Unity, not uniformity
Diaspora Jews face the twin dangers of anti-Semitism (often under the guise of anti-Zionism) and assimilation.
Jewish wedding Photo: Thinkstock
The Jewish people is facing three major challenges, both in the Diaspora and in
Israel. They are the three A’s: anti-Semitism, assimilation and threat of
They only way to overcome these challenges is by coming
together. This is nothing new.
The vanishing Diaspora Jew?
face the twin dangers of anti-Semitism (often under the guise of anti-Zionism)
More than 60 years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism
is still a major problem around the world. In parts of Europe, it is on the
rise, mainly from poorly assimilated Muslim youths. While not state-sanctioned
as in its previous form, it still has the potential for violent – and deadly –
results as evidenced by numerous attacks against Jews and the Toulouse massacre
committed by Mohamed Merah in March 2012.
Anti-Zionism is also widespread
in large parts of the left side of the political spectrum in Europe, in the US
and in Canada.
Demonization, delegitimization and double standard (Natan
Sharansky’s famous three D’s), which turn criticism of the State of Israel into
anti-Semitism, are too often part of the political discourse.
boycott, divest and sanction the State of Israel are a staple of liberal
Churches, unions and left-wing parties, while the same are basically silent on
gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, on repression of gays and lesbians in the
Muslim world or the lack of democracy in large swaths of the globe
Too often we hear: “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m simply
What does being anti-Zionist mean? It means denying the
right of self-determination to the Jewish people, a right recognized for every
other nation on the planet.
To deny the Jewish people this fundamental
right is racism – specifically, anti-Semitism.
It is also a form of
hatred: It expresses the desire to obliterate an entire country, to want to see
the State of Israel cease to exist, to disappear.
How is that not
anti-Jewish? The other danger facing the Jews is of course assimilation. It is a
painless, slow death. It is not a physical death, but it is a religious,
national and cultural death nonetheless.
The Jewish intermarriage rate is
more than 70 percent in the ex-Soviet Union, which can be explained as the
result of decades of Soviet attempts to eradicate any Jewish
In Western countries, where Jews are in the main
comfortable, assimilation comes from being generally accepted by the host
society (with of course the important caveat of the anti-Semitism discussed
Intermarriage rates – a good indication of acculturation and a
certain distance from one’s Jewish identity – are high and rising: more than 50%
in the United States, more than 40% in France and the UK, around 35% in
If nothing is done, ultimately, we may well be witnessing the
death of the Diaspora, where only a small core of Orthodox Jews will remain. The
recent numbers published by the New York Jewish Federation might very well be
giving us a preview of this phenomenon.
Forty-one percent of the world’s
Jews now live in Israel; in a quarter of century, it will be more than half,
mainly because of assimilation in the Diaspora.
Finally, I would be
remiss not to mention that, in high-immigration societies such as the Europe and
Canada (and soon in the US), Jews are finding themselves to be collateral damage
in those societies’ attempts to correct the problems they believe are brought by
a high level of Muslim immigration.
The debate over circumcision that we
are witnessing in Germany, Austria and other countries, as well as over
religiously prepared foods, are examples of that.
Israel as Asterix’s
Asterix is a very popular comic character in French-speaking countries
and in many other countries around the world. Every Asterix book begins with a
mention that Asterix’s Gaulish village is surrounded by Romans.
may be said about Israel.
It is not being anti-peace to note that
Israel’s geopolitical position is tenuous.
Egypt – Israel’s peace partner
since 1979 – has seen both its presidency and its parliament fall into the hands
of the Muslim Brotherhood, with important, unpredictable and yet-to-be-seen
Hamas is strengthening its hold on the Gaza
Syria is in the grips of a deadly civil war, with Islamists
playing a growing role.
Hezbollah is not only in control of south
Lebanon, it is rearmed, has more missiles than before the 2006 war and is in de
facto control of the Lebanese government.
Iran’s regime is still pursuing
nuclear weapons and its president is still calling for Israel’s
And closer to home, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas has sidestepped every Israeli attempt to return to the negotiation
Finally, the Arab world in its entirety is becoming more unstable
and Israel’s main trading partners (the European Union and the United States)
are facing serious economic difficulties. It is clear that Israel has its work
cut out for it.
United, not uniform
There is only one way that Jews can
face these challenges: united. However, we have the unfortunate tendency to
“I’m an Israeli Jew, I’m a Canadian Jew, I’m an
American Jew or I’m a European Jew.”
“I’m an Ashkenazi Jew or I’m a
“I’m a Reform Jew, a Reconstructionist Jew, a Conservative
Jew or an Orthodox Jew.”
“I’m a secular Jew or I’m an observant
It seems to me that too often, we put the emphasis on the
adjective, rather than on the noun: Jew.
Isn’t it time that we worked
better together? When we do, we can accomplish great things, for example
organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh and Birthright.
We don’t have to be
the same. Just united.
There is no need to agree on everything to agree
to work together. We simply have to agree that we are one people.
That is quite a program. Let’s start today!
The writer is
a lawyer working for Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. A Member of
Parliament from 1997 to 2006, he is the author of A Quebec Jew: from Bloc
Québécois MP to Jewish Activist, which won the 2012 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian
Jewish Book Award (Memoirs).