Is Europe, Bereft of its Jews, No Longer Europe?

What are the factors involved in European Jewry's possibly emigrating from that continent?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

Over the last few months, a number of leading European politicians have declared how important it is that the Jews keep residing in their various countries. Government leaders also claim that they will do the utmost to protect their Jewish communities against a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks.

The reason for these declarations derives from a number of factors. The primary one is the rise of lethal attacks on Jews by Muslim Europeans. The most recent ones are the murders which took place in Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen. To those one may add other acts of anti-Semitic violence, perpetuated for the most part by Muslims, such as the attacks on synagogues and shops in France last summer.

Yet another factor is the increase in the actual emigration of European Jews, mainly from France, combined with a greater interest in meeting with Israeli aliyah officials.[1] Another influence is the prevailing discussion regarding whether or not Jews have a future in Europe. Finally, there are the calls from various Israelis including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that Israel is the natural home of European Jews.[2]

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been the most outspoken of the European leaders who believe that Jews should remain in Europe. Jewish filmmaker Claude Lanzmann wrote an article titled, “France without Jews would not be France,”[3] which Valls referred to the next day in a major speech at the French National Assembly. Valls said, “Claude Lanzmann wrote a wonderful article in Le Monde, yes, say it to the face of the world, a France without Jews is not France.”[4]

In his speech, Valls also referred to the statements of French Minister Ségolène Royale. She had expressed the same sentiment while attending the burial, in Jerusalem, of the four Jews murdered at the Parisian kosher supermarket.[5] French President François Hollande said,Jews have their place in Europe, and France in particular. It is for us to ensure for all Jews of France, more broadly all citizens of France, security, respect, recognition and dignity." [6]

An alert observer might remark that there was a crucial admission lacking in all of these statements: “France is no longer France, since it let in, non-selectively, millions of Muslims from countries where anti-Semitism is rife.” These include immigrants from Algeria where 87% of those polled by the ADL expressed anti-Semitic views, Tunisia where 86% of respondents held anti-Semitic views, and Morocco, where 80% polled were anti-Semitic.[7] One reaction to this mass Muslim immigration is that the extreme-right National Front is France’s leading party, according to many current polls.[8] In the first round of the French departmental elections in March it came however after the conservative UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.[9]

There is a second point such an observer could raise. Hypothetically, even if the entire Jewish community were to leave France, how much of an impact would that actually make on French society? The positions of the departing lawyers, doctors, journalists, politicians, philosophers, shopkeepers, artists, and so on would be filled up quite rapidly. We have seen extreme precedents for such a phenomena in Europe during the German occupation when many Jews were initially expelled from their jobs.

However, such a massive departure of Jews would have a great symbolic impact on France’s image. In January, Valls said to journalists that France is a state where there is “territorial, social, and ethnic apartheid.”[10] The departure of many Jews would add an additional dimension to France’s character as a failing democratic republic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also came out on the subject and said, “We are glad and thankful that there is Jewish life in Germany again, and we would like to continue living well together with the Jews who are in Germany today.”[11] The psychological importance of the Jewish presence in Germany – comprised mainly of immigrants from Russia - is far greater in that country than in France, even though they make up a much smaller percentage of the general population. In view of Germany’s Nazi past, the presence of Jews serves as a major image-enhancer that today’s Germany is not only different in nature, but that it is a healthy democracy.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that the Jewish community in Austria should grow. “We have to do everything to guarantee their security, so that Jews should not be forced to emigrate. Europe without Jews is not Europe.”[12]

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said, following the lethal February terror attack at a Copenhagen synagogue, that, "the Jewish community has been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark, they are part of the Danish community and we wouldn't be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark.”[13]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron limited himself to saying that Britons should be “incredibly vigilant,” and remarked about the implementation of increased security measures that, “these steps were taken because of what happened in Paris and because of the situation that we face generally.”[14]

Several of these statements by the European leaders were direct reactions to Netanyahu’s calls for European Jews to immigrate to Israel, his response to the spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France. Netanyahu had said, “This wave of terror attacks can be expected to continue, including anti-Semitic and murderous attacks. We say to the Jews, to our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home and that of every Jew. Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”[15]

One may wonder whether it was wise of the Israeli Prime Minister to make such a statement. Some Israelis and Jews believe that Jews should come to Israel out of love for the country, rather than out of fear of remaining where they currently live. This sounds like a very politically correct response, but in reality, the great majority of Jewish immigrants throughout Israel’s history belong to the latter category. With that being said, Israel should not contribute to the discomfort of many Jews residing in Europe. It would be enough to say that those Jews who want to come to Israel are welcome.

Various Jewish leaders have declared that their community members have no intention to emigrate and that their natural place is where they presently live. This is broadly true to the extent that whatever emigration there will be, as far as numbers are concerned, only pertains to a small percentage of the local Jewish populations.[16]

The Europe of today is far from being the Germany of the 1938 Kristallnacht. At that time, the government was behind the anti-Semitic violence. Current European governments want to prevent anti-Semitic violence, however may only be moderately capable of doing so. If these aggressions – and in particular, the killings – were to increase, the departure of Jews from Europe would still be far from reaching a full exodus, even if the number of those leaving would likely be much larger than current figures. In the meantime, the remarks of the European leaders are welcome, despite their being, for the most part, exercises in rhetoric.

[1] Sam Sokol and Herb Keinon, “Sharansky to ‘Post’: 50,000 French Jews inquired about aliya in 2014,” The Jerusalem Post, 6 January 2015.
[2] Peter Beaumont, “Leaders reject Netanyahu calls for Jewish mass migration to Israel,” The Guardian, 16 February 2015.
[3] Claude Lanzmann: “Oui, la France sans les juifs n’est pas la France,” Le Monde, 12 January 2015. [French]
[4] “Discours de Manuel Valls à l'Assemblée nationale en hommage aux victimes des attentats,” Gouvernement.fr, 13 January 2015. [French]
[5]  Ségolène Royal, " La France sans les juifs de France n’est pas la France", LCP: Assemblée Nationale, 13 January 2015. [French]
[6] "Face aux propos de Nétanyahou, les chefs d'Etat européens rassurent la communauté juive," Le Monde, 16 February 2015. [French]
[7] ADL Global 100, Anti-Defamation League, 2014.
[8] Zachary Davies Boren, “France's National Front: Marine Le Pen's far-right party is leading in the polls ahead of next month's local elections,” The Independent, 23 February 2015.
[9] “France local elections Conservatives hold off National Front,” BBC News, 23 March 2015.
[10] “Manuel Valls évoque ‘un apartheid territorial, social, ethnique’ en France,” Le Monde, 20 January 2015. [French]
[11] Peter Beaumont, “Leaders reject Netanyahu calls for Jewish mass migration to Israel,” The Guardian, 16 February 2015.
[12] “Face aux propos de Nétanyahou, les chefs d'Etat européens rassurent la communauté juive,” Le Monde, 16 February 2015. [French]
[14] AFP, “Security for UK Jews to be tightened says Cameron,” Ynet, 17 January 2015.
[15] Peter Beaumont, “Leaders reject Netanyahu calls for Jewish mass migration to Israel,” The Guardian, 16 February 2015.
[16] “Danish Jews: 'It won't be terror that makes us go to Israel',” The Jerusalem Post, 16 February 2015.




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