S.F.-based diplomats address new anti-Semitism in Europe

Against a backdrop of increased anti-Semitism in Europe, six consuls general based in San Francisco gathered last week at Congregation Emanu-El to discuss the situation.

One of their conclusions: Much of the problem can be attributed to Europe’s unassimilated Muslim population.

Stefan Schlüter, the consul general of Germany, said that a major challenge for his government is to “rein in and educate” Europe’s growing Muslim population. He said the issue has been “hushed for a while out of a wrong sense of political correctness,” noting that a typical press report of an anti-Semitic attack might describe the suspect as someone who “looked like he came from the Mediterranean” without using the word “Muslim.”

“The New Anti-Semitism in Europe” panel at Congregation Emanu-El

Schlüter was speaking to an audience of about 200 people at Emanu-El on Oct. 28, with Game 6 of the World Series playing on a television in a nearby room. He was joined on the panel by fellow consuls general Hugo von Meijenfeldt (the Netherlands), Hans-Ulrich Tanner (Switzerland), Andy David (Israel) and Barbro Sachs-Osher (Sweden), and Eva Voisin, honorary consul general of Hungary.

Gunda Trepp, a local journalist, convened the panel discussion, “The New Anti-Semitism in Europe,” after hearing from European friends who have become increasingly afraid to identify publicly as Jews.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, was also on the panel, and the event was opened by Seth Brysk, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Central Pacific region.

Brysk presented statistics from a recent ADL survey of 100 countries (available at http://global100.adl.org), including a finding that 26 percent of respondents worldwide harbor anti-Semitic feelings.

Moreover, this past summer saw a swell of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, such as chants of “Jews to the gas!” at rallies in Berlin protesting Israel’s military action against Hamas, the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, and anti-Israel demonstrations in Paris that turned into riots outside two synagogues and Jewish-owned stores.

While “it isn’t the 1930s all over again,” Brysk said, we are witnessing an “attack on the Jewish right to self-determination.”

Schlüter said it’s not easy to educate Muslim immigrants to Germany about Jews and Israel, noting that many don’t assimilate and that traditional “honor killings” still occur among Muslims in his country. “When we don’t reach the immigrants about [stopping] honor killings, how do we teach them that to live in Germany means living with certain obligations toward the State of Israel?”

Von Meijenfeldt noted recent vicious online expressions of hatred against Jews in the Netherlands. He called for “strict regulation at the national level” against hate speech — against both Jews and Muslims — when it veers into “discrimination,” though he did add that this brings up complicated questions about freedom of speech.

Tanner noted that one-quarter of Switzerland’s population is foreign-born. The right-wing, xenophobic Swiss People’s Party, he said, is both anti-Semitic and prejudiced not only against Muslims, but “against everybody who came from another country.”

Consuls general Hugo von Meijenfeldt of the Netherlands (left) and Stefan Schlüter of Germany

Sachs-Osher, a Stockholm native and well-known philanthropist in the Bay Area, talked about Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city and the scene of much anti-Israel and anti-Semitic violence. The city is home to a large refugee Muslim population, she pointed out.

However, positive steps have been taken, she added. She described recent “kippah walks” in which non-Jews donned kippot and marched alongside members of Malmö’s Jewish community to protest the violence, and noted that a powerful local government official — “a real instigator of racism,” she said — recently was ousted.

In contrast to Germany, where Schlüter noted that Holocaust education is woven into the lives of schoolchildren, Voisin said that in Hungary, as a former Soviet-dominated country, “the Holocaust and the whole Israeli question were not taught at all.”

Hungary now is raising its first generation to live in a “multicultural, democratic society,” she added. But what about the nationalist and anti-Semitic Jobbik party having become the nation’s second largest parliamentary party after the last elections? It “has no political power,” she claimed.

Trepp talked about Hungarians’ lack of acknowledgement of their collaboration with the Nazis; to illustrate, she pointed to a new war memorial that focuses on Hungary’s loss of sovereignty to the Germans without mentioning Jews or the Holocaust. Trepp’s husband was German native Rabbi Leo Trepp, who, when he died four years ago at 97, had lived longer than any other European-born rabbi who survived the Holocaust.

David, whose career as an Israeli diplomat has included a lot of work on Euro-Asian issues, said that local governments in Europe are even more problematic than “Muslim minorities.” While many national governments in Europe support the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, he said, there is rampant anti-Israel bias among academics, media outlets and United Nations organizations in Europe.

Kahn directed his remarks toward building relationships among communities. “It is not at all a contradiction to speak out against” anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the rise of radical Islam, he said.