After 1948, many Jews in the Western world gradually began to consider themselves to be living in the Diaspora rather than in galut, which translates as exile. The establishment of the State of Israel gave Jews abroad an increased self-confidence, and their self-perception changed accordingly. In addition, many Israeli institutions increasingly began to use the word tfutsot (diaspora) to describe Jews living outside the country. Like many of its predecessors, the current Israeli government has a ministry which has the term “diaspora” in its title.
In the new century, however, an increasing number of European Jews have moved – without relocating – from living in the Israeli Diaspora to living in exile. This change in perspective is a result of being the target of violence and feeling like outsiders who, when they gather, must take security precautions which for others are unnecessary. There is also an increasing fear of expressing one’s identity as one would wish, and it is becoming impossible in many cases to freely state one’s opinions.
Thus, these Jews are de facto in exile, even if their living conditions differ from those of European Jews immediately following the Second World War. The Holocaust had taught most Jews that they were not considered part of the native population of their countries, no matter what passports they might hold. This was not because of what the German occupiers did to them, but rather due to the attitude and behavior of many of their co-nationals during that time.
Over 10 years ago the late Israeli historian David Bankier eloquently described the reality in Poland, the country which had the largest prewar Jewish population in Europe.
When I interviewed him, Bankier said, “The Jews were never considered part of the fabric of Polish society.
Their ancestors may have lived there for 900 or even 1,000 years, but, as they did not belong to the national majority, they remained foreigners. Most people did not see in the catastrophe befalling the Polish Jews a tragedy affecting the Polish nation. At best, they saw two parallel disasters caused by the Germans.
One concerned the Polish nation, the other the Jews.”
Bankier also quoted an underground leader who claimed that it had been her duty to help save Jewish lives during the war. She added, however, that after the war the Jews should leave Poland, because she wanted to live only among fellow Poles.
The Holocaust was a giant, murderous challenge for all Jews in German- occupied countries. For assimilated Jews, however, it was also an intellectual challenge. Self-identification which included denying one’s Jewishness was made irrelevant. A third party, the occupiers, now determined whether or not you were a Jew.
Once the State of Israel was established, the Jews of Western Europe gradually began to feel like other citizens. Anti-Semitism had largely become latent. All positions were open to Jews. In the Netherlands, for instance, certain official positions had been de facto closed to Jews before the war. These included appointments such as city mayor.
Since the war, there have however been a number of Jewish mayors.
In Amsterdam alone, there were four. The diplomatic service was also closed to Jews before the war. After the war there have been Jewish diplomats – one of them an Orthodox Jew.
In the 1950s, when I was a pupil at the Jewish high school in Amsterdam, the janitor would open the door when the doorbell rang without first checking who was standing outside.
In the Jewish elementary school, during recess, we played in the street in front of the school. Today, when I walk through Amsterdam, I see kids in public schools playing freely in the schoolyard. There is no fear that somebody might attempt to hurt them. In stark contrast, the Jewish schools are fortress-like buildings, and Jewish kids are often told not to wear outside anything which identifies them as Jews.
In this new century, various Jewish leaders have recommended that Jews hide their identity in public places. In a radio interview in 2003, for instance, then French chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk told French Jews to wear hats, rather than kippot, so as to avoid being attacked in the streets.
One small example of what Jews must now put up with in the workplace for what Israel does, or allegedly does, was given by a Jewish hospital nurse from Amsterdam whom I interviewed. In view of the Dutch reality she requested to remain anonymous.
She said: “Whenever the Dutch media wrote something about Israel, people would start a political discussion with me. They behaved as if I shaped Israeli politics. No one would ever say to someone with family in Italy: ‘What crazy thing has Berlusconi done?’” Even stating the truth proves problematic for Jewish leaders in some countries. In February of this year, Roger Cukierman, the head of the umbrella body of French Jewish organizations, CRIF, said that all violence against the Jewish community was perpetrated by young Muslims, “even if they are a very small minority of the Muslim community.” Thereupon, French President François Hollande called for a “reconciliation” meeting between Cukierman and a Muslim leader. The purpose of the meeting was essentially to obfuscate the truth.
We are still waiting for the first Jewish leader in Europe to state the truth – that the non-selective, mass immigration of Muslims is the worst thing to happen to the European Jewish communities since the end of WWII. To be fair, one should add that this is partly the fault of the government authorities who let them in indiscriminately and were not prepared for their integration in society.
The reactions of many Jews to these developments show that their attitudes are becoming increasingly similar to the classic galut mentality.
This became clear from a 2013 study conducted by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. It was undertaken in France, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark, Latvia, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The study found that on average, 20 percent of the Jews in these countries said they always avoided wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might help people identify them as Jews in public.
Of the countries included in the study, Sweden had the highest percentage of Jews who tried to avoid being identified, with 34% of those interviewed stating that they avoided such identification most of the time. This cannot be explained solely by the frequent anti-Semitic incidents taking place in Malmö, which are mainly perpetrated by Muslims.
The Jewish population in that city represents far less than 10% of Swedish Jewry.
In 2011, Islin Abrahamsen and Chava Savosnick conducted a qualitative study for the Norwegian Jewish community regarding the experiences of Jewish children and young people with anti-Semitism in the country. Twenty-one young Norwegian Jews, of school age up to 25, were interviewed. The study found that young Jews often do not reveal their religious identity. Some have changed schools, or their parents have even changed residences because of the anti-Semitism they have experienced.
While the hiding of one’s Jewish identity may be the main indicator of this reborn galut mentality, there are many others.
While the galut phenomenon is quite established in Europe, it exists in the United States as well. A typical example is the moot Jewish reaction to a variety of statements made by US President Barack Obama who regularly uses double standards against Iwsrael.
As pressure on Jews abroad mounts, the galut mentality among many Jews will intensify. It will become even clearer than today that we should no longer speak about a Jewish Diaspora, but about European Jews in exile.
The author’s recently published book, The War of a Million Cuts, analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized, and how one can fight these attempts at delegitimization.