European exodus?

Israel should prepare both operationally and conceptually to absorb thousands of European Jews.

Eiffel Tower Paris France 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Eiffel Tower Paris France 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Jews are being made to feel increasingly unwelcome in Europe. Israel’s policy-makers must begin preparing for an influx of European Jews who have come to the realization that the “renaissance” of European Jewry after the Holocaust is a false hope. That seems to be the operative conclusion of a major survey of European Jewry conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
The full report, based on a survey of 5,100 Jews living in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia that began in September 2012 and ended last month, will be presented next month in Vilnius.
But JTA obtained some preliminary results.
A quarter of respondents said they avoided visiting visibly Jewish places and wearing visibly Jewish symbols such as a yarmulke for fear of anti-Semitism. The numbers were higher in Sweden, France and Belgium where 49 percent, 40% and 36%, respectively, said they did.
In Hungary, 91% of respondents said anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years. That figure was 88% in France, 87% in Belgium and 80% in Sweden. In Germany, Italy and Britain, some 60% identified a growth in anti- Semitism, compared to 39% in Latvia.
Nor are Jews’ impressions simple paranoia. According to a 2011 study the Bielefeld University undertook on behalf of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, more than 40% of citizens 16 years and older in seven EU countries agree with the statement that Israel is carrying out “a war of extermination” against Palestinians. And since visibly identifiable Jews are connected with Israel, an astounding number of Europeans feel a tremendous amount of opprobrium for anything connected to Israel.
In addition, Europeans have launched an attack on Jewish – and Muslim – ritual practices such as circumcision and ritual slaughter. A poll for the German Focus magazine taken after a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was prohibited because it constituted “physical harm against newborn babies” found that 56% of those surveyed thought the judgment was right, compared with 35% who were against the ruling and 10% undecided. And a poll commissioned by Britain’s Jewish Chronicle and published in March found that 38% of the British population favored a ban on “male circumcision for religious reasons,” while 35% were against a ban and 27% were undecided.
Unsurprisingly, according to the EU survey, in three of the nine states surveyed – Belgium, France and Hungary – between 40% and 50% of respondents said they had considered emigrating because they did not feel safe there.
Many European Jews, obviously, intend to stay put.
Some may plan to relocate inside Europe to cities with larger Jewish populations where they feel safer.
Another very real and viable option, however, is relocation to Israel. Unfortunately, according to a Jewish People Policy Institute assessment for 2011-2012, there seems to be no Israeli political determination to set up appropriate structures to ease the professional and educational integration of new immigrants from non-Russian-speaking European countries.
The JPPI’s Dov Maimon has recommended a few steps to facilitate European Jewry’s aliya, which include: encouraging organizations like the mostly North American-focused Nefesh B’Nefesh and the French AMI (Alya & Meilleure Intégration) to expand their activities; streamlining the process of recognizing foreign degrees, professional licenses and the opening of small or medium businesses; making military enlistment regulations more flexible.
And as writer Hillel Halkin recently pointed out in an essay that appeared on the Internet site Mosaic, attracting European Jewry depends, ironically, on Israel becoming a more European country – “more soundly and efficiently run, more economically affordable, more environmentally caring, more peaceful, more livable.”
Our political leaders might want to refrain from making public declarations calling on Europe’s Jews to abandon ship. In 2004, president Jacques Chirac attacked prime minister Ariel Sharon for calling France the home of “the wildest anti-Semitism” and for French Jewry to emigrate “as early as possible.”
Nevertheless, Israel should prepare both operationally and conceptually to absorb thousands of European Jews.
Their exodus would mark Europe’s failure to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, but it would also be a tremendous boon to the Jewish state.