Antisemitism and the End of Europe

Below is a transcript of a speech by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at “The Future of the Jewish Communities in Europe” Conference at The European Parliament on September 27, 2016, in Brussels.
euro antisemitismThe hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. That is what I want us to understand today. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Stalin. It isn’t Jews alone who suffer under ISIS or Al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad. We make a great mistake if we think antisemitism is a threat only to Jews. It is a threat, first and foremost, to Europe and to the freedoms it took centuries to achieve.
Antisemitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else. Historically, if you were a Christian at the time of the Crusades, or a German after the First World War, and saw that the world hadn’t turned out the way you believed it would, you blamed the Jews. That is what is happening today. And I cannot begin to say how dangerous it is. Not just to Jews but to everyone who values freedom, compassion and humanity.The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown. If Europe allows antisemitism to flourish, that will be the beginning of the end of Europe
And what I want to do in these brief remarks is simply to analyze a phenomenon full of vagueness and ambiguity, because we need precision and understanding to know what antisemitism is, why it happens, why anti-Semites are convinced that they are not anti-Semitic.First let me define antisemitism. Not liking Jews is not antisemitism. We all have people we don’t like. That’s OK; that’s human; it isn’t dangerous. Second, criticizing Israel is not antisemitism. I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.
Antisemitism means denying the right of Jews to exist collectively as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. It takes different forms in different ages. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.
If there is one thing I and my contemporaries did not expect, it was that antisemitism would reappear in Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. The reason we did not expect it was that Europe had undertaken the greatest collective effort in all of history to ensure that the virus of antisemitism would never again infect the body politic. It was a magnificent effort of anti-racist legislation, Holocaust education and interfaith dialogue. Yet antisemitism has returned despite everything.
On January 27, 2000, representatives of 46 governments from around the world gathered in Stockholm to issue a collective declaration of Holocaust remembrance and the continuing fight against antisemitism, racism and prejudice. Then came 9/11, and within days conspiracy theories were flooding the internet claiming it was the work of Israel and its secret service, the Mossad. In April, 2002, on Passover, I was in Florence with a Jewish couple from Paris when they received a phone call from their son, saying, “Mum, Dad, it’s time to leave France. It’s not safe for us here anymore.”
In May, 2007, in a private meeting here in Brussels, I told the three leaders of Europe at the time, Angela Merkel, President of the European Council, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, that the Jews of Europe were beginning to ask whether there was a future for Jews in Europe.
That was more than nine years ago. Since then, things have become worse. Already in 2013, before some of the worst incidents, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that almost a third of Europe’s Jews were considering emigrating because of anti-Semitism. In France the figure was 46%; in Hungary 48%.
Let me ask you this. Whether you are Jewish or Christian, Muslim: would you stay in a country where you need armed police to guard you while you prayed? Where your children need armed guards to protect them at school? Where, if you wear a sign of your faith in public, you risk being abused or attacked? Where, when your children go to university, they are insulted and intimidated because of what is happening in some other part of the world? Where, when they present their own view of the situation they are howled down and silenced?
This is happening to Jews throughout Europe. In every single country of Europe, without exception, Jews are fearful for their or their children’s future. If this continues, Jews will continue to leave Europe, until, barring the frail and the elderly, Europe will finally have become Judenrein.
How did this happen? It happened the way viruses always defeat the human immune system, namely, by mutating. The new antisemitism is different from the old antisemitism, in three ways. I’ve already mentioned one. Once Jews were hated because of their religion. Then they were hated because of their race. Now they are hated because of their nation state. The second difference is that the epicenter of the old antisemitism was Europe. Today it’s the Middle East and it is communicated globally by the new electronic media.
The third is particularly disturbing. Let me explain. It is easy to hate, but difficult publicly to justify hate. Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. So we had religious anti-Judaism. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. So we had the twin foundations of Nazi ideology, Social Darwinism and the so-called Scientific Study of Race. Today the highest source of authority worldwide is human rights. That is why Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.
The new antisemitism has mutated so that any practitioner of it can deny that he or she is an anti-Semite. After all, they’ll say, I’m not a racist. I have no problem with Jews or Judaism. I only have a problem with the State of Israel. But in a world of 56 Muslim nations and 103 Christian ones, there is only one Jewish state, Israel, which constitutes one-quarter of one per cent of the land mass of the Middle East. Israel is the only one of the 193 member nations of the United Nations that has its right to exist regularly challenged, with one state, Iran, and many, many other groups, committed to its destruction.
Antisemitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. The form this takes today is anti-Zionism. Of course, there is a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and between Jews and Israelis, but this difference does not exist for the new anti-Semites themselves. It was Jews not Israelis who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. Anti-Zionism is the antisemitism of our time.
In the Middle Ages Jews were accused of poisoning wells, spreading the plague, and killing Christian children to use their blood. In Nazi Germany they were accused of controlling both capitalist America and communist Russia. Today they are accused of running ISIS as well as America. All the old myths have been recycled, from the Blood Libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The cartoons that flood the Middle East are clones of those published in Der Sturmer one of the primary vehicles of Nazi propaganda between 1923 and 1945.
The ultimate weapon of the new antisemitism is dazzling in its simplicity. It goes like this. The Holocaust must never happen again. But Israelis are the new Nazis; the Palestinians are the new Jews; all Jews are Zionists. Therefore the real anti-Semites of our time are none other than the Jews themselves. And these are not marginal views. They are widespread throughout the Muslim world, including communities in Europe, and they are slowly infecting the far left, the far right, academic circles, unions, and even some churches. Having cured itself of the virus of antisemitism, Europe is being reinfected by parts of the world that never went through the self-reckoning that Europe undertook once the facts of the Holocaust became known.
How do such absurdities come to be believed? This is a vast and complex subject, and I have written a book about it, but the simplest explanation is this. When bad things happen to a group, its members can ask one of two questions: “What did we do wrong?” or “Who did this to us?” The entire fate of the group will depend on which it chooses.
If it asks, “What did we do wrong?” it has begun the self-criticism essential to a free society. If it asks, “Who did this to us?” it has defined itself as a victim. It will then seek a scapegoat to blame for all its problems. Classically this has been the Jews.
Anti-Semitism is a form of cognitive failure, and it happens when groups feel that their world is spinning out of control. It began in the Middle Ages, when Christians saw that Islam had defeated them in places they regarded as their own, especially Jerusalem. That was when, in 1096, on their way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders stopped first to massacre Jewish communities in Northern Europe. It was born in the Middle East in the 1920s with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Antisemitism re-emerged in Europe in the 1870s during a period of economic recession and resurgent nationalism. And it is re-appearing in Europe now for the same reasons: recession, nationalism, and a backlash against immigrants and other minorities. Antisemitism happens when the politics of hope gives way to the politics of fear, which quickly becomes the politics of hate.
This then reduces complex problems to simplicities. It divides the world into black and white, seeing all the fault on one side and all the victimhood on the other. It singles out one group among a hundred offenders for the blame. The argument is always the same. We are innocent; they are guilty. It follows that if we are to be free, they, the Jews or the state of Israel, must be destroyed. That is how the great crimes begin.
Jews were hated because they were different. They were the most conspicuous non-Christian minority in a Christian Europe. Today they are the most conspicuous non-Muslim presence in an Islamic Middle East. Anti-Semitism has always been about the inability of a group to make space for difference. No group that adopts it will ever, can ever, create a free society.
So I end where I began. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. Antisemitism is only secondarily about Jews. Primarily it is about the failure of groups to accept responsibility for their own failures, and to build their own future by their own endeavours. No society that has fostered antisemitism has ever sustained liberty or human rights or religious freedom. Every society driven by hate begins by seeking to destroy its enemies, but ends by destroying itself.
Europe today is not fundamentally anti-Semitic. But it has allowed antisemitism to enter via the new electronic media. It has failed to recognize that the new antisemitism is different from the old. We are not today back in the 1930s. But we are coming close to 1879, when Wilhelm Marr founded the League of Anti-Semites in Germany; to 1886 when Édouard Drumont published La France Juive; and 1897 when Karl Lueger became Mayor of Vienna. These were key moments in the spread of antisemitism, and all we have to do today is to remember that what was said then about Jews is being said today about the Jewish state.
The history of Jews in Europe has not always been a happy one. Europe’s treatment of the Jews added certain words to the human vocabulary: disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, auto da fe, ghetto, pogrom and Holocaust, words written in Jewish tears and Jewish blood. Yet for all that, Jews loved Europe and contributed to it some of its greatest scientists, writers, academics, musicians, shapers of the modern mind.
If Europe lets itself be dragged down that road again, this will be the story told in times to come. First they came for the Jews. Then for the Christians. Then for the gays. Then for the atheists. Until there was nothing left of Europe’s soul but a distant, fading memory.
Today I have tried to give voice to those who have no voice. I have spoken on behalf of the murdered Roma, Sinti, gays, dissidents, the mentally and physically handicapped, and a million and a half Jewish children murdered because of their grandparents’ religion. In their name, I say to you: You know where the road ends. Don’t go down there again.
You are the leaders of Europe. Its future is in your hands. If you do nothing, Jews will leave, European liberty will die, and there will be a moral stain on Europe’s name that all eternity will not erase.
Stop it now while there is still time.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013

