Is It Time for the Jews to Leave?

“Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” asks Jeffrey Goldberg in the title of an Atlantic Monthly cover story. Of course it’s a cover story. With a provocative title like that, could it be anything less? The title certainly grabs our attention.
So what is Goldberg’s answer to his provocative question?

Although Goldberg’s answer is slightly equivocal, it seems to be yes. In his conclusion, Goldberg tells us that he is “predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly.” What then is that evidence? It is almost entirely anecdotal and impressionistic, with a few “facts” thrown in the mix to make the argument appear more objective.

Goldberg does produce a few statistics that suggest anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. For example, he writes that, according to the French Interior Ministry, although the number of Jews in France (about 475,000) represents less than 1 percent of the country’s population, “51% of all racist attacks targeted Jews.” He then assures us, without specifics, that the “statistics in other countries, including Great Britain, are similarly dismal.”

Later in the article, however, he does give some details about Great Britain. “According to the Community Security Trust [which Goldberg elsewhere identifies as “a Jewish organization that monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom”], 2014 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom, which is home to 300,000 Jews, since the organization began its monitoring efforts in 1984; it recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents. This is more than double the number of incidents in 2013, and exceeds the previous record, from 2009, of 931 incidents.” (How the Community Security Trust determines what constitutes an “anti-Semitic incident” is not explained.)

There are a few other statistics strewn throughout the article (“The Berlin rally last fall against anti-Semitism that featured Angela Merkel drew a paltry 5,000 people, most of them Jews.” “In Greece, a recent survey found that 69 percent of adults hold anti-Semitic views, and the fascists of the country’s Golden Dawn Party are open in their Jew-hatred.” It is not explained who conducted the “survey,” how it was conducted, or what was determined to be an “anti-Semitic view.”), but really statistics are not Goldberg’s thing. Goldberg proves or, more accurately, illustrates his thesis with stories of acts of anti-Semitic aggression perpetrated against individual Jews in Europe.

To prove that “[t]hings have gone terribly wrong for the Jews of Europe lately,” he reminds us of the attack at a kosher market that followed the Charlie Hebdo killings. He tells us about a rabbi and his sons who were killed in Toulouse outside a synagogue by a “radicalized” French citizen of Algerian descent, who then chased down and shot, in a schoolyard, an 8-year old girl. He visits a Jewish vocational high school outside Paris, in which each “of the 10 students had a story to tell about brutality.” He recounts the story of the “most persecuted Jew” in Europe, a Chabad Hasidic rabbi in a city in southern Sweden, who avoids venturing out in public with his wife for fear that they will be targeted together.

These and similar anecdotes are offered to paint a portrait of a continent that is rampant with anti-Semitism, not as virulent as the strain of anti-Semitism that overtook Europe in 1933 (“comparing 2015 to 1933, the year Hitler came to power [as American billionaire Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, recently did] is irresponsible.”). But isn’t that exactly where Europe is headed?, Goldberg seems to ask. “It is not 1933. But could it be 1929?”

The problem with this approach—trying to prove a point with a smattering of statistics and a handful of illustrative anecdotes—is that it can be used to “prove” almost anything. No doubt, if Goldberg had wanted to title his article “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave America?” he could have written a piece with just as many statistics and just as many individual stories as he has assembled in The Atlantic. (To find his data, he wouldn’t have to look much farther than press releases from the Anti-Defamation League, which recently announced that its “audit” showed that the “total number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 in a year marked by a violent anti-Semitic shooting attack targeting Jewish community buildings in Kansas and anti-Jewish expressions linked to the war in Gaza.”)

That is not, however, the story Goldberg wants to tell, at least not today. (Thirty years ago, Goldberg tells us, he moved to Israel “to participate in the drama of Jewish national self-determination” and “also because I believed that life in the Diaspora, including the America Diaspora, wasn’t particularly safe for Jews, or Judaism. Several years in Israel, and some somber thinking about the American Jewish condition, cured me of that particular belief.”) Today, Goldberg is fairly sanguine about “the American Jewish condition.” Even acknowledging that, according to FBI statistics, “Jews are by far the most-frequent victims of religiously motivated hate crimes in America,” Goldberg dismisses this as “anti-Semitism on the margins.” Why anti-Semitic incidents are “on the margins” in the U.S. but deeply troubling in Europe, Goldberg does not explain. Perhaps it’s supposed to be self-evident.

