Commentary Magazine


Topic: European Jewry

Don’t Ignore Nonviolent Anti-Semitism

The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

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The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

As Joel Kotkin explains in a column for the Orange County Register, the global Jewish community is rapidly becoming a regional Jewish community. According to Kotkin, four out of every five Jews now lives in either Israel or the United States. In 1939, that number was one in four. Rising anti-Semitism throughout the world–and not just Western Europe–has combined with a dwindling birth rate to produce demographic decline in most of the world’s Jewish communities. Kotkin writes:

Overall, nearly 26,500 Europeans immigrated last year to Israel – a 32 percent increase from 2013. In Britain, a Jewish population of less than 300,000 has not grown for a generation. With recent polls showing close to half of all Britons holding some anti-Semitic views, a majority of British Jews now feel there is no future for them in Europe; one in four is considering emigration.

Other historically significant Jewish communities, such as that in Argentina, also are losing population. The number of Jews in the South American republic has fallen from roughly 300,000 in the 1960s to 250,000 today. This demographic decline will likely be accelerated now that the current Peronista regime has been accused of collaborating with Iranian terrorists implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. The government is widely suspected of complicity in the murder last month of the prosecutor investigating the bombing.

Argentina and France aren’t the only nations with formerly large, now-shrinking Jewish communities. In 1948, Iran was home to 100,000 Jews; now it’s a tenth of that number. In South Africa, the population reached 119,000 at the end of apartheid but since has dropped by roughly half. The largest numerical losses were in the former Soviet Union, where, in 1980, there were some 1.7 million Jews; now, as few as 250,000 remain. Most have resettled in Israel or the United States.

Still, France emerges as the canary in the coal mine–if, after the 20th century, the Jews of Europe need such a canary at all. It’s the largest European Jewish community, and it saw 7,000 of its Jews make aliyah last year alone. The numbers keep climbing, however. And there’s a reason beyond the violence.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terror attacks in Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivered a beautiful speech on what French Jewry means to the French state. He spoke out forcefully against resurgent French anti-Semitism and accused his country of historical blindness. And he was clear on France’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

And yet, there is a lingering sense that the endemic anti-Semitism in France has already reached a point of no return. I wrote in response that although Valls’s speech was laudatory and, at times, even inspiring, his framing of the issue left a bad taste. He spoke of France as the “land of emancipation of the Jews,” but that calls into question whether non-secular Jews will ever feel at home there again. I wrote: “A Frenchman who happens to be a Jew at home cannot be the only Jew who feels at home in France.”

A video making the rounds today demonstrates my point. A Jewish reporter for the Israeli news outlet NRG put on a yarmulke, untucked his tzitzit fringes, and walked around various neighborhoods of Paris for ten hours filmed by a hidden camera (and flanked by an undercover bodyguard). Here is what he encountered in more heavily Muslim neighborhoods of Paris:

Walking into a public housing neighborhood, we came across a little boy and his hijab-clad mother, who were clearly shocked to see us. “What is he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?” the boy asked.

Walking by a school in one of Paris’ neighborhoods, a boy shouted “Viva Palestine” at me. Moments later, passing by a group of teens, one of the girls remarked, “Look at that – it’s the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing.”

Walking down another neighborhood, a driver stopped his car and approached us. “We’ve been made,” I thought. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “We’ve had reports that you were walking around our neighborhood – you’re not from around here.”

In one of the mostly-Muslim neighborhoods, we walked into an enclosed marketplace. “Look at him! He should be ashamed of himself. What is he doing walking in here wearing a kippa?!” one Muslim merchant yelled. “What do you care? He can do whatever he wants,” another, seemingly unfazed merchant, answered. Over at a nearby street I was lambasted with expletives, mostly telling me to “go f*** from the front and the back.”

