The fears come following Hamas’ 7 October killings of around 1,200 people in Israel – the biggest killing of Jews since the Holocaust.
As he sits in Geneva, Michel Dreifuss does not feel all that far away from the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza.
The ripples are rolling through Europe and upending assumptions both global and intimate – including those about his personal safety as a Jew.
“Yesterday I bought a tear-gas spray canister at a military-equipment surplus store,” the 64-year-old retired tech sector worker said recently at a rally to mark a month since the Hamas killings. The choice, he says, is a “precaution,” driven by a surge of antisemitism in Europe.
Last month’s slayings of about 1,200 people in Israel by armed Palestinian militants represented the biggest killing of Jews since the Holocaust.
The fallout from it – and from Israel’s intense military response that health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza say has killed at least 13,300 Palestinians – has extended to Europe.
It has shaken a continent all too familiar with deadly anti-Jewish hatred for centuries.
The past century is of particular note, of course. Concern about rising antisemitism in Europe is fueled in part by what happened to Jews before and during World War II – and that makes it particularly fearsome for those who may be only one or two generations removed from people who were the victims of riots against Jews and Nazi brutality.
Many Jews see a lack of empathy for the Israelis killed during the early morning massacre and for the relatives of the hostages – about 30 of whom are children – who are suspended in an agonising limbo.
“What really upsets me,” said Holocaust survivor Herbert Traube said at a Paris event commemorating the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 government-backed pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria, “is to see that there isn’t a massive popular reaction against this.”
Antisemitism is broadly defined as hatred of Jews. But a debate has been raging for years over what actions and words should be labelled as antisemitic.
Criticism of Israel’s policies and pure antisemitism have long been conflated by Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by some watchdog groups.
Critics say that blurring these lines helps undermine opposition to the country’s policies and amps up perceptions that any utterance or incident against Israeli policy is antisemitic.
Some argue, though, that antisemites often use criticism of Israel as a placeholder for expressing their views.
That point has certainly gained more validity since 7 October.
Little more than a month after the attack in Israel, the French Interior Ministry said 1,247 antisemitic incidents had been reported since the start of the conflict – nearly three times the total for all of 2022.
In Denmark, cases are said to be up some 24 times from the average of the last nine months and, in the UK, there were more than 1,000 antisemitic incidents – the most ever recorded for a 28-day period.
That all comes despite widespread denunciations of anti-Jewish hatred, alongside support for Israel, from leaders in Europe since the attack.
It’s having an impact on even the youngest in society.
Jewish school children have been facing bullying on their way to class and, in one instance, have been asked to explain Israel’s actions, according to Britain’s Community Security Trust.
There’s been talk of blending in better: covering skullcaps in public and perhaps hiding mezuzahs, the traditional symbol on doorposts of Jewish homes.
In Russia, a riot broke out at an airport in which there were some antisemitic chants and posters from a crowd of men looking for passengers who had arrived from Israel. A Berlin synagogue was firebombed. An assailant stabbed a Jewish woman twice in the stomach at her home in Lyon, France, according to her lawyer.
In Prague’s Little Quarter last month, staffers at the well-known Hippopotamus bar refused to serve beer to several tourists from Israel and their Czech guides, while some patrons served up insults. Police had to step in. In Berlin, Jews are still reeling from an attempted firebombing of a synagogue in October.
Some community members are changing how they live. Some students no longer wear uniforms. Kindergarten classes don’t leave the building for field trips or the playground next door. Hebrew-speaking in public is fading. Some wonder if they should move to Israel – even in the midst of the conflict.
“I hear more and more from people from the Jewish community who say they feel safer and more comfortable in Israel now than in Germany, despite the war and all the rockets,” Segal said. “Because they don’t have to hide there.”
In pro-Palestinian demonstrations, many protesters are often heard shouting, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Some say that phrase is a call for Palestinian freedom and is not anti-Jewish but anti-Israel: the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea includes not only Israel, but also the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Many Jews, though, maintain that the chant is inherently anti-Jewish and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Among all the dangers many Jewish people are feeling, a hotline has been set up in France to help provide psychological support for Jews.
The Community Security Trust, which aims to protect the Jewish community and foster good relations with others, has joined with the British government to distribute primers on how to address antisemitism in primary and secondary schools.
Faced with fears that antisemitism will spread, Jewish communities are forced to take action for, it seems, at least as long as the conflict continues.