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Volume 1, Issue 2 (April 2007 / Iyar 5767)
Article 9/9

Antisemitism in Twenty-First Century Europe
By Rita Simon and Jeffrey Schaler

Abstract: Antisemitism is on the rise in selective countries of Western and Eastern Europe. This article reports anti-Semitic incidents and attacks that have occurred in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia between 2000 and 2006.

Brief Background

Brian Klug recently wrote, in an article in the Nation (February 2, 2004):

In 1879, the German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, a former socialist and anarchist, founded an organization that was novel in two ways. It was the first political party based on a platform of hostility to Jews. And it introduced the world to a new word: "anti-Semite".

Basically antisemitism is hatred of Jews and Judaism. Jews are the enemy. Anti-Jewish beliefs are based on Jewish religion, hatred of Jews as an ethnic group, and/or a race.

In a piece by Natan P. F. Kellerman entitled "Unconditional Hate" presented at the conference on "Anti-Semitism in the Contemporary World" held in Melbourne, Australia in February 2005, the author offered five reasons for the persistent hatred of Jews throughout history. Jews are hated because

    1. They are the cause of all misfortunes;
    2. They possess too much wealth and power;
    3. They arrogantly claim supremacy over other people;
    4. They killed Jesus; and
    5. They deviate from the cultural norm and are thus inferior.

Recently, the media have included numerous articles on what they call the "new anti-Semitism." Essentially, the "new" antisemitism is anti-Israel. New antisemitism advocates and preaches hatred not only against Jews but also against Israel. The extent to which Israel is attacked because it is a Jewish state is the new antisemitism. For the purposes of this article, we have tried to separate criticisms of Israel that are based on its politics from criticisms of Israel that view it as representative of stereotypical Jews.

A Gallup Poll conducted in October 2005, asked 7,515 citizens from the 15 European Union (EU) member states, "Which countries pose the greatest threat to world peace?" Results showed that in the Netherlands, 74 %, in Austria 69%, and in Germany 65% chose Israel. Only Italy broke with the trend with less than half of the respondents saying Israel was a threat (48%). In second place after Israel, were Iran, North Korea, and the United States; 53 percent of the EU citizens deemed them a threat.

In the paragraphs that follow, we provide a country-by-country account of antisemitic incidents and opinions from 2000 to 2006.[1]

Country-By-Country Report

Great Britain

With a population of 273,500, the United Kingdom has the fifth largest Jewish community in the world. The Jewish population there, however, has been dropping since 1970 due to low birth rates and high intermarriage (fifty percent of men under thirty are married to non-Jewish women). In 1990, the Jewish population in the UK was estimated at 285,000.

The Community Security Trust (CST), an organization that analyzes threats to the Jewish community, recorded 511 antisemitic incidents between July 2003 and June 2004. Examples of the types of incidents reported are described below.

On June 25, near Manchester, a group of five persons physically assaulted a rabbi while shouting antisemitic statements. In October 2003, a man driving past Borhamwood Synagogue shouted antisemitic statements at members of the synagogue’s security team.

On June 17, vandals caused a fire in the South Tottenham United Synagogue resulting in the destruction of Jewish prayer books smuggled out of Central Europe before World War II. On June 18, in an apparently unrelated incident, a suspicious fire damaged a synagogue and Jewish educational center in Hendon.

Nazi slogans and swastikas were painted on 11 Jewish gravestones at a Southampton cemetery in July 2003, and 20 Jewish gravestones were damaged at Rainsough cemetery in Manchester in August 2003.

In November, a deliberately-set fire caused severe damage to the Hillock Hebrew Congregation near Manchester, and, in a separate incident attackers used bricks to smash the windows of London’s Orthodox Edgware Synagogue.

Members of some far-Right political parties--such as the BNP, the National Front, and the White Nationalist Party--and extremist Muslim organizations such as Al-Muhajiroun, occasionally gave speeches or distributed literature expressing antisemitic beliefs, including denials that the Holocaust occurred.

On October 19, police charged Abu Hamza al-Masri with four counts of soliciting or encouraging the killing of Jewish persons based on recordings of his addresses to public meetings.

In response to these and other incidents, British government officials reiterated their commitment to addressing antisemitism and protecting Jewish citizens through law enforcement and education. In February 2005, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Nazi war crimes investigator, Simon Wiesenthal, an honorary knighthood in recognition of his lifelong efforts to counter anti-Semitism.


