Afraid?

Mainstream journalists are herd creatures: once one of them (finally) stumbles upon a juicy subject, expect a flurry of articles, all similar except – at best – for the blurb.  No wonder, then, that the last few months have brought us a large number of media items describing European Jews as afraid and contemplating immigration to Israel – for fear of their lives.

Thus, in an article entitled ‘Fear on Rise, Jews in France Weigh an Exit’, New York Times reports:

French Jews, already feeling under siege by anti-Semitism, say the trauma of the terrorist attacks last week has left them scared, angry, unsure of their future in France and increasingly willing to consider conflict-torn Israel as a safer refuge.

For its part, the BBC published an item so minuscule that we can reproduce it here in its entirety:

Israel has said an increasing number of Jewish people are migrating to the country from France because of a rise in anti-Semitism.
Around 3,200 people left last year, a 63% jump when compared to 2012.
Christian Fraser reports from Paris.

Mr. Fraser’s report, by the way, was initially entitled “French Jews ‘afraid to be Jewish’“ (yes, inverted quote marks in the original); but someone at the Beeb later changed it into “Anti-Semitism forcing Jews out of France, says Israel”.  Just in case the inverted quote marks in the original title left any doubt about BBC’s views.

Now, I have no idea who was the creative animal who wrote the first ‘Jews-are-afraid’ item.  But it’s easy to imagine how the rest of the herd (for instance, Mr. Fraser) produced their ‘reports’:

Journalist: With all this terrorism, are you concerned when your children go to school?  Are you worried for them?
Mrs. Lévy: Errr… mais oui, of course I’m worried-eh…
Journalist: And you are thinking about moving to Israel, aren’t you?
Mrs. Lévy: Err… we doo discuss it-eh sometimes…
Journalist: Excellent.  Sorry, I’ve got to go and write this up.  Thank you for your time.

One thing is clear.  Not because “Israel says”, but because it’s a statistical fact: the number of European Jews making Aliyah (i.e., immigrating to Israel) is on the increase.  50,000 French Jews are expected to arrive to Israel in the next few years.  The number of British ‘olim’ (new immigrants) are much smaller, but they increased by 20% in just one year.

It’s also a statistical fact that the number and severity of anti-Jewish incidents has sky-rocketed.  In France, Belgium and Denmark, Jews have been murdered for being Jews.  Nobody has been killed yet in the UK, but the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism has recently listed a number of very disturbing incidents:

  •           The daubing of a swastika on the front door of a Jewish home in North West London;
  •           Abuse of a rabbi by a group of youths whilst walking in North London including chants of “Free Palestine” and “F*** the Jews”;
  •           Two attacks on the Somerton Road synagogue in Belfast;
  •           Shouts of “baby murderers” at congregants attending synagogue in Liverpool, a sign displaying “child murderers” being fixed to the synagogue door in Kingston and a brick thrown through the window of the synagogue in Belfast;
  •           Flowers with a card naming three children killed in Gaza, being left outside a prominent Jewish centre in North West London, deliberately in time for Jewish schoolchildren being collected from a summer scheme to see them. Police told people that there had been several similar incidents in the local area;
  •           The hospitalisation of a rabbi who was beaten by four teens in an unprovoked attack in Gateshead.  [sic!  We are quoting here the language of the report ‘as is’; yet feelings of respect towards the English language compel us to point out that it was the beating, not the hospitalisation, that constituted the anti-Semitic incident!!]  Northumbria Police were investigating a racist tweet in connection with the incident which showed a picture of what was described as a Jewish primary school accompanied by the message: “This Jewish school in Gateshead cheered when the bombs fell in Palestine”;
  •           Verbal abuse of a couple in Bradford in person and on a loudhailer when they politely declined to donate to a roadside collection for Gaza when driving through the town;
  •           An attack on a visibly Jewish boy cycling in North London, who had a stone thrown at his head by a woman veiled in a niqab [i.e. (in plain English) the attempt by a Muslim woman to cause bodily harm to a child, because of his Jewish appearance];
  •           A Nazi salute given to a visibly Orthodox Jewish individual whilst he was in his car at traffic lights in Glasgow;
  •           A man at a party being asked “so, you like killing Palestinian children?” when taking off his hat to reveal a kippah [skullcap];
  •           Emails sent to a Jewish organisation entitled “murder” and ending “we see why he [Hitler] did it”.

