S.F.-based diplomats dissect anti-Semitism in Europe

Anti-Semitism is a widespread problem throughout Europe, yet manifests itself differently in different countries based on history, immigration patterns and government response.

That’s the assessment of three European consuls general — representing France, Germany and Sweden — who spoke to about 100 people as part of a panel discussion Dec. 4 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

All three diplomats agreed that education, especially of young refugees from Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who have fled to European nations in the past two years, is the key to battling anti-Semitism. Teaching such youngsters about the Holocaust is crucial, they argued.

They also all supported government efforts to suppress hate speech and to gather intelligence on radicalization within Muslim communities.

But the consuls-general said the causes of anti-Semitism were as different as the individual countries they represent.

Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, who became France’s consul general in San Francisco in May, said his nation’s anti-Semitism has come in three waves — in the late 19th century, when the Dreyfus affair divided the country; in the 1990s, when the extreme-right National Front fanned anti-Jewish fervor amid a campaign of Holocaust denial; and in recent years as part of homegrown radicalization of disaffected youngsters.

France has taken in relatively few Muslim refugees the past two years and Lebrun-Damiens stressed that French citizens, not recent immigrants, were fomenting most of his nation’s anti-Semitism and recent acts of terrorism.

“This is something very different, very dangerous,” he said, “when you think of all the French people who went to Syria and are going to come back with all the frustration and willingness to harm people in many different communities, including the Jewish community.” 

German Consul General Stefan Schlueter blamed his nation’s recent rise in anti-Semitism on the more than 830,000 refugees who have streamed into his country the past two years.

“Some 630,000 of them are from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, from regions where they grew up with anti-Semitism,” Schlueter said. “You have to know where they come from, what is in their school books, what is on their TV for the last 20 to 30 years. They come with an anti-Semitic attitude.”

Swedish Consul General Barbro Osher, who also is chairman of the San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation, linked anti-Jewish attacks in her country to right-wing extremists.

“There has been very little anti-Semitism from the Arab side,” she said. “There is still a kind of feeling (among extreme-right groups) that there is Jewish dominance in the world and that the Jews are really in charge of what is happening and even blamed for 9/11.”

All three diplomats extolled their governments’ criminalization of hate speech and laid much of the blame for anti-Semitism on websites that spread such views. Schlueter took aim in particular at Facebook, which he accused of not doing enough to block such hate speech, and said he recently took at peek at Breitbart News — saying it was “like entering a porn page. It’s horrible. It’s not necessarily fake news, but you get distorted news.”

“We have seen an enormous influx of hate sites,” Osher added. “It seems as if there are no limits to what you can say, what you can place on the internet. That’s really where the most monstrous remarks are made.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.