It was a conference that almost didn’t happen, on a topic that shouldn’t matter.
“Anti-Semitism in Post-Totalitarian Europe: Ten Years Later” took place in Prague this October, following up a 1992 conference on the same theme. But the event almost fell victim to the flood that had swept through the city two months earlier, as the original venue was still drying out and the conference’s major corporate sponsor canceled at the last minute, blaming the costs of the disaster.
Once the delegates and audience had negotiated their way through ranks of heavily armed police to enter the high-and-dry substitute hall at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a question seemed to linger: Why are we here? When hardly any Jews live in this “post-totalitarian” Europe, what’s the problem?
Three days of lectures and discussions on “Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the Extremist Scene,” “The Dwindling of German Anti-Semitism Since 1945” and “Is the Holocaust Too Much Talked About?” brought no definitive answers. Several participants pointed out that overt, criminal acts against Jewish targets are significantly more common in Western than in Central Europe, primarily due to the presence in several countries of groups violently opposed to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
Look deeper into the psyche of Christian Europe, some speakers suggested, and you’ll find a pool of old prejudices and beliefs that continue to bubble up, emerging sometimes as intense hatred of a grotesque, implausibly omnipotent “Jew.” As Moshe Zimmermann argued in his talk on anti-Semitism in Germany, the example of that country shows that sincere efforts by intellectuals and policymakers can slay this bogeyman, or at least put him to sleep. Further east, although anti-Semitism seems to be holding at a tolerable level, disturbing currents can be sensed under the glossy, globalizing, democratizing surface.
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