Mosaic Magazine

Monthly Essay August 2013

You Only Live Twice

Vibrant Jewish communities were reborn in Europe after the Holocaust. Is there a future for them in the 21st century?

You Only Live Twice

Samuel Sandler, an aeronautical engineer and head of the Jewish community in Versailles, France, announced a few weeks ago that he’d had the local synagogue registered as a national landmark. “My feeling is that our congregation will be gone within twenty or thirty years,” he told friends, “and I don’t want the building demolished or, worse, used for improper purposes.”

Once the seat of French royalty, Versailles is now among the tranquil, prosperous, and upscale suburbs of Greater Paris. Among the townspeople are executives employed in gleaming corporate headquarters a few miles away. They and their churchgoing families inhabit early-20th-century villas and late-20th-century condominiums set in majestic greenery. Among the townspeople too, are a thousand or so Jews of similar economic and social status who have made their homes in Versailles and nearby towns. In addition to the synagogue and community center of Versailles itself, a dozen more synagogues dot the surrounding area.

So what makes Sandler so pessimistic about the future?

One answer might be thought to lie in the personal tragedy that befell him last year, when an Islamist terrorist shot and killed his son Jonathan, a thirty-year-old rabbi at a school in the southern city of Toulouse, along with Jonathan’s two sons, ages six and three, and an eight-year-old girl. But Sandler had faced his grief with uncommon courage and self-control. Both at the funeral in Jerusalem and in later media appearances, he had made a point of defending democracy, patriotic values, and interfaith dialogue.

Personal experience, then, may play a part in explaining Sandler’s grim diagnosis of the prospects of French Jewry, and by implication of European Jewry at large; but it is far from the whole story. Nor is that diagnosis unique to him. To the contrary, the more one travels throughout Europe, the more one confronts an essential paradox: the European Jewish idyll represented by Versailles is very common; so is the dire view articulated by Samuel Sandler.


1. The Paradox

European Judaism looks healthy, and secure. Religious and cultural activities are everywhere on the rise. Last December, in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, an exquisite new synagogue was inaugurated in Ulm, the most recent in a long series of new or recently restored sanctuaries in Germany. In Paris, a European Center for Judaism will soon be built under the auspices of the Consistoire (the French union of synagogues) and the French government. Many European capitals now harbor major Jewish museums or Holocaust memorials. In Paris, a visitor can proceed from the National Museum for Jewish Art and History housed at the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, a 17th-century mansion in the Marais district, to the national Shoah memorial near the Seine, to the Drancy Holocaust memorial in the northern suburbs. Berlin hosts the Jüdisches Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind; the cemetery-like grid of the Mahnmal, the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe whose concrete slabs are spread over an entire city block in the center of the capital; and another national Holocaust memorial and educational center at Wannsee.

And yet, despite all their success and achievement, the majority of European Jews, seconded by many Jewish and non-Jewish experts, insist that catastrophe may lie ahead.

One does not have to look far to see why. A large-scale survey commissioned by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) tells a tale of widespread and persistent anti-Semitism. Although the full study is not due to be released until October, the salient facts have been summarized by EU officials and by researchers like Dov Maimon, a French-born Israeli scholar at the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem. Among the findings: more than one in four Jews report experiencing anti-Semitic harassment at least once in the twelve months preceding the survey; one in three have experienced such harassment over the past five years; just under one in ten have experienced a physical attack or threat in the same period; and between two-fifths and one-half in France, Belgium, and Hungary have considered emigrating because they feel unsafe.

Statistics from my native France, home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, go back farther in time and tell an even darker tale. Since 2000, 7,650 anti-Semitic incidents have been reliably reported to the Jewish Community Security Service and the French ministry of the interior; this figure omits incidents known to have occurred but unreported to the police. The incidents range from hate speech, anti-Semitic graffiti, and verbal threats to defacement of synagogues and other Jewish buildings, to acts of violence and terror including arson, bombings, and murder.

