November 18, 2018

Answering readers’ comments on “France’s Jews Have No Choice but Israel”

My New York Times articles often draw a relatively high number of responses, comments, and criticisms (and praise too, from time to time). And so I often feel the need to follow up with a post in which I respond to some of the more common, or more thoughtful, comments. A couple of months ago I responded to readers’ comments on Israel’s Fair Whether Fans.  I later answered readers’ comments on Who Killed the Israeli Left. Today I’m answering questions and comments on my latest article in the Times – published last week – France’s Jews Have No Choice but Israel.

My article asked:

Does the Jewish state want to actively contribute to ending many hundreds of years of French Jewish history? Does it want to convey the message that yes, as the terrorists argue, there is no place for Jews in France? Does it want to imply that French efforts to protect Jews have been a failure? Does it want the world to see fearful Jews fleeing from Europe en masse yet again?

And the answer was just a little more complicated than the headline implies (headlines are always bad at reflecting nuance). Reader Alex Ryvchin captured its essence on twitter as he wrote: “@rosnersdomain reluctantly concludes – French Jews better off making last stand in Israel than living in fear”.

Here are just a few questions and comments from readers – followed by my short response:

Cameron Brown sarcastically said on Facebook: “Right, 'cause in Israel we don't have guards with guns everywhere…”. Andrew Esensten wrote on Twitter “This line of argument is defeatist & ironic, as Israelis themselves live behind guards with guns–it's called the IDF”.

Sure we do. But as I say at the end of the article, if we have to live behind guards, I prefer Israel’s guards. Why? For two reasons: first, because I believe they are more determined to defend Jewish institutions. Second, because they will never tire of defending Jewish institutions – that is their core mission. I have no doubt that the government of France also truly wants to defend its Jewish citizens and institutions, but I am not sure for how long it is going to make it a high priority and not tire of it.

Nan Socolow of Florida was one of hundreds of New York Times readers that commented on the article. I’ll only post one sentence of this comment: “One doesn't have to be a Cassandra to see the future of Jews in France today. One didn't have to be a Cassandra to see the future of Jews in Germany in the 1930s”.

I said it last week and I’ll repeat it: comparing 2015 France to 1938 Germany is unfair and unhealthy. Germany went after the Jews – France is attempting to keep them safe. It isn’t succeeding, it might be incompetent or lacking in understanding of the severity of the situation – but President Holland is no Hitler, France is no Nazi Germany, and Jews should be careful to know the difference. 

Bruce Rozenblitt also left his comments on the New York Times comment-page: “Speaking as a Jewish American, I don't like this argument one bit. French Jews are French. They speak French. They enjoy French culture. They are not Israelis. They don't speak Hebrew. Packing up and walking away from your home and life is a momentous decision. This isn't like moving to the suburbs”. 

This is a response that I got in many places and in many forms. Some American Jews did not agree with me, because of an assumption that my argument extends to all countries and all Jews. It does not. In America, Jews feel safe, and can celebrate Judaism. There are still good reasons for them to consider aliyah, but they are not the reasons that are impacting the Jews of France. In France, the Jews have growing difficulties to celebrate Judaism. Personally, they can be safe by assimilating – but those who want to be demonstrably Jewish, to participate in Jewish life, have a problem. The advantage of Israel over France is not personal safety. Israel, as my readers all know, is not the safest country on earth. But it is a place in which a Jew can be demonstrably Jewish, and trust his government to do the outmost for him to be able to be demonstrably Jewish without disruption.

Marshal Onellion wrote: “My country, the United States of America, should change our immigration law and give French Jews the same status their co-religionists had during the breakup of the Soviet Union, and for the same reason: danger. French Jews in turn should consider immigrating the the largest Diaspora community”.

I’m intrigued. That is a worthy challenge – replace an unsafe diasporic existence with a safe diasporic existence. But somehow I don’t see this happening. And if it does, Israel should all the more compete to lure these on-the-move French Jews to consider it as an option.

By email from Deborah: “Why don’t you wait for France to defeat the terrorists instead of running away from the fight?”

That is a good question, and it goes to the heart of why I wrote the article. That is, because I generally agree with Deborah’s premise: had I thought that the French are on their way to winning this fight, I’d be much more reluctant to hint that the Jews of France ought to consider leaving. As I say in my article, it gives me no pleasure to see a magnificent Jewish center collapse – not even if all of France’s Jews end up living in Israel. Alas – the this is where I’m guilty of the usual Israeli pessimism about European determination to fight terrorism – I have little faith in the government of France and in its ability to tame the violence and harassment of French Jewry.