Commentary Magazine


Topic: European Jewry

Time for European Jews to Leave?

Swedish Jewish activist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein admires her country’s long tradition of offering asylum to those who seek refuge from persecution. She just wishes it also applied to Jews. Hernroth-Rothstein writes today in Mosaic magazine to say that has decided to apply for asylum to her own country. The rising tide of anti-Semitism that is threatening Jewish life throughout Europe is nowhere more virulent than in Sweden, where acts of open hostility toward Jews are commonplace and the parliament is considering bans on circumcision and even the importing of kosher meat (kosher slaughter has been outlawed in Sweden since 1937) with the support of both the political left and the right. In response to this situation, Hernroth-Rothstein thinks the best thing to do is to ask her government for the same protection it routinely extends to others. She writes:

EU statutes provide that asylum be granted to persons with “well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to race; nationality; religious or political beliefs; gender; sexual orientation; or affiliation to a particular social group.” Jews in Sweden meet these criteria, and should be eligible for the same protection and support extended to non-natives.

Hernroth-Rothstein’s application is, of course, a stunt. But it encapsulates a heartbreaking dilemma for European Jews. Well-meaning onlookers in the United States and Israel believe the only answer for European Jews is to leave as soon as they can. But she is understandably reluctant to accept being run out of a home that is supposed to be a haven for free expression merely because she is Jewish. Pointing this disconnect between the EU’s pose as the champion of diversity while Jews are made to feel unwelcome is not so much a matter of irony as it is an ongoing tragedy.

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Swedish Jewish activist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein admires her country’s long tradition of offering asylum to those who seek refuge from persecution. She just wishes it also applied to Jews. Hernroth-Rothstein writes today in Mosaic magazine to say that has decided to apply for asylum to her own country. The rising tide of anti-Semitism that is threatening Jewish life throughout Europe is nowhere more virulent than in Sweden, where acts of open hostility toward Jews are commonplace and the parliament is considering bans on circumcision and even the importing of kosher meat (kosher slaughter has been outlawed in Sweden since 1937) with the support of both the political left and the right. In response to this situation, Hernroth-Rothstein thinks the best thing to do is to ask her government for the same protection it routinely extends to others. She writes:

EU statutes provide that asylum be granted to persons with “well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to race; nationality; religious or political beliefs; gender; sexual orientation; or affiliation to a particular social group.” Jews in Sweden meet these criteria, and should be eligible for the same protection and support extended to non-natives.

Hernroth-Rothstein’s application is, of course, a stunt. But it encapsulates a heartbreaking dilemma for European Jews. Well-meaning onlookers in the United States and Israel believe the only answer for European Jews is to leave as soon as they can. But she is understandably reluctant to accept being run out of a home that is supposed to be a haven for free expression merely because she is Jewish. Pointing this disconnect between the EU’s pose as the champion of diversity while Jews are made to feel unwelcome is not so much a matter of irony as it is an ongoing tragedy.

Last month I wrote about the latest survey of European Jewry conducted by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights that illustrated how dangerous Europe has become for Jews and how pervasive the revival of anti-Semitism there has become. Hernroth-Rothstein told her own story of ordinary Jewish life in Sweden in Mosaic back in August. Her description was blunt. The only way to survive there as a Jew is to “shut up and fade into the woodwork.”

It needs to be understood that the problem in Europe is not merely the rise of radical neo-Nazi groups like Golden Dawn, troubling as they may be. It is the way anti-Jewish attitudes have leached into mainstream opinion finding, as she points out, support throughout the political spectrum. Hatred for Israel has become an acceptable way to openly express traditional anti-Semitic attitudes. At the same time the same people who pose as enlightened liberals seek to ban Jewish rituals as “barbaric,” effectively marginalizing and driving Jews out one law at a time.

Is it possible to shame Europe into seeking to turn back the tide of hate only 70 years after the Holocaust? Hernroth-Rothstein hopes so, but the answer to her question is to be found by one detail that she mentions. When optimists cite the growth of Jewish activities in Europe, she notes:

What I see is that the Holocaust wing at the Jewish Museum is crowded with visitors, while the synagogues are empty. I see cute Woody Allen-ish activities being promoted, and actual Jewish life being banned. The dead, suffering Jew is glorified; the healthy, active Jew is vilified.

What has happened in Europe is that Jews who speak up for Israel or who wish to practice their faith in the public square are endangered:

True: we are not being murdered, and we are not being physically driven out. But our religious observances are being interdicted, our persons are being threatened, our safety is being endangered, and—in short—our human rights are being violated. Why do we put up with it? And why do pundits and politicians assure me that Jews in Sweden are perfectly safe when what they really mean is that we will be safe only so long as we agree to become invisible as Jews and cease to practice Judaism?

