May 4, 2010
European Diplomats Probe Anti-Semitism
A large poster by a Danish artist recently displayed in a Berlin public square depicted a map of the countries of the Middle East, with the name of Israel conspicuously excised.
The title of the poster read “Endlosung,” or Final Solution, the macabre Nazi term for the total extermination of all Jews.
So there is anti-Semitism in Europe, but how deep and how widespread is it?
The consuls general of five European nations, each of which has experienced its share of anti-Semitism over the centuries, took a stab at answering this sensitive question at a panel discussion last week.
Meeting at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills were the highest-ranking diplomatic representatives in Los Angeles of the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary and Poland. The British consul general had also been invited but didn’t respond, said Klaire Firestone, president of the sponsoring organization, Second Generation of Los Angeles, who served as moderator.
Starting on a hopeful note, Germany’s Wolfgang Drautz observed that if the representatives of five nations, which historically have fought each other bitterly, could sit together peacefully, maybe a solution to the oldest hatred could also be found.
One can’t expect diplomats to brutally dissect their own nation’s shortcomings, so while the presentations tended to acknowledge the existence of some anti-Semitism, they focused more on the steps taken by each government to fight against it.
Most of the consuls said their countries had strong laws forbidding Holocaust denial, with the Hungarian law stipulating a minimum three-year prison term for violators. Hate speech is also punished in many European countries, in contrast to the United States, which punishes hate acts but protects free speech and advocacy, even if racist.
Since the bulk of anti-Semitic propaganda is now transmitted via the Internet, said France’s David Martinon, his country faces a difficult problem.
The French government can crack down on internal hate speech but cannot stop the constant stream of hatred sent out mainly from the United States, he said.
In general, the impact of the Internet on the spread of anti-Semitic material is hard to gauge, the more reason to fight it with a unified global effort, rather than on a country-by-country basis, urged Balasz Bokor of Hungary.
Poland’s Joanna Kozinska-Frybes emphasized that Poles and Jews must be absolutely honest and open with each other in discussing past or present grievances, citing the book “Difficult Questions in
Polish-Jewish Dialogue,” co-published by the American Jewish Committee and the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, as a model.
She said that, while it was widely known that the Germans killed 3 million Polish Jews, the Nazis also murdered an equal number of Polish gentiles.
Noting that on Yad Vashem’s list of Righteous Gentiles — those who saved Jews at the risk of their own and their families’ lives — more Poles were represented than any other nationality. She added, “Furthermore, for a Pole to save a single Jewish life required the assistance of 10 other Poles.”
Amid the generally positive action taken by the executive and legislative branches of central European countries, the old/new anti-Semitism still lingers. Many of the more violent incidents can be attributed to young Muslims, taking out their hatred of Israel on the local Jewish populations.
Some of the 120 people in the audience offered up pointed questions about repeated vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, while others expressed concern at the strong showing of the far-right Jobbik party in the recent Hungarian election.
The Jewish Journal asked the panelists whether the current relatively stable Jewish condition in their respective countries was merely a temporary lull in the long history of anti-Semitism or represented a real sea change in the attitudes of their people.
David Kumermann of the Czech Republic sounded a skeptical note, recalling that all the wise men of the time had predicted that the 20th century would be one of universal enlightenment.
However, his colleagues from other countries were more hopeful, trusting that the lessons of the past and continuing education would serve as future deterrents.
Most emphatic was a nonpanelist, Hans Jorg Neumann, an inspector for the German foreign ministry.
“There are always a few idiots in every country, but the way we are educating our children and grandchildren, what happened in the 1930s and ’40s can never happen again,” said Neumann, who is currently on a tour of the six German consulates in the United States to evaluate their performances. “One of the first questions I ask our people at every stop is about their relationship with the local Jewish
community. That’s one of our top priorities,” he said.
Neumann said he had been very satisfied with the responses, citing, in particular, ties with the American Jewish Committee.
When asked whether this special German effort vis-à-vis American Jews rests mainly on the history of the Hitler era or if it is affected by the universal perception abroad that Jews wield enormous power in setting American policy, Neumann responded that even in countries with very small, noninfluential Jewish communities, the same German outreach was under way as in the United States.
“Germany’s best defense [against charges of anti-Semitism] is if the Jewish communities abroad speak well of us,” Neumann said.