Europe’s Old Disease Returns

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Militant Islamists are forming a twisted alliance with Europe’s left to spread virulent anti-Semitism that targets both Jews and America.

One of the few certainties of the 20th century was that the apostles of Marxist materialism and the adherents of Muslim theocracy were mortal enemies. In Afghanistan, they went to war. But that was the 20th century.

In the new era, Communist red and Islamist green, joined by more than a dash of Nazi brown, have increasingly forged an anti-liberal alliance that sees Israel and the United States as its common enemies. They all believe, in different ways, that if only the United States and Israel could be destroyed, the world could return to the idyllic harmony that prevailed before Jewish capitalism polluted it.

On both sides of the English Channel, left-wing intellectuals are creating new alliances to promote anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in the guise of radical politics. This revived and virulent outbreak of an old disease, anti-Semitism, should alarm anyone concerned with the two regions of greatest importance to the United States today, Europe and the Middle East. What’s different about this new outbreak is that it’s not only afflicting the usual suspects on the right: neo-Nazis, skinheads, and ultra-nationalists. Rather, it features an unholy marriage of the discredited old European left and the disaffected Islamist militants in Europe’s diaspora of 17 million Muslims. It is also tethered to rising anti-Americanism, adding to its potency and making it a double danger to Western values. Left unchecked, the new scourge can undermine key relationships like the trans-Atlantic alliance and contribute to the quotient of world terrorism.

The key political vehicle for the new outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe is support for the Palestinian position against Israel. As noted by Gabriel Schoenfeld in The Return of Anti- Semitism, there’s a twisted logic in the European and American left-wing hostility to Israel: The more terrorism committed by the Palestinians, the more sympathy they receive, because vicious attacks on Israeli citizens are taken as ex post facto proof of Israeli oppression. Starting in October 2000 — the beginning of the second intifada — the number of anti-Semitic incidents, statements, and media characterizations in Europe has risen steadily. In France, for instance, 20 Jewish schools and synagogues have been targets of arson or firebombing in the past three years. In Germany, anti-Semitic incidents — including speech — rose from 150 in 2001 to 1,594 in 2002.

Worse, the new anti-Semitism has acquired a new respectability — a kind of “salon anti- Semitism” that is found among “left-liberal elites in the media, churches, universities and trades unions,” as University of Essex lecturer Paul Iganski has noted. Being opposed to Israeli policy has become an easy excuse for being opposed to Jews; and, after 9/11 and the U.S.-led war on terror, opposing U.S. policy easily slid into being anti-American (and anti- Americanism is often a cover for anti-Semitism, as we shall see). The anti-Semitic trend had become alarming enough by early 2002 that the European Union commissioned a report on the problem.

The EU’s controversial report, “Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union,” landed like a bombshell. It noted that some of the insults, attacks, and acts of vandalism (against synagogues, schools, and cemeteries) came from the usual suspects on the right, and that some of the violence was committed by young, poor Arabs. But it fingered two other groups: Europe’s left and militant Islamists.

Delivered in late 2002, the EU report was immediately shelved, left unpublished, and put under wraps. Only after the 105-page document was leaked to the press in 2003 and was posted on Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Web site, were the reasons clear: EU officials feared that it was politically incorrect to blame Muslims, and old lefties, for something so long associated with fascism, Nazis, and the far right.

But the bureaucrats needn’t have worried. The players themselves are making the newfound dalliance between left-wing red and Islamist green plain enough, and public enough, that only the blind cannot see what is happening. In Britain, noted members of the press and political establishments have not shied from anti-Semitic utterances in heated times. Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democratic member of Parliament, announced that she found the Israelis so beastly that if she were a Palestinian, she “too would become a suicide bomber.” Tam Dalyell, a senior Labor politician and Parliament’s longest-serving member, decried the influence of what he called a “Jewish cabal” on British foreign policy (several of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s advisers, including the foreign secretary, are of Jewish descent).