And that is just France. All over Europe, with exceptions here and there, the story is much the same. Nor do the figures take into account the menacing atmosphere created by the incessant spewing of hatred against the people and the state of Israel at every level of society, including the universities and the elite and mass media, to the point where polls show as many as 40 percent of Europeans holding the opinion that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians; or the recent moves to ban circumcision and kosher slaughter; or the intense social pressures created by the rise of radical and often violent Islam of the kind that targeted Samuel Sandler’s son and grandchildren (and of which more below).

Statements by EU officials and others, even while they acknowledge the “frightening” degree of anti-Semitism prevalent in today’s Europe, and even while they promise to “fight against it with all the means at their disposal,” also contend (in the words of the prime minister of Baden-Württemberg) that anti-Semitism is “not present in the heart of society” or in “major political parties.” Such bland reassurances have quite understandably brought little comfort.

Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that even so sober an analyst as Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, author of definitive works on the history and dynamics of anti-Semitism, has concluded that although the final endpoint of European Jewry may be decades in coming, “any clear-sighted and sensible Jew who has a sense of history would understand that this is the time to get out.”


2. “A Sense of History”

For many European Jews, there is indeed a déjà vu quality to the present situation. Like Israelis, but unlike most American Jews, today’s European Jews are survivors, or children of survivors, either of the Holocaust or of the near-complete expulsion of Jews from Islamic countries that took place in the second half of the 20th century. They know, from personal experience or from the testimony of direct and irrefutable witnesses, how things unfolded in the not too distant past, and how a seemingly normal Jewish life could be destroyed overnight. When anti-Semitic incidents or other problems accumulate, they can’t help asking whether history is repeating itself.

“Call it the yogurt’s-expiration-date syndrome,” an elderly, Moroccan-born Frenchman recently said to me. He elaborated:

Right after Morocco won its independence from France in 1956, my family joined the country’s ruling elite. My father, a close friend of King Mohammed V, had access to everybody in the government. It went on like that for two or three years. Then one day, out of the blue, Father told us we were leaving. We children asked why. “We’ve passed the yogurt’s expiration date,” he said. “We have no future in Morocco; as long as we’re free to go, we must go.” So we left, leaving behind most of our money and belongings. Ever since then, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been on the lookout for the yogurt’s expiration date. In France, I think it’s close.

To contemporary European Jews like this one, today’s anxieties thus also recall the crucial choice they or their parents made some 30 or 50 or 70 years ago when, having survived the Holocaust, they resolved to stay in Europe—more accurately, in Western Europe, under the American umbrella—or, having been forced out of Islamic countries, to flee to Europe. Was this the right choice, after all? Hadn’t a majority both of the surviving European Jews and of the refugees from the Arab world decided otherwise?

Yes, they had; and here too a little history is helpful. Back in the early 1930s, there were about 10 million self-identified Jews in Europe (including the USSR). There were also others—estimates range from one to three million—who for one reason or another had converted to Christianity but retained a consciousness of their Jewish identity or who had intermarried or otherwise assimilated into Gentile society without converting.

Half of this prewar European population perished in the Holocaust. Of the five to seven million survivors, about 1.5 million emigrated to the newborn state of Israel throughout the late 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Another half-million made it to the United States—a number that would surely have been higher had the restrictive quota system introduced in the 1920’s not still been in place. About 200,000 wound up in Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, South Africa, and Australia/ New Zealand. As for the roughly 2.5 million locked up in the Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, most made their way to Israel or the United States whenever the opportunity presented itself.

All in all, then, about two-thirds of post-Holocaust European Jews left Europe, and only one third remained. And the same is true of the more than one million Jewish refugees from Islamic countries. Upon being expelled or encouraged to leave, two-thirds headed to Israel and one third to Europe (or, in a few cases, to the United States or Canada). The proportion might vary according to country of origin—90 percent of Iraqi and Yemeni Jews emigrated to Israel, versus just 30 percent of Egyptian Jews— but the total ratio remained two-to-one against the continent.

