As the body count in hostilities between Israelis and Palestinian rises, so do fears that European Jews will be targeted in a phenomenon that many in the continent call “the import of the conflict.”
That’s what happened when Hamas and Israel exchanged blows in 2014, triggering the worst wave of antisemitic violence in Europe since the Holocaust in terms of its prevalence and scope.
That summer, dozens of men, most of them from a Muslim background and some of them coming from a large pro-Palestinian rally, besieged a crowded synagogue in Paris. For long minutes, Jewish men held the crowd at bay as the attackers hurled heavy objects at them, including pieces of furniture from a nearby café.
A dozen synagogues, most of them in France, were torched. And in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, rioters smashed the windows of multiple Jewish-owned businesses, producing an aftermath that for some evoked Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogroms that presaged the Holocaust.
Jews faced attacks, too, when Israel battled Hamas in 2009, and during the Second Intifada that began in 2000 and triggered the first major outbreak of antisemitic violence in Europe in connection with the Israeli-Arab conflict. Hundreds of attacks were documented, including the torching of synagogues.
Already, there are signs that the current round of hostilities may be spilling over into Europe. Earlier this week, Israeli flags were torched outside two German synagogues. About 200 people in the city of Gelsenkirchen, in western Germany, marched on Wednesday toward a local synagogue shouting “sh*** Jews.” And graffiti including the words “free Palestine” was spray-painted on another synagogue in Spain.
In London, a pro-Israel activist was kicked in the head amid chants of “f***ing Jews” at a small counter-demonstration near a massive rally Tuesday to protest Israel’s military response in Gaza.
So far, the intensity of antisemitic incidents has been low compared to 2014, according to Ophir Revach, who heads the European Jewish Congress’s Security and Crisis Center, which coordinates security policies in European Jewish communities. Revach said he hoped the fact that most Jewish institutions are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic would mitigate any possible violence, but he worried that people who are visibly Jewish could be at risk.
“We are not advising Jews take off their yarmulkes in public right now or ever,” he said. “Jews should live their lives as they see fit. But there is a risk. There is always a risk. And now there is probably an elevated risk to the people who walk with a yarmulke.”
Some who have watched a pattern play out in the past say they fear what might lie ahead in the coming days.
“The dynamic is as follows: Hostilities begin in Gaza or Judea and Samaria, incitement begins at mosques and online in France, it brews for a few days, then Friday comes, there are prayers at the mosques, and the violence is unleashed at a demonstration,” said Sammy Ghozlan, a former police officer in France who now runs a Jewish community watchdog group there, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Antisemitism. (Judea and Samaria is the Biblical name of the West Bank.)
“The critical point to look out for will be Friday, May 14,” Ghozlan said earlier this week. “If the fighting continues until then, violence against Jews will occur in France, in Europe.”
French authorities, who are battling a wave of Islamist activity that has included attacks on Jewish and non-Jewish targets, appear to share those concerns. On Wednesday, they declined to issue a permit for a demonstration against Israel’s actions in Gaza that was planned for Paris.
It was an unusual move, as the capital city has allowed demonstrations despite an otherwise strict COVID-19 policy that includes curfews, a total shutdown of restaurants, and a mask requirement even outdoors.
The events risk “importing the conflict to the national territory in the context of preexisting high tension and may lead to a disturbance of public order,” said Didier Lalement, who heads the Paris Police Prefecture.
Bertrand Heilbronn, a pro-Palestinian activist, was briefly taken into custody on Wednesday night for trying to arrange demonstrations without a permit.
Israel’s actions have received unequivocal support from some European governments, including the Czech Republic, whose prime minister, Andrej Babis, wrote Wednesday on Twitter: “We stand with Israel.” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó wrote: “We demonstrate our full solidarity with Israel and recognize her right to self-defense.”
Germany’s government spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement Wednesday: “Israel has the right to defend itself from these attacks” by Hamas and Gaza jihadists, whose “aim is to kill indiscriminately” and which “have no justification.” He did not mention Israeli actions.
French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian made a more impartial statement that implied criticism of Israel.
“I am deeply concerned by the ongoing escalation in the Middle East caused by a lack of political horizon regarding a situation that has gone on for too long. I call on all stakeholders to show the highest restraint,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the United Kingdom “condemn Hamas rocket attacks against civilians and urge de-escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, COVID-19 does not appear to be tempering tensions, according to Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, a Jewish watchdog organization.
“If anything it’s the other way around,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “People are fed up, and this is giving them an excuse to go out and protest about something.”
On Tuesday, thousands demonstrated in London against Israeli actions — by far the largest protest in Europe to date. Violence broke out — as well as antisemitic chants about the “f***ing Jews” — when counter-protesters unfurled an Israel flag. Pro-Palestinian protesters tried to lunge at the counterdemonstrators, kicking one of them in the head while police were extracting him and other supporters of Israel.
The man who was kicked, Jonathan Hoffman, is a former vice-chair of the Zionist Federation of Britain. He wrote on Facebook afterward that a demonstration in support of Israel on Saturday had been canceled.
“We have decided that for the time being it is too dangerous both for us and the police to be on the streets,” Hoffman wrote.
The clash comes amid concern about antisemitism locally that predates the current conflict.
“We’re seeing the number of antisemitic incidents creeping up, especially online,” Rich said. “Obviously we are concerned that will increase if the conflict in Israel/Gaza continues or escalates further.”
HD Editors Note: Why Is This News Biblically Relevant?
Throughout history, there has been an unrelenting, irrational hatred of the Jewish people. This hatred is what we know today as ‘Antisemitism.’
Many for thousands of years have sought to understand what “reasons” people could have to hate and target the Jewish people to such a severe extent. However, it is only with a Biblical understanding that one can answer this question.
Scripture indicates that their antipathy has nothing to do with their chosen reasoning but instead that their hearts are (satanically) predisposed to hate Jews.
The children of Israel are the “Chosen People of God.” God hand-selected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s seed to be the line from which He Himself would become flesh (Jesus Christ) and be born into.
In deliberate attempts to disrupt God’s plans (i.e., redemption for mankind, Salvation of Israel, and his ultimate defeat), Satan sought relentlessly through men and nations to wipe out the Jewish people. We are told that he will try and fail again through the Anti-Christ (See Revelation 12).
In Genesis 12:3, God not only calls all the nations of the world to bless Israel, but He also presents a warning to those nations and people that choose to curse them: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” God will ultimately judge nations by how they treated the Jewish State of Israel (Joel 3:2).
This is also why it is incumbent upon Christians to love, pray for and stand up for the Jewish people, the state of Israel, and their eternal capital of Jerusalem. God has not forgotten His people, and neither should His servants.