Decades ago a British “Punk Rock” band, The Clash, wrote a song, the lyrics of which begin with the title of my article. The song goes on to say, “If I go, there will be trouble / And if I stay it will be double”.
In today’s media we read, hear, and watch a new wave of hatred directed against Jewish people and Israel. It is a wave that is on the rise, to say the least; a tsunami, I fear. The murder of innocents is the extreme on the one side, and the verbal abuse of Jews and of Israel on any given occasion is on the other side. It is a wave of hatred that has engulfed both the Jewish Diaspora of Europe and Israel.
This is not to say that the Jewish Diaspora living in the US is exempt from worry and concern, but for the moment, the Jews of Europe and the Jews of Israel are watching this wave, and like an old movie, it is one they have seen many times before.
Cemeteries are defaced with Nazi swastikas. Jews are again afraid of walking in public. They are told not to wear outward, visible signs of being Jews, such as a kippah. Synagogues affording Jews the right to communal prayer and celebration have become the killing grounds of murderers and terrorists. Jewish places of business, such as the Hyper Cacher of Paris and many others were and are targeted for vandalism, destruction and murder.
Sadly, a great deal of documentation of this bigotry, hatred and violence that is directed against the Jews of Europe exists.
While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again issued a call for Europe’s Jews to come to Israel, the Danish government asked that its Jewish population remain in Denmark. The Danes, after all, have a historically proud record of standing by its Jewish population, rescuing some 7,200 Jews by assisting their escape to Sweden. Denmark was among a very few European nations that did not enforce the Nazi decree that Jews had to wear the yellow star. And yet, the writing is on the wall.
Freedom of speech is under attack in many European nations. Specifically, Europe’s Jews are targeted in many of these attacks. Belgium, France, Germany, and now Denmark are among the European nations promising to protect their Jewish populations. Again, I say that the writing is on the wall.
Why should we not look back at Europe’s long history of a hatred of its Jewish population that was so deep that it allowed the systematic and brutal murder of a million and a half Jewish girls and boys? Why did so many do little if nothing, during the systematic and brutal murder of six million Jewish women, men and children? Was this not the culmination of centuries of state-sponsored hatred of Jews throughout Europe? Is this not the very reason that so many stood by, aware of these atrocities, yet remaining silent?
Those few, those very few who managed to escape the “Final Solution” like my parents, found themselves alone in their teenage years facing the challenges of this new life that would give birth to the “new” nation of Israel. No, they were not deterred by the British who blockaded the coast of Palestine and turned away shiploads of Jewish refugees. Like my maternal grandfather, some who were turned away found temporary refuge in Shanghai, China. Others returned to Europe, after being turned away by Cuba and the US, only to be murdered later in the death camps. Some who had survived all of these horrors were kept in Internment Camps in Cyprus.
Perhaps for a brief moment in time the nations of the world did feel a twinge of guilt. After all, 33 nations did vote their approval to partition the British Protectorate of Palestine, thereby creating two nations that were to exist side by side. That moment however did not last very long.
The Europe of today has, in many ways, simply replaced its hatred of Jews with a hatred of Zionism and Israel. Both the left and the right will seize any opportunity to criticize, deride, boycott and hate anything and everything Israeli.
Still, something changed. For the first time in a very long time, we hear clear and distinct statements from the leaders of some European nations, such as Germany, France and Denmark. They state that they do not wish the Jews of their nations to leave, and they promise protection. Can we believe them?
Based on these promises, the question then remains to be answered: should the Jews of Europe remain or should they emigrate to what Prime Minister Netanyahu refers to as the safe haven of Israel. Again, a look back at the history of Europe will show that these same questions arose during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The only difference is that then there was no Israel. There was an Ottoman Empire, and after World War I there was the British Protectorate of Palestine.
I know that some will argue that by leaving the Diaspora and having most of the world’s Jewish people living in Israel we would be creating a new “Ghetto”, and there is validity to that argument. Given the very violent neighborhood Israel lives in, there is much to be said for an argument that supports Jewish life outside of Israel. All one needs do is take Iran’s threats to “wipe the Zionist entity from the face of the earth” seriously (and I take it very seriously), to create a solid and valid argument to continue Jewish life outside of Israel.
Can Jews rely on the protection of the security forces of those European nations now guarding synagogues and Jewish cultural centers and shops? Do we need to send Israeli security guards, like those who guarded my late aunt’s old-age home in Vienna, instead? Do we not remember how the Munich Olympics’ hostage situation ended when the German government did not allow Israeli Special Forces to deal with that crisis?
There are of course no guarantees in life. The entire world, and not just Israel and Jews, faces a new and global threat from murderers who will stop at nothing. Witness the latest brutality in Libya, where Egyptian Copts who worked there paid with their lives for simply being Christian. The Jewish people of Europe face making these very difficult decisions, with one difference: there is an Israel today, willing to take them in and offer them lives of dignity; lives lived with heads held high, albeit not devoid of difficulties financial and cultural. Yes, for some there will be mandatory military service and that is part of life in Israel. For others there will be the difficult transition from European society as they knew it to the brusque and often blunt lifestyle so many Israelis are accustomed to.
Whatever their decision, they must weigh the pros and cons, and we, the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora, should support their decision, whether they stay, or whether they go.