At a nearby [café], fingers were pointed at us, and moments later two thugs were waiting for us on the street corner. They swore at me, yelled “Jew” and spat at me. “I think we’ve been made,” the photographer whispered at me. Two youths were waiting for us on the next street corner, as they had apparently heard that a Jew was walking around their neighborhood.

They made it clear to us that we had better get out of there, and we took their advice.

The video also suggests there was a fair amount of spitting in their direction throughout the day. The reporter, Zvika Klein, was spared violence by adhering to threats that were probably not empty. But even without violence, what you see in the video is a pervasive sense of almost distaste for a Jew wearing a kippah. I received similar stares at the airport in Paris once when I thought I could use the time before my flight to don my tallis and tefillin. I was not received warmly (by the Frenchmen nearby, that is; the other non-French tourists were fine with it).

But I don’t live there. What does Manuel Valls plan to do about his country’s obvious, pervasive, rank anti-Semitism? Staging security forces or police outside Jewish schools is all well and good, but they’re there for a reason. They won’t make French society less anti-Semitic, and they won’t make Jews feel more at home in a place where being identifiably Jewish has become not an expression of French multiculturalism but an act of defiance that requires a bodyguard.

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The Copenhagen Attacks and Zionism

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.”

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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.

As the Times of Israel reported:

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.

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UKIP’s Selective Democracy and the Jews

A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

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A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

UKIP (the UK Independence Party) is actually far more moderate than its reputation would suggest. And unlike in France, it’s conceivable that an anti-EU party in Britain could pull the UK away from the union. That’s because Britain isn’t in the union with both feet. And it’s also because mainstream parties like the Conservatives have a strong and eloquent faction of Euroskeptics among them.

UKIP, in other words, gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, they’re starting to live up to it.

What’s concerning about the rise of the French far right is that a militant anti-Muslim posture, aside from being animated by discriminatory ideas, will do no good for non-Muslims either. You can’t have religious freedom for only some of your citizens and still be free.

UKIP is demonstrating this with its new anti-halal campaign.

The latest controversy started with the revelations that hidden cameras in a halal slaughterhouse had captured “horrifying” abuse of the animals before and during the slaughter. Muslims have been fighting against the government’s preference that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, and this appears to have turned public opinion back against them.

UKIP responded by calling for a ban on any slaughter in which the animal isn’t stunned first, in essence simply removing the religious exemption. As other similar bans have shown, this would outlaw the kosher shechita process as well. UKIP’s attempt at reassurance to Britain’s Jewish Chronicle sounded as though a Tory plant had dressed as a UKIP minister and set about sabotaging the group’s standing:

A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes.

MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said: “We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.

“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”

But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.

“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.

“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”

Yes, we know what you mean. And that statement is a bumbling masterpiece.

First, the UKIP spokesman said that he was forced to go along with the outlawing of basic tenets of Judaism and Islam because they “are a democratic party.” I don’t know if he appreciated the irony of defending the proposal that the government stomp on individual rights in the name of democracy, but it’s not comforting.

His second part of the “defense” of the UKIP vote was more honest. The Jews are simply “collateral damage.” It’s possible he meant this in a positive way too, something like: You folks are usually the target of populist authoritarianism, so in a way you’ve graduated.

He might be comparing Britain to France here. Maybe UKIP thinks that because they’re not threatening violence, outlawing Jewish practice in this way is not the really bad kind of authoritarian nationalism. But in fact it’s not really fully accurate to say they’re not threatening violence, is it? After all, such laws are backed up by the force of the state, so we’re not talking about simply peer pressure here.

We’ve seen similar efforts in the U.S. get struck down by the courts, if they even get that far. For a while “anti-Sharia” laws were all the rage, but they often amounted to unconscionable infringements on religious liberty. (In one case an anti-Sharia law raised fears it would, as written, outlaw Jewish divorce.)

In Britain’s case, UKIP’s selective democracy works against the Jews twice over. Not only must Jews’ religious liberty be eroded because UKIP votes on its asinine schemes, but Jews are also not present in high enough numbers to make UKIP pay at the ballot box–or, at least, not in high enough numbers to stop a ritual slaughter ban from being a net-gain for UKIP:

Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.

