Gedalyah Reback

A Retort to Netanyahu, a Message to European Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have the job to reinforce the notion of Aliyah among Diaspora Jews, but the mistake he makes is that he is actually sounding a different call: retreat.

Aliyah is a critical component of Israel’s future and it is certainly a bittersweet opportunity for the country to absorb European Jews right now, but it does not answer the problem faced by the vast majority of Europe’s Jews who won’t make such a trip tomorrow. What answer does Israel have for the 1.4 million European Jews who will, for the time being, be staying put?

Israel was not set up merely as a refuge, but a cultural base. Israel has the ability to defend Jews’ rights and freedoms around the world without dictating to them how they should do it. Eventually, and that moment has probably just arrived, Israel will be the source of resources for communities in the Diaspora rather than the opposite.

A Danish police officer stands outside the synagogue where a gunman opened fire in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 15, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Michael Probst)
A Danish police officer stands outside the synagogue where a gunman opened fire in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 15, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Michael Probst)

For the few thousand who will make the journey to Israel, the state needs to make the process easier. But in the meantime, Israel can provide valuable logistical and financial resources to communities challenged by European Islamists returning from Syria and against anti-religious legislation increasingly prominent on the Continent.

How those things are done can only be decided by European Jewish leaders. As Netanyahu has proven twice in a month, Euro Jewry does not want to be dictated to, just as no one should.

For Jewish Europe

How Israel crafts its Diaspora policy is one thing, but European Jewry has a number of responsibilities as well. There will not be a mass exodus to Israel anytime soon (assuming the Messiah isn’t knocking the door down). Hiding one’s affiliation might be a short-term solution, but pocketing your yarmulke does not confront the aggression Europe’s Israelites have to face.

I am constantly reminded of the black experience in the United States when thinking about how in a self-proclaimed democratic oasis like the European Union, one part of society wants to ban circumcision, kosher meat slaughter and public displays of religiosity while the other sector is saturated with a visceral anti-Semitism that is feeding violent terrorist attacks.

The recipe is different by country, but Euro Jews have to amplify their presence across the Continent. They cannot hide. I am not saying Jews shouldn’t post guards at their Synagogues – most definitely do. But increase activity. Increase the community’s public face. Hold more cultural events and invite local leaders. Make real demands of political leadership, face-to-face or in public marches if you have to.

Reinvest in Europe.

Consider also entering local police and national armed forces of your respective countries. Put a face to the community who demands security and goes to lengths on its own to get it. Make defending the Jewish community from attack a constant priority your peers in the police and defense establishment relate to through your commitment to the community’s local and country’s national security.

Become more involved in politics. Make your serious priorities those of your cities and countries. Do not be content with the words of your current Presidents and Prime Ministers and Chancellors. Make them prove their commitment, otherwise challenge their leadership with something that has more resolve.

No to Retreat

Rabbi Melchior is right. Benjamin Netanyahu is wrong. Jews should not come to Israel out of fear. More importantly, they should not give the impression they retreated. If Jews make the trip en masse, it is in the interest of Diaspora and Israeli Jewry together that the move is made in a gesture of strength and optimism.

For sure, those who feel the time is right for them should make the move. Israel definitely benefits from your presence. Keep your spirits up in the meantime and certainly when you arrive. Strengthening Israel is also a gargantuan task, as mighty as fighting anti-Semitism in Europe.

No Guarantees

Part of me still inclines toward the alarm: leave now before it’s too late. It isn’t comfortable, but it’s a lesson worth keeping in the back of your minds in my very personal opinion. Be ready to see the writing on the wall if anti-Semitism, God forbid, does reach intolerable levels. For now, Jews have many more allies than they did in 1933 and a Europe weary of repeating a terrible past. Put a stop to things now with your own determination. As for the Prime Minister of Israel, whoever it is, may you work together and not in spite of each other.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.