Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”
Part of the pushback against Netanyahu’s statements and actions after both the Paris attacks and last night’s fatal shooting of a Jew guarding a Copenhagen synagogue stems from personal resentment of the prime minister who happens to be in the fight for his political life in the Knesset election that will be held next month. Here in the United States, supporters of President Obama and his effort to appease Iran have been bashing him relentlessly. In particular, the left-wing J Street lobby has initiated a campaign seeking to delegitimize Netanyahu, urging Jews to say that he “doesn’t speak” for them. Their stand is not only misguided on the issue of Iran; it also seeks to undermine the ability of the democratically-elected leader of the Jewish state to voice concerns about Jewish security in a way that only the person who holds that office can (something they won’t tolerate from the right if Netanyahu is replaced by someone from the left).
But Danish Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior was not engaging in that sort of attack. Rather, he seemed to view Netanyahu’s statement about the need for Jews to leave Europe as an attack on his community. As others said after the Hyper Cacher attack in Paris, the rabbi seems to believe that if Jews flee, the terrorists as well as the growing ranks of European anti-Semites win.
Rabbi Yair Melchior said, in response: “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism.”
“If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” Melchior said.
There is some truth to Melchior’s argument. Certainly Jews who immigrate to Israel from the United States are not fleeing injustice but are rather embracing Israel and Zionism. But does he really think the decline in the population of European Jews and the vast increase in aliyah in recent years is a statistical anomaly? As the Pew Research Center’s latest data reports, Jews are fleeing Europe. That is not just because of the alarming increase in violence against Jews but a product of the way anti-Semitism has once again become mainstream in European culture after decades of being marginalized, or at least kept under wraps, after the Holocaust.
Moreover, it is a plain fact that those who have made up every great wave of immigration to the Jewish homeland have been primarily motivated by necessity rather than an ideological commitment to Zionism. The logic of Zionism is not so much the very real appeal of its efforts to reconstitute a national Jewish culture and language but the need of the Jews for a refuge from the potent virus of anti-Semitism.
It would be nice to believe that in the enlightened Western Europe of our own day the fears about mobs crying “Death to the Jews” that motivated Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and found modern Zionism would no longer apply. But a Europe where the Jew-hatred of the Arab and Muslim world that was imported by Middle Eastern immigrants mixes with the contempt for Jewish identity and Israel that has become conventional wisdom among European intellectual elites is not a place where Jews can live safely.
Under these conditions, it is the duty of any prime minister of Israel to remind the world, as well as those faced with such a difficult decision, that Jews are no longer a homeless people that can be abused with impunity. The rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel not only gave the Jews a refuge that would have saved millions during the Holocaust. It also gave every Jew around the world, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, religious or non-religious, a reason to stand a little taller. Jews may choose to stay where they are, whether in an increasingly dangerous Europe or a place like the United States where, despite the existence of anti-Semitism, they can live in unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and security. But the existence of a home for Jews helps make them more secure. Anti-Semitism is, as we noted in our editorial, “a disease for which there is no cure.” But after Copenhagen, our conclusion is just as true: “The existential necessity of Zionism after Paris is not only a fact. It is a charge for the future.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to note this fact. His critics, both in Europe and on the American left, should cease carping and seek to help him strengthen Israel against its enemies.