He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.

“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.

“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.”

This is a perfect example of what a glorious document our Constitution, with its attendant amendments, is. Britain has a tradition of freedom and republicanism from which we get our own. But that tradition here was, wisely, codified and made explicit. UKIP’s members like to think of themselves as a party geared toward liberty. But it’s clear they don’t know the meaning of the word.

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French Anti-Semitism and the Specter of “Humanitarian Zionism”

Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

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Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

Cazeneuve was also speaking about a man named Mohammed Merah, the gunman involved in a brief crime spree in Toulouse that included murdering Jews. This week in France, Merah’s name was reportedly found spray-painted in a message praising him. In fact, the phrase “this week in France” is rarely followed by good news, and for Jews the phrase has taken on an even more ominous tone.

On June 11, Tablet reported on “the third disturbing incident from [the] French capital” so far that week, and then listed all the anti-Semitic incidents in Paris in 2014 for good measure. Each such story tends to bring a round of recollections on social media sites of readers’ latest stories of French anti-Semitism.

It’s easy to see how such incidents proliferate when each is treated as a “lone wolf” attack. The willful blindness practically ensures it will continue. It’s possible that a shift in attitude such as Cazeneuve’s will make a difference, though it would take a cultural shift for the correct approach to be prevalent enough to turn the tide. It’s easier to pretend the tide isn’t there.

What does that mean for French Jewry, and for European Jewry? As to the former, JTA also noted last month a survey showing that three-quarters of French Jews are considering leaving the country. More than half the respondents said “Jews have no future in France,” and nearly all (more than 95 percent) said anti-Semitism there is “worrisome” or “very worrisome.” As for what it means for European Jewry, this part of the story is pertinent:

Ninety-three percent said the French state had no efficient means for countering “Islamic exclusionist and pro-Palestinian propaganda,” whereas 93.4 percent said French mass media are partially responsible for France’s anti-Semitism problem. Roughly three-quarters said French Jewish institutions were helpless to stop anti-Semitism.

To take those three points in order: According to Brown University’s Maud Mandel (no relation–that I know of, anyway) “France houses the largest Jewish and Muslim populations living side by side outside of Israel.” That bodes ill, obviously, for Muslim-Jewish relations in Europe in the future (though there are certainly aspects of this that are specific to France). On the second point, European mass media is broadly hostile to the Jewish state, so it’s unlikely any strife caused by the press would be limited to France. (Ahem, BBC.) On the third, I’m not sure what the Jews of France expect, outside of their own private army. Jewish institutions in many cases could do much better than they are, but it’s doubtful they can singlehandedly change the hearts and minds of Europe’s Mehdi Nemmouches and Mohammed Merahs.

If there is any strength to be had in numbers, then France’s treatment of its Jews shows how easily that strength can be negated. The packed aliyah fairs in Paris and the rate of French aliyah itself raise the specter of what Jabotinsky once called “humanitarian Zionism.” If such a Zionism is necessary in 2014, Europe has failed its Jews once again.

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Israeli Independence Day and the New Reality for World Jewry

As fighting picked up in Ukraine and the government in Kiev proved helpless to stop its spread, it was easy to miss a three-paragraph story in Haaretz about the Jews caught up in the unrest. And once reading the story, it was just as easy to forget it. The news item was about Israeli security experts being dispatched to Ukraine to train the Jewish community, because of the fear that should anti-Semitism–not exactly alien to Ukraine–bubble back to the surface, the government would be unable (or unwilling) to protect them.

The fact that the story of Israeli-facilitated self-defense passed without much notice says much about the way the existence of the State of Israel has completely changed the conversation about the world’s Jews. It’s a point especially worth remembering today on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the year preceding which we saw speculation on the once-unthinkable notion that French Jews might have to take up an “aliyah of rescue”–a development that serves as an alarming reminder of the status of European Jewry.