So, if one is a superficial journalist (and, let’s face it, the vast majority of today’s journalists are) one concludes, based on the facts above, that Jews are leaving Europe and immigrating to Israel out of fear for their lives.  Reaching such conclusions is easy-peasy; but also very lazy; and, incidentally, very wrong.

Sure, Jews are worried; old Jews are concerned about the young ones; Jewish mothers are anxious for their children.  There’s nothing new in that; worrying is the Jewish national sport.  Jews may be afraid; but one thing they are not – they’re not stupid.  Despite the facile ‘discoveries’ of shallow journalists, it is not fear that makes Jews turn their backs on Europe.  After all, Jews have been killed not just in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, but also in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv.  Murderous jihadists may be busy planning the next attack in Europe; but I seriously doubt that Hamas, Hizb’ullah and the Islamic Jihad are turning rockets into ploughs and mortar tubes into sewerage pipes.

European politicians and pundits just don’t get it: Jews are not leaving Europe in search of safety, but in search of dignity.  It’s not so much fear; it’s disappointment and anger.

The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry just doesn’t get it: it’s not ‘antisemitic incidents’ that’s the biggest problem; it’s antisemitism itself.  It’s the anti-Jewish prejudice that lurks in the deep, dark recesses of many a European’s mind and increasingly emerges under the ‘politically correct’ veil of ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment.

Much of the European citizenry just doesn’t get it: it’s not the extreme right; it’s not the extreme left.  It’s not even the jihadists – homegrown or imported – that Jews have come to resent; it’s the relentless seepage of anti-Semitic discourse into the mainstream that’s the real problem.  And the fact that that anti-Semitic discourse masquerades as ‘anti-Zionism’, ‘anti-Israelism’ and ‘humanitarian concern’ only adds insult to injury.  ‘Humanitarian concern’???  Even if every accusation flung at Israel were true, there would still be a hundred places more worthy of true humanitarian concern.  ‘Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism’ they say.  Really, isn’t it???  They boycott Israeli tomatoes, while selling weaponry to Saudi Arabia; they scream abuse at Israeli dance troops, but meekly fawn around medieval-minded sheikhs; they work themselves into a frenzy over Gaza, but aren’t particularly bothered when a hundred times more people are killed in Syria.  ‘Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism’??  LOL, haters!  Forget the clumsily-veiled prejudice, the strident injustice, the stomach-turning hatred; it’s the insult to our intelligence that’s arguably the most annoying!

From the pages of ‘The Scotsman’ (the more mainstream newspapers can’t be bothered to print such things), Dani Garavelli explains:

Though Glasgow City Council’s decision to fly the Palestinian flag after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza strip was politically motivated, the hurt it caused the Jewish community was visceral. […]
The community seems to have closed in on itself; people are increasingly reluctant to draw attention to their Jewishness or to engage in political debate. […]

 

But those who are prepared to speak – albeit anonymously – report a dramatic change in the way Jews throughout Scotland feel about themselves and their country, so dramatic, in fact, that Being Jewish, a project undertaken by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) in which a range of people were interviewed about their experiences, is being updated to take into account of shifting attitudes. One woman – Anna – who lives in a rural community, told the original interviewers Scotland was a ‘darn good place to be a Jew’. Today, she feels marginalised and says her grown-up son has expressed a desire to move to Israel.At the SCoJeC offices attached to the synagogue, director Ephraim Borowski, a mild-mannered man with a greying beard and a good line in self-deprecating humour, says Jewish people are upset not only by specific attacks but by what they see as a wider anti-Jewish narrative. […]
90 per cent of Scottish Jews have connections to Israel and more than 80 per cent describe themselves as Zionists. Borowski insists the term Zionist encompasses a wide spectrum of political opinion and that most Scottish Jews (around 75 per cent), including him, believe in a two-state solution. And yet some left-wing campaigners have called for Scotland to be Zionist-free.‘When you hear that, and realise it means forcing more than 80 per cent of Jews out of Scotland, you think: ‘Hang on. This person might not think of themselves as an antisemite in the sense of hating Jews for being Jews, but the fact is they are advocating a policy which is discriminatory in terms of the Equality Act.’

Just like the 1930s?

