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Europe and anti-Semitism

I don't know what to think of this excerpt from Thomas Friedman's column yesterday:

Yes, yes, many Europeans really do just want an end to the Israeli occupation, but the anti-Semitism coming out of Europe today suggests that deep down some Europeans want a lot more: They want Mr. Sharon to commit a massacre against Palestinians, or they want to describe what he did in Jenin as a massacre, so that the Europeans can finally get the guilt of the Holocaust off their backs and be able to shout: "Look at these Jews, they're worse than we were!"

I just attended an Arab media conference and was on a panel with Eric Rouleau, the Middle East correspondent of Le Monde, who said he had recently spoken to some French generals who told him that what Israel did in Jenin was worse than anything France did during the Algerian war. One million Algerians were killed in that war and two million were made homeless. So far 60 bodies have been recovered in Jenin, many of them fighters. You do the math.

It's sickening, but, as Friedman says, only some Europeans think this way, at least as far as we know. So, now what? The Economist three weeks ago asked, regarding European anti-Semitism, "Is it really rising?", but (after two pages) didn't really decide anything, either, concluding:

In any event, it is in the more mature democracies farther west that Jews have been especially shocked by what they call the new anti-Semitism. But the phenomenon, such as it is, is hard to define. That sacrilegious vandalism has increased is disturbing. That the anti-immigrant far right is strong (though far from dominant) rightly worries minorities, not just Jews.

Growing hostility to Israel is a more complex trait. Anyone defending Israel's government nowadays is bound to have a harder time of it. But that does not itself mean that heavily anti-Semitic sentiment goes beyond a very small proportion of Europeans.

But that's not a surprising — or particularly revealing — result. Such an extreme view is hardly ever widely held; what's significant about the recent developments is how sympathetically these views seem to have been portrayed and received. The problem in Friedman's anecdote isn't with the French generals, it's with Le Monde's correspondent. Is he a reporter, or a propagandist? Has he no accountability to the actual facts? How could he possibly swallow that tripe?

As I say, I don't know what to think. But it's hard to believe that such laughable views could possibly be taken so seriously by so many. If in fact they are — and I sure hope they're not — then that is a far more serious problem than the existence of the handful of bigots who express them.

May 16, 2002 1:36 PM

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