Those two stories, one about the concept of an aliyah of rescue and the other about Israel dispatching trained security professionals to Jews in isolated communities, demonstrate a crucial point about Israel’s value to the Jewish world: not only do Jews feel safer in Israel than in most places in the world, but Jews feel safer all around the world simply because of Israel. Compare the situation in Ukraine, for example, to previous episodes in Jewish history. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionaries, some of whom were Jews. In her new history of Israel, Anita Shapira describes what happened next:

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As fighting picked up in Ukraine and the government in Kiev proved helpless to stop its spread, it was easy to miss a three-paragraph story in Haaretz about the Jews caught up in the unrest. And once reading the story, it was just as easy to forget it. The news item was about Israeli security experts being dispatched to Ukraine to train the Jewish community, because of the fear that should anti-Semitism–not exactly alien to Ukraine–bubble back to the surface, the government would be unable (or unwilling) to protect them.

The fact that the story of Israeli-facilitated self-defense passed without much notice says much about the way the existence of the State of Israel has completely changed the conversation about the world’s Jews. It’s a point especially worth remembering today on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the year preceding which we saw speculation on the once-unthinkable notion that French Jews might have to take up an “aliyah of rescue”–a development that serves as an alarming reminder of the status of European Jewry.

Those two stories, one about the concept of an aliyah of rescue and the other about Israel dispatching trained security professionals to Jews in isolated communities, demonstrate a crucial point about Israel’s value to the Jewish world: not only do Jews feel safer in Israel than in most places in the world, but Jews feel safer all around the world simply because of Israel. Compare the situation in Ukraine, for example, to previous episodes in Jewish history. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionaries, some of whom were Jews. In her new history of Israel, Anita Shapira describes what happened next:

The tsar’s assassination sent shock waves throughout the Russian Empire, as well as a spate of pogroms in Ukraine. The Church and the government made no effort to rein in the mob, and Jews suspected both of collaborating with the rioters. While the damage was mainly to property, the shock was great: mass rioting against Jews had not occurred in Eastern Europe during the previous century. The assumption had been that the strengthening of the absolutist state ensured public order and security. Now it suddenly appeared that, whereas in most of Europe and in America the Jews were citizens with equal rights, the Russian masses could still go on the rampage while the government either stood passively by or was itself involved in the rioting.

Even after educational reforms brought the Jews far more inclusion into society, and even after the Jews of the Russian Empire thought they had solved the riddle of how to establish themselves as a protected minority, pogroms broke out in Ukraine–coincidentally, the riots began on today’s date on the Jewish calendar–from which they were left indefensible. Back to the Haaretz story about violence in the wake of the fall of the Ukrainian power structure:

Three instructors from Ozma — a special project supported by the forum that sends Israeli security specialists to communities around the world where local Jews are under threat – will run the workshop. A similar workshop was held in Brussels last month.

The Ozma instructors are all former members of the Israeli security services with training in first aid. About thirty members of the Kiev Jewish community are expected to participate in the workshop. Besides teaching them self-defense techniques, the instructors will also focus on crisis management tactics required in emergency situations.

There is a prosperous, strong, democratic Jewish state that answers the call when Jews are in danger anywhere in the world. This gets at why, in addition to the obvious reasons, the noxious accusations of dual loyalty or undue Jewish influence on politics in the West ring so false. Among the great many things that Israel Lobby conspiracy theorists like to ignore is the fact that when they argue for a weaker, more isolated Israel they are arguing for weaker Jews around the world.

They may not intend this to be the case; it’s quite likely that their ignorance of politics and history has left them plainly unaware of the implications of their own ideas. But that’s the reality. When you combine this with the religious implications of the existence of Jewish sovereignty in Israel–a concept that pervades much of Jewish practice, from rituals to prayer services to religious education–you can begin to understand what Israel’s Independence Day means even for those who have yet to step within its borders.

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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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