Since the atrocious Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7th, 2023, we have been witnessing a brutal series of Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 10,000 people in four weeks since the start of the conflict. As a consequence, the spread of hate violence based on religion, race, and ethnic group is pervading deeper within European societies. A surge in antisemitism and Islamophobia is threatening the protection of millions of Jews and Muslims’ physical and mental well-being. The UN Human Rights Chief has recently spoken out to express his dismay, saying “I have heard from both Jews and Muslims that they don’t feel safe, and it saddens me.”
Breeding ground for hate and racism
Hamas’ atrocities, hostage-taking, and impending threats, with Israel’s unjustifiably indiscriminate attacks on Gaza, have understandably unleashed outrage across European countries. From TV talks to university discussions to public protests, people are resorting to all sorts of platforms to denounce the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed. Amidst these events, forms of extremism are stepping back into the scene, using the conflict as an ‘excuse’ to target the Muslim and Jewish population, exacerbating racism and discrimination across European countries.
Several factors are at stake that necessitate rapid imperative responses from politicians, civil society, and indeed everyone residing in Europe. First, crucial interconnected human rights are endangered by this wave of hate towards both Jews and Muslims, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, right to social security, and so on. At least 10 out of 30 rights listed in the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated, which should signal the profound injustice and insecure quality of life Jewish and Muslim people are enduring in Europe. Second, these racist and hate acts lead to societal fracture, worsening insecurity, and violence, further undermining the values of democracy and equality.
Jewish people: increasingly a target in ordinary life
Several case studies demonstrate the gravity of the situation.
France– A recent appalling episode of antisemitism occurred in the city of Lyon, on November 4th, 2023. A Jewish 30-year-old woman was stabbed in her stomach by an unidentified man, who left a swastika painted on her apartment door- a blatant instance of hate crime. Fortunately, according to newspaper reports, the woman is not in a life-threatening condition; however, the police are working to catch the attacker, who fled immediately after the stabbing.
Italy– A concerning number of online and offline antisemitic incidents are unfolding in Jewish people’s daily lives in the country: 44 episodes in October 2023 alone. This is the highest monthly number in the last eight years, according to the Observatory on Antisemitism of the Foundation Center for the Documentation of Contemporary Judaism.
Austria– The wave of antisemitism is intensifying in the country with acts that purposively target Jewish people and cultural and memorial objects. One infamous example, reported by the authoritative wire agency AP News, is the setting of fire at the central cemetery’s Jewish section in Vienna and the spraying of swastikas on its walls on November 1st, 2023.
Reported incidents go well beyond the above-mentioned instances, permeating European societies with slurs, threats, and Star of David symbols painted on buildings. The UK’s Community Security Trust reported that there has been a 537% increase in antisemitic acts in the country compared to last year. Germany saw a 240% yearly rise in the period 7-15 October, as shown by a civil society survey, reported in the German public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
Fueled anti-Muslim hatred
Islamophobia was an urgent issue to tackle in Europe well before the Gaza conflict due to a growingly hostile narrative across European populist governments and elements of the population. The 2015 “European migration crisis”, the 2015-2016 terrorist attacks in Western Europe, and the ongoing migrant arrivals on the Mediterranean and British coasts, seem to have paved the way for a recurring hostility towards Islamic culture and Muslims.
The societal polarization in the wake of the Hamas-Israel conflict unleashed further anti-Islamic actions and attitudes. Online and offline Islamophobic acts directed at groups or individuals based on race or religion are flaring up across Europe.
The Metropolitan Police recorded 101 hate offences in London between 1 and 18 October, compared to 42 in the same period last year, a 140% increase. Except for the UK, European countries did not release any statistics on Islamophobia to signal a rise in related hate crimes. Statistics aside, however, cases of anti-Muslim hate speech and aggression are occurring in other countries. For instance, the Rome-based newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, reported that the Italian-Palestinian activist Karem Rohan was stalked and assaulted by two people on the night of October 24th while returning to his house in Rome.
United against hate crimes
European governments, organizations, and media should condemn both phenomena and constantly work towards a healthy narrative that promotes tolerance and the unification of Jews, Muslims, and the whole population. A crucial message needs to be delivered: the dehumanization triggered by many current discussions where ‘factions’ depict two populations, two different religions, as evil is not acceptable or justifiable in the name of a horrendous conflict in Gaza. The use of social media to incite hatred and spread disinformation is never tolerable. Hate crimes are to be eradicated.
Moreover, support services could act as safe places for victims of antisemitism and Islamophobia. For example, setting up hotlines that allow people to denounce offences or receive legal advice. On this note, the state of California launched its hotline in May 2023 to collect hate incidents and provide mental/legal aid.
Jews and Muslims in Europe are afraid, and yet we have the power to fix this. We have the power to bring reactive, proactive, and transformative change to fight extremism, discrimination, and racism. As UN Secretary-General Guterres has reminded us, “We must stand up to the forces of antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and all forms of hate.” For peace and human rights. For inclusion and harmony. For every ‘as-salamu ‘alaykum’ (peace be unto you) said, a ‘shalom’ (peace) received, and vice versa, in Palestine, Israel, Europe, and everywhere.
Allen, Peter. “Jewish woman, 30, is ‘stabbed in stomach at her home in Lyon as police find Swastika painted on her door’ and launch manhunt for suspect dressed in black.” Daily mail, 4 November 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12710875/Jewish-woman-30-stabbed-stomach-home-Lyon-police-Swastika-painted-door.html
Diaz, J., Migaki, L., Baba, A., and Frayer L. “The death toll in Gaza surpasses 10,000 as the conflict enters a second month.” NPR, 6 November 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/11/06/1210831466/death-toll-gaza-israel-hamas-conflict
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“A fire in the Jewish section of a cemetery in Austria’s capital causes damage but no injuries.” AP News, 1 November 2023, https://apnews.com/article/austria-fire-jewish-cemetery-vienna-27141a82a5e3b5a1971c344b6ce16bc7
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“Israel-Palestine crisis: Gaza’s north cut off from aid; death toll rising.” UN News, 2 November 2023, https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/11/1143107
“L’attivista italo-palestinese Karem Rohana: “Aggredito e picchiato al mio ritorno a Roma”. Il Fatto Quotidiano, 25 October 2023, https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2023/10/25/lattivista-italo-palestinese-karem-rohana-aggredito-e-picchiato-al-mio-ritorno-a-roma-indaga-la-digos/7334132/
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