Europe’s refugee crisis: Jews must tread carefully

Most of the terrorist threat to Jewish institutions comes from individuals and organizations from countries of origin of the current asylum seekers, where official channels are negative towards Jews.

Syrian refugees walk along a road in Serbia, August 24, in an increasingly desperate journey to western Europe (photo credit: MARKO DJURICA / REUTERS)
Syrian refugees walk along a road in Serbia, August 24, in an increasingly desperate journey to western Europe
(photo credit: MARKO DJURICA / REUTERS)
Jewish communities have to tread carefully in their reactions to the huge influx of refugees, mainly Muslims, into Europe. This was particularly the case in the first emotion-laden weeks following publication of the appalling picture of the dead Syrian child on the beach of Lesbos, Greece. No Jew could publicly say: the intense suffering of many of these people is real – but so is the environment of extreme anti-Semitic hate in which these people have been raised. However, as the many practical problems related to the refugee influx have grown and received increased publicity, Jews have made more realistic statements, though remaining cautious.
The indiscriminate European acceptance of many millions of Muslims in the past has caused huge damage to European Jewish communities. A major influx of Muslim refugees into a European country means a further increase in anti-Semitism there. This is not because all the immigrants are anti-Semites. However, a high percentage of the immigrants are. So are those more likely to perpetrate anti-Semitic acts if compared with the hate-crime perpetrators in the existing local population? Some Muslim immigrants or their descendants are also far more radical than the native population. In the current century all murders of Jews in Europe because they are Jews, be they in the Paris area, Toulouse, Brussels or Copenhagen, have been committed by Muslims.
Every Jewish leader in Europe knows this. Yet at the onset of the crisis we saw several humanitarian-masochist statements by some who should have known better. Some Jewish representatives welcomed the newcomers without any mention whatsoever of the huge potential problems which could result.
The umbrella body of Jewish organizations in Flanders issued a press release reminding the authorities of the sufferings of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and asking them to implement a generous admission policy for the newcomers.
They even praised Germany’s current refugee policy, something about which the German Jewish community would later express deep concern. This “see no evil” Jewish umbrella body made no mention of the many problems anti-Semitic Muslims had caused Jews in Belgium.
Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the UK and usually a keen observer also got carried away. On September 6, 2015, he published an article in the anti-Israeli British daily The Guardian, entitled “Refugee crisis: ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers’ calls us now.”
Part of his article was devoted to comparisons of the new immigrants with the “Kindertransport,” the Jewish refugee children who were brought to England from Germany in the 1930s. He also mentioned their subsequent significant contribution to British society. This was all the more surprising in light of Sacks’ familiarity with the many problems created for UK Jewry by Muslim immigrants and several Muslim organizations. A few weeks later, these problems were revisited in articles concerning frequent harassment of Jews in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood by “young Asian men.” This is politically correct terminology for Muslim criminal suspects.
One should also remind the former chief rabbi that many of the people he welcomes with lovingkindness take the Koran literally. They consider him and his fellow Jews pigs and monkeys, in other words subhuman. The Kindertransport children were fleeing from Germans who also considered Jews subhuman. These Jewish children did not promote hate of anyone or discrimination of minorities.
One of the first to present a realistic opinion was Esther Voet, the editor of the Dutch Jewish weekly NIW, in the Internet magazine Jalta. She wrote that people should not be carried away by their emotions. Voet mentioned that it was dangerous to state her opinion because she would risk inclusion in the extreme right-wing camp.
She reminded readers how Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher was laughed at for his suggestion in 2013 that each refugee seeking asylum in the Netherlands should sign a declaration accepting the rights of women and homosexuals, and assertion that he would not tolerate any intolerance against athiests or people of other religions. She added that the new refugees come from cultures where most people cannot accept equal rights for homosexuals, Jews, atheists and women.
One of the first Jewish leaders in Europe who dared to express his views in clear language was Oskar Deutsch, the chairman of the Jewish community in Vienna. There had already been a debate among members following the community’s financial donation to the anti-Israeli Caritas organization. Deutsch wrote in the Austrian daily Kurier on September 21 that the Jewish community had helped many refugees over the years.
He also pointed out that in the past, the arrival of 20 million Muslims to Europe had frequently led to physical anti-Semitic attacks and migration of Jews. Deutsch added that refugees arriving now from Syria and Afghanistan come from societies where anti-Semitism is a staple in schoolbooks, media and social networks. Terrorism against Israelis, Muslim attacks on Jewish schools, synagogues and Jewish museums are often glorified in these countries.
Early in October Josef Schuster, the head of the German Jewish umbrella body Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, expressed his worries in a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said that among the people who seek refuge in Germany, many come from countries where Israel is considered the prime enemy. Schuster remarked that these people have grown up with a very hostile image of Israel and too frequently transfer this resentment to all Jews. The Jews of Germany therefore are right to fear that Muslim anti-Semitism in Germany will grow.
Subsequently, Levi Salomon, a German Jewish anti-Semitism expert, told the British Daily Express that Jew-hating Nazi ideology and the hatred of Israel had been at the heart of the ruling Ba’ath parties in both Syria and Iraq for decades. He added that therefore it must be assumed that the majority of Syrian refugees are anti-Semites. Lala Susskind, the former head of the Berlin Jewish community was quoted saying that “we don’t believe our fears are being taken seriously by politicians.” The paper also mentioned that in Germany “anti-Jewish crimes rose to a five-year high in 2014 with 1,596 recorded hate crimes against Jewish people, more than in any other EU state.”
The CJO, the umbrella body of Dutch Jewish organizations, was moved to react when the municipality of Amstelveen, an Amsterdam suburb where many Jews live, decided to make an empty office building available for Syrian and Iraqi immigrants. The CJO press release expressed the deep concern of Dutch Jewish organizations about the security of the Jewish community. The text clarified that the proposed asylum center is located in the only place in the Netherlands with a visible and recognizable Jewish community infrastructure, with multiple synagogues, Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and kosher shops.
The CJO mentions that most of the terrorist threat to Jewish institutions comes from individuals and organizations from the countries of origin of the current asylum seekers, where official channels are very negative toward Jews.
Polarization in Europe is increasing as a result of the refugee influx. Populist, nationalist and right-wing parties have not only been rising in the polls – some election results already show that these parties have been actually achieving the forecast gains. Recently in the state of Upper Austria, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) won more than 30 percent of the votes as against 15% in the 2009 election. In Vienna the party received almost 31% of the votes, as opposed to 26% in 2010. While polarization is not specifically related to Jews, the rising xenophobic environment indicates further trouble in the future for Jewish communities.
Several years of negligence on the part of the European Union in its policies on the refugee issue have caused the recent influx. A few years ago, the EU could have pre-empted much of the issue by offering Turkey a fraction of the billions of euros now being offered to that country. All in all, the future of many of the increasingly marginalized European Jewish communities is bleaker now than it was few month ago.