the Germans came in from the North. Remember the scene in Casablanca when Rick is waiting at the train station for Ilsa only to get a letter brought by Sam saying that she wasn’t coming? Well, my family had the seats right behind him. From there they went to Marseilles, acquired phony documents and got across the border into neutral Spain. My mother and her parents went from Belgium to Australia in 1938. My great uncle and his parents, my great grandparents waited a bit longer and had to flee through France and to Spain once the war had started. But dozens of other relatives were not so lucky. I did meet one cousin who was the fortunate exception and had survived the concentration camps. In a classic immigrant story, my parents came to the United States (my father early enough to return to Europe as a GI) and they eventually met in New York.
I and my family traveled to Europe many times both for business and pleasure, including Germany and Austria. I have spent time in Germany. In the early 1970s my parents and I even spent a night in a small hotel in Passau on the German-Austrian border which passed uneventfully except for the loud group at the bar downstairs singing old SA marching songs. I had several opportunities to work with current members of the Bundeswehr as well as former members of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. I have never been afraid to be Jewish in Europe.
Until now. Criticism of Israel’s operation against Gaza is one thing; what is going on both officially and in the streets is something else entirely. The response by many European governments to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine or the slaughter of Syrian civilians has been but a pale shadow of what has been said about Israel. The German government should recall how just a few years ago they were compared to storm troopers by some in Greece for demanding financial accountability from that country in return for loans to prevent a default. Turkey, which to this day will not take responsibility for its massacre of Armenian civilians during World War One, heaps opprobrium on Israel for defending itself.
But the reaction in the streets of Europe has been much worse. As an article in The New York Times this past Friday began “Across Europe, the conflict in Gaza is generating a broader backlash against Jews, as threats, hate speech and even violent attacks proliferate in several countries.” Synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in a number of countries have been attacked, sometimes with swastikas painted on their walls. Meanwhile there are no demonstrations in Paris, London, Rome or Berlin against Russia’s occupation of Crimea, no burnings of the Syrian flag, no movement to boycott Turkey for its forty-year-long illegal occupation of Cyprus, no divestiture campaign against China for its abhorrent treatment of the Uighers and Tibetans and no sanctions imposed on Qatar for its funding of terrorists.
Granted, European governments have staunchly and loudly decried the worst of their citizens’ actions. But they must also deal with the fact that they have a double standard when it comes to Israel and its recent adversaries. They are happy to cede to Hamas and Hezbollah many of the rights and prerogatives of a functioning government but not to hold them responsible for actions such as using civilian infrastructure and non-combatants as shields that would be war crimes. What about the amassing of tens of thousands of imprecise rockets and missiles that almost by definition cannot be used against anything but civilian targets in addition to their use against Israel in peacetime?
This moral obtuseness has unintended consequences. One of these is to blur the line between victims and victimizers, particularly if the former have the temerity to fight back against their attackers. Another is to provide legal, political and even moral cover to entities that should have none and which, in some cases, are officially designated as terrorist groups. It is little wonder that some Europeans have taken their governments’ blindness on matters of right and wrong to a new low.
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