It’s been odd. Through my travels lately, I’ve encountered a number of European leftists and every single one has been a rabid anti-Semite. A small sample size, but telling perhaps also in the fact that they expressed it in the exact same way.
I’m someone who’s often skeptical of the news. News reports tends to focus on the most sensational stories- and to skew them in a way that gins up your fear or anger to get ratings. It’s a business.
I have a few reasons I write this blog. Foremost, because I enjoy it and it feels therapeutic. I like sharing my stories- having a written record of my journey. And I also like sharing my observations and ideas with friends around the world. Especially when I can offer nuance or perspectives overlooked by mainstream media.
While the news often gets it wrong or only gets part of the story, European leftist anti-Semitism is quite a real thing.
If you read the Jewish news, this problem is hardly a new one. Literally just Google it. While I occasionally experienced it in America, perhaps because America has a much less intense history of anti-Semitism and a lot more living Jews, it never hit me as hard as here.
On the plane from Slovenia to Brussels, I was seated next to a Flemish Belgian man, Tom. Tom was rather grumpy at the beginning of the flight, but I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt on a crowded airplane, and he did get chattier later in the flight.
To his right was Dina, a really open-minded, curious Slovenian woman. Dina, if you’re reading this, you made my flight! Keep exploring, I admire your curiosity and kindness 🙂
I joined in their conversation.
Tom works at an arts NGO in Brussels. On his own initiative, maybe because he peeked at my phone playing Hebrew songs, he brought up the Jewish community in Antwerp. Almost completely out of nowhere.
I said I was Jewish and I speak Yiddish, just like the remaining Hasidim there. One of the very communities to still do so in Europe. When just 70 years ago, millions of people were using the language every day.
He then proceeded to tell me how tight-knit the community was. Which was at first a maybe neutral observation. Which then devolved into him telling me (and Dina) how they were so “isolated”. It didn’t take long before he was telling me about the “powerful, elite Jewish lobby in Amsterdam” that practically controls Dutch politics. To give you an idea of how absurd this is, Jews are .2% of the Dutch population. Who continue to suffer anti-Semitic attacks. In a country with relatively low levels of anti-Semitism and a decent relationship with Israel, but sometimes one that ventures into the obsessive and preachy. Hardly characteristic of a government run by a cabal of Jews, but then again age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes are as hard to counter as they are to prove.
While Dina at every turn asked interesting questions and thanked me for sharing about my country, Tom was frankly a dick. He said Israel was an apartheid country- something I would never say to anyone on a plane, no matter how rough their government is. It’s aggressive and mean.
I asked why he thought this and he said: “because Arabs don’t have equal rights.” A rather broad standard for apartheid seeing as how every country in the world has societal groups that are discriminated against. From gays to Roma to refugees to Jews to Latinos to Muslim immigrants to Catalans to Tibetans and on and on. While I’d agree Arabs don’t have equal rights in Israel, neither are they excluded nearly on the level of apartheid South Africa. I don’t think there were many black members of government there, while 15+ members of the Israeli Knesset are Arabs. My doctor in Israel is Arab. Arabs go to university side-by-side with Jews. This isn’t an attempt to whitewash racism- it’s real and I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it, I’ve even experienced it. It’s just to say that to equate Israel with a country that did nothing but brutalize its black population in constantly legally-sanctioned segregation is to both insult the victims of apartheid and to deeply insult Israel. Not to mention the fact that the actual racism in Israel goes unaddressed because you’re completely mischaracterizing it. But your objective is not fixing problems, it’s creating them.
I asked Tom, much like I asked the British anti-Semites I met last week, why he would say such things about Israel but not about China, which brutally occupies Tibet and Uyghur territories, including banning their languages and religious customs. He said something utterly bizarre and word-for-word what Alice the British anti-Semite said: “because Israel is a democracy.”
Well that’s odd. How can a country be both a democracy and an apartheid state at the same time? That’s logically impossible.
But for the mental gymnasts on Europe’s far left, it makes total sense.
