Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for mass Jewish emigration from Europe is well-intentioned, but ultimately unhelpful and maybe even counter-productive.
Netanyahu issued his appeal earlier this month, shortly after a 37-year-old Jewish Danish citizen named Dan Uzan was fatally shot in front of a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, by a Dane of Palestinian origin, and not long after a lone Arab terrorist killed four Jews in a Paris kosher supermarket.
The chief rabbi of Denmark, Jair Melchior, expressed disappointment with Netanyahu’s invitation. “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, but not because of terrorism,” he observed.
A spokesman for Denmark’s Jewish community rejected Netanyahu’s offer on the same grounds. “We’re very grateful for Netanyahu’s concern,” said Jeppe Juhl, “but having said that, we are Danish — we’re Danish Jews but we’re Danish — and it won’t be terror that makes us go to Israel.”
Aliyah is part and parcel of Zionism, and a succession of Israeli leaders have encouraged Jews in the Diaspora to make aliyah. Many Jews have indeed flocked to Israel. But if European Jews tacitly permit terrorists and antisemites to decide their fate, they will be inadvertently empowering terrorism and antisemitism.
Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president, hit the nail on the head when he voiced disagreement with Netanyahu’s clarion call. Jews should settle in Israel, he noted. Aliyah, however, should not be based on fear-mongering. “Israel must remain a land of hope and not a land of fear,” he said.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. In cases of state antisemitism, of which there is no shortage of examples, Jews should by all means emigrate.
Jews left Nazi Germany and pro-fascist satellite nations like Hungary, Italy and Romania. Jews emigrated from Arab countries as the Arab-Israeli conflict turned increasingly shrill. Jews in the Soviet Union looked toward Israel, the United States and Canada after Joseph Stalin turned on the Jewish community. Jews in Poland packed their bags in 1967 and 1968 after the pro-Soviet Polish government launched an antisemitic campaign accusing Jews of dual loyalty.
In western Europe today, Jews are faced with no such calamity, though grassroots antisemitism is again rearing its ugly head there. In France, vandals recently overturned about 250 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery near the German border. And in Britain, 58 percent of Jewish respondents admitted in a survey that they have no long-range future in Europe.
And the list goes on and on.
But in democratic European countries, where the political leadership stands resolutely behind its Jewish citizens and squarely against antisemitism, there should be no need to let terrorists and antisemites implicitly set the agenda for Jews.
In the aftermath of the events in Copenhagen, which claimed the lives of two Danes, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said, “The Jewish community has been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark. They are part of the Danish community, and we wouldn’t be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark.”
And in France, both President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls described Jews as an integral component of the nation and promised to protect them.
Which is precisely why Jews in France and Denmark, to name but two democratic countries in Europe, should stay put and, with the active assistance and support of their respective governments, combat antisemites and antisemitism.
Understandably, some Jews can no longer bear the sting of antisemitism and leave their homes. Last year, a record 7,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel, and the numbers appear to be growing.
But if this trend continues unabated, the day may yet come when Europe will be virtually bereft of Jews.
According to a recent research paper written by Michael Lipka for the Pew Research Center, about 1.4 million Jews currently reside in Europe, where six million Jews perished during the Holocaust.
In 1939, Europe was home to 9.5 million Jews, but by the end of World War II, its Jewish population had fallen to 3.8 million. Since then, Lipka writes, the number of Jews in Europe has continued to fall. Much of the postwar decline has been a result of immigration to Israel.
Jews should be free to live where they wish, and if they’re citizens of countries that value and protect the Jewish population, they should definitely remain where they are and join the battle against the scourge of antisemitism.