This open editorial was published in the National Post, a Canadian daily newspaper, on the day I appeared as a witness before the Canadian coalition to combat antisemitism in the Canadian Parliament
Europe's new anti-Semitism
2 November 2009
At London’s Royal National Theatre, a play called Our Class is pulling in crowds. It tells of the massacre of 1,400 Jews in the town of Jedwabne in north-east Poland in 1941. These Jews were not victims of Nazis. They were killed by Poles in an anti-Semitic frenzy unleashed by the horrors of the German-Russian occupation of Poland after 1939. The play looks at the life story of 10 Catholic and 10 Jewish Poles who were in the same class together until one group turned on the other.
For decades, the killings were covered up by Polish communist governments that could not bear the inconvenient truth that Poles, not just Nazis, had been responsible for exterminating Jews. But the painful truth about Jedwabne was published by historians in the 1990s. And in 2001, Poland’s then-president Alexnder Kwasniewksi went to Jedwabne to apologize for what was done in 1941. He was attacked by local politicians led by a ultra-nationalist Michal Kaminski, who had been a member of the anti-semitic Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland) before gliding into more mainstream, but still hard-right, politics to become a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
Kaminski attacked his president and organized protests against Kwasniewksi’s attempts to make atonement for the slaughter of Jews in 1941. Kaminski accused Jews of “murdering Poles” between 1939 and 1941. His electoral slogan is “Poland for the Poles,” which needs no decoding as an appeal for an all-Catholic, all-white Poland.
Kaminski might be written off as just another ugly politician who plays down the massacre of Jews in WWII, save that he now heads a political grouping in the European Parliament that includes the British Conservative Party. Kaminski’s Polish MEPs also appear regularly on the anti-semitic Polish radio station, Radio Maryja, which the Vatican has criticized for its Jew-baiting.
It is not just Poland. Hungary has sent three MEPs from the Jobbik Party, which is openly anti-semitic. They turned up in their 1930s-style Iron Guard uniform expecting to take seats in the European Parliament like fascists of old. Ozskar Molnar is an MP for Hungary’s main opposition party, Fidez. He recently attacked “global capital — Jewish capital if you like — which wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary.”
Or take Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party. It has an MEP elected to the European Parliament who sits with the controversial Poles as well as British Conservatives. Its politics include celebrating Latvian Waffen SS volunteers whose record in killing Jews was as bad as that of Nazi Germans.
This is the new landscape of the European parliamentary process, one in which antisemitism is banalized as tolerated politics.
Britain’s National Front party has secured the election of its leader, Nick Griffin, as an MEP. Griffin is notorious as a holocaust denier and had two pigs on his farm he called “Ann” and “Frank.” His only published work is called Who are the Mind-Benders? It claims that a secret Jewish lobby controls the British media. Again, these anti-Semitic ravings might be dismissed as fringe extremist lunacy, save that the BBC invited the Holocaust-denying Griffin onto its most prestigious political show this month to allow the Jew-baiter 60 minutes to defend and promote his views.
Many European countries are reporting spikes in anti-semitic incidents in which Jewish cemeteries and synagogues are defaced, Jewish students are threatened on their way to school. Rabbis and Chassidic Jews are being attacked physically.
Classic state-sponsored anti-semitism is promoted through the Saudi bank-rolling of Wahabi mosques in Europe, which preach hate against Jews and Israel — a practice that remains unchallenged by many European politicians. An even more pernicious and widespread form of anti-semitism is to hold every Jew accountable for what happens in Israel, and to paint the Jewish state as a Nazi or apartheid entity.
These forces have combined into what can only be called a new anti-semitism, which has become part of contemporary European politics. A wake-up call is needed before it is too late.
This week, Canada’s parliament begins its own inquiry into anti-semitism. The work is urgent and timely: Just days ago, Jew-haters daubed swastikas on a Jewish cemetery in Ottawa. Europeans and Canadians cannot ignore a state of affairs in which Jews face attacks, and anti-semitism is reborn as contemporary politics.