The one thing I found strangely in common between both groups of anti-Semites was they had to tell me how they were not anti-Semitic. Specifically in both cases, by pointing out how they “call out” anti-Semitic BDS supporters. People who boycott Israel. In Alice’s case, like her. And in Tom’s case, I can imagine he supports it too. Even as he claims there is no such thing as left-wing anti-Semitism while embodying it himself.
They told me specific stories of how awesome they were at calling out anti-Semites in their own movement. As if somehow I’d be thrilled or want to thank them for being so great at noticing the blatantly obvious anti-Semitism in a movement that only targets one country in a whole world of nations that abuse human rights. In their world view, they can’t totally hate Jews because we’re a minority and minorities are always right. But we’re a minority that stubbornly resists their gospel, so they have to hate us.
You see, they have a religion and it’s called leftism. In reality, it’s authoritarian nationalism simply with a different flavor that on the right. Orthodox thinking, you or me, inside or outside, right or wrong. Non stop. And the idea that all countries should follow their model. Alice couldn’t stop ranting about how international law was “objective truth” and Tom told me how if we only “secularized” the Middle East and “got over our problems” we could have a one state solution. If only we just behaved like those civilized Christians. Pardon me, Europeans.
You see this idea is not new at all. Europeans scouring the globe for people to “teach”. For people who need to be just like them. You see, before colonialism, Europeans had hundreds of years of practice as this condescending attitude at home and it’s called anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is a colonial movement. A movement to force the Jewish people to abandon our faith, our traditions, our difference. And it’s been around for as long as Christianity has existed. Morphing into purportedly secular forms in the past 200 years, but with the same exact premise.
You can see this in how Tom described the Jews in Antwerp. While Jews in Brussels are mostly secular, Jews in Antwerp are mostly Hasidic. He said it was bad politics for a centrist party there to have invited a Jew to be a candidate for local elections (who was later forced out). Because the Hasidic man, per his interpretation of Jewish tradition, cannot shake hands with a woman. While I personally do not follow this school of thought, this is actually a very common practice in forms of Judaism and Islam, so it’s not as if an alien is visiting Earth. It’s a thing- like it or not, it’s a practice and a real pluralist can disagree with the behavior and not condemn the person as a bad human being. Or that he is not worthy of participating in public life.
But European leftists are not pluralists, they are fascists with cute hipster clothes and law degrees. After I tried explaining the nuances of Jewish law and the complexity that comes with every culture having practices that fall outside other culture’s norms. He said to me: “you cannot have this man in politics. We have tolerance here.” Perhaps the most Orwellian sentence I’ve ever heard.
But the reality is there’s nothing tolerant about this ideology. If it likes gay people, it’s only because we fit into their worldview, not because they are generally empathetic people. If they like Jews or Israelis, its only the ones who are “against the occupation”- and to a degree that satisfies them that they have passed their ideological litmus test. They say they like refugees- Alice even worked with them. In her case, she tried to claim that refugees being denied entry to her country were somehow not being racially discriminated against (even though we all know that is bullshit). And that was somehow radically different than Israel discriminating against a Palestinian on the basis of being a different race and religion. In Tom’s warped view, he actually claimed anti-Semitism wasn’t a real problem, in fact it was all anti-Islam now. While he derided Muslim immigrants for their backwards homophobia and general troublemaking.
In other words, this isn’t about equality. It’s about nationalism. Refugees being discriminated against based on race and religion is not “the same” as Palestinians being oppressed because the former have no claim to nationhood. Europe has the right to screen and reject desperate refugees fleeing war, but in Tom’s view, Israel doesn’t even have the right to borders.
You see in these twisted views, Jews are acceptable fodder for molding and scolding. Not only Jews, as many Muslim immigrants here have discovered. But first and foremost Jews.
While to an American progressive’s eye, Europe seems more advanced (and it some ways, like healthcare, it is), it’s actually just a battle of one orthodoxy versus another. With the helpless middle (yes, there are open-minded Europeans like Dina) struggling to get some space in the debate.