As of 2002, France, at 519,000 had the third largest Jewish population in the world. Paris, with a Jewish population of 310,000, is the largest Jewish city outside of the U.S. and Israel. Along with the Jewish community there are five million Muslims living in France.

The French government reported that there were 510 antisemitic incidents (both incidents and threats) in the first six months of 2005, as compared to 593 in 2003, and 932 in 2002. There were 160 attacks against persons or property in the first seven months of 2004, compared to 75 during the same period in 2003. The French Justice Minister also reported that there were 298 antisemitic acts between January 1 and August 20, 2005, of which 162 were attacks against property, 67 were assaults against individuals and 69 were press violations. These figures compare with 108 for all of 2003.

The following are excerpts of reports on specific incidents.

On May 30, in Boulogne-Billancourt, a seventeen-year-old Jewish youth was attacked outside his home by a group of young men yelling antisemitic slogans. The youth is the son of a local rabbi.

In June, an individual shouting "Allah Akbar" stabbed a Jewish student and assaulted two other Jewish students in the city of Epinay-sur-Seine. This same person is believed to be responsible for similar knife attacks on five other victims, including those of Haitian and Algerian origin. A suspect, reportedly identified by several of the victims, was in custody at the end of the period covered by this report.

On March 23, in Toulon, a Jewish synagogue and community center were set on fire. According to media reports, the arsonist broke a window and threw a Molotov cocktail into the building. There was minor damage and no injuries.

On October 29-30, close to one hundred gravestones were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Brumath, just outside Strasbourg. The vandals painted swastikas and

"SS" symbols on 92 Jewish gravestones.

In November 2003, after an arson attack destroyed a Jewish school in Gagny, President Chirac stated, "An attack on a Jew is an attack on France" and ordered the formation of an inter-ministerial committee charged with leading an effort to combat antisemitism. Since its first meeting in December 2003, the committee has worked to improve government coordination in the fight against antisemitism, including the timely publication of statistics and reinforced efforts to prosecute attackers.

In February 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew from Paris, was found naked, tortured and burned south of Paris after being held for three weeks by a gang demanding a large ransom. Halimi died of his injuries shortly afterwards. On February 23, French police arrested twelve members of the gang. Another suspect was arrested in Belgium. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkosy described the crime as antisemitic in nature.

France is among the five countries in Western Europe, along with the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and Holland, in which the largest number of antisemitic incidents have occurred. Traditional far right groups, along with Muslim youth, are considered responsible for the attacks.


In 1933, when Hitler came to power, 500,000 Jews lived in Germany.  Less than 20,000 remained after the war.

As of the year 2000, there were some 98,000 Jews living in Germany, making it the ninth largest Jewish community in the world. It is also the largest growing Jewish community due to the migration, since 1990, of more than 100,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union into Germany.

Jewish leaders in Germany believe that a newer, non-traditional form of antisemitism is emerging in the country. The "new" form tends to promote antisemitism as part of other stands against globalization, capitalism, Zionism, and foreigners.

According to the 2003 report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the total number of registered antisemitic crimes decreased to 1,199 (from 1,515 in 2002). But among these the number of violent crimes increased from 28 to 35, and the number of desecrations of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, or memorials went up from 78 to 115.

German officials estimated there were more than 1,000 internet sites with what they considered to be objectionable or dangerous right-wing extremist content.

Specific incidents are reported below.

On July 22, a fifteen-year-old-boy in Hagen, along with two others, threatened synagogue visitors with a knife and made antisemitic remarks.

On July 31, a young man wearing a Star of David sticker was walking on a street in Pankow, a suburb of Berlin, when a right-wing extremist put a national Democratic Party (NPD) leaflet in his hand. After dropping the leaflet on the sidewalk, the rightist attempted to strangle the victim and throw him on the ground. The victim had minor injuries, and the police arrested the offender.

An ancient Jewish cemetery in Düsseldorf was desecrated in June. Forty-five gravestones were covered with swastikas, SS signs, and anti-Jewish slogans. Other Jewish cemeteries, including in Bochum, Nickenich, and Bausendorf, were vandalized during the reporting period.


There are about 42,000 Jews living in Belgium as of 2005. Before World War II, more than 100,000 lived in Belgium, mostly in Antwerp (55,000) and Brussels (35,000). By the end of the war more than 25,000 Jews died in the Holocaust. In the 1970s some 40,000 Jews lived in Belgium mostly in Antwerp and Brussels.