Still, he sells his doomsday predictions about Europe pretty hard, nowhere more so than in his account of a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Reminding us that “four people were murdered at the Jewish Museum of Belgium,” by a French Muslim of “jihadist bent” who had recently spent time with ISIS in Syria, Goldberg seems, frankly, disappointed when the police officers guarding the Anne Frank House insist that “we have never had an attack.” Since this fact does not serve Goldberg’s narrative—how could an institution as “iconic” as the Anne Frank House not have been attacked by anti-Semites?—Goldberg challenges the policeman’s view by “counting” the original Gestapo raid on the House in 1944 that resulted in the arrest of the Frank family. If the Dutch can protect the Anne Frank House, perhaps there is hope, but Goldberg will have none of it.

Grudgingly, he acknowledges that the current leaders of many European countries—German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Goldberg quotes her as saying that “Germany’s support for Israel’s security is part of our national ethos” and that [a]nyone who hits someone wearing a Jewish skullcap is hitting us all”), Manuel Valls, the prime minister of France (“The choice was made by the French revolution in 1789 to recognize Jews as full citizens. To understand what the idea of the republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews. It is a founding principle.”), Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (“I think it is unfair and wrong to lay at the door of the Jewish communities of Europe policies pursued by the government of Israel that people might not agree with—completely wrong.”), even Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing National Front party (“I don’t see Jews as a community. I see fellow countrymen who are of Jewish faith but who are fellow countrymen and I think all French have the right to see themselves protected from the threats that weigh on them.”)—are making a “heartfelt” fight against anti-Semitism.

“The question,” he asks, “is, will it work?” And, in his answer, which is basically no, Goldberg gives his game away. Why won’t it work? Because the “governments of Europe are having a terrible time in their struggle against the manifestations of radical Islamist ideology” and because “the general publics of these countries do not seem nearly as engaged in the issue as their leaders.” The problem isn’t that the Germans and the French and the British are violently anti-Semitic. It is that they are not “sufficiently engaged” and that the people who are engaged, the people who are anti-Semitic and commit anti-Semitic acts, are radical Islamists—people defiantly outside the mainstream of the cultures in which they live. What Goldberg’s statistics and anecdotes ultimately establish is that the Jews don’t have a European problem, and the Europeans don’t have a Jewish problem. They both have a radical Islamist problem. (It is no accident that virtually every one of Goldberg’s anecdotes about an anti-Semitic incident in Europe involves an attack perpetrated by a radicalized Muslim.)

Nevertheless, let’s suppose for a minute that Goldberg has made his point. We still need to ask, if the Jews are to “leave” Europe to avoid further anti-Semitic attacks, where are they to go? Given Goldberg’s views about the marginality of anti-Semitism in the U.S., one might assume that he would encourage European Jews to move, like the characters in the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof,” to places like “Chicago America” and “New York America.” (“We’ll be neighbors!” they tell each other.) But, although Goldberg never expressly comes out and says it, his answer, despite his own disillusioning experience there thirty years ago, appears to be: Israel.

That certainly is the practical answer. Given the ongoing debate in the United States over immigration policy, one does not foresee any U.S. administration suddenly flinging re-open the doors at Ellis Island to a new flood of European Jewish immigrants. Israel is, of course, another story. After the kosher-market attack in Paris, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to extend this invitation: “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray. The state of Israel is your home.”

But if you were searching for a safe haven from radical Islamist attacks, Israel has got to be the last place you would go. The constant external threat to Israel from its Muslim neighbors (and enemies) is, as Netanyahu argued—it was the central theme of his recent reelection campaign—“existential,” and in his last-minute electioneering fear-mongering about Arabs going to the polls in Israel in “droves,” Netanyahu effectively acknowledged an existential internal threat to Israel Jews from the country’s own (growing) Arab population. If you are a Jew in Europe, are you really going to improve your chances of avoiding anti-Semitism by moving to Israel?

The French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who is quoted extensively in Goldberg’s article, summarizes the dilemma of the European Jew when he tells Goldberg: “It is an irony of history that people who move to Israel as Jews might be moving to a state that in the next decades becomes a bi-national state with a Jewish minority, because of the occupation of the West Bank and the settlements. Moving from France to escape the attacks of Arabs to a country that will not be Jewish does not make a lot of sense.” If anti-Semitic threats from radical Islamists are the justification for Jews to get up and move, does Goldberg’s next cover story needs to ask “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Israel?”

About Lawrence Peitzman

Lawrence Peitzman is a lawyer in Los Angeles.
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