The far right hates Jews for being socialists, for fomenting “revolutions”, for being impure infiltrators undermining their traditional culture. Just look at the Hungarian campaign against George Soros.
The far left hates Jews because we are capitalists, we are money grubbers, we illiberal oppressors of blameless Palestinians. We are black hats and side curls and oy oy oys. And far too traditional in a world where everyone should “get over” those old identities of yore.
The thing is they hate us for the exact same reason: because we are not them.
And try as some Jews might- and have- we never will.
You see all we can do is hope to be like them, only to be rejected yet again, exactly how German Jews who prayed in German, fought for Germany, and embraced their country were ultimately burned at the stake. We can try and try and try and we’ll never been Dutch or British or whatever enough for them. Because we’re Jews.
It reminds me of another shell I used to have in the Diaspora that I successfully lost in Israel: my defense against anti-Semites. Explaining and defending myself as a Jew. Israel, for all the traumas it brought me, did help me get rid of this sense of inferiority. And I don’t intend to let it come back.
My concern for humanity comes from a sense of fairness and pluralism. Which is why it doesn’t matter to me if someone is Tibetan or Palestinian, Jewish or a Muslim refugee. We are human beings and we deserve good. So whether the Security Council recognizes us as such is really irrelevant. Because it doesn’t take a piece of paper to try to treat all kinds of people with kindness.
This kind of thinking doesn’t work with people who want to blame the world’s, let alone the Middle East’s, problems on just one group of people and one alone. An easy fix for an impossible problem.
Before telling me that his “easy solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was for both sides to secularize and join together in one state, Tom asked me what my solution was.
Perhaps to his small-minded surprise, I said: “I don’t have one.”
He almost didn’t know how to respond.
Perhaps living in a bureaucratic city, much like my hometown of Washington, where everyone pretends to have iron-clad answers for every problem, he can’t handle the uncertain. But I don’t view the world this way.
Not because I sit indifferent saying we shouldn’t do anything. Just that I’ve gained the humility to understand that things aren’t so simple. And even if we try our best, we might not succeed.
Tom in particular asked if I had started praying more since moving to Israel. A pretty obvious and disgusting way of asking me just how stupid I was. Did I really take the bait and become one of “those Jews”.
I said no, I actually pray less. I’m spiritual and pretty secular now.
The reality is while I don’t pray, I’ll offer one now. I hope people like Tom lose each and every election. Just like their far-right friends who have the same narrow-minded us vs. the world attitude.
Because Europe doesn’t need them. There are good people here. I’ve met incredibly hospitable African immigrants from Rwanda, Syrian refugees, Roma, and Francophone Belgians. And people like Dina, not a minority, but simply empathetic and curious. Oftentimes the nicest people here are the ones most overlooked. Perhaps why they’re a little nicer, a little more open when I talk to them. Because I actually care about them. Unlike their wealthy snooty neighbor Tom who’d rather talk about them.
If you ask Tom where to go in Belgium, he’ll tell you about all the fabulously wealthy areas, the Flemish cities which attract millions of tourists. But I’m writing you from Wallonia, the Belgian underdog, where there’s less money but a lot of heart. And I saw millions of stars tonight surrounding by cute sleeping cows next to a forest. I didn’t pay thousands of dollars in rent and I got the best free view in the world.
Life is about priorities. And I’d rather spend my time with people who respect me even if they don’t make the front page of a tourist brochure. Or perhaps, precisely because they don’t.
While Tom told me, quite cruelly, that he doesn’t think Israel will exist in 50 years, the reality is Belgium might not either. If one of the richest countries in the world can’t cross its linguistic divide and come together, you’d think someone from there would understand how hard this is to do in the Middle East, where the conflict runs thousands of years deep.
But then again, that’s like asking a Belgian to say “French fries”.
Here are some pictures from Wallonia. The place every tourist book tells you not to visit because “eew they’re not as rich”. See for yourself, it’s pretty sweet. And has some of the friendliest people I’ve met in Europe. Another reason not to listen to the Toms of the world and go see things with your own eyes.