Unity, not uniformity

Diaspora Jews face the twin dangers of anti-Semitism (often under the guise of anti-Zionism) and assimilation.

August 9, 2012 22:21
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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 annihilation.

They only way to overcome these challenges is by coming together. This is nothing new.

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The vanishing Diaspora Jew?

Diaspora Jews face the twin dangers of anti-Semitism (often under the guise of anti-Zionism) and assimilation.

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.

Attempts to 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 today.

Too often we hear: “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m simply anti-Zionist.”

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 distinction.

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 above).

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 Canada.

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 village

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.

The same 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 consequences.

Hamas is strengthening its hold on the Gaza Strip.

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 annihilation.

And closer to home, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sidestepped every Israeli attempt to return to the negotiation table.

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 divide ourselves.

“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 Sephardi Jew.”

“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 Jew.”

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.

Unity, not uniformity.

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).

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