There’s a village in France called Mort Aux Juifs. Translation: Death to the Jews. No one paid much attention to it until last week, when the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to France’s interior minister, calling it “shocking” that such a name should persist 70 years after the Holocaust.
The village won’t be changing its name anytime soon. “It’s ridiculous,” a local deputy mayor told the French media. “Why change a name that goes back to the Middle Ages or even further? We should respect those old names.”
Then she added, “No one has anything against the Jews, of course.”
That might well be true. It’s also possible none of the 295 residents of Mort Aux Juifs has ever met a Jew, even though the village is just 70 miles from Paris. The Wiesenthal Center might not have bothered to involve itself in such a local matter, if Jewish nerves weren’t already on edge in the face of a terrifying wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel anger raging throughout Europe.
That’s really the point. And that’s undoubtedly what gave the deputy mayor the chutzpah to offer her shocking defense of this outrageous name and why she could suggest, so openly, with such exasperation, that once again the Jews are making a fuss. Just like they always do.
I listened to U.C. Berkeley Jewish history professor John Efron tell this story last week at the monthly meeting of the JCRC board in San Francisco. An expert on European anti-Semitism, Efron delivered a 45-minute litany of anti-Semitic incidents taking place all over the world under the guise of opposition to the recent Israeli operation in Gaza.
With exhausting precision, Efron ran down the list. Shouts of “Jews to the gas” at rallies in Germany and “slaughter the Jews” in Belgium. Rampaging mobs attacking Jewish-owned stores in Paris. Women beaten in Amsterdam for flying the Israeli flag. Young men driving through a Jewish neighborhood in Manchester, England, shouting “Heil Hitler” and pelting residents with eggs. Teenagers boarding a bus in Sydney, Australia, filled with Jewish children ages 5 to 12, and threatening to “cut their throats.”
“What we’re facing today is global,” Efron told us. “Places that historically have been wonderful for the Jews are no longer exemplary.”
The focal point of this new anti-Jewish violence is France, a country with the largest Jewish population in Europe — 600,000. In 2013, 3,300 French Jews immigrated to Israel. This year, 5,000 are expected. One recent arrival to Israel told reporters that he feels safer with a 15-second warning to get to a bomb shelter than he did walking down the Champs-Elysees wearing a kippah.
What are we supposed to do with such information? Join the Jewish Defense League? Convert?
Whenever a new ADL survey of global anti-Semitism comes out, I cringe. This spring was one of the worst — a survey of anti-Semitic attitudes that showed one-quarter of the world’s population harbors anti-Semitic beliefs.
The ADL isn’t the only one releasing these mind-numbing statistics. According to a 2013 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, nearly 30 percent of European Jews have considered emigrating because of security concerns.
Here in the United States, we feel removed from the problems of Europe. But, Efron continued, this new incarnation of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hostility is already on our shores. What is the rising public profile of the BDS movement if not an illustration of this?
Why is all of this happening now? People are sick of the Palestinian problem, Efron suggested, and they blame Israeli intransigence for its persistence, drawing a link between that and historic Jewish intransigence, notably the refusal to accept Jesus as the messiah.
That analysis seems a stretch to me, but the second factor he points to is undeniable: Opposition to Israeli settlements on the West Bank has morphed, in some progressive circles, to opposing the very existence of Israel — a growing acceptance, in polite circles, of the notion that a Jewish state is not in step with modern values.
And that’s something else for all of us to worry about.
Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.