The conventional thinking goes that European Jews are fearful of Europe’s growing Muslim community, which has frequently incubated anti-Semitism in the same cities where many Jews reside. On the other hand, the two groups are both religious and ethnic minorities who tend to be more observant and pronounced in their beliefs than their countries’ white and Christian majorities—majorities, by the way, whose historic track record of tolerance toward folks who are ostentatiously different than they are is a good deal less than admirable.
This common perspective is why prominent European Jews and Jewish groups have actually been among the loudest voices decrying Switzerland’s recent ban, which passed late last month with a 57 percent majority, of the construction of minarets specifically alongside mosques. The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the vote gave “succor to the unacceptable politics of unlimited hate being peddled around Europe by right-wing extremists,” while the two main Swiss Jewish groups opposed the measure. Ditto the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, as well as France’s Chief Rabbi, who went so far as to condemn the measure especially for the way it fixated uppn Islam, noting “the discrimination that it introduces by authorizing the construction of church steeples and tall buildings by all other religions except Islam.” (Stateside, the Anti-Defamation League opposed the ban.)
In Haaretz, columnist Shlomo Avineri compared the minaret rule to Switzerland’s 1893 (and still operative) law against kosher animal slaughter. “The same circles that sought to prevent Jewish immigration by banning kosher slaughter over a century ago now seek to end Muslim immigration by banning mosque minarets,” he argued. Behind both, he suggested, lies “a deep-rooted animosity on the part of large swathes of Swiss society toward those who are seen as foreign and different.” And although the target of the Swiss ban is Muslims, not Jews—the ban is jerry-rigged so that it applies only to Muslims—Avineri is not conducting an idle history lesson: a study released only last Sunday found that anti-Semitism in Europe continues to rise. The silver lining to the Swiss ban? Two groups who are generally at odds with each other are beginning to realize that, in their “difference,” they are similarly situated.