Developments in the refugee crisis in Europe have been rapid. Jews (and Israel) must monitor the fast changing crisis carefully, to identify the aspects relevant to them. One such development, among many others, are the frequent comparisons of the current Muslim refugees with the Jews fleeing Germany in the 1930s. They are greatly distorted.
The main developments are in Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel has put her reputation – and perhaps even her position – at stake by allowing the influx of large numbers of refugees. There have been a number of arson attempts at refugee centers. The originators are probably from the extreme right. Due to their ideological orientation they may also target Jews in the future.
The fights in asylum centers between various groups of refugees, the Christian attempts to proselytize among the incoming Muslims, and Salafist efforts to turn refugees into Muslim extremists are other issues now coming to the fore. Sexual assaults on women carried out by refugees have been reported, both in asylum centers and elsewhere. It has also been suggested that Muslims and Christians should be separated in the asylum centers, as some among the former terrorize the latter. In France, some municipalities are only willing to welcome Christian refugees.
From the specific Jewish point of view, besides the issues which concern them as citizens, it is relevant is that the current influx again places Islam’s position in Western Europe in the center of public debate. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security affairs Federica Mogherini said earlier this year: “Islam holds a place in our Western societies. Islam belongs in Europe. It holds a place in Europe's history, in our culture, in our food and – what matters most – in Europe's present and future."
Merkel said: “Most Muslims are honest citizens, and are loyal to the constitution. It is clear that Islam by now undoubtedly belongs to Germany.”
There were earlier somewhat similar statements by German politicians. In 2006, at the opening of the first German Conference on Islam (Deutsche Islam Konferenz DIK), the current Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schaüble stated "Islam is part of Germany and Europe.” In 2010, the President of Germany at the time, Christian Wulff reinforced the message, saying, “Islam belongs to Germany.”
A recent Allensbach Institute poll, however, found that only 22% of the German population think that the Islam belongs to Germany, while 63% disagree. Some German acquaintances have told me privately that many who are diametrically opposed to the current massive intake of refugees hesitate to say so in public, as they fear they may be labelled racists or even Nazis.
Politicians should be specifically asked which expressions of Islam, in their opinion, belong to Europe. This is of particular importance to Jews, not only because of the many anti-Semitic incidents caused by Muslims in recent decades, but also given the history of anti-Semitic atrocities in Europe in the previous century. The current marginalized position of Jews in Europe hardly allows them to raise such questions, leaving this task in the hands of non-Jews, or Jews from Israel or the US.
Questions could include the following: Do those Muslims who take the Koran literally and believe that Jews are pigs and monkeys belong to Europe? Do the Muslims who attack synagogues in France belong to Europe? Do those who identify with Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS belong to Europe? And those who shouted ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’ in Amsterdam at a demonstration, while the police hardly reacted, do they, too, belong to Europe?
There are also more general, fundamental questions: do those who promote the introduction and enforcement of sharia law belong to Europe? Do hate-mongering Muslim leaders belong to Europe? How about those Muslim leaders who do not condemn violence emerging from their society, or even those who only condemn it after prodding by the authorities - do they also belong to Europe? And do those Moslems who believe that religious rules are more important than secular law belong to Europe?
In 2013, the Berlin Social Science Center published a study by Ruud Koopmans in six European countries, which found that around 65 percent of Muslims surveyed in those countries agreed with the anti-democratic statement that “Religious rules are more important than secular law.” Are these anti-democrat Muslims belonging to Europe?
British Home secretary Theresa May raised the immigrant problem more indirectly, at the recent Conservative Party conference. She said: “Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it's impossible to build a cohesive society.” The obvious question to ask Ms. May is: do all types of immigrants make it equally impossible to build a cohesive society, or are some groups far more problematic.
Now at least thus more realistic questions can be posed, something which was not possible at the beginning of the current wave of asylum seekers. However, extreme language should be avoided. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch populist PVV party, last year asked some of his followers whether they prefer more or less Moroccan immigrants. His followers shouted “less!” Wilders will be facing prosecution. He could have asked without incurring any legal problems: “In view of the disproportionally high number of young Moroccans with police files, was it a great mistake to bring so many Moroccans to the Netherlands?”
Wilders’ party, however does not belong to the mainstream. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican Party is part of mainstream politics, even though several politicians compete sometimes with the extreme right National Front in making radical statements. One important party member, Nadine Morano, a former Minister of Family Affairs, went too far for her party, however. She was removed as a candidate for the upcoming regional elections, after stating her belief on television “that France is a “Judaeo-Christian country of the white race,” and refusing to apologize.
In all this confusion, the current dynamic in Europe may be viewed more precisely, to some extent, through the prism of European attitudes toward its Jews. It is not (yet?) politically correct to say that the non-selective immigration of millions of Muslim is the most negative development for European Jews since the Holocaust. It is not difficult to prove, however, that this taboo statement is true. Political correctness would demand terminology here such as “extreme Muslims” or “Islamists”, something that is probably not even true because many anti-Jewish hooligans probably do not practice many of Islam’s rules
Perhaps the end of the 20th century may be considered the best years of postwar European Jewry. Since then several Jews have been murdered in France, Belgium and Denmark, all by Muslim immigrants or their descendants. European Jews have had to increase security measures significantly and Jewish ritual slaughter and male circumcision have come under attack in several European societies, collateral to Muslim practice being the main target. Jewish reactions have been greater security measures, massive hiding of identities in public and significant Jewish emigration.
The most negative changes in the position of the European Jews are largely the result of actions perpetrated by elements within the Muslim communities. To be fair, governments and societies’ reactions to the massive influx of Muslims have also played an important role. It would be very desirable if the refugee crisis leads to an orderly, detailed debate on Islam’s position in Europe, which should include a profound analysis of what the massive, non-selective Muslim immigration into Europe has meant for its Jewish communities.