In recent years the Jewish community has been increasingly concerned about antisemitism. In 2005, the Center for Equal Opportunity and the Struggle against Racism and Other Forms of Discrimination reported that the annual number of complaints rose to 30 between 2000 and 2003. Prior to 1999, an average of four complaints were reported. In the first eleven months of 2005, 40 complaints were filed. The most serious incident involved the slaying of a Jewish youth in Antwerp. Most complaints involved antisemitism in the media, on the Internet, graffiti and verbal abuse. Examples of the types of incidents that occurred are described below.

On January 28, during an indoor Belgium-Israel soccer match in the city of Hasselt, spectators with Hamas and Hezbolleh banners heckled the Israelis and shouted antisemitic slogans, some in Arabic.

In February, a group of students at a Jewish school in Brussels were assaulted by youths from the neighborhood, a neighborhood inhabited primarily by Muslim immigrants.

On June 24, a number of allegedly North African youth assaulted four Jewish students as they departed their Jewish school in an Antwerp suburbs; one fleeing student was stabbed and seriously injured. Jewish students at the school previously have been subjected to verbal insult and harassment from these youths. On June 26, three Jewish students from the same school were harassed by four youths in a car. One fired what is believed to be a toy gun at the students before driving away; there were no injuries. Later that evening, elsewhere in the Antwerp suburbs, a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy was beaten by three youths. An eleven-year-old Moroccan and two Belgians, ages eight and sixteen, were arrested and charged with racially motivated assault and battery by a court for youthful offenders; they were required to apologize to the victim and pay damages. Also that evening, several immigrant youths reportedly kicked a Jewish youth repeatedly on the main street of Antwerp, before escaping.

On October 30, at a youth soccer match involving Maccabi Soccer Club, an Antwerp-based team composed mainly of Jewish players, members of the opposite team shouted "Heil Hitler" and other abusive language.

Antisemitic acts or speeches are illegal in Belgium and several lawsuits have been filed and resulted in guilty verdicts. During the year, Prime Minister Verkoptadt met with Jewish Community leaders and expressed the governments concerns over the recent incidents. The Prime Minister also addressed the Belgian Parliament and stated that such incidents were attacks on the country’s fundamental values and institutions and could not be tolerated.

The Netherlands

As of 2005, there were about 33,000 Jews living in the Netherlands: two tenths of a percent of the population. In 1940, at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, some 140,000 Jews lived there, comprising 1.6 percent of the population. Following World War II in 1946, there were 30,000 Jews in the country.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) registered 334 antisemitic incidents from January 2003 to May 2004. In 2002, 359 incidents were recorded or registered. This marked the first decline since 2000. In addition, the number of serious incidents (that is, physical violence, threats with violence and defacing of cemeteries and synagogues) decreased by 40 percent. CIDI also reported that a considerable number of antisemitic offenders were of North-African origin.

Most antisemitic incidents were not violent. They involved abusive language, hate mail, verbal insults at soccer matches, Internet "chat room" discussions and Holocaust denial. The incidents were most often linked to the conflict in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians.


As of 2005 there were some 55,000 Jews in Belarus, half of them living in the capital city of Minsk. Prior to World War II, Jews were the second largest ethnic group in what is today Belarus and comprised more than 50 percent of the population in cities and towns.

In 1979 there were 135,400 Jews living in Belarus. Between 1989 and 1991, 49,000 Jews emigrated to Israel.

Jewish leaders in Belarus report that memorials in Minsk and Lida commemorating victims of genocide were vandalized. Vandalism also occurred at Jewish cemeteries and at a Holocaust memorial in Brest. The prosecutor’s office did not react to these incidents and allowed groups of "skinheads" and the Russia National Unity Party (RNE) to function openly in the major cities of Belarus. While the police failed to prosecute suspects, the government did restore monuments and memorials that were vandalized. Instances of antisemitism may be seen in the excerpts.

Despite a May 2003 order by the prosecutor general and the Ministry of Information to terminate distribution of the antisemitic and xenophobic newspaper Russki Vestnik, the newspaper resumed in February through the government-distribution agency Belzoyuzprechat. Sales of similar literature continued throughout the year in government-owned buildings, in stores, and at events affiliated with the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC). Antisemitic and Russian ultra-nationalistic literature continued to be sold at Pravoslavnaya Kniga [Orthodox Bookstore], a store operated by Orthodox Initiative and selling Orthodox literature and religious paraphernalia. The head of the BOC, Metropolitan Filaret, promised to stop such sales; however, no action has been taken.

