(C) reprinted with the permission of Haaretz Daily (English)
European Jewry is living with anxiety. Since the outbreak of the intifada, and the more so since September 11, the continent's two major Jewish communities - in Britain and in France - feel under siege as a stormy tide of anti-Semitism rises around them.
In France, as Ha'aretz correspondent Daniel Ben-Simon reported on Friday, once warm and close relations between the large Muslim minority, which is mostly from North Africa, and the Jewish community, which is also in the main of North Africa origin, have deteriorated dramatically. The sharp rise in attacks against Jewish institutions and individual Jews over the past year is attributed to Muslim youth, incited to violence.
Many Jews feel that the press fans the flames with its often unbridled assaults on Israel, contributing - whether wittingly or not - to a blurring of the distinction between anti-Israeli criticism and anti-Semitism.
This "new anti-Semitism" comes on top of the "old" anti-Semitism that is deeply rooted in racist and nationalist tendencies in French society. Just months before general elections for a new French president, opinion polls show that racist Jean Marie La Pen would draw 10 percent of the vote. Thus, French Jewry finds itself surrounded by animosity from both the right and the left.
Regrettably, there is also growing extremism among French Jews themselves. Moderate voices calling for coexistence and mutual respect with Muslims, despite provocations from the other side, seem to have fallen silent.
In England, too, three factors have combined to create a worrisome picture: local Islamic hostility to Israel and Jewry, including violence on the margins; severe criticism of Israel in leftist and intellectual circles, which sometimes slips into outright anti-Semitism; and neo-Fascistic racism, like the British National Party, which, thanks perhaps to the deeply rooted culture of democracy in the British ethos, still remains essentially a fringe element.
But the "new anti-Semitism" is damaging, especially because British Jewry has for many years felt that it had been accepted as equals in a society that at least was perceived as growing more pluralistic, multi-cultural, tolerant and open. "We had reached a kind of Golden Age," the president of the Jewish Council of Deputies told Ha'aretz correspondent David Landau, with "integration with the great British Protestant values without requiring assimilation on our part." But now, she admits, British Jewry's confidence in the ability to live in both worlds has been undermined.
The anxiety of some one million Jews, members of proud and Zionist communities, should trouble their brethren in Israel, if only because Israeli policies and actions are a reason - or at least an excuse - for much of the local expressions of hostility to Jews.
While the Israeli government cannot be expected to shape diplomatic or military policies according to their potential ramifications on Diaspora Jewry, those ramifications cannot be ignored. The strength and well-being of those Jews, particularly those living in the West, contribute significantly to the Jewish state's overall strategic strength.
Just as Israel must take these communities into consideration, so must the Diaspora community's leaders take care with their own actions and statements, ensuring that their rhetoric remains restrained and sagacious. The Diaspora leadership has no historic mission to foment religious war against Islam or to lead a clash of civilizations between it and Judaism. The state of Israel, rightly, has taken care during all the years of its political-territorial conflict with its Arab neighbors not to allow that conflict to become a religious war. European Jewry should adopt the state's approach on that sensitive issue.