What then motivated the minority that either stayed in or opted for Europe? For the most part, Jews who before the war had been citizens of Western European countries were eager, once their rights and property were restored, to resume their former life as soon and as completely as possible, even at the price of a certain selective amnesia about their country’s wartime behavior. What the researcher Guri Schwarz observes about postwar Italian Jews can be generalized to others:

What emerges from the Jewish press, from memoirs, and from diaries as well as from declarations of community leaders is the marked inclination to deny Italian responsibility in the origin and implementation of persecution for the period 1938-1943 as well as for the period of mass murder and deportation that followed the [1943] armistice with the Allied forces. This behavior, in many ways similar to that adopted by Jews in other Western countries—such as France, Holland, and Belgium—can be understood if we consider the intense desire to reintegrate into society and the conviction that such a process would be easier if [Jews] avoided attracting too much attention to their specific tragedy.

Another factor here was that many refugees from Islamic countries were technically also West European citizens, and entitled as such to resettlement in the “mother country” with full rights and benefits. This was true of Algerian Jews, who as a group had been granted French citizenship in 1870; of many Tunisian or Moroccan Jews who had opted for French citizenship under France’s protectorate; and of some Jews from Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria who were registered as Europeans under the terms of longstanding contracts between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire. Libyan Jews, as former Italian colonial subjects, were admitted to Italy, and residents of the former Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco to Spain.

As for refugees with no claim to citizenship in a West European nation, they might enter first as asylum seekers and then apply for permanent status. In The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, her poignant memoir of her family’s “riches-to-rags” expulsion from Egypt in 1956, Lucette Lagnado recalls the “relatively efficient, coordinated system of social services and relief agencies dedicated to helping refugees” in Paris:

Funded by private philanthropists like the Rothschilds, as well as by deep-pocketed American Jewish organizations, the French groups tried to lessen the trauma. Refugees were immediately given a free place to live—typically a room or two in an inexpensive hotel—along with subsidized meals. They were put in contact with officials who would help them find them a permanent home somewhere in the world.

In the end, the Lagnados secured American visas, but many other Egyptian refugees in Paris would strike roots in the “narrow, winding streets” around the relief agencies and the Great Synagogue in the ninth arrondissement, just like previous waves of refugees from Eastern and Central Europe, “old furriers who still spoke German, and Polish, and Yiddish.”

Culturally speaking, many of these new outsiders felt at home in Western Europe. Before the war, the Jewish upper and upper-middle classes in Central and Eastern Europe had learned French and English along with German and Russian and had imbibed bourgeois Western European values. The Jewish elites in Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Iran had also been formed in French, German, or Anglo-Saxon schools. While in Paris, Lucette Lagnado’s French-educated mother, otherwise very Jewish and strictly kosher, would take her regularly to Parc Monceau to remind her that “this was Marcel Proust’s playground. . . . And she said it with so much feeling and intensity that I knew I was expected to absorb the magic.”


3. A Golden Age

Soon enough, another and quite unexpected reason emerged to join or to stay in Western Europe. Old Europe, since 1914 the continent of gloom and doom, war and revolution, physical and moral exhaustion, division and crisis, decadence and tyranny, was giving way to a New Europe: optimistic, free, open-minded, united. Whereas the continent’s reorganization after World War I had been a total failure, the Western Europe that emerged from World War II looked increasingly like a success story—even, as was commonly said, a miracle.

What happened, basically, was Americanization. The U.S.—which this time, unlike after the previous World War, had resolved to stay in Europe—was a powerfully benign hegemon. As Western Europe strove to catch up with American standards of living and the American spirit, Washington provided military security both against Soviet expansion and, within Europe itself, between neighbor and neighbor. This in turn boosted regional cooperation and lent credibility to age-old projects for a European confederation.

The thrust toward cooperation and unification helped the Europeans to make optimal use of the Marshall Plan and other American-sponsored mechanisms and regimes, from the Bretton-Woods agreements to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization for European Cooperation and Development, GATT, and beyond. Economic efficiency, combined with the postwar baby boom and the need to rebuild wrecked cities, factories, harbors, railways, and roads led rapidly to prosperity in most West European countries, with full employment, rising wages, and the consolidation or expansion of welfare programs from health care to housing to education. Finally, prosperity fostered political stability, the rule of law, human rights, and religious aggiornamento and tolerance, supplanting, for the first time in a century, the trademark European paradigms of racism, extreme nationalism, and class war.

