By Rebecca McCarthy
The Islamophobia sweeping across Northern Europe has had unforeseen consequences, said Cas Mudde, a professor in the University of Georgia’s School of International and Public Affairs. It has spawned a pro-Israel movement and even an effort to institute Israeli studies.
Some people in Denmark, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, for example, see Israel as the great enemy of Muslims, who are increasingly unwelcome in those countries. Of course, Mudde said, beneath the surface of Islamophobia is anti-Semitism.
Mudde counts extremism among his academic interests. He and UGA Terry College of Business professor Dawn Bennett-Alexander spoke Tuesday night, Feb. 2, after a showing of “Hate: A Film” by Israeli Nadav Eyal.
Bennett-Alexander is a lawyer and a specialist in employment law who is passionate about teaching students how to “operationalize diversity.”
Screened in the UGA Special Collections auditorium, the film was a run-up to the Athens Jewish Film Festival, which begins in early March. About 60 people attended the free showing.
The movie takes journalist Eyal across Europe, where he interviews such people as a Greek racist propaganda writer with no sense of history (at one point, the writer says Jesus wasn’t a Jew but a Galilean) and a German journalist. He also talks with a popular, smiling, creepy neo-Nazi, with Jewish men and women, with a health minister, and with an anti-Semitic folk singer-turned-tolerance advocate.
It’s chilling to see footage of masked members of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn organization marching through dark streets, holding candles and singing.
Greece’s economic troubles lead many of its citizens to fall back on familiar tropes — that the Jews control the banks and that the Jews have all the money. That, Mudde said, is anti-Semitism.
He studies European politics and said the anti-Semitic stereotype of “Jews controlling the world” is central to the far-right movements of Eastern and Southern Europe. Mudde said such anti-Semitism is confined to social movements instead of political parties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says in the film that it’s “a gift” for Germany to be home to 100,000 Jewish people, a sentiment that Mudde finds “remarkable.” He said leaders across Europe are defending their Jewish residents and encouraging Jews not to emigrate from their countries.
Legally, Jews are well-protected: In Germany, it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust, and anti-Semitic speech faces much tougher penalties than Islamophobic speech. In France, a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist was fired in 2009 for drawing an anti-Semitic cartoon.
Mudde said anti-Semitism in Europe is multifaceted. It began as religious prejudice, morphed into racial prejudice and today is political.
Many Europeans have strongly negative feelings about Israel in relation to the West Bank and Gaza. Mudde said those feelings become anti-Semitic when people say, “The Jewish nature leads to those crimes.”
After living in Europe, Mudde said he appreciates the freedom of speech accorded to people in the United States. He added that as a tenured professor, he can speak more freely than can an adjunct instructor, whose job depends on student evaluations. The arrangement is undermining academic freedom, he said.
Bennett-Alexander said she believes that extremists are isolated and insular, reinforcing one another’s ideas of reality and becoming resistant to reason.
The role of the university is to help people see there are different realities. Because UGA is the flagship institution of the state’s public colleges and universities, Bennett-Alexander said, the university and its graduates affect the lives of millions of people. She wants students to leave the school knowing there is a “reality besides their own.”
Bennett-Alexander said she has studied slavery, the Holocaust, and the Trail of Tears, when thousands of Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Muscogees and Seminoles were driven from their lands in the Southeast to Oklahoma. After reading books on Andrew Jackson, she said, she understands why he removed the Indians — she doesn’t agree with his decision, she added, but she understands it.