You and I share a special bond. I, Leora, harbor only warm and fuzzy feelings of my studies in France (except, of course, when anti-Semitic protests raged through my sleepy town of Annecy) and pleasant memories of my trips to Italy and Greece (except when I counted five swastikas in two days). We share the stereotypical bond of a young girl to European culture, cuisine and romance. But I am not European. I had lived there, and my parents are from there. I felt assaulted only for short bouts of time. But I am still an outsider. I am a Jew.
I, Petar, as someone who’s been living in Serbia for most of my life, have few cozy memories of how Eastern Europe has treated me as a Jew. It’s ironic, since Eastern Europe was either Allied or occupied by the Nazis. While my relationship with you, Europe, could have been described as half decent, the things happening nowadays are making that change.
I’ve spent summers with you, eaten croissant and gelato with you, walked on the Champs-Elysees and the Piazza Navona with you. But now, I’ll admit, I’m scared. Next time I walk around in Paris or Rome, will I have to take off my Star of David? Because earlier this week, a Jewish man in Italy was stabbed for that very crime.
When I walk outside with a Star of David around my neck, people give me strange looks. Numerous times have I been insulted for my race and religion. I am openly Zionist and never put my beliefs aside because of a culture changed for the worse. Some of your people have turned to new twisted ideologies like Neo-Nazism. Far too many are conspiracy theorists and blame “the Zionists” for all things wrong in the world. From 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to the “New World Order,” it is always the Zionists’ and, consequently, my fault. How can you allow this?
I remember when I was flying to Paris in March. My grandmother begged me to take off my necklaces. I scoffed and thought that was ridiculous– I never take them off. But then I remembered the Hyper Cacher attack. Terrorism, often particularly against Jews, has become a real threat in Europe. My older brother in Paris told me that he never wears his kippah out of the house. He just wears a hat. Because everyone knows that only Star-of-David-wearers wear kippahs.
Maybe you allow this because the number of Jewish people living in Eastern Europe after the Holocaust has dropped drastically. (As of now, there are only a couple thousand Jewish people in my country.) You have forgotten what you stood for in the absence of Jews. You’ve also forgotten the Holocaust that took place in your very own ex-Yugoslavia, after which, out of the 82,500 Jews of Yugoslavia alive in 1941, only 14,000 survived. To put it another way, out of the 16,000 Jews in Serbia, the Nazis murdered approximately 14,500.
But I am not here to tell you about what happened in the past. You need to know about what’s happening right now.
You’ve been treating me differently lately– and I don’t just mean me, but the whole tribe of Star-of-David-wearers. You’ve been treating us differently. Not long ago, in Paris, I found protesters not just claiming Israel as a “terrorist, apartheid, genocidal state,” but proclaiming “Mort aux Juifs !” (Death to the Jews!) And now, I find a Paris reeling from a blow caused by longstanding neglect of this Anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism has long been a harbinger of negative social change. Once rates of anti-Semitism go up, society declines. Remember the Nazis, the Cossacks, and now you, Europe. Each time a country turns a blind eye to its anti-Semitism, it turns a blind eye to a larger problem. These attitudes do not come from nowhere.
People are not protesting against Israel, but against Jews. As much as I disagree with the policies and ideas driving anti-Israel protest, you, my dear Europe, are enlightened, and have bestowed upon us freedom of speech and expression. Thus, you have given us the freedom to be anti-Israel, which has been manifesting itself as the freedom to be anti-Semitic.
These anti-Semitic attitudes do not come alone. They come with racism, murder and terror. They come with Hyper Cacher, Charlie Hebdo, and 14/11. They come with the Jewish Museum Attack and Neo-Nazi groups. They come with stabbings of random men in Italy. They come with a fear of living as a Jew– and, now, as a human being– in Europe. In you.
In my mind, the safest country was Hungary. Perhaps because it has the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe.
You may have heard on the news that “Hungary was the only country which closed borders with Serbia right away and decided not to let migrants in.” The reality is that Hungary is the only country which immediately closed borders with Serbia and decided not to let in undocumented migrants.
As in this example, just like people here believe in ridiculous conspiracy theories, the media almost always equates Israel with the attackers. After Palestinian attacks on Israel, the media published an article about how an “Israeli tank killed Palestinian baby,” which resulted in massive hate towards Jews and Israel. They also published about how the Israeli military neutralized Palestinians in an attack on the tunnels crossing into Israel.
What they failed to mention was that Hamas used Palestinian children in making these tunnels, out of which 160 died. They also didn’t mention that these tunnels were explicitly made to perform terrorist attacks, making rocket launching, hostage taking and mass attacking possible. One tunnel opening was found near an Israeli kindergarten. But never mind, you said. For every incident caused by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, Jews are, in the eyes of your media, just as guilty.
You gave us Western civilization. Architecture and music, the Enlightenment and philosophy. You also gave us European anti-Semitism and promised us “never again.” But perhaps you have forgotten.
If things don’t change, we cannot hope for a better future.
Europe, you have given me so much. But you can give me no more. As long as I am a Zionist Jewish Israeli, I will bear witness to your protests and your labels of “feuj” and “zhid.” But now I will label you “anti-Semitic.” I will label you all the things you labeled others when we voiced our concern– and, now, you will have to pick up the pieces. As long as I am a human being, I will bear witness to your escalation into terrorism and your people’s escalation into fear.
This is a wake up call to all of you, Europe. Instead of brushing off anti-Semitism, you should focus on what really matters, which are human lives. I sincerely hope you realize how serious this all is before more innocent people suffer.
Leora and Petar
This piece was contributed by Leora Noor Eisenberg, a student at Nova Classical Academy and Petar Ilic, a Psychology major at the University of Belgrade.