Anti-Semitism and the Yellow-Vest Demonstrations Illustrate the Depth of Europe’s Problem

February 20, 2019 | Daniel Johnson
About the author: Daniel Johnson, the founding editor (2008-2018) of the British magazine Standpoint, is now the founding editor of TheArticle and a regular contributor to cultural and political publications in the UK and the U.S.

On Saturday, a group of “yellow-vest” protestors in Paris recognized the philosopher and public intellectual Alain Finkielkraut and turned on him, yelling anti-Semitic epithets. Finkielkraut, who has never hesitated to identify himself as a Jew and a Zionist, has from its inception supported the yellow-vest movement’s criticism of Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies. But this was not the first or only instance of anti-Semitism in the movement—and elsewhere in Europe. Daniel Johnson comments:

As many as 44 percent of self-identified “yellow vests” believe that the world is ruled by Zionists. They see Macron as a puppet of his former employer, the Rothschild bank. Some 22 percent of the French public as a whole agrees with them. . . .

[A]ll over Europe, Jews repeatedly tell pollsters that they are experiencing anti-Semitism as a fact of everyday life. Many are considering emigration to Israel or the United States. None feels safe on a continent with a fast-growing Muslim population, many of whom have imported hostile attitudes toward Jews from their countries of origin. The problem, though, goes wider and deeper. Finkielkraut is among those to have criticized the European establishment for its craven attitude toward Islamists and its betrayal of Israel.

What is to be done? Clearly, Europe has done a lousy job of educating young people, whatever their origins. But we are also confused about how to go about this task. A distinguished Jewish academic in America recently told me that the constant reiteration of images of the Holocaust, reinforced by school visits to camps, museums, and memorials, might be counterproductive. “I don’t want people to be indoctrinated with the idea that the Jews can all be killed,” she said. “I want them to see that we are normal people, that Israel is a normal country, that Jews are neither victims nor manipulators, but just like everyone else.”

She has a point. It is essential that Europeans learn about the Holocaust, yet it is not enough. They also need to learn how Jews have survived and flourished since. And that means accepting and, yes, embracing the state of Israel as the Jewish homeland promised by the Balfour Declaration a century ago. A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of anti-Semitism. Unless it is exorcised, it will destroy us.

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