Europe’s Jews becoming collateral damage in Europe’s civilizational clash

The Jews of Western Europe feel like strangers in their places of birth.

March 22, 2017 22:17
3 minute read.

A man putting on a kippa as part of a solidarity campaign with European Jews. (photo credit: screenshot)


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After decades during which the West adopted and advanced the processes of globalization that changed the world order and brought economic prosperity to many Jewish communities around the world, a recent phenomenon has taken shape in the form of nationalist and isolationist backlash. In the US and UK, the “overlooked” masses, which the media largely ignores, brought about political upheavals whose full consequences have yet to become clear.

The anti-globalization backlash has been careful to not miss any country in the West. In Europe, in addition to the sense of discrimination originating in the new political order, there is also a growing fear of loss of collective identity. Millions of Muslim migrants that poured into the continent in recent years are not culturally assimilating, and many Europeans worry about a scenario in which they will become a minority in their own homelands. As a result, xenophobic sentiment is rising against these “invaders.”

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For decades, “political correctness,” which accompanied a denial of the suffering of those living near the migrant communities, prevented a serious and deep discussion on questions of identity and the migrants’ debt to society. Rather than identify real problems and solve them, human rights activists, full of good intentions, enabled and enforced the sense of deprivation among the migrants, and silenced any dissenting voices among local Europeans.

This struggle over identity and culture is aimed primarily at the new Muslim migrants. However, about 1.5 million Jews, whose presence in Europe goes back two millennia, have become collateral damage in this clash of civilizations which defines them, against their will, as exceptional citizens.

The European Court of Justice’s decision last Tuesday, which allows employers to forbid the wearing of visibly political or religious garb – with a focus on hijabs and kippot – is an escalation in this current civilizational clash.

Even if the far-right’s candidate, Marine le Pen, doesn’t win the French elections in two months’ time, the genie of the culture clash against Islam has left the bottle and won’t be put back easily. Moreover, the masses that refuse to allow their countries to become multicultural have, in a way, already won: the nationalistic anti-Muslim rhetoric, in the guise of a combative secularism, is prominent in all of Western Europe, and many right-wing and centrist parties have become fluent in it.

Following World War II, while the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust still weighed heavy on the collective European conscious, many European countries allows their Jewish communities to live robust Jewish lives, as a symbol of their being tolerant societies, and poured significant budgets into reviving them. However, the rise of Europe’s Muslim minority, which demanded similar rights to express itself, has turned this arrangement on its head. The Jews are now being asked to set an example to other minorities and lower their public profile, even at the price of significant concessions in terms of communal and religious markers.

This desire to block the public expression of Islam in France led Marine le Pen to support blocking the transfer of public funding to Jewish institutions, banning the donning of kippot in the public sphere, limitations on kosher slaughtering and missing school days due to Jewish holidays, holding dual French-Israeli citizenship and additional restrictions in the religious-cultural sphere.

The Jews of Western Europe, who suffer from violent Muslim antisemitism on the one hand and from traditional antisemitism that is seeking to exclude them from the public sphere on the other, feel like strangers in their places of birth. 200 years after the French revolution and emancipation, which freed Europe’s Jews from their status of humiliation, a nightmare scenario has crawled back through the side door in the form of laws that mark Jews as second class citizens, this time under the guise of cultural unity.

The author is a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, where he oversees the institute’s operations in Europe.

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