European Governments Fighting Antisemitism with Islamophobia


Farid Hafez

Antisemitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin. European leaders’ attempt to ostensibly fight antisemitism by defending Israel’s right to kill 11,180​​​​​​​ Palestinians is nothing but the latest perversion of a necessary struggle against racism.

Old histories

Antisemitism and Islamophobia have always been twin brothers of the racial imagination of white Europe. Europe and the imagination of a white Christian continent is historically based on the exclusion of Muslims and Jews from the Spanish peninsula of Andalusia and both have continued to shape the imagination of what Europe was, excluding the external Muslim oriental as well as the internal Jewish oriental.

New realities

This entanglement only started to crack with the establishment of Israel, which was much less a Jewish project than a Zionist project born in the cradle of white European nationalism. With Israel, Jews became whitened and Israel today is largely embraced by many European political elites as part and parcel of a newly invented post-1948 Judeo-Christian “tradition.”

Is anti-Zionism antisemitism?

In 2019, an all-party resolution except for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the leftist Die Linke was passed [1] by the German Bundestag to denounce the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic. This was preceded by another important move, the endorsement and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. In a letter penned in April this year, 100 international civil society organizations have asked the United Nations (UN) to reject this definition as it is being “misused” to protect Israel from legitimate criticism: “Adoption of the definition by governments and institutions is often framed as an essential step in efforts to combat antisemitism. [2] In practice, however, the IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe.” Aside from the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe, several EU member states including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden have endorsed the working definition on a national level.

While the IHRA definition is legally not binding, it includes several discussions of Israel and has prompted an alternative definition, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, authored by leading scholars in the field of antisemitism studies, trying to evade the misuse of a working definition for nation states’ political gains. [4,5]

Fighting “antisemitism” in the aftermath of 10/7

In the aftermath of the Palestinian attack against Israel on October 7th, media coverage in Europe has reported on a spike in antisemitic incidents, while the European Commission warned against both anti-Semitic as well as Islamophobic acts in the wake of the Palestinian-Israeli war. [6,7]

However, while many European governments have largely criticized Hamas for its attack while simultaneously endorsing the Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, many European leaders seem to focus not on the repercussions this has on people rallying for Palestine, but only on casualties on the side of Israel. While European elites light up their national monuments and government buildings with the Israeli flag in solidarity, the Palestinian flag is waved by the masses on the streets of European cities. But rather than listening to their constituencies, pro-Palestinian rallies are being met with bans and vilification. [8,9]

Repression of Anti-Israeli positions

Repression of Anti-Israeli positions

Europe’s political elite is largely commemorating the 1,400 deaths and hostages of Palestinian attacks while ignoring the more than 10,000 deaths and the thousands of imprisonments of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. And worse than that, compassion for Palestinians becomes criminalized.

“European leaders are responding to growing pro-Palestine protests with an unprecedented wave of repression,” Jonathan Shamir of Jewish Currents writes. [10] And human rights organizations such as Amnesty International see a curtailing of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the many crackdowns on Pro-Palestinian protests. [11]

Palestinian authors such as Adania Shibli are disinvited [12] from the famous Frankfurt Book Fair, soccer players such as Anwar El Ghazi are suspended [13] for their pro-Palestinian postings on social media, Islamophobic politicians such as the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin who had already in the past tried to outlaw [14] pro-Palestine protests as well as pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGO), which was overturned [15] by courts, attempted [16] to ban any pro-Palestine protests on October 12th, citing a potential disruption to “public order,” also threatening to deport foreign nationals who participated in such actions.

Initially, the Paris police brutally cracked down on pro-Palestine rallies using teargas and water cannons, but again, thousands of people joined even banned marches for a ceasefire to protect Palestinian civilian’s lives. [17,18] Similarly in Germany, where initially protests were banned, now protesters are being harassed for showing up with various slogans including for just waving a Palestinian flag. [19]

One of the most contested slogans, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” was charged as potentially being a criminal offense by the United Kingdom (UK) former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. [20] The German Ministry of Interior decided that this slogan was a motto of Hamas, which is now a declared terrorist organization in Germany. Hence, the Bavarian state prosecutors pronounced that it would be similarly punished as “Heil Hitler.” In fact, in Berlin, a person was arrested holding a poster “From the River to the Sea, we demand Equality” and chanting “Stop the Genocide.” [21,22]

But experts such as Omer Bartov, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University, have explained that the idea forward is to imagine a space from the river to the sea, where “these two groups” can live together “in ways that do not include oppression, lack of any rights, lack of equality, and certainly does not include violence and expulsion.”

Meanwhile, legal support groups such as the European Legal Support Center (ELC) are fighting the legal struggle. In the Netherlands, a Dutch court ruled that the Palestinian rights chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is not hateful or punishable by law. Meanwhile, many protesters are hindered in their exercise of free speech. [24,25]

‘Never Again’ for whom?

When Israeli lives are mourned and Palestinian lives are ignored, Europe’s political elite sends a catastrophic signal to the people: Palestinian lives are worth less than Israeli lives. The main lesson European leaders seem to have learned from the Holocaust is that ‘Never Again’ means ‘Never Again’ for Jews rather than ‘Never Again’ for all human beings.


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