In 1929 the world had first experienced a modern global economic meltdown. “The Great Depression” quickly permeated into Europe, hitting it with vast inflation and unemployment, causing anxiety and dependence of the people. The Nazi Party seized this opportunity to gain political power. Hitler needed the masses behind him and offered an alternative to step out of the depression – purity of race and abhorrence of the Jews, alongside other minorities. This union was supposed to heal Germany and people, it would seem, will buy any excuse in times of crisis.
Ninety years later. Europe is, once again, in the aftermath of an economic meltdown. Greece is seizing bank accounts, Spain with a 25% unemployment rate, Italy’s debt is enormous and the euro is on the bend of bankruptcy. Europe is sick again. And as in every sick body, viruses thrive.
In recent years, like seeds awaiting rain, extreme-radical and ultra-national parties have budded throughout Europe, all with a very clear ideology – no Jews, no immigrants, no minorities. Despite many of these parties being in the political spectrum for some time, they couldn’t gain political power since their agenda wasn’t exactly eye-to-eye with western democratic thinking.
However, today the nations of Europe are pleading for more extreme leaderships. Ones that will unite, raise and rescue them from the depression.
But nowadays, just like back then, this kind of leadership need a scapegoat. Someone to unite against, someone to step on in order to rise up, and who is a better target than the Jews? Anti-Semitism is available, well known, it flourished just a few years ago, it’s easy to execute. Anti-Semitism never died, it laid in the dark, waiting for the opportune moment to resurge.
Two cases through which one can grasp the grim reality in Europe are the ‘Jobbik’ party, third in size in Hungary, whose member, Marton Gyongyosi, called in late 2012 for listing of all Jews in Hungary as they impose a national threat to the country; and the ‘Golden Dawn’ party, with 18 of 300 seats in the Greek parliament, that uses neo-Nazi rhetoric, some of its members are skinheads with swastika tattoos, and its supporters often use the Nazi salute. Last May the Golden Dawn gave out free groceries for the needy in Athens’s Syntagma square “for Greeks only”. Needless to say, Jews and other immigrants with a Greek citizenship didn’t qualify for the handout.
Other rightist and ultra-nationalistic parties are rising in Europe. In the Ukraine ‘Svoboda’, in Bulgaria ‘Ataka’ and resembling ideologies are found in Belgium, France, Austria, Denmark and the list goes on.
Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism turns more and more legitimate every day throughout Europe. It seeps into schools, sports, entertainment and even into the legal system. We all heard about the heinous Toulouse shooting at the Jewish school in March last year, costing the lives of three students, and the attempted assassination of a Chabad rabbi in the city of Derbent in southern Russia in July, yet we turn a blind eye to “daily” anti-Semitic occurrences such as Hitler sympathizing posters in bull rings in Madrid and in stadiums, a pop artist in Bulgaria that shoots anti-Semitic slurs or kids in France that suffer daily abuse at school for being Jewish. These are just a taste of the hundreds of daily anti-Semitic happenings in Europe.
The unperceivable easiness of anti-Semitism in Europe is, quite frankly, very perceivable. Anti-Semitism is accepted, institutionalized, often encouraged, by chosen public figures. It duplicates itself in the same patterns as 90 years ago and we know where it’s coming from.
The big question is – where is it headed?
The author is a public diplomacy professional and Director of the "Students for Israel" program for combating online anti-Semitism