Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joins an anti-Trump protest in central London on July 13, 2018.
(photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz recently stated, “Europe without Jews cannot be Europe.” His country currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of this year. Austria is organizing a conference on antisemitism on November 20-21 jointly with the European Jewish Congress in Vienna.
Kurz’s statement should be investigated in some detail. Since the Second World War, Jews have once again held very senior positions in a number of Western European countries. France, Austria and Switzerland have had Jewish prime ministers. Belgium has had a Jewish deputy prime minister. There have been Jewish ministers in the UK, France, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands. The UK and France currently have Jewish ministers. In the UK, both the Conservative and Labour parties have had Jewish leaders while their party was in opposition. Is there, however, anything specifically Jewish about the way these people performed their duties?
One can play with models. If one theoretically assumes that all Jews will leave Europe, what of importance would happen to the continent? The jobs held by Jews would be taken by others. Similarly, others might continue part of the Jews’ businesses. New residents would live in the houses and apartments formerly occupied by Jews. The absence of some Jews might be felt for a few years. The German occupation of many European countries during the Second World War has shown that societies can continue to function almost painlessly without Jews. Then Jews were expelled rapidly. Nowadays their departure, unlikely to be total, would be gradual.
If one wants to analyze whether Europe without Jews will indeed still be Europe or not, one must investigate in other directions. A major traditional symbolic role of Jews has been as scapegoats in European societies. That is now shared with immigrants. If Jews were to leave, radical Muslims and extreme rightists would have to vent their violence exclusively on others.
Having Jews who live in European society makes antisemitic verbal targeting easier. Yet there is proof that one does not need a Jewish presence to be antisemitic. Furthermore, many antisemitic stereotypes and lies are now projected on Israel. The names and meanings of Shylock and Rothschild are strongly embedded in European culture and will remain long after the hypothetical departure of Europe’s last Jew.
Another important symbolic role Jews play in Europe is as an indicator of the democratic health of a country. This is strongest in Germany. If all Jews were to leave that country it would mean that Germany’s society and its culture are in deep trouble. The presence of more than one hundred thousand Jews legitimizes German democracy. In both 2015 and 2016, French Prime Minister Emanuel Valls – then still a socialist – said: “Without the French Jews France will not be France.”
His first statement came after the murder by a Muslim of four Jews in a Paris Jewish supermarket. By that time tens of thousands of Jews had already emigrated from the country. This is a partial indicator of France’s unsolvable antisemitism problem.
A Jewish Chronicle poll found that forty percent of British Jews would seriously consider leaving the UK if Labour leader and terrorist sympathizer Jeremy Corbyn were to become prime minister. Even if this were to happen, there is unlikely to be a massive exodus of British Jews. Yet, thinking about leaving is already an indicator of ill-feeling.
Jews make up less than 0.2% of the population of Sweden, yet they are a major indicator of the shaky state of law in this ultra-liberal country. Sweden is the only country in Europe where a Jewish community, the one in the town of Umea, decided to dissolve itself due to neo-Nazi threats. Quite a few other examples of antisemitism can be cited as indicators of Sweden’s poor state of law and order.
In the imaginary assumption that there will be no living Jews left in Europe, many dead Jews will remain. These are often better liked than the living ones. Jewish cemeteries will stay. There are more than a thousand in Poland alone. In certain areas, ashes of burnt Jews are inextricable.
After the Holocaust, many synagogue buildings of destroyed communities were put to other uses. The same may happen with many of existing Jewish buildings. Most streets named after Jews are unlikely to be renamed. Holocaust monuments will not necessarily be taken down. Visits to Auschwitz and other extermination camps can continue. One does not need Jews to commemorate Kristallnacht or International Holocaust Memorial Day annually.
There are European leaders besides Chancellor Kurz who use strong rhetoric against antisemitism. This may make some Jews feel good. Whether these statements mean anything in practice remains to be seen and needs detailed investigation.
Far more important are the results of the upcoming Vienna conference. A number of necessary recommendations can easily be defined. These include halting the immigration process of additional antisemites into Europe, the establishment of a uniform system of reporting antisemitic incidents in all EU countries, and the carrying out of a reliable study on the antisemitic experiences of Jews. The study currently conducted by the FRA, the European Agency for Fundamental Rights cannot be accurate. Furthermore, antisemitism commissioners should be appointed in all EU countries. In addition, the number of staff people working for the EU commissioner for antisemitism should be greatly increased. Many more recommendations can be made.
Chancellor Kurz’s statement was undoubtedly well-meant. Yet, if and when the last Jew leaves Europe or dies, one relevant and convenient change would ensue: Europe’s unsolvable battle against antisemitism could be abandoned.
The writer is the 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.
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