In January, the RNE distributed anti-Semitic leaflets in Gomel, stating, "The Jews are trying to destroy Christianity," "Now hostile activities against the Jews will begin," "The Jews are the forces of evil," and "The fighters against God must be exterminated." In addition, the letters RNE were sprayed on the walls of the Jewish Community building in Gomel. No suspects were arrested.

In September 2003, Sergei Kostyan, Deputy Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Lower House of Parliament, rejected criticism regarding the installation of a gas pipeline near a Jewish cemetery in Maozyr. Kostyan accused Jews of sowing "ethnic discord." During an October press conference, Information Minister Vladimir Rusakevich said the country should live with Russia like a brother, but bargain with Russia like a "Yid."


As of 2005, there are some 717,101 Jews living in Russia. They make up 0.5 percent of the population and are the fifth largest Jewish community in the world. In 1959, in the former Soviet Union, the Jewish population was 2,267,800. By 1989, it dropped to 1,450,500. Between 1990 and 2000, 980,000 Jews emigrated, mostly to Israel and the United States. Current figures have 106,000 Jews living in Moscow, rated as the seventeenth largest Jewish city in the world. St. Petersburg is the second largest Jewish city in the country.

In 2003, the ADL reported that "while the number of antisemitic attacks remained stable, the nature of the attacks became more violent." Examples of the types of incidents that occurred are described below

On April 22, 2003, eight skinheads stormed the Ulyanovsk Jewish Center screaming, "Don’t pollute our land," smashing windows, and tearing down Jewish symbols as Jewish women and children hid inside. No one was injured, but police failed to respond quickly, arriving 40 minutes after they were called.

On October 17, a group of skinheads tried to enter the synagogue in Penza, but were stopped by parishioners. A group of approximately 40 people armed with chains and iron clubs approached the synagogue later that day. The parishioners locked themselves inside and called the police. There were reports that three skinheads were detained.

Unknown persons vandalized Jewish institutions. On many occasions, vandals desecrated tombstones in cemeteries dominated by religious and ethnic minorities. These attacks often involved the painting of swastikas and other racist and ultra-nationalist symbols or epithets on gravestones.

On January 27, 2003, an explosion shattered several windows in a synagogue in Derbent in the southern region of Dagestan. Vandals attempted to torch a synagogue and library in Chelyabinsk in February, but neighbors managed to extinguish the fire before the arrival of firefighters.

On March 29, 2003, vandals broke the windows of the only kosher restaurant in St. Petersburg. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in Bryansk, Kaluga, Kostroma, Petrozavodsk, Pyatigorsk, St. Petersburg, Ulyanovsk, and Vyatka. In Petrozavodsk, unknown persons sprayed antisemitic graffiti on tombstones on the day a local court was to render a decision in another case concerning cemetery desecration. In February 2004, and again in December 2004, several Jewish tombs were desecrated in one of the oldest cemeteries in St. Petersburg.

On January 1, 2006, a Jewish Community Center in the provincial capital city of Ulyanovsk was vandalized by unidentified individuals who threw a bottle through a second floor window of the Jewish Center shattering the glass in one of the offices. A leaflet with antisemitic threats was posted near the entrance of the center and antisemitic graffiti were written on the building. The Ulyanovsk Center has been vandalized before and extreme nationalists stormed it in 2003 and 2004. No one was injured in any of the incidents.

Most of the antisemitic crimes were committed by groups of young skinheads. The estimated number of skinheads increased from a few dozen in 1992 to more than 50,000 in 2004. Antisemitic rhetoric and beliefs have appeared with greater frequency in the publications of nationalist parties such as Rodina the Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). One of the Senators of the KPRF in the party’s newspaper blamed Zionism and Jews in general for many of the country’s problems and blamed Soviet Jews for helping to destroy the Soviet Union.

There are at least 80 Russian websites dedicated to distributing antisemitic propaganda. The law does not restrict websites that contain hate speech.

According to the U.S. State Department, responses to antisemitic violence were mixed. Authorities often provided strong words of condemnation, but preferred to label the perpetrators as "terrorists" or "hooligans" rather than "xenophobes" or antisemites.

Federal officials maintained regular contact with Jewish community leaders. In March, then Russian Minister for Nationalities Vladimir Zorin brought extremism to the forefront of the public attention by calling antisemitism and xenophobia major threats to the country.

In March 2004, prominent rabbis Berl Lazar and Pinchas Goldschmidt together requested that the government better define the meaning of extremism. Lazar and Goldschmidt said that law enforcement was prone to dismiss antisemitic actions as simple hooliganism to avoid calling attention to the presence of extremists in their region, and to consciously protect extremist groups with which they sympathized. In October 2005, President Putin met with Rabbi Lazar and promised that the state would help to revive Jewish communities in Russia.


