Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times printed an op-ed by Michael Douglas in which the Oscar and Emmy winning actor opines over what he calls the rise of anti-Semitism "with renewed vigilance." Douglas begins by recounting a recent incident involving his 14-year-old son Dylan on a vacation in Southern Europe.
"During our stay at a hotel, our son Dylan went to the swimming pool. A short time later he came running back to the room, upset. A man at the pool had started hurling insults at him. And suddenly I had an awful realization of what might have caused the man's outrage: Dylan was wearing a Star of David," Douglas writes. "After calming him down, I went to the pool and asked the attendants to point out the man who had yelled at him. We talked. It was not a pleasant discussion. Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: 'Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.'"
Douglas's father, Kirk Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch and grew up speaking Yiddish. Though he was not raised in the Jewish faith, Douglas says he first experienced anti-Semitism when he was not much older than his son is now.
A friend saw someone Jewish walk by, and with no provocation he confidently told me: "Michael, all Jews cheat in business."
"What are you talking about?" I said.
"Michael, come on," he replied. "Everyone knows that."
With little knowledge of what it meant to be a Jew, I found myself passionately defending the Jewish people. Now, half a century later, I have to defend my son. Anti-Semitism, I've seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.
Europe, and France in particular, has seen a rise in anti-Semitic violence in recent years. Just last month, French President François Hollande was forced to speak out to reassure France's Jewish population. "Nothing will be tolerated," Hollande urged, the day after 300 graves at a Jewish cemetary were desecrated. In January, a gunman associated with the Charlie Hebdo attack stormed a Jewish supermarket, killing four people and taking others hostage. The month before that, a Jewish couple was held hostage in their own home and the woman was raped. According to France's interior minister, the perpetrators chose the couple believing that Jews have money. In fact, data gathered by the French government shows that anti-Semitic crime between January to July 2014 in France was double what it was during that same period in 2013. And half of all racist attacks in the country target Jews, who account for less than one percent of the French population.
Douglas highlights three separate reasons for a rise in anti-Semitism. First, he points to rising income disparity worldwide and the outdated notion that Jews are wealthy. Douglas also writes that he believes many people's anti-Semitism stems from a distaste for the religion's practices and policies. Thirdly, Douglas identifies a growing "extremist fringe" of Islam with fueling hatred.
Though Dylan Douglas's mother, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is not Jewish, he identifies as such and celebrated a bar mitzvah last year. Michael says the process of working with Dylan on that life cycle event helped him "reconnect" with the religion.
Douglas is not the only public figure to speak out recently about the rise of anti-Semitism, particulary in France. Just a couple weeks ago, Kristin Scott Thomas told a British radio station, "Anti-Semitism has always existed in France but I do think it’s more open now, more accepted." And Madonna told a French radio station that France "feels like, you know, Nazi Germany … the intolerance, the level of intolerance that’s going on is really scary."
Douglas finishes by pointing to several stories of hope, words of world leaders reinforcing their commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism and of a recent event in Oslo where Muslims and Jews joined forces to make a ring around a local synagogue.
"So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up," Douglas writes. "Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness."