(photo credit: REUTERS)
In response to the recent anti-Semitic terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhorted European Jews to make aliya, to flee Europe for Israel. During times of uncertainty, Israeli leaders have always extended such invitations to European Jews, invoking the longheld belief that the Jewish Diaspora should be as small as possible. And yet, if the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen prove anything, it is that in order to counter anti-Semitism the Jewish Diaspora must remain robust, and Jews must maintain a strong presence outside Israel, especially in Europe.
While there is no denying the deeply concerning uptick in European anti-Semitism and violent attacks targeting Jews and Jewish institutions over the past decade (especially since the global recession), a mass exodus of European Jews to Israel presents not a solution, but a danger. Statements advocating for such an exodus are framed using pre-1948, post-Holocaust- era terms – relevant in the postwar period, but with limited relevance to today; indeed, the problems faced by European Jews in 1945 are not the same as those faced by European Jews in 2015, and thus cannot be resolved in the same way.
Unlike the years following the Holocaust, in which many survivors made new lives in pre-state Israel – after emerging from Nazi rule stateless, bereft of property and branded with tattoos still marking them as “undesirables” – today’s European Jews do have homes; they are full and equal citizens of the countries in which they live, and can freely express both their national and Jewish identities, if they wish. Indeed, most European Jews have made it clear that they see themselves as simultaneously Jewish and French, Danish and Jewish, etc. To such people, who possess strong connections to the countries in which they live, the idea of picking up and moving to Israel is difficult to countenance.
Aside from the antiquated augments used to justify it, the main issue with a large-scale aliya from Europe is that it would inevitably strengthen the insidious phenomenon it attempts to solve. Anti-semitic views increase drastically from areas with sizable Jewish populations to those with little to no Jews present, engendered by unfamiliarity and ignorance. Thus, if French or Danish Jews evacuate their homes and leave their cities bereft of Jews, bereft of opportunities to live alongside Jews, anti-Semitism would necessarily increase.
Similarly, if the Jewish population across Europe declines drastically, after successive generations of living mostly in Israel Jews would become a foreign people – a people the rest of the world will not know, endemic to a volatile, contested sliver of land in the center of the Middle East. This would further cement the idea of Jews being the “other,” as well as imperil Israel, being the nation inhabited by this “other.” Without having the experience of living alongside Jews, Europeans will only become more intolerant, furthering the vicious cycle through which anti-Semitism arises. In this alternate future, Hitler’s doomsday dream of a Europe that is “Judenfrei” (free of Jews) is a reality.
Unfortunately, there exists no true panacea to completely eradicate the global cancer of anti-Semitism. Yet, effective strategies exist to combat and limit the effects of anti-Semitism on the Jews in Europe and elsewhere.
These methods entail rigorous steps taken by national governments, international organizations and civil society groups to legislate, educate, and prosecute the perpetrators of anti-Semitism. Instead of asking European Jews to give up on their homelands, Israeli leadership must aid Diaspora Jews and help their governments develop the tools necessary to fight anti-Semitism and violent extremism within their borders.
Of course, aliya should always be an option for Jews in the Diaspora.
But as a first line of defense against anti-Semitism, it is insufficient, impractical and woefully nearsighted.
It is for this reason that the Jewish Diaspora must remain intact. All Jews, from Paris to Copenhagen, New York to São Paulo, Cape Town to Brisbane, must resist the urge to throw in the metaphorical towel, and continue to fight alongside their governments in the battle to combat anti-Semitism and violent extremism.
The Torah tells us that God set the Jews apart as the chosen people. But surely He did not set us apart to live separately from the world, but to engage with it – to be a “light unto the nations.” As we find ourselves once again engaged in a battle for our existence, let us show the world that though we live across many continents, the Jewish people are one people, united and unwavering in our determination to freely celebrate our traditions.