September 23, 2019

Why Jews must stay in Europe

If, God forbid, some crazy Muslim were to shoot and kill a security guard outside a synagogue in Sherman Oaks, would you pack up and move to Israel?

No, of course not. One crazed gunman does not a pogrom make.

Unless you’re Benjamin Netanyahu.

That seemed to be the logic behind the Israeli prime minister’s statement the day after Saturday’s terror attacks in Denmark. When a Muslim man shot up a free-speech gathering and then a synagogue, killing a Danish film director at the first and a Jewish security guard at the second site, Netanyahu immediately called on the Jews of Europe to immigrate en masse to Israel.

“Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish,” he said. “This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe — Israel is your home.”

His analysis is mostly right — victims in Toulouse, Paris and Denmark were singled out because they were Jewish. The scourge of Islamic violence isn’t going away anytime soon — attacks like these most likely will happen again. And Israel is the Jewish home.

So, if Bibi got all his facts right, why have so many people — from the prime minister of Denmark, to the country’s chief rabbi, to American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein, to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, to just about every European and American Jew I’ve spoken with — lambasted his conclusion?

Because it’s cowardly.

I’m not saying that choosing to immigrate to Israel in the face of what is certainly increased anti-Semitism in Europe shows a lack of spine. For many people, it’s simply a better choice. 

But the idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

First, Israel is not safer for Jews. I can think of many good, positive reasons to immigrate to Israel, but avoiding terrorism isn’t one of them. Statistically, you are far less likely to die violently from war or terror in Denmark, Paris or London than in Israel. That goes for your children as well.

If Bibi were concerned solely with the safety of Europe’s Jews, he would urge them to go to the United States, where anti-Semitism is negligible, and where, since 1948, some 330,000 Israelis have found safe, comfortable homes. It surely doesn’t help Bibi’s cause to be spending half his time telling Jews to run to Israel, and the other half warning that any day now, an Iranian nuke could obliterate Tel Aviv.

The idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

And, by the way, has Bibi looked at a map lately? Those ISIS maniacs are within eyesight of the Golan Heights. They are swarming Iraq; surrounding Egypt; taking over Libya; and cultivating followers in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. If you want to stay far away from ISIS, stay far away from the Middle East, period.

Second, Jews cannot let hundreds of years of European Jewish history, tradition and culture come to a screeching halt because of some Islamic thugs. The popular narrative — or at least the one in Bibi’s brain — is that this is 1938, and Jews had better get out while they can. But the reality is quite different: Jews have the backing of Europe’s governments and its leaders, as well as public opinion. The mass rally this past weekend in Denmark was yet another sign of that. I know it’s hard for us to comprehend, but this time, all Shushan has risen up against Haman.

 “There is a real threat to life and limb,” University of London history professor David Cesarani wrote in the Huffington Post, “however from a tiny number of Jihadists and extreme Islamists. But they are a threat to every liberal democratic society, and they target the state, the police, the military and, as we saw in France, organisations that practice and symbolize freedom of expression. Hence, Jews are not isolated, as they were in the 1930s and 1940s, but find themselves enjoying unprecedented solidarity. This comes, too, from Muslims who are struggling against the extremism in their own faith communities. We need to celebrate and build on this solidarity, not sow seeds of alarm.”

Cesarani’s last point may be the most important reason Bibi is wrong. Bibi’s comments undermine the larger truth about Islamic extremism in Europe: This is not just a Jewish fight. To say it’s the Jews who must run away is to say we are not part of humanity’s struggle against an ideology that has claimed more Muslim and Christian victims in recent years than Jewish ones.

“Raising the spectre of ‘anti-Semitism’ will not help anyone cope with the threat posed by Jihadists and extreme Islamists,” Cesarani wrote. “We all face a specific menace that demands targeted counter-measures.”

Finally, a strong Diaspora, and a strong Israel, is better for the world, and for Jews.  Jews carry values and traditions that usually end up imporving the places where they live.  And Judaism itself is the result of what the Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein likes to call the “rolling mess” of Jewish life.  Judaism has survived and thrived precisely because Jews have constantly been exchanging ideas, values and knowledge across cultures and times.   Were we all to just huddle beneath the Iron Dome, between the Mediterranean and the Security Barrier, we would wither as a living, breathing culture.

I know it’s easy for me to dispense prescriptions from cozy America. Jews in Europe these days face a constant level of threat and intimidation, which we here can’t fathom. But the civilized world has faced down fanaticism before on European soil, and it can do so again. The battle is not yet lost, so why does Netanyahu sound like he’s surrendering?


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.