Israel-Hamas war unleashes wave of antisemitism in Europe

Over the past week, Jews living in Germany’s capital Berlin have been waking up to a chilling sight — Stars of David sprayed on the front doors of their apartment blocks.

Police say there have been just three such incidents. But for many, they are a painful echo of the 1930s, when Nazi stormtroopers marked out Jewish-owned businesses and urged the public to shop elsewhere.

The graffiti reflects a big uptick in threats and insults directed at Jews in Germany in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 terror attack, when gunmen killed more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers and kidnapped dozens more. Palestinian activists celebrated the attack by handing out sweets on the streets of Berlin.

Felix Klein, government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany, said the country’s Jews had been “appalled by the antisemitism on display from Muslim groups and hard-left organisations”.

Such inter-ethnic tensions may get worse as the violence ratchets up. Israel has told 1.1mn residents in the north of Gaza to leave their homes ahead of an expected full-scale ground invasion, while Israeli forces continue their bombardment of the densely populated strip. Palestinian health officials say more than 2,300 people — many of them women and children — have been killed in the enclave since the bombing began.

A vigil outside a synagogue in Berlin on October 13 © John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

As the conflict deepens, Jews across Europe fear they could become a convenient target of Muslim anger over Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

Tensions are running particularly high in France, home to a large Muslim population and the biggest Jewish community after Israel and the US. Flare-ups in the Middle East conflict have frequently triggered a rise in antisemitic incidents.

On Saturday, French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said there had been 189 threats and 65 arrests for antisemitic remarks or acts in France since the upsurge in violence in Israel and Gaza. Pharos, an online platform that allows people to report hate speech, has been alerted 2,449 times.

“Most of the incidents are graffiti of swastikas or slogans like death to the Jews, and calls for [Palestinian uprising],” Darmanin told France Inter radio on Thursday. “And then more serious actions, like people arrested at schools or synagogues with weapons, or a drone flown over a Jewish cultural centre.”

In Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris with a large Jewish community, rabbi René Taieb said many Jewish parents had kept their children away from school on Friday, in response to a big increase in antisemitic threats on social media.

“In certain schools in Val-d’Oise [a department north-west of Sarcelles], out of 600 students, not even 60 showed up,” said Taieb, who leads a 40,000-strong Jewish community in the region. “The teachers themselves did not want to bring their children to school.”

That fear will have intensified after a man killed a teacher in a knife attack at a school in northern France on Friday, in an incident that President Emmanuel Macron said showed the “barbarism of Islamist terror”.

Although the attack has not been identified as antisemitic, Jewish leaders in France and government officials have made a connection with the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“According to our intelligence, there is a link unfortunately between what has happened in the Middle East and this act,” Darmanin said. “We see it because there have been despicable calls to take action.”

Robert Ejnes, executive director of Crif, the council of Jewish associations in France, said all past escalations in the Arab-Israeli conflict tended to have repercussions for Jews in Europe, even though there was often no clear logic behind the attacks.

“I find it difficult to find the link between support for the Palestinians and attacks on synagogues,” he said. Instead of attacking Israelis, supporters of the Palestinian cause were turning “against French Jews”.

In the UK, the Metropolitan Police said that between September 29 and October 12 there had been 75 reports of antisemitic offences, up from 12 in the same period in 2022. Incidents reported to police increased sevenfold year on year, from 14 to 105. Three Jewish schools in north London closed temporarily for security reasons.

Israel-Hamas war

Anxiety is also running high in Italy’s Jewish community. Public places have been defaced by antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and slogans praising Hamas. The words “Jewish murderers — in the oven” were scrawled on the walls of a hospital in Milan.

Ruth Dureghello, a former president of Rome’s Jewish community, said she feared the situation could deteriorate as Israel intensified its military response to the Hamas attacks.

“In the beginning, all the world was with Israel — there was no way to be on the other side,” she said, adding that the perspective is “already changing”.

Across Europe, authorities stepped up security at synagogues, Jewish schools and other institutions.

Darmanin said the French government would “deploy the financial and human resources as long as necessary to help reassure Jewish people in France”.

The French government has also banned all pro-Palestinian protests amid concerns they could “disturb public order”. Despite the ban, large crowds gathered in Paris on Thursday, some chanting “Israel murderers” and “Macron — accomplice”. The protesters were dispersed by police using tear gas.

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, called for a ban on Samidoun, a “solidarity network” for Palestinian prisoners that organised the celebrations in Berlin after the Hamas attack. Authorities in Berlin have banned pro-Palestinian protests, a move that some rights groups have condemned as an infringement of free speech.

Anti-Israel sentiment in Germany has been most conspicuous in schools, especially in cities with large Muslim populations such as Berlin. Klein said some children were coming to lessons draped in Palestinian flags and spraying anti-Zionist graffiti on the walls. Those who spoke up for Israel “often experience hostility and pressure” from fellow pupils.

But he said what was most worrying was the profile of the people behind the pro-Hamas protests and celebrations. These were not Syrians and Iraqis who arrived as part of the big refugee influx of 2015-16 but “families who’ve lived here a long time and have German passports”.

“It shows we now have parallel societies emerging here in Germany and integration has, in some respects, failed,” he said.

Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in Rome and Marton Dunai in Budapest

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