Should Europe’s Jews move to Israel? - opinion

Two of the greatest Jewish leaders of the 20th century had opposing views on this question.

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018.
On Sunday, The Guardian reported the depressing fact that “almost half of British Jews avoid showing visible signs of their Judaism in public, such as a Star of David or a kippah, because of antisemitism,” according to a new study.
“The Campaign Against Antisemitism and King’s College London gave 12 statements that participants in the survey were asked to agree or disagree with,” The Guardian reported. “Twelve percent showed ‘entrenched antisemitic views’ by agreeing with four or more of the statements. The one that had most backing was ‘Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews,’ affirmed by almost a quarter (23%) of respondents.”
That’s pretty sobering. But it gets worse. “Among the general public, a similar proportion agreed with one or more antisemitic statements put to them, pointing to a ‘deeply troubling normalization of antisemitism.’”
Is anyone surprised? The question is what to do about growing European antisemitism. Should Jews in Britain give up and move to Israel? On the other hand, making Europe “judenrein” is exactly what the Nazis sought through the annihilation of European Jewry, and should we give Hitler that posthumous victory?
Two of the greatest Jewish leaders of the 20th century had opposing views on this question.
Theodor Herzl concluded that antisemitism was unmovable, and the only hope for Jewish survival was the establishment of an independent Jewish state. He insisted on the necessity of using diplomacy to persuade the world that Jews have a right to self-determination in their historical homeland – Israel – and helped turn the centuries-old dream of returning to Zion into a reality.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, believed that Jews should have no fear, and communities should be expanded to all parts of the globe. Judaism is a global religion with global influence. To assist in this goal, the rebbe sent emissaries around the world to establish and strengthen Jewish communities, and spread the light of Jewish values and faith.
AS AN American Jew who spent 11 years in Western Europe, I believe that both Herzl and the rebbe were correct. We need a Jewish state in the eternal Jewish homeland of Israel, which is the axis and pivot of world Jewry, while maintaining a global Jewish community that both spreads the light of the Jewish people and supports the Jewish state.
How can I say this? Doesn’t the fact that six million Jews were killed while the world watched prove Herzl’s point? After all, no Jew was spared. Even the most assimilated Jew, and non-Jew with only a distant Jewish relative, was sentenced to death. The world’s leaders shut the gates to their countries, offering few Jews an opportunity to escape.
If Israel had existed at that time, Jews would have had a haven, and a government that would have done everything in its power to save them. In fact, even without a state, Jews in Palestine did what they could to rescue their brethren. The Mossad was first created to organize illegal immigration to Palestine, bringing Jews to their homeland, despite the objections of the British Mandatory government. Heroic figures, like Hannah Szenes, put their lives on the line to fight the Nazis.
In countless cities and towns of Europe, Hitler eradicated whole Jewish communities. If synagogues survived, they were often museums rather than places of worship, because often no one was left to pray in them. Is this what we really want? For Jews to be historical oddities like the dinosaurs?
No. Along with Israel’s central importance to every aspect of the Jewish future, we need a global Jewish community where our people thrive and flourish in every part of the world.
Then there are the Israeli tourists who flock to cities such as Venice, Rome, Warsaw, Munich and Berlin. Do we want Israelis, especially former IDF soldiers doing a travel year abroad, to arrive in a continent bereft of Jews and find no place to feel at home? No Chabad houses? No shuls to pray in? No kosher restaurants? No mikvaot? No Jewish communities to visit and feel part of?
An Israel friend of mine with whom I discussed this disagreed with me.
“When we’re not together, we’re weak and we’re exposed. Our enemies murder us. When we’re strong, as one, they can’t. In Israel, we have an army. And if we are all there, it will be harder to defeat us,” he argued.
I told him that the genocidal Iranian mullahs make the same case, but for the opposite effect. “Israel is a one-bomb state,” one of the murderers said. Because the Jews are all together, it’s easier to annihilate the whole of the nation.
I was playing devil’s advocate. But my Israeli friend would have none of it. He agreed with Israeli leaders that all the European Jews should move to Israel, where they would be safe.
I, of course, believe that every Jew who wants to live in Israel should go there and be encouraged to do so. Three of our children already have, and two have served in the IDF, while the third is about to join, God willing. Israel is our eternal homeland.
Despite terrorism and the threats of radical Islam in the region, Israel is strong and safe. The population is defended by a powerful military, a true people’s army, composed mostly of courageous Jews with a fighting spirit.
The government and the people are a flourishing democracy, and all citizens enjoy the freedoms we often take for granted in the United States, but which are a miracle in the Middle East.
On the other hand, the Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim formulated a 614th commandment that we should not give Hitler a posthumous victory. No Jew should be lost to his or her people or tradition. Abandoning the Jews of Europe, especially those who survived Hitler’s genocidal war, is unacceptable. Allowing or encouraging Europe to become “judenrein” would violate that commandment and betray the ideals of both Herzl and the rebbe.
But Israel has something else. Governed by Jewish values, it has an army that celebrates no victories or military glory, but only defense of human life. Judaism has no victory arches. You will find many things in Israel – the ruins of the ancient Temple, ancient synagogues, and mikvaot. The Maccabees and King David had great military victories. But Jews don’t celebrate them, because we do not believe in the glory of war. We do not believe societies are enhanced or ennobled by war. Precisely the opposite is true. We are a people that celebrates peace, and our God’s name is Shalom, peace.
Jews believe the purpose of war is to protect life. We fight only because we are forced to fight. There is no glory in it. Even in modern Israel, which has seen the electrifying victories of the Six Day War, when Israel conquered land three times its size, or the more sobering Yom Kippur War, when Israel was almost annihilated, but rallied to threaten Cairo and Damascus and encircle the Egyptian Third Army – even then, Israel made no celebratory military arches. Israel has no celebrations for its wars, only monuments to the fallen soldiers and countless victims of terrorism, who gave their lives to defend their people.
Europe, of course, is different. Going back to ancient Greek and Roman times, rulers were celebrated not for peacemaking but for war and conquest. Caesar and Augustus, Trajan and Constantine earned their places in the annals of history by dominating the enemy. Even in benign modern democracies, like Britain, the rulers – like King Charles and his two sons – get married in military garb.
Which just goes to show you how much the Jews can contribute to Europe in the field of values, faith, charity and community, if only Europeans would forgo the long history of anti-Jewish antipathy and decide that fighting antisemitism is a European, rather than a Jewish, priority.
The writer, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of the World Values Network and the international best-selling author of more than 30 books, including The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.