By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoie, pictured here, last November announced that new legislation was in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.” Also in Scandinavia, last week the major medical associations in Sweden and Denmark recommended a ban on “non-medical”–i.e. religious–circumcision. Credit: Kjetil Ree via Wikimedia Commons.
Back in the heyday of colonialism, Europeans used to refer to Africa as the “dark continent.” Originally, the phrase was intended to convey a sense of Africa’s impenetrability for colonial explorers, but over time, it acquired a pejorative meaning, conjuring up images of savage, hostile natives.
The irony is that if there is a place deserving of such a description, it’s Europe itself. We know well the history of the Jewish people on that continent. From the pogrom scarred shtetls of Ukraine to the spectacle of affluent Parisians pretending not to notice as thousands of Jews were deported by the Nazis in 1942, we Jews have good reason to remember Europe as the “dark continent.”
But wait, we are told, since 1945 everything has changed! Europe is now an oasis of tolerance. Its constituent nations are satisfyingly multi-ethnic. The European Union is a guarantor that European nations will never make war on each other again. Europe has atoned for the crimes of the past, as demonstrated by its numerous Holocaust memorials and the fact that Holocaust denial is illegal in many countries. Its Jewish communities live as equals, where the law protects them rather than discriminating against them.
On one level, all that is true. Yet in Europe, anti-Semitism in various forms survives–even flourishes–to disturbing degrees. At the same time, many Europeans are tired of recalling the past. The grumbling that the damn, stubborn Jews won’t move on is getting louder.
To understand European anti-Semitism today, one has to look beyond the myriad laws that guarantee the civil rights of Jews and other minorities. The observation of the Zionist leader Max Nordau in 1897–“The nations which emancipated the Jews have mistaken their own feelings. In order to produce its full effect, emancipation should first have been completed in sentiment before it was declared by law”–rings as true today as it did back then.
Now, many American and Israeli Jews, when searching for the most toxic forms of European anti-Semitism, naturally hone in on France. Over the last couple of months, our media has been filled with reports about the antics of the anti-Semitic French comedian, Dieudonne, and his inverted Nazi salute, the quenelle. In mid-January, around 17,000 protestors marched through Paris in a “Day of Rage,” chanting slogans like, “Piss off Jew, France is not for you!”