As the citizens of the EU prepare to elect a new Parliament in a bid to influence the future of Europe, news breaks that over half of French Jewry believes that Jews have no future in France. Indeed, one in five French Jews is considering emigrating to escape rising anti-Semitism.
So for those of us who have not given up hope on the future of the Jewish Diaspora in Europe, this week’s election for the EU Parliament is an important moment to insist loudly on the right to that future.
When the votes are counted, Strasbourg could see the formation of a new extreme-right-wing bloc, comprising the worst of Europe’s pantomime villains. So now, more than ever, it is incumbent on all of us to do our democratic duty and vote, to make sure our voices are heard at an increasingly fractious, fraught and frightening table.
In France, one in four votes will be cast for the National Front, under the leadership of Marine “let them eat pork” Le Pen. In Hungary, Jobbik – whose deputy parliamentary leader once called for a public register of Jews, who pose a “national security risk” – has polled at 17%. In the Netherlands, Geert “fewer Moroccans” Wilders’s PVV could win one in five votes. Greece – the most anti-Semitic country in Europe – is about to send its first bona fide neo-Nazi to Strasbourg, as one in ten votes could go to the noxious Golden Dawn. In my very own UK, we could see a landslide victory for the admittedly less extremist but still unpleasant UKIP, led by the charismatic Nigel “I feel uncomfortable hearing foreign languages in public” Farage. And so on.
The bloc of fully paid-up racists will be relatively small. There is no need to panic or grow hysterical, as is sometimes our wont. But this will be a watershed moment. The barricades will have been breached.
If Britain eventually has a referendum on EU membership, we will face a stark choice – as Jews, and as good British citizens. Do we bolt the EU, and attempt to influence our neighbours from the outside; or do we insist that Britain lead the effort for a liberal, democratic and tolerant continent, driving it to live up to the lofty ideals that it professes to support? Whether we eventually give up on the European project, or commit ourselves to it afresh, will be a fateful decision.
But one thing is clear: so long as we are still in the European Union, we ignore it at our peril. Across the continent, where the quenelle is spreading faster than the Spanish Flu, the interests of Jews are increasingly coming under threat. Religious freedom is being challenged, as many seek to proscribe schechita and brit milah; xenophobia is on the march; calls to boycott the Jewish state are on the rise; and as the Shoah recedes from popular memory to history, new challenges arise to ensure that Europe never forget the lessons of its own monstrous past.
To this end, the Board of Deputies has produced a special ‘manifesto‘ to alert candidates to the vital interests of our community. The leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the UK have all expressed enthusiastic support (although Labour’s MEP candidates seem to have other ideas). UKIP has not made a pledge, perhaps because its policy of refusing to vote in favour of anything in the EU Parliament prevents it from making even basic commitments.
The workings of the European Union may be on the margins of our political consciousness, but what it does matters. It has power. This superstate-in-the-making makes many of our laws, which affect our daily lives – so it matters who is granted the momentous power of making these laws, and who is given a platform to oppose them.
That’s why the European Union of Jewish Students has launched its ‘Mind the Vote’ campaign to encourage Jewish students to cast their ballots, to dilute the vote share of the racists and bigots.
We cannot say we were never warned. Rights are ephemeral. Progress is fleeting. Democracy is fragile. These things need active sustenance.
The basic question is this: When Jobbik speaks in the EU Parliament, who do you want to speak against them? When Golden Dawn addresses the chamber, who do you want to slap them down? And when the Front National takes to the plenary, who do you want to put them in their place? If you don’t vote, no one will speak in your name; your silence will reverberate through the corridors of Europe.
As Jews, we enjoy complaining. But if we do not vote, we will be tacitly acquiescing to the exercise of power over us by those about whom we will complain bitterly, but about whom we will have no right to complain if we failed to speak when our voice was sought.
The lamps are not going out all over Europe, as Sir Edward Grey lamented one fine summer a century ago. But they are flickering. And we must not let them snuff out. Not on our watch. Not without a fight.
Vote. History will remember you kindly for it.