We can only wish her good luck with her brave crusade to try and awaken Europeans or at least Swedes to their responsibility to stand up against anti-Semitism. But given the deep roots of Jew-hatred at the core of European culture as well as the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who bring their own legacy of hate with them, it’s difficult to envision much success. But even if she cannot alter the arc of history with respect to Jewish life in Europe, she is at least helping to expose the hypocrisy of European liberals who profess tolerance and respect for the rights of every people to self-determination except for the Jews.

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Rising Tide of Hate for European Jews

Earlier this month I wrote about the new Pew Research Center study that detailed the demographic challenges facing an American Jewish community that is losing touch with religion and key elements of Jewish identity. I have a lot more to say about it and the way America’s embrace of Jewry has led to trends that threaten the future of non-Orthodox and especially secular Jews that will be published in the November issue of COMMENTARY’s print edition. But the positive news coming out of their survey focused on the pride felt by most American Jews, even if they were indifferent to core Jewish values and not raising or educating their children to carry on Jewish tradition and faith. At the heart of the comfort felt by American Jews is the fact that few had experienced even the mildest forms of anti-Semitism in the form of a social snub let alone violence.

But that is not the case with European Jewry.

As a survey of European Jews conducted by the European Union reveals, a large percentage of them are not only conscious of anti-Semitism but live their lives in such a way as to try to avoid being the victims of anti-Semitic violence. Across the continent, one in four Jews say they are afraid to wear a kippah or any symbol of Jewish identity in public, figures that rise far higher in countries such as Sweden, France and Belgium. This shows just how dangerous Europe is becoming for Jews and how deadly the revival of Jew hatred around the globe — undoubtedly the worst since the Holocaust — has become.

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Earlier this month I wrote about the new Pew Research Center study that detailed the demographic challenges facing an American Jewish community that is losing touch with religion and key elements of Jewish identity. I have a lot more to say about it and the way America’s embrace of Jewry has led to trends that threaten the future of non-Orthodox and especially secular Jews that will be published in the November issue of COMMENTARY’s print edition. But the positive news coming out of their survey focused on the pride felt by most American Jews, even if they were indifferent to core Jewish values and not raising or educating their children to carry on Jewish tradition and faith. At the heart of the comfort felt by American Jews is the fact that few had experienced even the mildest forms of anti-Semitism in the form of a social snub let alone violence.

But that is not the case with European Jewry.

As a survey of European Jews conducted by the European Union reveals, a large percentage of them are not only conscious of anti-Semitism but live their lives in such a way as to try to avoid being the victims of anti-Semitic violence. Across the continent, one in four Jews say they are afraid to wear a kippah or any symbol of Jewish identity in public, figures that rise far higher in countries such as Sweden, France and Belgium. This shows just how dangerous Europe is becoming for Jews and how deadly the revival of Jew hatred around the globe — undoubtedly the worst since the Holocaust — has become.

The poll conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was taken online over the course of the last year in Sweden, France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia. It will be published next month but the Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained the results. Though the fact that it is Internet-based diminishes its credibility and once the raw numbers are released it will have to be given a thorough analysis. But the figures are still startling in that they show just how many Jews are worried about being the victims of anti-Semitic violence.

Among the most disturbing responses is the fact that 49 percent of the 800 respondents (by no means a small sample size) say they “avoid visiting places and wearing symbols that identify them as Jews for fear of anti-Semitism. Forty percent of French Jews and 36 percent of those in Belgium feel the same way.

Also alarming is the fact that, in contrast to the American experience, a majority of Jews in some countries are convinced that anti-Semitism is on the rise.

In Hungary, 91 percent of more than 500 respondents said anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years. The figure was 80 percent or above in France, Belgium and Sweden. In Germany, Italy and Britain, some 60 percent of respondents identified a growth in anti-Semitism, compared to 39 percent in Latvia.

Figures for people who said they had experienced an anti-Semitic incident in the 12 previous months were 30 percent for Hungary, 21 percent for France and 16 percent in Germany.

Just as interesting is the fact that those who have experienced such incidents are almost equally split on the identity of the anti-Semites:

Twenty-seven percent of respondents said the perpetrators were Muslims; 22 percent blamed people with “left-wing views”; and 19 percent said the people responsible had “right-wing views.”

But an even better indicator of the tone of European society is revealed in the question about reporting such incidents:

More than 75 percent of respondents said they do not report anti-Semitic harassment to police and 64 percent said they do not report physical assaults, with 67 percent saying that reporting incidents was either “not worth the effort” or otherwise ineffectual.

