Anti-Semitism not just a problem for Jews
BACK in the 1970s I was conscious of a small Jewish community living in the South Circular Road/Clanbrassil Street area of Dublin. And then there was the synagogue in Terenure, which is fortunately still there. As a child I remember seeing men wear a skull cap (kippah) heading for prayer on Saturdays to their synagogue. It so happens that my dentist from the time I was 13 to my early 30s was a Jew. He was a great dentist and a wonderful man. Over the years I became friendly with him and we had many conversations about Judaism, Christianity and the horror of the Holocaust.
In the early 1970s I met a German Jewish family living in Frankfurt-am-Main. It was my first time to meet German Jews. It was less than 30 years since the end of the Holocaust and the family had lost many members in concentration camps during the Hitler terror.
We stayed in touch for a number of years and I was always conscious how fortunate we all were to live in the times in which we were living. At least from my perspective, there was great peace and harmony in the world I inhabited and my German Jews expressed the same feeling. In spite of all that had happened them, they had decided to stay and work in Germany and raise their children in a new open and prosperous Germany, which was finding its feet again after the turmoil and evil of the Hitler years.
Yes, there had been sporadic outbreaks of violence in the 1970s. There were the terrible killings at the 1972 Munich Olympics where a Palestinian terrorist group killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and a West German policeman. Germany’s Baader Meinhof Red Army Faction group caused serious trouble and upset to the new fledgling West Germany.
But it’s fair to say there was no mass appeal for any sort of serious objection to the rule of law and the furtherance of democracy.
The countries of what was then Western Europe were forging ahead with great verve and excitement the cause of European cooperation.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 a euphoria hit the streets of Europe. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was part of the new openness that was visible everywhere from the Atlantic to the Urals.
It so happens on another November 9, this time 1938, Germans smashed the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned shops across Germany. It is known as Kristallnacht because of the shards of broken glass strewn on the streets after the pogrom.
We can never take our hard-earned peace for granted. A new nasty nationalism is showing its teeth across not just Europe but the entire world. French President Emmanuel Macron said in Paris on Armistice Day that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. At the end of his speech the cameras showed us many world leaders applauding. But there was no handclap from US President Donald Trump.
In a recent article in the English Catholic weekly ‘The Tablet’, Jewish writer Zaki Cooper argues that anti-Semitism is not just a problem for Jews. ‘History has shown us that hatred of Jews is often a bellwether for wider social, racial and religious prejudice. There is something fundamentally ugly and dangerous in a society that harbours anti-Semitism.’ Wise words and well worth paying heed to them in these strange times.
The Nazis referred to the media as the ‘Lügen Presse’, meaning ‘Lying Press’. Sounds very like ‘Fake News’.