Hate Crimes Against Jews On The Rise In Europe

Some Europeans say anti-Semitism has increased in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro talks with correspondents Eleanor Beardsley and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. There's been a noted increase of a tax in Western Europe on Jews - their places of worship and their businesses. Some worry that the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip is further stoking those acts of hate. The wave of anti-Semitism is described by some as the worst since World War II. And it's said to be a factor in recent Jewish emigration from France. We join NPR's correspondents, Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin, to learn more about why this is happening. Welcome.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hello, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's first start by talking about what's been specifically happening in France. Let's start with you, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Well, France has Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish population. So every time the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians flares up, it sends tremors through the country. Recently, there were two pro-Palestinian demonstrations that took place here that were banned by police because they didn't want violence. But they took place anyway, and of course young males on the fringe of the marches attacked a couple synagogues and some Jewish shops. And so that was really shocking to people and - heard people yell, death to Jews on the streets of Paris, which the interior minister condemned.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about Germany, Soraya? We've also seen attacks there.

NELSON: It's been a little bit less here, but still very alarming - in particular, an attack on a synagogue that occurred during a protest, again about the Israeli operation in the western German city of Wuppertal. There were Molotov cocktails thrown against the synagogue. There wasn't any damage or any injuries that were caused by this, but a young, 18-year-old self-described Palestinian was arrested for this attack. And what was more disturbing, perhaps, is that this synagogue was one of the many that was destroyed during Kristallnacht, the very horrific attack on Jews during 1938.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, this is extremely worrying because of the history in Germany. Is this rise in anti-Semitism linked to what some Jewish groups in Germany have called the, quote, "old hatred of Jews" being back?

NELSON: I would say the lack of people rising up against what's happening is what's really causing that concern. Certainly Jewish leaders here are calling this very worrying, certainly worse than what was happening in 2009, during the protests against the Gaza incursion back then. There's one who, in particular - and this is the president of the German Jewish Council. And he says this is the worst anti-Semitism that he's seen in Germany since World War II.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Eleanor, we have seen a massive amount of emigration of Jews to Israel, for example. This has preceded this particular incident, but, you know, we are seeing people leaving the country. Why is that happening? What are Jewish groups saying in France?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Jews do immigrate to Israel to do Aliyah. But it's true. With the bad economy in France and anti-Semitic attacks up, they say they don't feel as comfortable. But a lot of it is for economic reasons. Let me give you a statistic though, Lulu. Of the anti-Semitic attacks in France, 95 percent are carried out by youths of African, North African origin. So this is not at all a 1930s, old anti-Semitic wave sweeping France. I've been spending some time with a rabbi who actually goes into these Muslim communities. You have a whole second generation of Muslim youth who are disaffected. They're unemployed. They've been marginalized. And there's a lot of anger there that is simmering. And this is where the anti-Semitism is mainly coming from in France. And this rabbi told me that the anti-Semitism today has nothing to do with the prewar anti-Semitism in France.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Soraya, are there any specific groups that the German police or activists are pointing to?

NELSON: So just like what Eleanor was saying, it does seem that a lot of the people carrying out these attacks or making these vicious comments are, in fact, members of the Muslim community. We have a large Muslim community here - Turkish community, initially, and many more immigrants now. And they have been out in the streets protesting against the Gaza operation. Muslim community leaders here have been condemning the anti-Semitism. They say that there should not be any discussion of killing Jews or gassing Jews like some of the comments that have been made at these rallies, which people do get arrested for, by the way. But they do say that it's important to differentiate between actual anti-Semitism and protest against what the Israelis are doing in the Gaza Strip. They feel those are legitimate protests, and they don't want that sort of cast-off or not being allowed to do that as a result of the concerns of anti-Semitism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's been the reaction of the German and French governments? Is there any way to stop these attacks, Soraya?

NELSON: Well, certainly the German government here, from the chancellor on to the president and foreign minister, everybody has been condemning it in a very large way. There's been a campaign that's been started called Raise Your Voice. That's supposed to include newspapers and popular celebrity-type people as well as politicians in terms of trying to get people to speak out against it because again, the concern is that there is a latent racism that exists here. One thing that's important to note, though, is that despite the fact that there is a rise in right-wing or conservative outlooks or Eurosceptic outlooks, all of which have been linked to racism, that sort of racism has been leveled largely against Muslim immigrants that are coming to this country. And the feeling is that these oppressed minorities are the ones that are now, in turn, lashing out at the Jewish community. So the feeling is that there has to be more of an addressing of all problems, and not just one here, in order to solve this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And briefly, Eleanor, what are we seeing in France?

BEARDSLEY: There were many arrests around those rallies where the synagogues were attacked. Hate speech is illegal here. You're not even allowed to tweet hate speech. And also, they're on the lookout for young Muslims who could possibly go fight jihad in the Middle East and bring back their hatred and attack Jewish interests in France. So there's been stepped-up vigilance for this so-called jihadi element that is fueling the ant-Semitism in France among the young, radical Muslim community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's international correspondents. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Good to be with you, Lulu.

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