If Jews don’t think it is worth it to report even physical assaults, it can only mean one thing: that they believe such behavior is no longer considered beyond the pale or even frowned upon by mainstream European opinion. Given the drumbeat of incitement against Israel, which serves as a thinly veiled excuse for traditional anti-Jewish attitudes, throughout Europe, it is little surprise to see that this is being reflected in such incidents.

After a period during which Jewish life revived there in the aftermath of the Holocaust, it is obvious that much of the continent is in the process of reverting to its pre-World War Two attitudes. At the very least, surveys like this call into question the future of Jews in Europe. At worst, it portends worse to come. But either way, the lack of security for Jews in supposedly enlightened Europe makes the defense of Israel all the more important.

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Confronting the End of European Jewry

Last year the U.S. State Department noted that a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was sweeping through Europe. It was a significant acknowledgement of a critical problem. But as serious as this warning was, the dilemma of European Jewry remains a marginal issue that only gains sporadic attention when there is an egregious crime or a move to ban Jewish religious practices in a specific country. As much as the murder of four Jews in a shooting spree in Toulouse by an Islamist terrorist or the attempts to ban circumcision or kosher slaughter makes headlines, the revival of Jew hatred on the European continent is not so much the function of egregious incidents as it is a historic process that is leading to what seems like an inevitable conclusion. In is in this context that Michel Gurfinkiel’s essay “You Only Live Twice” on the subject in this month’s edition of Mosaic magazine must be seen as an important contribution to Jewish historiography. After decades of celebrating the unexpected revival of European Jewry after the Holocaust that created new vibrant communities where desolation had existed in 1945, we have now reached the moment when the cycle of hatred has turned around again. In a brilliant tour de force of historical perspective, Gurfinkiel reminds us that the virus of Jew hatred has not merely revived but threatens to write what may be the final chapter in the long saga of European Jewry.

Gurfunkiel puts the steady drip of depressing stories about anti-Semitism in context. But it is important because it dares to draw conclusions about the problem that many sober European commentators refuse to approach. Instead of merely lamenting a sad trend, he demands that Jews draw the proper conclusions from events. That is something growing numbers of European Jews are doing, as many are immigrating to Israel. But his conclusion should send a chill down the spines of not only Jews but also all civilized persons who might otherwise be inclined to take a less alarmist view of events:

A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.

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Last year the U.S. State Department noted that a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was sweeping through Europe. It was a significant acknowledgement of a critical problem. But as serious as this warning was, the dilemma of European Jewry remains a marginal issue that only gains sporadic attention when there is an egregious crime or a move to ban Jewish religious practices in a specific country. As much as the murder of four Jews in a shooting spree in Toulouse by an Islamist terrorist or the attempts to ban circumcision or kosher slaughter makes headlines, the revival of Jew hatred on the European continent is not so much the function of egregious incidents as it is a historic process that is leading to what seems like an inevitable conclusion. In is in this context that Michel Gurfinkiel’s essay “You Only Live Twice” on the subject in this month’s edition of Mosaic magazine must be seen as an important contribution to Jewish historiography. After decades of celebrating the unexpected revival of European Jewry after the Holocaust that created new vibrant communities where desolation had existed in 1945, we have now reached the moment when the cycle of hatred has turned around again. In a brilliant tour de force of historical perspective, Gurfinkiel reminds us that the virus of Jew hatred has not merely revived but threatens to write what may be the final chapter in the long saga of European Jewry.

Gurfunkiel puts the steady drip of depressing stories about anti-Semitism in context. But it is important because it dares to draw conclusions about the problem that many sober European commentators refuse to approach. Instead of merely lamenting a sad trend, he demands that Jews draw the proper conclusions from events. That is something growing numbers of European Jews are doing, as many are immigrating to Israel. But his conclusion should send a chill down the spines of not only Jews but also all civilized persons who might otherwise be inclined to take a less alarmist view of events:

A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.

The desire to avoid drawing such a stark conclusion about the problem is natural and it is based in no small measure, as Gurfinkiel notes, on the fact that European Jewry “looks healthy and secure.” The postwar revival of Jewish life in France and even Germany has created substantial communities and a population that is invested in the future of these countries. They have enjoyed a golden age that created a superficial similarity to the strength and security of American Jewry. But the comparisons no longer make sense. With anti-Semitism raging on the left and the right and with the unprecedented growth in the population of Muslim immigrants in Europe (especially in France), you don’t need to be an alarmist to understand that “catastrophe may lie ahead.”

