European governments back Israel but antisemitic incidents rise

Even France, which has previously criticised Israel's self defence, has condemned Hamas' rocket attacks


The reaction in Europe to the escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians has been marked by an ever-clearer contrast between support for Israel at the diplomatic level and antisemitic protests on the streets.

The Israeli flag flew alongside the Austrian and European ones on the rooftops of Vienna’s chancellery and foreign ministry on Friday morning as a sign of solidarity with Israel.

German Jews, meanwhile, have endured stones being thrown at synagogues, the burning of Israeli flags, and cries of “Scheiß Juden!” at gatherings ostensibly protesting over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

On Friday morning, Israel’s ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff asked German authorities to “act urgently and do everything they can to provide security” for the country’s Jewish communities.

Germany’s government has stood firmly behind Israel, pinning the blame squarely on Hamas for any escalation in violence.

Foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that “Hamas has willingly and knowingly brought about the latest escalation during which it has indiscriminately fired over 1000 rockets at Israel’s cities fully conscious of the consequences.

“Whosoever acts so recklessly must bear responsibility—including for the terrible humanitarian consequences that hundreds of thousands of people on both sides must now endure.

“Israel is defending itself,” Mr Maas said, “because it has to”.

In a week that saw Austria’s cabinet move to ban public dispays of Hezbollah symbols, its government too condemned Hamas’ aggression towards Israel.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on that Friday the decision to raise the Israeli flag over the Austrian chancellery was “a sign of solidarity” with Israel, damning the “terror attacks against Israel” in “the strongest possible terms”.

Austria’s foreign ministry called on Monday for “an immediate halt to the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel”, unequivocally condemning Hamas’ actions as “violence and terror”.

Foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg also spoke with his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki Tuesday in search of ways to bring about an “immediate de-escalation” of tensions in the region.

Even France, which harsly condemned Israel’s actions during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, issued a more measured response to the latest developments on the ground, calling on “all actors” to show restraint “and refrain from all provocation and incitement to hatred”.

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian added France “condemns in the strongest terms the rocket and missile fire that has intensified from the Gaza Strip…carried out in violation of international law”.

Yet even as governments from Paris to Berlin to Vienna have become more pro-Israel, flare-ups in the conflict continue to be followed by waves of antisemitic incidents.

As the Community Security Trust reported a “sharp” three-fold increase in incidents between 8 and 12 May in the UK compared with the five days before, on Wednesday Germany’s antisemitism tsar Felix Klein said the government expected to see an uptick in antisemitic criminal acts in the coming days.

The first such incidents were reported on Tuesday, when at around 8 PM the chair of the Jewish community in Bonn informed police that young people were attacking the synagogue.

Neighbours had also told police that youths were throwing stones at the synagogue, breaking a window in the process, and had set light to an Israeli flag.

According to police, three Syrians resident in Germany were taken into custody and later released.

Similar scenes were reported that same day in Münster, while in Gelsenkirchen, police halted an antisemitic demonstration making its way from the city’s central train station to the synagogue.

In a widely-circulated video, protesters bearing Turkish, Algerian, and Palestinian flags, having been stopped in their tracks by police, can clearly be seen and heard starting up a chant of “Scheiß Juden!”.

Abraham Lehrer, vice-president of the Central Committee of Jews in German, said that as the son of Holocaust survivors he had never expected to see such scenes on the streets of Germany again.

Mr Maas said on Friday that the government would show “zero tolerance” for attacks on synagogues: “We will not accept people of Jewish belief in Germany being made responsible for developments in the Middle East”.

In Vienna, meanwhile, the city’s Jewish community had warned its members to avoid a busy shopping street on Wednesday afternoon where an anti-Israel demonstration was due to take place.

That march, organised by the BDS movement in Austria along with other antisemitic political movements, attracted a few hundred people including supporters of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and far-left splinter groups.

Protestors bore the flag of Hamas, signs that minimised or relativised the Holocaust, and images of the Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled.

In footage captured by the Presse Service Wien, demonstrators chant in Arabic, “With heart and blood we will go and liberate al-Aqsa”, and in English, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

Lara Guttmann, co-chair of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students said, “We are confronted with hatred and Jew-baiting every time the conflict escalates. That should not be allowed to happen in Austria in 2021”.



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