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Israel must look at extremism at home.

Summary: There is no doubt that there are dangerous anti-Semites in Europe.

There is no doubt that there are dangerous anti-Semites in Europe. The terrorist attack that killed four French Jews in a kosher supermarket on Jan. 7 was regrettably overshadowed by media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo killings. However, its chilling message was no less clear: freedom of expression and the presence of Jews in Europe and the Middle East are inimical to the "values" of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

We can rightly compare the supermarket killings to a recent spate of extremist attacks against European Jews. In August alone, eight French synagogues were fire-bombed. Pro-Israel supporters demonstrating during Operation Protective Edge were brutally assaulted in Hamburg. In May, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Brussels, killing four people. A similar attack occurred at a school in France.

A newly created organization in the United Kingdom, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, has sought to put these events in context. It recently commissioned surveys showing that 58 percent of British Jews felt they "no longer had a long term future in the U.K.," and also believed anti-Semitism "now echoed the 1930s." These surveys were widely reported in the British media. Their chairman described rising anti-Semitism in no uncertain terms as "a tsunami."

However, CAAS has been criticized by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a respected think tank based in London. It has been accused of using questionable methodology in its research and being "irresponsible" in its campaigning.

The IJPR points out that "most credible scholars of the Holocaust utterly refute" that current levels of European anti-Semitism are comparable to the levels Europe experienced in the 1930s. Anti-Semitic attacks in the U.K., far from being on the rise, were at their lowest in eight years, it noted.

This view seems to be corroborated by others. Surveys by the Pew Research Center, for example, have estimated that those expressing at least some anti-Semitic prejudice in the U.K. at 2-7 percent. There is no denying that there are anti-Semites, but there are very few, and they are fewer by the day.

In other European countries -- there are similar mismatches between what some Jewish organizations suggest to be rising anti-Semitism and attitudes measured by polling agencies.

In France, where Jewish groups have argued that a rising tide of anti-Semitism led to the Paris attacks, Pew found otherwise. It reported that last year 89 percent of French adults held "favorable" views of Jews. Meanwhile, in Germany, 82 percent of Germans say they think of Jews "favorably." However, Dieter Graumann, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, recently claimed, "These are the worst times since the Nazi era."

What can explain the disconnect between what anti-Semitism watchdogs are claiming and the statistics provided by respectable research organizations? One theory is that groups such as the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, France's Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France and Germany's Central Council of Jews are not apolitical or dispassionate observers of hate crimes. Rather, they publicly align themselves with the Zionist movement, which has as a central tenet the notion of "Aliyah" -- the return of Jews to Israel -- which is predicated on the notion that anti-Semitism is endemic and inevitable.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in the U.K., for instance, has as its director of communications Jonathan Sacerdoti. Just two years ago he was director of public affairs for the Zionist Federation in the United Kingdom and Ireland -- the British affiliate of the World Zionist Federation. Dieter Graumann has spoken at pro-Zionist rallies in Germany.

Self-proclaimed Zionist politicians in Israel have also been making wild claims about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called last week for the opening up of new markets in Asia, claiming that Europe was becoming too anti-Semitic for Jews to do business. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Netanyahu called for mass immigration of French Jews to Israel, saying the country's Jewish community was "suffering from terrible anti-Semitism." Netanyahu also declared that a special team of ministers was being sent to France to facilitate mass immigration.

Likewise, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has declared: "The best security precaution may be Aliya to Israel. I hope that French Jews will start immigrating to Israel in significant numbers."

European Jews who take up Lieberman and Netanyahu's call may find a bitter irony when they arrive in Israel. Though the Israeli government has been outspoken in speaking out to save European Jews from extremist attacks, they have done little to stem a rising tide of extremist violence at home.

Since last summer, a third of Palestinian bus drivers in Jerusalem have left their jobs because attacks on them have become a daily occurrence. In July, a gang of extremist Israelis kidnapped a Palestinian teenager, forced gasoline down his throat and burned him to death from the inside out.

Speaking to the boy's family and his neighbors in East Jerusalem, I learned how terrified parents weren't allowing their children to put the rubbish out alone, or play in the garden, for fear of another kidnapping. The adults rarely ventured out at night, especially in the city center.

While hate speech against Jews in Europe is rightly denounced, the Israeli government takes a different view of hate speech at home. Last July an Israeli academic, Mordechai Kedar, publically recommended raping the mothers and sisters of Palestinian militants. The leader of a major Jewish youth group called for the Israeli army to bring back the foreskins of Palestinians as war trophies during Operation Protective Edge. A Jewish Home Party parliamentarian, Ayelet Shaked, has claimed "the entire Palestinian people is the enemy" and has written that in a state of war "the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure." There has been no reproach from the Israeli leadership for such statements.

Anti-Semitism watchdogs in Europe must do more to explain why the data they collect does not reflect the results of surveys conducted by reputable research organizations. To exaggerate anti-Semitism abroad, and underplay extremist statements at home is a strange double standard for the Israeli government to adopt. Be it Jewish organizations in Europe or the Israeli government, to suggest that Europe is not safe for Jews is an insult to European peoples as a whole, who today consider Jews as European as anyone else.

Alastair Sloan is a columnist for Al-Jazeera and Middle East Monitor and regularly contributes to The Guardian. He is based in London and frequently travels the Middle East. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Feb 2, 2015
Words:1121
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