For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.
Some of the most shocking scenes happened in Paris, where two synagogues came under attack, resulting in street fighting between anti-Israel activists and Jewish youths. In an effort to prevent a repeat of this mayhem the authorities took the unprecedented decision of prohibiting any pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the following weekend. While such a move is certainly a measure of just how serious the French government is about combating this malady, it is equally a sign of how insurmountable a problem has become when a government is reduced to simply reaching for the “outlaw” option. It is indeed a concerning state of affairs for any democracy to be forced into taking such drastic action as the last resort for ensuring public safety.
Of course, in reality such moves are by their nature bound to backfire. They inevitably add to the existing sense of outrage and convince others that there is a conspiracy seeking to silence dissenters. As a result the events in Paris this weekend were still more violent than those seen the week before. Rioters set fire to cars, looted Jewish-owned stores, and hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue, while violent clashes left a dozen police injured. Many of those involved in these disturbances came from France’s sizable Muslim minority, and so some might consider it understandable that these demonstrators should feel a deep sense of solidarity with Muslims suffering in Gaza. Yet their fellow Sunni Muslim brothers have been cut down in vastly greater numbers, and in far more brutal ways, by Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and by rival Shia insurgents in Iraq, both of course backed by Iran. It simply cannot be ignored that these events did not draw anything like the same reaction.
That observation holds true for those marching the streets of London. On Sunday, during a rally held in support of Israel, it was reported that a man had to receive treatment from paramedics after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists. Indeed, in recent weeks anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are said to have doubled. This is the inevitable fallout from the kind of incitement prevalent at the rallies being held for Gaza. At Saturday’s the crowed was thick with placards that bore the Star of David alongside the swastika, that referred to the “Holocaust” in Gaza, and that carried such messages as: “well done Israel, Hitler would be proud.” The crowd enthusiastically chanted what has now become the movement’s favorite rallying cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the total extinction of the State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.
With an estimated 15,000 attendees, the numbers were significantly reduced from the turnouts seen in London during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead. As several commentators have now observed, the demographic at these marches has shifted to being predominantly Muslim, many conservatively dressed, with a sprinkling of the far-left and the high minded thrown in. And the atmosphere seemed uglier than ever before. There were scuffles with the police, the Israeli embassy had to be barricaded, and organizers and guest speakers whipped the crowed into a frenzy by bellowing down the microphone about Israel being an illegal/racist/apartheid/terror state. Still, none of this was quite as distasteful as the stunt pulled at another rally held in London earlier in the week, when protesters brought along children smeared with red paint–a modern-day blood libel if ever there was one.
All of this was just a few notches down from events in Paris and could quickly escalate to comparable levels of anarchy. But the truth is that both the British and French governments have fostered the attitudes that breed such extreme outbursts. The French government has been at the forefront of European efforts to single out Israel’s settlement policy as a uniquely unspeakable crime, and likewise the British government has upheld the narrative that it is Israel’s settlement policy that has sabotaged peace efforts. And when the Commons came to debate the situation in Gaza earlier this week, most parliamentarians began by condemning Hamas rockets before swiftly justifying them as a kind of forgivable response to wicked Israel’s settlement building, a curious position given that the rockets are coming out of Gaza, from which all of Israel’s settlements were removed in 2005. But then this is the prevailing wisdom and indeed the line pushed by the BBC and Agence France-Presse, both state owned, of course.
European governments rightly pour scorn on the rising flames of anti-Semitism that are erupting out of the continent’s anti-Israel fringe, but at what point do these same politicians face up to their own role in fanning these flames and legitimizing the extreme views that give rise to them?