Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. Never again has become ever again.
In France, worshipers in a synagogue were surrounded by a howling mob claiming to protest Israeli policy. In Brussels, four people were murdered in the Jewish museum, and a synagogue was firebombed. In London, a major supermarket said that it felt forced to remove kosher food from its shelves for fear that it would incite a riot. A London theater refused to stage a Jewish film festival because the event had received a small grant from the Israeli embassy.
More than once during the summer, I heard well-established British Jews saying, “For the first time in my life, I feel afraid.” Twenty years ago, launching a program to strengthen Jewish continuity across the generations, I published a book titled, “Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren?” Today, Jews are beginning to ask, “Will we have English grandchildren?”
And Jews are leaving. A survey in 2013 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that almost a third of Europe’s Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism, with numbers as high as 46% in France and 48% in Hungary. Quietly, many Jews are asking whether they have a future in Europe.
It would be wrong to exaggerate. Europe today isn’t Germany in the 1930s. Hatred of the Jews isn’t being incited or even condoned by European governments. Many political leaders, notably Angela Merkel in Germany and David Cameron in Britain, have been forthright in their denunciation.
Nor are such prejudices distributed throughout the British population. Britain has lower recorded levels of anti-Jewish sentiment than the U.S. But what is happening is immensely significant nonetheless. Historically, as the British Tory MP Michael Gove points out, anti-Semitism has been the early warning signal of a society in danger. That is why the new anti-Semitism needs to be understood—and not only by Jews.
Anti-Semitism was always only obliquely about Jews. They were its victims but not its cause. The politics of hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler and Stalin. It is hardly Jews alone who are suffering today under their successors, the radical Islamists of Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Islamic State and their fellow travelers in a seemingly endless list of new mutations.
The assault on Israel and Jews world-wide is part of a larger pattern that includes attacks on Christians and other minority faiths in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia—a religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. Ultimately, this campaign amounts to an attack on Western democratic freedoms as a whole. If not halted now, it will be Europe itself that will be pushed back toward the Dark Ages.
Some of what we are seeing in Europe is the old anti-Semitism of the far right and the radical left, which never went away and merely lay dormant during the years when attacks on Jews were considered unacceptable in polite society. That taboo is now well and truly broken.