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Addressing Resurgent Extremism in Europe

May 29, 2014
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Beleaguered Belgian Jews shocked but not surprised by museum attack

If you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in Europe, it’s time you started.

Developments over the past week alone — a deadly shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels that left four dead, a brutal beating of two brothers leaving a synagogue outside Paris and the surge of right-wing, anti-Semitic parties in elections to the European Parliament — underscore the increasingly intolerable climate for Jews there.

We know, of course, that such attacks can happen anywhere, including in the United States. Think Kansas City, where three non-Jewish bystanders were murdered last month outside two Jewish institutions, allegedly by a known white supremacist.

And as we learned from the Anti Defamation League’s global report on anti-Semitism released earlier this month, the scourge of anti-Semitic attitudes extends around the world, with heightened hate documented in the Middle East and parts of Europe.

While we need to distinguish between anti-Semitic attitudes and anti-Semitic acts, we know that one can easily lead to the other, as not only the history leading up to the Holocaust reminds us but also the very recent tragedies in Kansas City, Brussels and Paris.

What is particularly worrisome in Europe is the political context in which such attitudes are allowed to flourish. Which is why the results of the May 25 elections to the European Parliament are especially disturbing. In the 28 countries where voting took place, xenophobic and anti-Semitic groups finished with a strong showing in Austria, France, Greece and Hungary.

As one of the E.U.’s main law-making institutions, the European Parliament is influential in setting the agenda on the continent. These election results also can be a harbinger of voting trends in individual countries.

In France, for example, the far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen polled 26 percent of the vote and became the strongest party representing France in the parliament.

Such parties, rooted perhaps in economic uncertainty and anti-immigrant rhetoric, inevitably take a stab at the Jews as well.

While it is comforting that the Belgian president showed up at a vigil for the victims shot dead at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, such actions are not enough. European leaders must address this problem urgently and come up with a strategy to fight extremism. As Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, put it: “The future of European Jewry is at stake if these forces are not reined in. Extremists must not be allowed to set the agenda in Europe.”

That message needs to be heard loud and clear.

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