“The French Jews are the canary in the coal mine,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen told me. Ms. Benzaquen, the director of the American Jewish Committee in Europe, related that anti-Semitism in Western Europe is a very serious problem. Europe is the laboratory for how to contend with it in 2016. If the fight against anti-Semitism fails in Europe, it will fail in the United States as well.
Anti-Semitism is a crisis for liberal democracies. The members of the extreme left (anti-Zionists), the members of the extreme right, and some parts of the Muslim community have found common cause. They all hate Jews. This crisis starts with the Jews, but it doesn’t end there.
The Centrist parties are not discussing the problems within the Muslim community due to political correctness. The Populist parties are filling the void by asking the right questions. They are addressing the issues of integration, Islamism, and how to make Islam compatible with democratic values.
What can the Centrist parties do? Ms. Benzaquen suggested several solutions. First, they must speak out clearly. They need to call Islamist extremism what it is and identify the sources of the problems.
The educational system offers an opportunity to impact young pupils and shape the future adults of France. During the past several years, students have refused to learn about the Holocaust in certain neighborhoods. Their teachers retreated because they were afraid of being attacked. France needs to invest the resources to train teachers in new methodologies so they can deal with these issues. Holocaust education is important for them because it illustrates how a society can behave and how individuals can choose to behave. It is an opportunity to teach tolerance, and to accept diversity.
France does not recognize individual communities; everyone is French. In order to counter Islamic radicalization, the authorities must reach out to the Muslim community to spot signs of radicalization. It is only then that they can begin to contend with it.
One of the most effective ways that the Islamic radicals influence and recruit young people is with social media. In France, speech is free, within limits. The French government can shut down social media sites due to incitement. The platforms used by these Islamists are based in the United States. Initially, the US-based companies did not feel that they were obligated to comply with French laws. The European Commission passed a law that requires social media companies to follow European laws in order to be available there. This has made it easier for the French authorities to shut down sites dedicated to Islamic radicalization.
The signs in Europe point to a worrisome future in the United States. The Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement on university campuses and the expression of anti-Semitism online are creating a hostile environment for Jews. We live in a globalized world. There is no escaping anti-Semitism by moving from country to country. What kind of world do we want?