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Who’s Behind Italy’s Rising Anti-Semitism?

Report shows resurgent anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe has many sources

Yair Rosenberg
February 06, 2015
Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. (Shutterstock)
Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. (Shutterstock)

Long before Israel went to war in Gaza and the anti-Semitic outbursts which followed in the streets of Europe, Italy’s Jews were already telling researchers that they found themselves increasingly under attack. A new study from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, based on data collected through 2012, finds that over two-thirds of Italy’s Jews report a rise in anti-Semitism. These findings accord with similar surveys across the rest of Europe, most notably one compiled by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2013, which found that 76 percent of European Jews perceived anti-Semitism to have worsened in the last five years.

But the findings also diverge from other countries in Europe in an important way. Whereas studies in states like France have found that anti-Semitism resides predominantly among the Muslim population, the IJPR report found that Muslims played only a small role in Italy’s rising anti-Jewish sentiment. Instead, respondents fingered a different culprit: the left. This striking contrast can be seen in the table below:

These results underscore a crucial reality that must be recognized if resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe is to be fought: that hatred of Jews does not stem from any one particular group, whether Muslims, the far-right, or the far-left. Instead, anti-Semitism finds its roots in many diverse sources. Ostensibly, these groups might seem to have little in common, but anti-Semitism has always derived its potency from its ability to ensnare entirely opposite worldviews in its prejudicial and conspiratorial thrall. This is why Jews have historically been blamed for everything from the predations of capitalism to the ills of communism. Indeed, anti-Semitism would never have achieved its impressive influence in Europe were it not for its ability to forge coalitions across ideological and religious lines.

Blaming one political group or European community for rising anti-Semitism, then, is a way of avoiding the issue. It is an excuse rather than an honest accounting. After all, it is easy for the far-right to blame Muslims and leftists for rising anti-Semitism, just as it is easy for the radical left to pin it on the reactionary right. But the truth is that each of these communities is partly responsible for the problem, and each therefore has a responsibility to root it out within themselves. Only when Europeans stop pointing fingers at each other and start looking inward will they stand a chance of beating back the prejudice that has long dogged their continent.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.