European Leaders Are Making a Show of Taking Anti-Semitism Seriously. But Will They Actually Do So?

June 3, 2019 | Ben Cohen
About the author: Ben Cohen, a New York-based writer, has contributed essays on anti-Semitism and related issues to Mosaic and other publications.

Last week, Sweden’s prime minister announced a conference on anti-Semitism to take place in October 2020 and to be attended by European heads of state. It will be held in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, the location of numerous anti-Semitic incidents in the past few years, some of which were violent—the most recent involving a youth group affiliated with the prime minister’s own party. Ben Cohen notes that the conference, despite its apparent good intentions, poses several dangers:

[T]he first potential danger [is] that the conference will allow Malmo to clean up its image as a center of anti-Semitism without cleaning up its act. The degree to which a conference on anti-Semitism hosted by a left-wing government in Europe would be willing to address the elephant in the room—the anti-Semitism that doesn’t come from the far right—is as yet unclear . . .

First, there is the need to recognize that anti-Semitism is politically promiscuous and can be found with equal venom on the left and the right. . . . Second, government efforts against anti-Semitism have rightly pushed a broader message of tolerance and openness. . . . But [these efforts] also require . . . recognition that anti-Semitism is a problem not just of the ethnic majority but of minorities as well, and particularly Europe’s multiple Muslim communities.

At the present time, if a swastika is daubed on a Jewish building in Germany and the perpetrator remains unidentified, the police will categorize the crime as “far right,” despite having seen the profusion of signs equating the Star of David with the swastika at numerous left-wing, anti-Zionist demonstrations. That perhaps exemplifies why a wholesale transformation of how anti-Semitism is understood by law-enforcement officials, teachers, and social workers is necessary.

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