On November 30, 2011, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, spoke to a conference of lawyers organized by the European Jewish Union. His remarks have some renewed relevance now as Britain’s Labour Party is suffering multiple accusations that it harbors antisemites.
There is and has long been some amount of anti-Semitism, of hatred and violence against Jews, from a small sector of the population who hate others who may be different or perceived to be different, largely for the sake of hating. Those anti-Semites are people who hate not only Jews, but Muslims, gays, gypsies, and likely any who can be described as minorities or different. That hatred is of course pernicious and it must be combated. We can never take our eye off it or just dismiss it as fringe elements or the work of crazy people, because we have seen in the past how it can foment and grow. And it is that hatred that lawyers like you can work vigilantly to expose, combat and punish, maybe in conjunction with existing human rights groups.
I have not personally seen much of that hatred in Europe, though it rears its ugly head from time to time. I do not have any basis to think it is growing in any sense. But of course, we can never take our eye off of it, and you particularly as lawyers can help with that process.
So in some sense, that is the easy part of the analysis.
Let’s turn to the harder and more complex part.
What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. It is the phenomena that led Jacques Brotchi to quit his position on the university committee a couple of months ago and that led to the massive attention last week when the Jewish female student was beaten up. It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.
It too is a serious problem. It too must be discussed and solutions explored. No Jewish student – and no Muslim student or student of any heritage or religion – should ever feel intimidated on a University campus for their heritage or religion leading to academic leaders quitting in protest. No high school or grammar school Jewish student – and no Muslim high school or grammar school student or student of any heritage or religion – should be beaten up over their heritage or religion.
But this second problem is in my opinion different in many respects than the classic bigotry – hatred against those who are different and against minorities generally — the type of anti-Semitism that I discussed above. It is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis. This second form of what is labeled “growing anti-Semitism” produces strange phenomena and results.
Thus for example, I have been received well by Belgians everywhere in this country. I always get polite applause and sometimes more.
But the longest and loudest ovation I have ever received in Belgium came from the high school with one of the largest percentages of students of Arab heritage. It was in Molenbeek. It consisted of an audience dominated by girls with head scarves and boys named Mohammed, standing and cheering boisterously for a Jewish American, who belongs to two schuls and whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Let me just share a minute or two with you of a video clip from that visit.
These kids were not anti-Semitic as I have ever thought of the term. And I get a similar reaction as I engage with imans, at Iftars, and with Muslims communities throughout Belgium.
And yet, I know and I hear at the same time that the cheering occurs for this Jew, that within that same school and audience at Molenbeek, among those at the same Iftars, and throughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed throughout Europe, there is significant anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes and all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East.
This is a complex problem indeed. It requires its own analysis and solutions. And the analysis I submit is not served simply by lumping the problem with past instances of anti-Jewish beliefs and actions or those that exist today among minority haters under a uniform banner of “anti-Semitism.”