The leading left-leaning British media, too, have kept up a steady stream of commentary, reporting, and actions with an anti-Semitic tinge. The BBC, which has contractual and personnel ties with the Arab satellite broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, was quick last January to fire Robert Kilroy-Silk, a longtime television commentator who wrote a newspaper column asking why Westerners should admire societies that, among other things, produce “suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors.” But the BBC didn’t even bother to censure Tom Paulin, another network commentator who, in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, said that “Brooklyn-born Jews” living on the West Bank “should be shot dead.”

In arguments once made mainly by the Nazis or the Muslim Brotherhood, the Guardian and Independent newspapers regularly depict the United States as under the sinister control of the Jewish lobby. Typical of this trope is a piece by Robert Fisk in a 2002 edition of the Independent. Fisk argued, at 3,600-word length, that Jewish money essentially controls the U.S. Congress.

And last year, the Independent showed how far it is willing to go by publishing a gruesome cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about to eat the head of a Palestinian baby — a play on the historical libel that Jews killed and ate Christian babies. The cartoonist said the caricature was a parody of a ghoulish Goya painting — but the average reader had no way of knowing this. The drawing won first prize in Britain’s annual cartoon competition, triggering ferocious controversy.

Across the Channel in France, a surge of anti-Semitic incidents accompanied the growing violence in Palestine and Israel after the rejection, in 2001, of President Clinton’s peace plan. Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin — his eyes then firmly planted on the forthcoming elections — responded to the arson of a synagogue with the comment that the French police could hardly be expected to protect Jews wherever they went. President Jacques Chirac, a longtime ally and business associate of Saddam Hussein, insisted that “there is no anti- Semitism and no anti-Semites in France.”

The official line, echoed by virtually every French politician, was that the attacks were just juvenile delinquency. But as the violent anti-Jewish incidents mounted and France came under American and Israeli pressure, Chirac eventually acknowledged the existence of a problem. Still, he could not bring himself to directly criticize the thuggery behind the violence, much of it perpetrated by Muslim youths. Chirac eventually won the election, but not until the far right candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the far left parties, including Trotskyites, received a combined total of 43 percent of the vote in the election’s first round. The most dramatic example of the conjoining of the hard left and Middle East extremism can be found in a French prison — in the person of Carlos the Jackal, the most famous terrorist of the 1970s. Born Illich Ramirez Sanchez in Venezuela, Carlos led numerous terrorist attacks in the name of the Palestinian cause and other revolutionary undertakings; he is now serving a life sentence. Once a convinced Marxist-Leninist, he has converted to Islam on the grounds that “only a coalition of Marxists and Islamists can destroy” the United States and its allies. In a book he managed to sneak out of prison and publish on the first anniversary of 9/11, Carlos lauds Osama bin Laden and praises “revolutionary Islam” as the only route to just societies. Behind the incessant drumbeat, intensified after 9/11, lies a political program based on a relentlessly negative meld of anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and anti-globalism. For the ideologues of the BBC, the Guardian, and other leading European journals — all 1968ers come to power — the past quarter-century has been an era of crushing disappointment. Once they placed their faith in Third World liberation movements abroad and a state-run economy at home. But both failed. Repeatedly cuckolded by history, they were increasingly defined by their hostilities rather than their hopes.

This coalition of shared resentments, already visible in Belgium (where an alliance of Muslim and Maoist parties jointly contested for parliamentary seats in 2003), was given a British coming-out party last November. A coalition of Marxist and Muslim groups organized a massive protest in London against the policies of Blair and President Bush, who was visiting. The main organizers were Andrew Murray, a former employee of the Soviet news agency, and Mohammed Aslam Ijaz, of the London Council of Mosques. The biggest cheers were for George Galloway, the mustachioed MP from Glasgow who had recently been expelled from the Labour Party for his ties to Saddam Hussein. With his Palestinian wife at his side, Galloway used the rally to launch his plans for a new party to contest British and European elections on behalf of this new coalition.

