Jewish World Review April 29, 2002 /17 Iyar, 5762

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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The canary in Europe's mine | The rocks have been lifted all over Europe, and the snakes of Jew-hatred are slithering free.

In Belgium, thugs beat up the chief rabbi, kicking him in the face and calling him "a dirty Jew." Two synagogues in Brussels were firebombed; a third, in Charleroi, was sprayed with automatic weapons fire.

In Britain, the cover of the New Statesman, a left-wing magazine, depicted a large Star of David stabbing the Union Jack. Oxford professor Tom Paulin, a noted poet, told an Egyptian interviewer that American Jews who move to the West Bank and Gaza "should be shot dead." A Jewish yeshiva student reading the Psalms was stabbed 27 times on a London bus. Antisemitism, wrote a columnist in The Spectator, "has become respectable . . . at London dinner tables." She quoted one member of the House of Lords: "The Jews have been asking for it and now, thank G-d, we can say what we think at last."

In Italy, the daily paper La Stampa published a Page 1 cartoon: A tank emblazoned with a Jewish star points its gun at the baby Jesus, who pleads, "Surely they don't want to kill me again?" In Corriere Della Sera, another cartoon showed Jesus trapped in his tomb, unable to rise, because Ariel Sharon, with rifle in hand, is sitting on the sepulchre. The caption: "Non resurrexit."

In Germany, a rabbinical student was beaten up in downtown Berlin and a grenade was thrown into a Jewish cemetery. Thousands of neo-Nazis held a rally, marching near a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath. Graffiti appeared on a synagogue in the western town of Herford: "Six million were not enough."

In Ukraine, skinheads attacked Jewish worshippers and smashed the windows of Kiev's main synagogue. Ukrainian police denied that the attack was anti-Jewish.

In Greece, Jewish graves were desecrated in Ioannina and vandals hurled paint at the Holocaust memorial in Salonica. In Holland, an anti-Israel demonstration featured swastikas, photos of Hitler, and chants of "Sieg Heil" and "Jews into the sea." In Slovakia, the Jewish cemetery of Kosice was invaded and 135 tombstones destroyed.

But nowhere have the flames of antisemitism burned more furiously than in France.

In Lyon, a car was rammed into a synagogue and set on fire. In Montpellier, the Jewish religious center was firebombed; so were synagogues in Strasbourg and Marseille; so was a Jewish school in Creteil. A Jewish sports club in Toulouse was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, the words "Dirty Jew" were painted. In Bondy, 15 men beat up members of a Jewish football team with sticks and metal bars. The bus that takes Jewish children to school in Aubervilliers has been attacked three times in the last 14 months. According to the police, metropolitan Paris has seen 10 to 12 anti-Jewish incidents per day since Easter.

Walls in Jewish neighborhoods have been defaced with slogans proclaiming "Jews to the gas chambers" and "Death to the Jews." The weekly journal Le Nouvel Observateur published an appalling libel: It said Israeli soldiers rape Palestinian women, so that their relatives will kill them to preserve "family honor." The French ambassador to Great Britain was not sacked -- and did not apologize -- when it was learned that he had told guests at a London dinner that the world's troubles were the fault of "that shitty little country, Israel."

"At the start of the 21st century," writes Pierre-Andre Taguieff, a well-known social scientist, in a new book, "we are discovering that Jews are once again select targets of violence. . . . Hatred of the Jews has returned to France."

But of course, it never left. Not France; not Europe. Antisemitism, the oldest bigotry known to man, has been a part of European society since time immemorial. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, open Jew-hatred became unfashionable; but fashions change, and Europe is reverting to type.

To be sure, some Europeans are shocked by the re-emergence of Jew-hatred all over their continent. But the more common reaction has been complacency. "Stop saying that there is antisemitism in France," President Jacques Chirac scolded a Jewish editor in January. "There is no antisemitism in France." The European media have been vicious in condemning Israel's self-defense against Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank; they have been far less agitated about anti-Jewish terror in their own backyard.

They are making a grievous mistake. For if today the violence and vitriol are aimed at the Jews, tomorrow they will be aimed at the Christians.

A timeless lesson of history is that it rarely ends with the Jews. Militant Islamist extremists were attacking and killing Jews long before they attacked and killed Americans on Sept. 11. The Nazis first set out to incinerate the Jews; in the end, all of Europe was ablaze.

Jews, it is often said, are the canary in the coal mine of civilization. When they become the objects of savagery and hate, it means the air has been poisoned and an explosion is soon to come. If Europeans don't rise up and turn against the Jew-haters, it is only a matter of time until the Jew-haters rise up and turn against them.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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