In the 1920s and early 1930s, many German anti-Semites claimed that they had nothing against German Jews.  Their ire -- so they claimed -- was directed 'just' at 'Ostjuden', the 'uncouth' Eastern Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Poland. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-013-0058-04 / Wagner / CC-BY-SA]

In the 1920s and early 1930s, many German anti-Semites claimed that they had
nothing against German Jews. Their ire — so they claimed — was directed ‘just’ at
‘Ostjuden’, the ‘uncouth’ Eastern Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Poland.
[Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-013-0058-04 / Wagner / CC-BY-SA] 

A poll of 2,230 British Jews found 56% felt that anti-Semitism now echoes the 1930s.  Politicians, pundits and activists protested; many found fault with the poll methodology; but whether it’s 56% or just 15%, that feeling should come as a shock.  How can ‘today’ be compared to ‘back then’?  Back then, a political party was coming to power, which had anti-Semitism as its official platform.  Today, every European political party touchingly declares its abhorrence of anti-Semitism.

'Save Gaza' demonstration in London [public domain]

‘Save Gaza’ demonstration in London [public domain]

So is this just a typical Jewish exaggeration?  No, it isn’t.  Because one can argue with statistics and logical constructs; but one cannot, should not argue with feelings.  Especially the feelings of a people that is – to use a British understatement – not unfamiliar with persecution.  They do not need statistics – they feel things in their bones.

Tweets referring to the North-London Jewish neighbourhood  of Stamford Hill [public domain]

Tweets referring to the North-London Jewish neighbourhood of Stamford Hill [public domain] 

Sure, there are many things that differentiate 2015 from 1930 (and perhaps the comparison is better made with the 1920s); yet there are also things that are eerily, disturbingly familiar.  Like mobs ‘protesting’ (in growing numbers and increasingly berserk fashion) against Jews; not ‘all Jews’, you understand, just ‘the bad Jews’ – the ‘murderous Zionists’ today, the ‘primitive Ostjuden’ back then.

The ‘good Jews’ will disagree, of course; they think they’ll be fine.  But then, they thought so ‘back then’, too…  Famous journalist I.F. Stone once reminisced:

I followed the rise of Hitler very closely, beginning in twenty-nine and thirty. I remember one German-Jewish reader coming to me, about thirty-one or thirty-two. He said, ‘Why are you writing these editorials against Hitler? I got a letter from Germany that says he’s only against Ostjuden [Eastern Jews].

But to the vast majority of Jews, this division into ‘good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’ sounds both familiar and typically anti-Semitic.  And the disappointment, the dismay and anger are all the more devastating because Western European Jews (just like the German Jews ‘back then’) felt well-integrated, accepted and accepting, an all-but-completely-assimilated part of their Western European nations.  They are now shocked to realise that the prejudice did not go away; it was just better hidden, waiting for a slightly more ‘politically correct’ outlet.

Not Jew-baiters – just Jewish state-baiters

On the Stop the War Coalition’s website, one Lindsey German (no relation to the actual Germans) declares:

The protests are against Israel’s actions with regard to the Palestinians, not against Jews. They are against Zionism as an expansionist ideology…

So that should be ok, shouldn’t it?  It’s not against Jews.  It’s just against the ‘bad Jews’.

But, as The Scotsman’s Dani Garavelli put it:

Trying to separate the two [anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism] is complicated…

And not just because

more than 90 per cent of Scottish Jews have connections to Israel and more than 80 per cent describe themselves as Zionists.

But because the love and longing for Zion is an integral, inseparable part of both the Jewish religion and the Jewish culture; of Judaism and Jewishness.  And even those Jews who are neither religiously observant, nor particularly attuned to Jewish cultural identity, even they find it hard to understand why Zionism is treated so differently in comparison with all other national emancipation movements.  Why is every other people entitled to a country of their own, while the Zionist desire for a State of the Jews is the object of so much hatred, scorn and venom?

Sure, as Ms. Lindsey German hurries to mention, there are also ‘good Jews’:

There are many Jews who define themselves as anti-Zionist…

Well, precisely, Ms. German: they define themselves as anti-Zionist; and that is, typically, the only context in which they remember their Jewishness.

Ms. Lindsay German just doesn’t get it: Jews – not those accidentally born from a Jewish mother, but those who feel and identify themselves as Jews – cannot give up Israel and Zionism and remain Jews; it is an inextricable part of our very identity.  It’s not a political ideology you’re talking about, it’s the lifeblood of a culture.

I consider myself a secular Jew; religion is a very small part of my life.  Yet every other Friday evening I join my small community for a Shabbat service.  Faces and thoughts turned towards Jerusalem, we read together from the prayer book, in a cacophony of loud and whispering voices, old and young:

Our God and God of our fathers, we are all Israel.  In Your service we have become old in experience and young in hope.  We carry both in the deepest places of our hearts and minds.  On this Sabbath day we turn to You with eyes newly open, with hope re-awakened, shrugging off the layers of worry and doubt that have closed upon us.
We are all Israel, created by Your promise, holy by Your word, wise through Your Torah, righteous through Your commands, renewed by the Sabbath of Your rest.