17 thoughts on “Antisemitism and the End of Europe

  • gary@feraltek.com.au says:

    Some components of antisemitism haven’t changed. Somewhere deep in western and eastern cultures lies the germ of the idea that others have a cosmic right to decide where Jews can and can’t live. Ghettos. Jewish quarters. Numerus clauses. The Pale of settlement. Britain’s White Paper. The Mandate. Israel is a demonstration that Jews new rebel against this tradition. Restrictions defined by others don’t get the deciding veto any more. That’s why Zionism is considered an outrageous imposition on others. Zionism destroyed their right to decide where Jews can and can’t live.

  • pgang says:

    This is a very interesting take on antisemitism. I am beginning to wonder whether it will be safe to be Christian in Australia for the next generation also. I think the problem stems partly from Europe moving from social Darwinism (venting itself through National Socialism), to postmodern Darwinism without any real maturity of worldview. The flavour might be slightly different but it’s still just the same old secular humanist pudding.

    • ianl says:

      > “postmodern Darwinism”

      I’m fascinated now. What possible concoction could this phrase actually mean, please ?

      • pgang says:

        Darwinism remains the core concept behind the Wests rejection of essentialism and its embracing of materialism, because it supposedly removes the need for a cause or for God. Nothing has changed since the British and European elites became enamoured of the idea in the 18-19th centuries. The last century saw Darwinism expressed most strongly through German nationalist race superiority. After the death of 40 million people, give or take a few million (60 million if you include WW1), Europe realised that it probably wasn’t the right path to be treading. But rather than getting to the heart of the matter they couldn’t give up on their beloved materialist axiom. The human race remained without value or cause, but this time with the fluffy precepts of postmodern multiculturalism and individualism pasted over the top. So Europe exchanged one meaningless reason-for-being, nationalism, for another equally meaningless reason – happy happy postmodern equality. As we know from our current experience, the latter is just as totalitarian, because it remains founded on the same materialist/existentialist worldview of a lessened humanity.

  • Wayne Cooper says:

    Of course the self-assessment now allowed in society (and approved by some courts) has it that I can “identify” as a black lesbian, despite all objective evidence to the contrary. I wonder if can similarly self-identify as a non-anti-semitic non-bigot even if there is considerable evidence the other way? If so, the problem would just be defined out of existence.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    This is a very interesting, thought-provoking article (speech), demonstrating the author’s thorough knowledge of the subject. The logic and reasoning therein would be difficult to fault.

    Notwithstanding all that, allow me to allude to a phenomenon the article does not mention. The “Illuminati” – the Elite which is endeavouring to reduce world population from 7 to 1 billion (!) to be ruled by One World Government made up of its own ranks – has a disproportionately high number of Jews as it’s members. The Bilderberg Group, the most visible manifestation of the Illuminati, counts many Jews as its most prominent participants. One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to appreciate that a great deal of the activities harmful to western civilisation are covertly, often even overtly, promoted and facilitated by the Illuminati. The most obvious current example is George Soros – a most prominent Jew – financing the Muslim invasion of Europe. This is not meant to suggest that Jews – as a unified entity – are responsible for the perilous activities of the Illuminati. Nevertheless, public perception of Jews is unavoidably affected by the involvement of well-known Jews who actively participate in it.

    There is a bitter parallel here between the causes of public attitude toward Jews and Muslims. In both cases, the activities of a relative minority shape the public perception of the whole. It is of paramount importance that in both cases the majority publicly and forcefully renounce those of their creed who give them a bad name. Regrettably, this notion is absent from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ article.

    • ianl says:

      Judaism is no more a “race” than is Islam. As you have correctly said, mis-labelling a culture as a race is just slimy, gutless politics.

      But as for the Israelis … the one thing guaranteed is that this time they will not go quietly. Nor should they.

    • gary@feraltek.com.au says:

      “One World Government … has a disproportionately high number of Jews as its members”

      Rabbi Sacks is wrong. Old antisemitism hasn’t been totally replaced by new antisemitism.

    • mvgalak@bigpond.com says:

      Jonathan Sacks’ article referred to the resurgence of the European anti-Semitism and the denial of the Jewish right to live, without relying on the goodwill and benevolence of their non-Jewish hosts. The recent resurgence of the European anti-Semitism is fuelled by the mass Muslim migration from the countries, where anti-Semitism is a habitual dominant of the national discourse. Drawing of the parallel between those two groups is fanciful in extremis. Bilderberg’s group, Illuminati, freemasons, one world government, Soros, poisoning of the wells, milk curdling, blood of Christian babies for Matzot – you are not working as a researcher for Dan Brown by any chance? Great story line – European Jews and Muslim migrants working hand in hand to destroy Europe!

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    Israel is the canary in the coalmine of civilisation. If Israel goes down, either to the theological totalitarianism of Islam, or to the secular totalitarianism of socialism [its variants being communism, fascism or environmentalism] then civilisation is doomed, and a new dark ages follows. Whether humanity will survive the next dark ages is questionable.

  • Julian says:

    ‘Anti-semitism in Europe has returned due to mass Muslim migration and demographic growth in Europe’ – isn’t that all that this article needed to clearly and succinctly say?

  • Jody says:

    My paternal great grandmother was Jewish and I found that out only about 15 years ago. I always wondered why my grandmother looked Jewish. Anyway, I’ve always been partial to the Jews, thinking them disciplined, incredibly motivated and the likeliest of cultural groups to succeed. Nothing that can be thrown up by the religion of Islam can compare to the Jews, IMO.

    • johnhenry says:

      “I always wondered why my grandmother looked Jewish.”

      Well, I won’t go there. I think Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks – a better man than I am, or even Gunga Din once was – is wrong in suggesting that antisemitism has now become a mere metaphor for religious and cultural hatred. The Jews, qua Jews, are still hated.

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