The rising antisemitism in Europe deeply concerns Ithacans, as demonstrated by the full theater at Cinemapolis on March 7 for the screening of “Antisemitism in Europe.” The 2018 film, produced by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, was the second in the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME) “Antisemitism around the World” film series.
More than 1,600 antisemitic incidents were documented in Germany last year. Thousands of Jews have fled France due to a 74 percent rise in antisemitism. A few weeks ago, another spate of anti-Jewish hate crimes popped up across France, and tens of thousands of French citizens responded by rallying in many cities to protest the antisemitism that is sweeping their nation.
“In the last few years, there has been a great deal of conversation about the increase in hate crimes,” said Jennifer Herzog, ICUCME board member, in her introduction. “Many have compared the intensifying xenophobia to the years preceding World War II. Whether or not this comparison is valid, the truth of what is happening in the world today for Jews is frightening. Antisemitism has always been the canary in the coal mine for prejudice.”
The Deutsche Welle film included footage of a Polish rally burning an effigy of a religious Jew. When the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a survey on discrimination and hate crimes against Jews in the EU, Poland had the highest percentage of respondents reporting having witnessed antisemitism. As the film depicted, these are challenging problems to address; many leaders in Europe have attempted to deny or minimize the problem. One example was shown in the film when Polish Senator Jan Zaryn declared, “There is no antisemitism in Poland. There’s never been an era in Polish history, not even so much as a decade, in which racism was significant.” This “gaslighting” of the reality of Jewish experience is particularly painful for those descended from Holocaust survivors, as were many in the Cinemapolis audience.
Following the film, the audience shared their responses and perspectives. One woman said that although she kept up with the news in general, until she watched the film she’d had no idea things were as bad as they are in Europe.
Several in the audience commented on possible causes for the rise in antisemitism, from populist movements to economics to immigration. Potential solutions were touched on; one woman, herself an immigrant, spoke of the importance of caring for the other instead of condemning them.
As another person noted, getting to know the “other” breaks down prejudice. Because Jewish populations are small – less than two percent of the worldwide population – Jews are often convenient scapegoats and easy targets for conspiratorial thinking.
ICUCME will continue to explore these issues with further events. For those who missed the Cinemapolis screening, “Antisemitism in Europe” is available to view in its entirety on YouTube. ICUCME