Jew-Free Europe?

Jewish Light Editorial

Early in his career, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  (Bibi) Netanyahu was admired by friends and detractors alike for his skills as a communicator, often drawing praise for his cogent comments on American media interviews and inviting comparisons to the late Abba Eban for his rhetorical skills.

Of late, though, Bibi has seemingly tripped on his words in several contexts. Most recent was his response to the tragic killings in Copenhagen in which terrorist attacks killed a participant in a free-speech gathering and a Jewish man standing guard outside a synagogue. Even as world Jewry was reeling in the aftermath of yet another horrific terrorist attack in Europe, Netanyahu was issuing a call for European Jews to make aliyah to Israel for their own safety.

Netanyahu had made similar appeals to  French Jewry in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris on a Jewish supermarket by the same gunmen who attacked and killed 12 people at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. With his Copenhagen remarks, Netanyahu has been denounced by many European, American and Israeli Jewish leaders who have critisized both his questionable timing and insensitivity of his appeal  to the Zionism of fear.  

Within Israel, former Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Jewish State’s most admired statesman and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said that of course Jews are always welcome to move to Israel if they have a serious desire to do so, but that an entire European Jewish community should not  make  aliyah en masse if fear is the principal motivation.

Peres’s sentiments were echoed by Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior, quoted by JTA as as saying, “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.” Melchior’s immediate predecessor as Danish Chief Rabbi, Bent Lexner, told CNN, “Jews should go to Israel because they want to go, not because they are afraid.” On the same CNN telecast, Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said that while he supported the option of aliyah, he would not welcome the mass departure of European Jewish communities,  which have been on that continent for centuries.

To be sure, European governments have an obligation  to do  all they can to protect their Jewish communities and their traditions of free expression, and Hier indicated as much in his comments.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the views of his  government clear in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks  when he said “France without its Jews would no longer be France.”  

Similar sentiments, along  with vows  to step up security around Jewish facilities, were expressed by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, when she visited the synagogue where  the attack  occurred last Sunday.  She said that her government would “do everything” it can to protect its Jewish community. “Jews are are a very important  part of Danish society,” she said earlier at  a news conference.  “I say to the Jewish community—you are not alone.”  

Denmark’s ambassador to Israel, Jesper Vahr, said in a statement Sunday that was reported by JTA that Denmark considers the terrorist attacks “to be an attack on our democracy, freedom of expression and religious freedom in Denmark.  Danes are united in their determination not to yield to terror and violence but to insist on the fundamental values—democracy, freedom of expression and tolerance–that constitute the cornerstone of our society.”

As the Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu of course has an obligation at all times to indicate that Israel is welcoming to any Jews from anywhere in the world who wish to make the Jewish State their home.  Indeed, some 7,000 Jews from France moved to Israel in 2014, and more than double that number are expected this year.  Israel’s Cabinet has wisely approved a $46 million plan to help the absorption process to Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine.  

Nor is there any obligation for any individual Jew or family to stand pat. The decision on staying or leaving lies with each and every one. But there’s a difference in tone between showing a welcoming spirit and sounding a call that encourages mass emigration. Bibi’s words have made his approach sound more like the latter than the former.

Europe without Jews would be a disaster of mass proportions in this world, as it would reduce the number of places we can live and participate in free societies to a precious few. While Israel must always be a haven for all of us, we have to collectively push as hard as possible for safety, security and protection for all Jews in all nations. Just as we must always have a Jewish State in the Mideast, so must we have a world in which Jews can live freely and without persecution or violence.