Malmo synagogue in Sweden..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The future of Western European Jewry seems clouded. The further away one gets from the Holocaust, the less resistance there is to the reemergence of antisemitism.
This hate mongering has for more than a thousand years been an integral part of European culture. To avoid misunderstanding: this should not be confused with the false statement that most Europeans are antisemites.
The problems for many Western European Jews in their social environment have been greatly enhanced by the immigration of millions of antisemites from Muslim countries where the majority of inhabitants have extreme prejudices against Jews. Statistics available show that both classic antisemitic and anti-Israeli attitudes among European Muslims are far more widespread than among the native populations.
Worse still, all lethal terrorist acts in the past decade against Jews in Europe, of which the perpetrators have been identified, have been committed by Muslims. In addition, many of the most extreme antisemitic statements also come from members of Muslim communities as well.
Furthermore there are frequent campaigns against Jewish ritual. The primary one concerns unstunned religious slaughter, which is required for kosher meat. Already in the late nineteenth century Switzerland was the first European country to forbid this. Before the Second World War unstunned religious slaughter was also prohibited in Sweden and Norway under Nazi influence. In recent years it has been forbidden in Denmark and much of Belgium. In several other countries this way of slaughter is opposed by strong pro-animal groups and sometimes anti-Islam movements.
Halal slaughter accounts for the great majority of animals slaughtered without stunning in Europe.
Iceland has a population of less than 350,000. It is not a member of the European Union. The country has a long antisemitic tradition. The number of Jewish citizens has always been tiny. Iceland recently became the first European country to propose to parliament a ban on male circumcision.
Possible prohibition of this ritual is also discussed from time to time in other Western European countries. Religious Jews can eat imported kosher meat if unstunned slaughter is forbidden in their country, yet a much larger percentage of Jews than those eating kosher have their sons circumcised. A prohibition of this ritual would make the survival of Jewish communities far more problematic.
When analyzing the future of European Jewry another important factor is the nature of Jewish bonding. Nowadays this includes bonding through participation in religion, holidays and customs, bonding to the Jewish community and bonding via interest in Jewish culture. Other types of Jewish bonding include Israel, sensitivity to antisemitism as well as through Holocaust experiences and history.
Where antisemitic aggression occurs in the public domain, the dangers are not equally spread among all Jews. The greatest risks face those who are recognizable as Jews, for instance by their clothing or physiognomy. The severity of the problem also depends on the city and neighborhood where one lives. Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo, is often considered Europe’s capital of antisemitism. Aggression against Jews in Malmo by far exceeds that in communities like the North London borough of Barnet, where many Jews live. Some public schools where Jewish children study may also be risky environments.
Next in line for aggression are synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions.
Jewish events, restaurants and shops have also been attacked.
The factors to take into account when discussing the Jewish future in Europe are disparate. High percentages of mixed marriage dilute Jewish bonding. In the decades after the war several Jewish communities were strengthened by immigration such as the massive influx of North African Jews that came into France in the 1950s and 1960s. Another wave of immigration was comprised of Russian Jews who came to Germany. No similar mass immigration in Western Europe seems to be on the horizon.
There may be much smaller movements of Israelis into some European towns. Many of them do not participate in Jewish communal activities.
Factors which prevent people from leaving their home country, even if they want to, include lack of professional and language skills necessary in Israel, the United States or Canada.
Family circumstances are often also a reason not to leave.
Jewish emigration is not evenly spread among European countries. Antisemitism is often not the sole motivating factor. The largest Jewish emigration in recent years in absolute terms took place from France. In the decision to leave, the economic problems of the country played a role as well. If in the United Kingdom the Labour Party – rattled by antisemitism and led by the extreme leftist Jeremy Corbyn – comes to power, emigration of British Jews may increase as well.
Though we have no data on this, it is reasonable to assume that the highest percentage of those leaving are those who are most actively Jewish. The core of European Jewish life thus seems to be eroding faster than that of the more marginal participants.
Due to the many factors in play, few precise forecasts can be made. Yet one thing is clear: among the many issues determining the Jewish future in Western Europe, few are positive.The author is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.