What Gurfinkiel sees as the “seeds of a new anti-Semitism” were sown in France by Charles de Gaulle who repudiated his country’s alliance with Israel after the Six-Day War and embarked on a campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state that did not exclude frankly anti-Semitic utterances. But while de Gaulle deserves a large amount of the blame, the problem was bigger than the enormous ego of that hero of the Second World War. Post-war European intellectuals were weaned on a belief that imperialism was the original sin of European civilization and wrongly categorized Zionism as part of the colonial endeavor rather than as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. While Europe enjoyed a brief period of philo-Semitism as part of the reaction to the Holocaust, the movement seeking to brand as illegitimate the expression of Jewish identity simmered under the surface. Just as Muslim anti-Semitism “has been intimately connected with classic European anti-Semitism for more than a century” and freely borrows from the Hitlerian playbook, as the historian notes, “the two brands share a common language, and each sees in the other a mirror image of itself.” The comeback of Jew hatred in Europe is inextricably tied to its rise in the Muslim and Arab world.

The problem is that the “new” anti-Semitism that focuses on Israel is merely a variation on the old themes that once ravaged the European continent. Perhaps the most important insight in an essay full of them is Gurfinkiel’s pointing out that whereas in the aftermath of the Enlightenment European Jews thought they could gain equality and acceptance by jettisoning their specific Jewish identity and faith, so, too, do some now think they can escape the anti-Semitic tide by distancing themselves from Israel.

For the most part, in France and throughout Western Europe, that price was fully and willingly paid. Generations of Jews eagerly pledged their allegiance to the ideals of democracy, patriotism, and religious tolerance, pouring their prodigious talents and energies into making Europe a better place. Over the centuries, in fair weather, the bargain held; in foul, the price would be successively raised, the conditions of acceptance revised, the bargain hedged, until at last the offer was finally, brutally, rescinded in wholesale massacre.

Now, busily building monuments and museums, Europe ostentatiously engages in celebrating and mourning its lost dead Jews of yesterday, whose murder it variously perpetrated, abetted, or (with exceptions) found it could put up with. Meanwhile, it encourages and underwrites the withering of Jewish life today. Once again, Jews are accepted on condition: that they separate themselves from their brethren in Israel and join the official European consensus in demonizing the Jewish state; that they learn to accommodate the reality that so many ethnic Europeans hate them and wish them ill, and that Islamists on European soil seek their extinction; and that in the interest of justifying their continued claim to European citizenship, they accept Europe’s proscription of some of the most basic practices of their faith.

To the dead Jews of yesterday, everything; to the living Jews of today, little and littler.

This juxtaposition of affection for the dead and indifference or hostility to the living is a common theme in much of the world after 1945, but especially so in France and Europe. As in the past, those who think they can escape hate by turning their back on their own people may someday discover that they have given up much in exchange for little or nothing. Though some may hope that it is not too late for the tide of anti-Semitism to be reversed, it is difficult to argue with Gurfinkiel’s conclusion. Even more to the point, it is a powerful argument for even greater support for a Jewish state that provides the only fitting memorial to the Holocaust and the only effective answer to anti-Semitic hate.

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German Circumcision Ban Bags First Victim

After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

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After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

In recent decades, Jewish life in Germany has thrived as immigrants in the prosperous nation have revived communities that were long dormant. But this episode unfolding in the one country where awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism are so well known should send chills down the spine of Jews around the world.

Circumcision opponents may claim they are not anti-Semitic, especially since their campaign also targets Muslims. But there is little doubt that the driving force behind this movement is resentment toward Jews and a willingness to go public with sentiments that long simmered beneath the surface in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Just last week, French scholar Michel Gurfinkiel wrote on his blog that anti-Semitism has increased in France since the Toulouse massacre in March. Since then violence has grown, fed by what he calls a rejection of Jews and Judaism. In France, these sentiments are fed by the Jew hatred openly expressed by the expanding Muslim population. Throughout Europe, the demonization of Israel hasn’t just increased hostility to the Jewish state; it has served as an excuse for anti-Semitism to go mainstream for the first time since World War Two. Just as some claim circumcision critics aren’t intrinsically anti-Semitic, there are those who blame anti-Semitism on Israeli policies. But when you add all these factors together what you get is an undeniable upsurge in Jew-hatred.

While we trust that Chancellor Merkel and the Berlin government will find a way to quash this latest disgraceful attack on Judaism, we need to realize that this won’t be the last such episode. The strength of Europe’s traditional pastime of Jew-hatred should never be underestimated.

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