In spite of occasional setbacks (in particular, the global crisis of the 1970’s) and negative side-effects (including the tendency to forget or to derogate the American role in the European miracle), this virtuous circle would prevail for a half-century. It culminated in the 1989 Western victory in the cold war, the incorporation into the West European fold of almost all of the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe and even three former Soviet republics, and finally the establishment of the European Union in 1993.


And where were the Jews in this picture? Suddenly, they were welcome in Europe as Jews, to a degree unseen since the Emancipation in the late-18th and 19th century. From despised or barely tolerated outcasts, or more or less pitied victims, they became exemplary and even archetypal Europeans, if not the very embodiment of what the new Europe was supposed to be. Their persecution at the hands of the Nazis, a haunting episode that most Europeans would refuse even to discuss in the immediate postwar era, now served to epitomize what the new Europe was not, and whose recurrence it had been designed to prevent.

Not that this Jewish transformation emerged quickly or fully formed. Michel Salomon, then the editor of the French Jewish monthly L’Arche, devoted a prescient cover story in the mid-1960s to the rise of what he called the new “Atlantic Jews,” but it was only some fifteen years later, in 1979, that Simone Veil, a French survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and a former French cabinet minister, was elected as the first chair of the newly established European Parliament.

Ironically, the rise of Israel, the main destination of postwar Jews leaving Europe, became another important element in the upgraded status and growing self-confidence of those who had opted for Europe. One might have expected the contrary. To be sure, Israel’s achievements had dispelled many anti-Jewish stereotypes, but many West European Jews were cautious about expressing their solidarity with the state, either out of guilt over not having cast their lot with it or out of fear that they might render themselves vulnerable to the charge of dual loyalty.

All such worries were washed away by the extraordinary popularity that Israel enjoyed in the Western world throughout the 1950s, 60s, and (to a lesser extent) 70s—a phenomenon still awaiting thorough study. One reason undoubtedly had to do with the way a “normal”—that is, recognizably Western—Jewish state helped West Europeans cope with, or forget, the otherwise discomfiting and unassimilable memory of the Holocaust. Another reason was that Israel fit certain political fantasies on both the Right and the Left. Conservative Europeans, then very much on the defensive, were delighted to discover in the Jewish state the best of their own values: the primacy of a national and cultural heritage, technological and military prowess, refusal to surrender to the “barbarians.” For their part, progressive Europeans were happy to celebrate the land of David Ben-Gurion, the kibbutz, and the Labor party as the very picture of their own utopian socialist dream come true.

In whichever form it took, Israel’s popularity reflected positively on Jews everywhere: so much so, that the more European Jews identified themselves with the Jewish state, the easier and the more thoroughly they were accepted as bona-fide European citizens. Indeed, the image generated by Israel, in combination with the optimism generated by the European virtuous circle, helped produce a minor virtuous circle inside the Jewish community itself.

Demographically, the postwar baby boom rejuvenated post-1945 West European Jewry, which was then further enlarged by immigrants from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. In France, the Sephardi input was spectacular: between 1945 and 1970, the French Jewish population leapt from under 300,000 to more than 600,000. In Italy, newcomers from Libya and other Mediterranean countries allowed the local Jewish community to maintain its 1945 level (roughly, 40,000 souls) despite emigration and rampant assimilation and intermarriage. In Spain, a shadowy post-Civil War community numbering in the low thousands rose rapidly to 15,000 thanks to immigrants chiefly from Morocco. Smaller inflows benefited other communities from Switzerland to Belgium to Scandinavia.

The quantitative impact of this immigration yielded qualitative results, enabling some communities to reach a sufficient critical mass to sustain Jewish activities. Overnight, it became feasible to provide kosher food, build synagogues, open schools, publish books, and launch media. Sephardi immigrants in particular, being much more traditional and more “ethnic” than the native Ashkenazim, also ranked higher in Jewish self-identification. Despite the internal differences among them—assimilated Jews from Algiers, Casablanca, and Tunis bore little resemblance to the strictly Orthodox Jews from the Moroccan Atlas, the Algerian hinterland, or Jerba in southern Tunisia—all came from countries where religion, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, was the ultimate defining factor in public as well as private matters.

Jewish daily life was remodeled accordingly. France, which in 1960 boasted 40 kosher butchers in all, today has more than 300 butchers and as many stores, including the major supermarket chains, selling processed kosher foods. In 1960, there were four kosher restaurants in the entire country; today there are one hundred times as many. Where Jewish schools numbered about 40 in the early 1960s, with fewer than 2,000 pupils, today there are 286 schools serving 32,000 pupils. Some 45 percent of all Jewish children attend a Jewish school for at least a couple of years, and most study at least for bar- or bat-mitzvah.

Together with the flourishing market for Jewish services and a more tradition-leaning Jewish profile came greater confidence. Earliest to emerge were pro-Israel political activism, increased proficiency in Hebrew, more talmudic studies, and Orthodox revivalism, soon followed by the discovery of Diaspora subcultures and their languages (Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic) and an upsurge in non-Orthodox religious denominations.

In sum, European Jews had entered a golden age, and as news of it spread, more non-European Jews joined the party. In the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century, sizable numbers of post-Soviet Jews immigrated to the European Union, chiefly to Germany. Some Israelis, too, moved to Europe, and many others without immediate plans went through the process of reclaiming their parents’ citizenship. For some Jewish or Israeli intellectuals and artists, Europe seemed like a New Jerusalem: more democratic, more promising, and more “Jewish-friendly” than Israel or the United States. There was the benign case of the Rumanian-born Elie Barnavi, a Tel Aviv University professor and briefly an envoy to France who was also closely associated with the Museum of Europe in Brussels and who for a while became a rhapsodist of the EU, which he described as a “democratic Holy Roman Empire.” There was also the grievous case of Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset and former head of the Jewish Agency who turned against Zionism and publicly urged his fellow Israelis to procure European passports and leave their own benighted country behind.


4. Seeds of a New Anti-Semitism

According to rabbinic tradition, anti­-Semitism starts when Jews beguile themselves into thinking they can fulfill their destiny in exile. Indeed, the anti-Semitic threat that so many European Jews worry about today materialized around the year 2000, precisely at the moment when Barnavi and Burg fell in love with the dream of Europe. 

This, too, was not a sudden or even a completely unforeseen development: many previous phenomena that in themselves had appeared insignificant or negligible, or could be taken as lingering vestiges of a bygone past, turned out to be portents of things to come. Just as some physical or chemical substances may enjoy half-lives for eons, prewar and wartime anti-Semitism did not vanish overnight on VE Day but for a long twilight period continued to exist under one guise or another right alongside the new, emerging philo-Semitism. Conversely, the cycle of postwar philo-Semitism was still in flower when the latest, full-blown anti-Semitic cycle was getting under way.

For the record, it should be noted that in Eastern Europe and the USSR—the same countries that had hosted the killing fields of the Holocaust—anti-Semitism never really abated after 1945, and at times became even more open and strident than before. This accounts not only for the waves of Jewish emigration whenever the Communists permitted it—and continuing even after the fall of Communism—but also for the recent reemergence of explicitly anti-Semitic parties in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Ukraine.

Nor had the transition from anti- to philo-Semitism in Western Europe itself been all smooth sailing. An ostensibly repentant West Germany entertained for two decades a fictitious distinction between hard-core Nazis and ordinary Germans, with the latter category including Wehrmacht personnel and less hard-core Nazis who allegedly had been ignorant of or uninvolved in the Holocaust. This subterfuge allowed West German courts to issue light or no sentences to Nazi criminals who came before them, and to postulate a twenty-year statute of limitations on war crimes. In one highly symbolic gesture in 1955, the West German embassy in France attempted to halt the release at Cannes of Night and Fog, Alain Resnais’ documentary film about the Nazi extermination camps.

