Across Europe, the conflict in Gaza is breathing new life into some very old, and very ugly, demons. This is not unusual; police and Jewish civil rights organisations have long observed a noticeable spike in antisemitic incidents each time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares. During the three weeks of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, France recorded 66 antisemitic incidents, including attacks on Jewish-owned restaurants and synagogues and a sharp increase in anti-Jewish graffiti.But according to academics and Jewish leaders, this time it is different. More than simply a reaction to the conflict, they say, the threats, hate speech and violent attacks feel like the expression of a much deeper and more widespread antisemitism, fuelled by a wide range of factors, that has been growing now for more than a decade.
"These are the worst times since the Nazi era," Dieter Graumann, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, told the Guardian. "On the streets, you hear things like 'the Jews should be gassed', 'the Jews should be burned' – we haven't had that in Germany for decades. Anyone saying those slogans isn't criticising Israeli politics, it's just pure hatred against Jews: nothing else. And it's not just a German phenomenon. It's an outbreak of hatred against Jews so intense that it's very clear indeed."
Nor is it just Europe's Jewish leaders who are alarmed. Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called the recent incidents "an attack on freedom and tolerance and our democratic state". The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, has spoken of "intolerable" and clearly antisemitic acts: "To attack a Jew because he is a Jew is to attack France. To attack a synagogue and a kosher grocery store is quite simply antisemitism and racism".
The Netherlands' main antisemitism watchdog, Cidi, had more than 70 calls from alarmed Jewish citizens in one week last month; the average is normally three to five. An Amsterdam rabbi, Binjamin Jacobs, had his front door stoned, and two Jewish women were attacked – one beaten, the other the victim of arson – after they hung Israeli flags from their balconies. In Belgium, a woman was reportedly turned away from a shop with the words: "We don't currently sell to Jews."
In Italy, the Jewish owners of dozens of shops and other businesses in Rome arrived to find swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans daubed on shutters and windows. One slogan read: "Every Palestinian is like a comrade. Same enemy. Same barricade"; another: "Jews, your end is near." Abd al-Barr al-Rawdhi, an imam from the north eastern town of San Donà di Piave, is to be deported after being video-recorded giving a sermon calling for the extermination of the Jews.
Jewish organisations that record antisemitic incidents say the trend is inexorable: France's Society for the Protection of the Jewish Community says annual totals of antisemitic acts in the 2000s are seven times higher than in the 1990s. French Jews are leaving for Israel in greater numbers, too, for reasons they say include antisemitism and the electoral success of the hard-right Front National. The Jewish Agency for Israel said 1,407 French Jews left for Israel in 2013, a 72% rise on the previous year. Between January and May this year, 2,250 left, against 580 in the same period last year.