As of 2005, there are 142,276 Jews living in the Ukraine, placing the Ukrainian Jewish community among the ten largest Jewish communities in the world. In 1989, there were an estimated 487,000 Jews in the Ukraine. Jews from the Ukraine represent the biggest emigrant group to the U.S. over the last ten years.

No overall figures are available for recent antisemitic incidents but there have been numbers of specific events, such as an attack on two rabbis in Central Odessa, the removal of gold from the mass graves of Jews killed by Nazis at the Sosonkz Memorial in Rivre, the destruction of several dozen tombstones at Jewish burial sites in the Kurenvivske Cemetery in Kiev and in other cemeteries in different regions of the country.

On December 20, 2006 a Holocaust memorial was vandalized two days before it was to be unveiled. Unidentified persons inscribed a swastika and the Nazi acronym SS on the monument in Donetsk. The memorial marks the border of the Jewish ghetto set up by the Nazis before they sent the local Jews to their deaths.

In January 2006 vandals painted antisemitic threats on the wall of the Siyane Chesed Jewish Center in Murnask, the words "Beat the Kikes" and "Holocaust 2007" were painted on the walls. In July, 2006 vandals painted "Death to the Kikes" on the building.

Although antisemitic articles rarely appeared in the national press, they do appear in small publications. The monthly journal Personnee, whose editorial board included members of parliament, generally publishes one antisemitic article each month.

A large number of high-level government officials continued to take part in the annual September commemoration of the massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev, the site of one of the most serious crimes of the Holocaust directed against Jews and thousands of individuals from other minority groups. Discussions continued among various Jewish community members about erecting an appropriate memorial, and possibly a heritage center, to commemorate the victims. The government was generally supportive of these initiatives.

Concluding Remarks

It is clear from the materials presented in the preceding sections that antisemitism is on the rise in Europe. Western Europe, notably Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands have shown significant increases in verbal and physical attacks on the Jewish community in their country and on Judaism generally. Of those countries, France probably has the worst record. Jews in France have responded to the increasing antisemitic sentiments and actions by leaving the country and emigrating to Israel in greater numbers than at any time since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. In 2004, the Israeli government reported that 7,024 immigrants had come from France since 2000. One of the emigres was quoted in the Israeli press as stating "In five or 10 years, all of the Jews of France will be in Israel because of anti-Semitism." Perhaps the most surprising Western European country included in this group is the Netherlands, given its valiant record of helping and protecting its Jewish community during World War II when the Dutch were under Nazi rule. Eastern Europe, of course, has experienced hundreds of years of pogroms and violent antisemitism under the Czars, and later under Stalin.

And finally, we report the results of a study just released in February 2007, by the Global Forum against Anti-Semitism. The report stated that antisemitic attacks rose in 2006, especially in Europe.[2] It stated that there were hundreds of violent attacks, ranging from murder, to bodily injury, property damage and threats. In Austria, incidents increased by 66% in the past year, in Germany by 60%, in the Scandinavian countries by 50%, and in France and Russia by 20%. The Ukraine and the United Kingdom, in contrast, reported a slight decline.


[1] This article is based on a longer version that will appear in a special issue of Current Psychology edited by Jeffrey Schaler and to be published by Transaction press on “Anti-Semitism the World Over in the 21st Century.” The stimulus for the special issue is the growing concern that antisemitism is on the increase especially in selected countries of Western Europe, namely France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Holland. In Eastern Europe, Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia have also been identified by the U.S. State Department as having increasing numbers of antisemitic incidents and expressions of anti-Jewish attitudes.

[2] The report was sponsored by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the World Zionist Organization.

About the Authors
Rita J. Simon is a University Professor in the School of Public Affairs and the Washington College of Law. She is the author and editor of 56 books dealing mainly with immigration , transracial adoptions, women and crime and the jury system. She has served as Editor of The American Sociological Review, Justice Quarterly, and is currently Editor of Gender Issues. Professor Simon is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Jeffrey A. Schaler, a psychologist, teaches in the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University's School of Public Affairs. He is Executive Editor of Current Psychology, a quarterly international journal, and editor of the Under Fire series of books, published by Open Court Publishers in Chicago. His most recent book is Howard Gardner under Fire: The Rebel Psychologist Faces His Critics (2006).

© Covenant - Global Jewish Magazine 2007

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