spurious charges of anti-Semitism reveal a growing cultural divide
The Independent (UK)
16 May 2002
If the editorial and comment columns of America's major newspapers
are to be believed, Europe is caught up in a new and distressing
wave of anti-Semitism. According to this view, far-right political
parties are in the ascendant; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries
is an everyday occurrence, and latter-day Nazi thugs lurk around
every corner. The misguided Europeans, the argument continues, hold
Israel 100 per cent to blame for the latest violence in the Middle
East, and the only time Europeans come out on to the streets to
demonstrate is to support hard-done-by Palestinians.
The latest expression of this worldview was a risible advertisement,
sponsored by the biggest Jewish-American organisation, the American
Jewish Congress, which called on US film stars and producers to
boycott the Cannes film festival in protest against French anti-Semitism.
The advert claimed that there were striking similarities between
the condition of Jews in France today, and their plight in Vichy
France 60 years ago.
Woody Allen, to his credit, who is as much of a cinematic icon
in France as he is in New York and Hollywood, not only declined
to join what now appears to be a non-existent boycott, but took
public issue with the thesis of French anti-Semitism. He pointed
out that some of France's most prominent directors are Jewish, as
are many of the directors nominated for awards at Cannes. And he
paid tribute to French voters for the unambiguous rebuff they had
delivered to the far-right National Front in the second round of
their presidential election. Mr Allen's new film opened the Cannes
festival, as planned, last night.
The torrent of accusations from across the Atlantic is none the
less deeply troubling. It is troubling first because the allegations
contain a grain, if only a grain, of truth. Far-right political
parties have sprung up or gained a new lease of life in several
unexpected places, including Austria, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.
It is also true that in many European countries, Britain and France
included, there remain undercurrents of anti-Semitism, both in the
upper ranks of the establishment and at the grassroots. They are
probably less than in the past, but no less reprehensible for that.
Regrettably, synagogues and cemeteries have been desecrated, including
in London and Hull. Figures from France suggest that such despicable
incidents increased after Israel's latest West Bank incursions
which were the impetus also for mass demonstrations in France and
elsewhere in support of Palestinians.
To weave all these strands together as evidence of a climate of
anti-Semitism in Europe, however, is so distorting as to be wrong.
The rise of far-right parties reflects less anti-Semitism than hostility
to immigration much of it from Muslim countries. The pro-Palestinian
demonstrations were a response to what Europe saw as the excesses
of Israel's military action. There were also significant pro-Israel
demonstrations in Paris and London, as there were in Washington.
The US depiction of today's Europe as dangerous for Jews is troubling,
not just because it is misleading. It is troubling, too, because
an influential segment of American opinion subscribes to it. And
it is troubling because it implies that, in American eyes, anyone
who criticises Israel, for whatever reason, is guilty of anti-Semitism.
This widens still further the cultural gap that has opened up between
the new world and the old ranging Britain ever more firmly
on the side of Europe.