Antisemitism in Europe leading some to hide Jewish identity, says leading rabbi

A leading rabbi has warned that threats and harassment are leading some Europeans to hide their Jewish identities, cautioning that the rise in antisemitism could destabilise European societies.

Jewish communities across Europe have been grappling with an increase in hate speech, vandalism, harassment and threats since Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza.

“The statistics speak of a rise of hundreds of percentages all over Europe,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, an Orthodox rabbinical alliance.

In an interview with the Guardian in Brussels, Goldschmidt said that “many Jews are trying to hide their Jewishness”. “One of the most asked questions to the rabbis since October 7 is if you can take off the mezuzah [a religious parchment in a case] off your door,” he said, adding: “This says a lot.”

Other precautions some people were taking included wearing hats instead of the traditional kippah in the street and “when they go into Ubers not speaking Hebrew”, the rabbi said.

“There used to be a red line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism,” Goldschmidt said. “We have seen this red line disappear.”

Watchdogs have pointed to a dramatic increase in incidents since October. Rias, which monitors antisemitism in Germany, documented a 320% increase in incidents in the month after 7 October.

The Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) has said that in the three months following Hamas attacks, antisemitic incidents were equivalent in number to those in the previous three years combined.

Asked if he feared that threats and harassment would cross more into the realm of violence, Goldschmidt said: “It never stops with words.”

In recent weeks, Warsaw’s main synagogue was attacked with firebombs and the president of the Belgian union of Jewish students was assaulted in Brussels. Within the Jewish community, there are growing concerns about the safety of students on European campuses.

Emma Hallali, the president of the European Union of Jewish Students, said: “Jewish students on campuses are standing at the frontlines; they are the ones having to face the wave of antisemitic violence amid protests and encampments on campuses.

“Universities are not doing enough to protect Jewish students, with some students leaving the campuses and preferring to work from home.”

Hallali added: “Jewish students will not and should not tolerate nor accept when some students are calling for the death of Jews, excluding them from entering their campuses, or beating them up because they are wearing a star of David, holding an Israeli flag, or speaking Hebrew.”

Goldschmidt, who is the exiled chief rabbi of Moscow and left Russia after refusing to back the invasion of Ukraine, said antisemitism was not only a matter for the Jewish community. “I think that, at the end of the day, this is not a problem of the Jewish community. At the end of the day, this is a major problem for Europe,” he said.

“This situation in the streets is destabilising our societies,” he added, saying he believed ongoing “turbulence” could drive voters away from establishment parties.

Goldschmidt also warned about the impact of misinformation and suggested looking at “who are the beneficiaries of this turbulence, which countries are interested in the weakening of the European project, of democracy in Europe”.

In a message to European leaders, he said: “It is as much your problem as it is our problem.”

The Guardian

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