The European left’s new embrace of anti-Semitism should not have been a great surprise. Except for the Nazi period, it has for well over a century been the left in Europe that has promoted anti-Semitic ideas and canards — an old and virulent tradition that antedates fascism and Nazism. The mid-19th century French anarchist Pierre Proudhon, a figure of enduring influence, advocated “either sending back the Jews to Asia or exterminating them.”

And Noam Chomsky’s diatribes against Israel and the United States are mild compared with Karl Marx’s anti-Semitism in “On the Jewish Question,” published in 1843. In language that anticipates José Bové and the worst of the anti-globalists, Marx insists, “emancipation from usury and money, that is, from practical, real Judaism, would constitute the emancipation of our time.” Marx descended from a line of Jewish rabbis, but his father converted the family to Protestantism; Marx, the son, later managed to come up with some of the ugliest anti-Semitic coinages. When he wanted to denigrate his rival, political philosopher Ferdinand Lassalle, he called him a “Jew Nigger.”

After World War II Stalin alleged the existence of a “Doctors’ Plot,” masterminded by Jews to advance American interests and undermine the Soviet economy by poisoning top Soviet leaders. It was only Stalin’s timely death in 1953 that prevented him from carrying out his reported plans to deport 2 million Jews to Siberia.

When overt anti-Semitism temporarily lost its respectability right after World War II, Nazi anti-Semitism was transplanted to the Arab and Islamic worlds. Arafat’s predecessor as the leader of the Palestinians, Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, was a great admirer of Hitler and spent part of World War II in Berlin doing radio propaganda and promising that an Islamic jihad could both defeat the West and exterminate the Jews. The Mufti’s fellow Islamic radical, Sayeed Qutb, the intellectual godfather of al Qaeda, merged Nazi, anti-American and Islamic themes into what became bin Ladenism.

The transfer of an essentially Nazi ideology into Islamist hatred of Jews reached its purest form on 9/11. The thinking of Mohammed Atta, the terrorist ringleader, echoed directly the Nazis’ and Qutb’s obsessions. Atta believed that “Jews control America” and that “Americans want to take over the world so Jews can amass capital,” according a member of Atta’s inner circle in Hamburg, who testified at the trial of another member. Said another: “Atta’s world view was based on an anti-Semitic and anti-American position. His views had a Nazi framework. World Jewry was for him enemy number one. He considered New York to be the center of world Jewry.”

Now the old anti-Semitism is back. In 2003, an EU poll showed that 60 percent of its citizens felt that Israel was the greatest threat to world peace — a sure sign of rising anti-Semitism, according to most European observers. “It’s nearly as bad as it was in the 1930s,” said U.S. Ambassador to the EU Rockwell Schnabel in February. But Europeans are in denial; they view the new anti-Semitic outbursts as a fringe phenomenon of the loony left and of alienated youths of the marginalized Muslim communities.

Fortunately, there are some Europeans — mostly feminists, not incidentally — who have spoken out against the continent’s virulent anti-Zionism. They’ve labeled it de facto European outsourcing of anti-Semitism to the Arabs. Ilke Schroeder, a German member of the European Parliament, has led a group of 135 European parliamentarians in speaking out against the EU’s indirect funding of Palestinian terrorism. She’s criticized the EU for giving Arafat 10 million euros a month, no questions asked.

Like the old Soviet Union, the alliance of hate speaks of anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism even as it advances its own racist, colonial, and imperialist goals. But Europeans should understand, as Schroeder warns, that they’re likely to be burned by the fires they’re kindling. Careless resort to the old anti-Semitic libels fuels an engine that, with a Muslim birth rate in Western Europe three times as high as the non-Muslim one, can soon lurch out of control.

Americans, too, should keep a vigilant eye on the troubling trend and have no qualms about speaking out against it. We do our transatlantic cousins no favors by giving them a pass on their new indulgence of an old weakness.

Fred Siegel, a professor at The Cooper Union, is culture editor. He is member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Europe’s Old Disease Returns

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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