Europe’s Blind Antisemitism…

By Lauren Gottlieb

Published March 28, 2003, issue of March 28, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the Belgian capital of Brussels, as in most other parts of Western Europe, very few people carry guns. But everyone has a finger to point.

The power of this observation was made especially clear to me one Saturday morning last fall as I walked several of my host family’s children to synagogue. It was cloudy and drizzling, as most autumn days in Brussels are. As I waited at a street corner hand-in-hand with my charges, ages 6 and 8, I saw an Arab man. Just a few years older than myself, he was riding shotgun in a car stopped just before the crosswalk. He was looking at me, pointing at me. With his forefinger and thumb cocked in the shape of a gun.

I glanced away and then back again to make sure I had seen correctly. Yes, the man was still there, as was his pretend gun aimed at the center of my forehead. The windows of his car were rolled up, but I could still hear him bellowing laughter as he pulled his imaginary trigger, bending his forefinger at the joint, then quickly jerking his arm upwards. Had the kids seen? I hoped not, and so I kept walking, silently. But they had seen, and I had no answer to give when 6-year-old Yossi tearfully asked why the man had pointed his “gun” at him.

I am not Israeli, and neither was my host family in Belgium. But dressed in Shabbat clothes that morning, skipping over puddles in our Shabbat shoes on the way to synagogue, we were unmistakably Jews. And even 3,000 miles from the epicenter of Arab-Israeli tension, we were still targeted, albeit sarcastically, by an Arab with a grudge to bear.

This incident is only one of several encounters with antisemitism I experienced while living and working in Europe last year. And even these take a backseat to the many more violent assaults endured with increasing frequency by Jews living in Europe today: By a teenage girl walking down the sidewalk in Paris who is suddenly cornered by three Arab teenage boys and forced to swallow the gold Star of David she had been wearing on her neck; by a Jewish man wearing a black hat who is beaten over the head with a glass bottle outside a synagogue in Antwerp. Though it is hard to imagine, the same hatred propagandized by the Nazis in central Europe less than 60 years ago is once again on the rise.

Maybe it is a backlash of younger generations against the decades of guilt imposed upon their parents and grandparents in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Maybe the “European street” has been radicalized by the influx of large numbers of young Arab immigrants. Maybe it is an indirect consequence of the increasingly controversial politics in the Middle East. None of these hypotheses are easy to discount. In a post-Cold War Europe where the enemy is no longer a shadow looming in the East, cynical eyes seem to have turned to the West, in particular to Washington, a city also known among Europeans as “Jewish-owned Washington.”

Some have asserted that the gathering wave of European discontent is in fact part of a well-justified anti-American, anti-colonial movement. With a Texas cowboy holding the reins of the single largest superpower in the world, such an explanation offers a seductive hint of reality. Yet it should not go unnoticed that these broad-based political ideologies also lend themselves quite conveniently to a growing anti-Israel movement, itself entangled with anti-Jewish sentiments.

So while the distinction between Jew and Israeli may be clear cut to those of us raised in metropolitan New York and Los Angeles, the semantics become little more than, well, semantics, when it comes to certain European perspectives. In an age of pop-culture politics, everyone has a finger to point. And in Europe it’s practically open season.

Lauren Gottlieb is a writer living in Washington, D.C.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.