The questions came fast and furious after the French terrorist attacks: Do French Jews have a future in France? Is it happening all over again in Europe? Is anti-Israel activity causing all this anti-Semitism? What can we do about it?
At this difficult moment for French Jews, I do not think it is the job of American Jews to tell them what they ought to do. We need to support them, to offer our assistance in any way we can.
If it were me, would I stay in France? My gut tells me no. But I recognize that many French Jews feel comfortable in their country and want to stay. It was significant — even before recent events and the war in Gaza — that in a European Union poll, 60 percent of French Jews said they expected to be the target of anti-Semitic incidents in the next year.
The future may have very little to do with French Jewry. It will depend heavily on whether the French government and society can fully integrate their Muslim citizens. If they do there still will be some violent extremists, but the dynamic in society could change and make it more hospitable for Jews.
If Muslims are not more fully integrated in society, terrorist attacks against Jews will grow, as will the extreme right National Front party, which has a history of anti-Semitism and stridently anti-immigrant rhetoric. Neither will be good for the Jews of France.
Is it happening all over again in Europe? The resurgence of anti-Semitism is very serious but it is not a repeat of the 1930s and 1940s. That was a unique tragedy brought on by the fact that a party committed to the destruction of Jews gained control not only of Germany but almost all of Europe. At the same time, others collaborated or stood by while the Jews of Europe were being exterminated.
Today, with all the problems and with the need for government leaders to do more to protect their Jewish communities and to combat anti-Semitism and terrorism, government is not the source of the problem. Leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany, Francois Hollande of France, and David Cameron of the United Kingdom have denounced anti-Semitism and stood with their Jewish communities.
Where does the anti-Israel component fit into the resurgence of anti-Semitism? It is, in fact, a huge element of what is happening.
This is not to say that old fashioned classic anti-Semitism has disappeared. In fact, ADL’s Global 100 Survey of anti-Semitic attitudes, fielded last spring and released in May 2014, showed that anti-Semitism is alive and well on the continent. The survey found 34 percent of East Europeans, and 24 percent of West Europeans, harbor classic anti-Semitic attitudes. In France, 37 percent of the adult population harbors anti-Jewish attitudes, the second highest in Western Europe.
It is the volatile mix of this classic anti-Semitism with the new anti-Semitism connected to Israel that is so troubling.
Israel is not beyond criticism. But the distorted over the top “blame Israel” approach that is so prevalent in European media and among European intellectuals has opened the door for attacks on Jews.
Muslim extremists choose not to see a distinction between Israel and European Jews. Indeed, at the core of the radical Islamic movement is a vicious anti-Semitic ideology. We see it in the Hamas charter blaming Jews for all the world’s ills. One of the Paris terrorists exemplified this, being quoted as saying that he hates Jews and wants to burn synagogues.
The anti-Israel propaganda in Europe also plays a role in inhibiting some from standing up with Jews when they are under attack. While more than a million marched in Paris after the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the kosher market, I wonder how many would have demonstrated now if only the kosher market had been attacked.
In Germany, this summer, it was encouraging to see Chancellor Merkel participate in a demonstration against anti-Semitism — but only 5,000 people showed up. I believe the small numbers, particularly in Germany, had to do with anti-Israel feelings associated with the war in Gaza. Many undoubtedly thought that they should not stand up for Jews, because it mighty appear that they were defending Israel.
So what can we in America do about it? I am a firm believer that when America is a leader in the world, it is not only good for the world, it is good for the Jewish people.
The history of the 20th Century starkly demonstrates this. When America was in retreat in the 1920s and the 1930s, it spelled disaster. The rise of Hitler went unchallenged. By the time the U.S. went on the offense during World War II, on D-Day, more than four million Jews had already been murdered.
After World War II, a new bipartisan foreign policy emerged to contain the Soviet Union. As a result we eventually won the Cold War. Meanwhile, American leadership changed the history of the Jewish people, particularly in our support of Israel and in the freeing of Soviet Jews.
Today, many questions are being asked about America’s role in the world, and understandably so, considering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our domestic challenges. In the end, as we see the rise of ISIS, we understand again that without America the world is more vulnerable than ever to the worst extremists.
So, too, for the Jews if Europe. We must work together with European governments to provide security to counter terrorism and to encourage those countries to deal with both sides of the problem, deal strongly with Islamic extremists and integrate Muslims populations.
Anti-Semitism is a disease that will not go away anytime soon. But with the right policies and cooperation, it can be contained, and the story of the Jews in Europe does not have to have a sad ending.