We then supplicate:

Spread over us the covering of Your peace, guide us with Your good counsel and save us for the sake of Your name.  Be a shield about us, turning away every enemy, disease, violence, hunger and sorrow.  […]  Blessed are You Lord, who spreads the shelter of peace over us, over His people Israel and over all the world.

And plead:

Lord Our God, be pleased with Your people Israel and listen to their prayers.  In Your great mercy, delight in us, so that Your presence may rest upon Zion.  Our eyes look forward to Your return to Zion in mercy!  Blessed are You Lord, who restores His presence to Zion.

After which, satisfied with our spiritual endeavours, we engage in a bit of mundane small-talk, telling each other, among other things, about our son in Haifa, our daughter in Bat Yam, our parents in Ashqelon and our cousins in Tel Aviv; or about our latest visit to Jerusalem.  We eat Israeli dates, dip big chunks of Israeli-style pitta in Israeli hummus and praise the rising quality of Israeli wines.

Ms. Lindsey German just doesn’t get it: Jews – not those accidentally born from a Jewish mother, but those who feel and identify themselves as Jews – cannot give up Israel and remain Jews; it would be easier to get Muslims to give up Mecca!

Just Jews

Mainstream journalists are herd creatures; but a few, cleverer, less lazy and more honest than their colleagues, actually retain a propensity to think, a desire to understand.  Those few journalists realise that Jews are not so much afraid – they are deeply offended; they do not flee Europe in fear – they turn their backs on it in disgust.  Dani Garavelli reports:

Many Jews in Scotland say that as soon as they admit to being Jewish, they face aggressive questioning and accusations over their position on Israel. ‘I work with very left-wing people and it’s really uncomfortable,’ says Louise. ‘During the summer, I found it hard to go to work; for a long time I couldn’t even go into the canteen because people would make comments.’ […]

 

Yiftah Curiel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London, suggested Glasgow University had failed to uphold freedom of speech after a talk he was giving was halted by rowdy demonstrators.

 

Nicola Livingston, chair of the Jewish Student Chaplaincy, says that […] political demonstrations against Israeli speakers breed a climate of “permissiveness” where antisemitic comments are seen as more acceptable.

 

Nick Henderson, who was brought up a ‘culturally assimilated western secular Jew’ in Glasgow, was so affected by his negative experiences at Dundee University and elsewhere, he left Scotland for Israel. In a piece he wrote for the Times of Israel last week, he told how his involvement with left-wing politics ended when he overheard campaigners “joking” that “if only all the Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust, there would be no Israel and they wouldn’t have to keep going to anti-Israel rallies all the time”.  After he left university, Henderson started a job in a charity shop but says he was forced out when his boss said she couldn’t employ anyone who didn’t understand the oppression of Palestinians. Henderson had few links to Israel growing up but has now taken a Hebrew name and says he feels Israeli.  ‘Today, I don’t need to apologise for being Jewish. I don’t need to apologise for loving my country. I can sing songs on Shabbat as loud as I like, I can decorate my window with the blue and white flag. I can wear a Star of David necklace or a kippah if I want and not fear for my life,’ he writes.
Back in Giffnock, [director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities] Borowski says he believes other Scottish Jews may have ­already contemplated making the same journey. ‘They may not have booked the one-way ticket, but the idea will be there hovering in the back of their minds.’

Gradually, other journalists might venture out of the lazy complacency of the heard.  So perhaps one of these days another journalist might interview our imaginary Mrs. Lévy, and this time take just a bit of interest in what she actually thinks:

Journalist: With all this terrorism, are you concerned when your children go to school?  Are you worried for them?
Mrs. Lévy: mais oui, of course I’m worried-eh…
Journalist: But do you think you’ll be less worried in Israel?
Mrs. Lévy: mais non, monsieur, I’m always worried.  My children’s surname is Lévy.  Wherever we live, they’ll be less safe than my neighbour’s children, whose name is Lévêque…  I worry, but we’re used to it…
Journalist: So why do you want to leave France?
Mrs. Lévy: Because, monsieur, you guys have hurt my feelings.  I thought my children are proud Jewish Frenchmen; then I understood that, at best, they’ll always be French Jews.  So I decided they are really just Jews.  Always have been, always will be.  Nobody can take that away from them…