During the war itself, Britain, the nation that had heroically carried the full weight of battle from the collapse of France in June 1940 to the German assault on the USSR a year later, simultaneously indulged its own form of benign or not so benign anti-Semitism, especially in the form of governmental hostility directed at Zionism and the beleaguered Jewish populace in Mandate Palestine. In France, after the war, Holocaust survivors sometimes had to go to court to retrieve their home or business, or to win back orphaned Jewish children who had been sheltered—and baptized—by Church-supported networks. The postwar French government routinely upheld most non-political Vichy-era legislation and even kept Vichy coins in circulation while insisting that the Vichy state never really existed in the first place—and that the French state and its bureaucrats had taken no part and bore no responsibility whatsoever in the Holocaust. Jews who had been sent to Auschwitz or other death camps were deemed to be only “political deportees” and, as such, inferior in status to deported French Resistance fighters, despite the fact that the latter were not systematically murdered by the Germans and in general enjoyed a much higher rate of survival.


None of this is to gainsay the benign transformation in Western Europe that was to come. It is rather to reflect on an irony of history: that the seeds of the new anti-Semitism were being planted at about the same time the old anti-Semitism was giving way. In France, moreover, they were being planted by a most unlikely individual.

In May 1940, as France was reeling under the German onslaught, Charles de Gaulle was a junior member of the French cabinet who supported a merger of the French and British empires: a single army, a single government. A month later, he had become the leader of the Free French, a small group of soldiers, civil servants, and colonial administrators who, in cooperation with the British, were intent on resisting the Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy regime.

In time, de Gaulle would grow suspicious of his Anglo-Saxon hosts and benefactors. Neither Churchill nor FDR, he decided (with some justice), really believed that France would rise again from its abysmal defeat or regain its role as a world power. Nor did they see him and his movement as the legitimate heirs of French sovereignty, even when the entire resistance movement pledged allegiance to him. The Roosevelt administration, in particular, was prepared to bypass him entirely and, after the 1944 landing in Normandy, to subject metropolitan France to Allied military rule.

After the war, de Gaulle’s foreign policy—he was prime minister and then president from 1944 to 1946 and from 1958 to 1969—grew fiercely nationalistic, based on a complete rejection of the West and of Anglo-American hegemony. He withdrew from NATO in 1964, sided with the Communists in Indochina in 1966, and supported Quebec separatism in 1967. Tellingly for our purposes, he also terminated an extremely fruitful cooperative relationship with Israel in science, technology, nuclear research, and armaments. As explained dryly by de Gaulle’s foreign minister, Couve de Murville, this was just a matter of national interest: as long as France maintained its special relationship with the “Zionist state,” it would be unable to enter into a much sought-after grand alliance with the “non-aligned” world and the oil-rich Arab kingdoms.

All of this came as a shock to much of de Gaulle’s constituency at home, which had been quite supportive of Israel. The France-Israel alliance had in fact been engineered in 1955 by Pierre Koenig, a Gaullist defense minister, and later expanded by Pierre Messmer, a Gaullist minister of the armed forces. The president himself had once referred to Israel as “a friend and an ally”—and it had therefore been widely assumed that he would stand by its side during and after the Six-Day War of June 1967.

Instead, just days before the war broke out that would end in Israel’s victory, he struck a “neutral” pose by placing an embargo on weapons deliveries to Middle Eastern belligerents; since Israel was then France’s only customer in the region, “neutrality” amounted to a switch to the Arab side. Then, at a press conference in November, not only did de Gaulle question Israel’s legitimacy as a nation-state but he also denounced Jews in general as an “elite, self-assured, and domineering people,” equipped with “vast resources in terms of money, influence, and propaganda.” I was nineteen at the time and, like most young people in France who were not on the Left, a fervent Gaullist; I remember listening to the radio broadcast and feeling my blood run cold.

Had de Gaulle been a covert anti-Semite all along? Anti-Jewish remarks are to be found in letters that he wrote as a young officer to his relatives after World War I. But in the 1930’s, shunned by the French army’s upper echelon and his former mentor Marshall Philippe Pétain, he had been befriended and supported by Colonel Emile Mayer, a retired Jewish officer and, like de Gaulle himself, a strategic contrarian. During the war, as the charismatic leader of the Free French and head of the French Liberation Government, de Gaulle abrogated the Vichy racial laws in the territories that fell, one by one, under his authority.

In sum, it would be fair to say that de Gaulle had been raised in an anti-Semitic culture, had become relatively unprejudiced in his middle years, and relapsed toward the end of his life. But de Gaulle’s personal feelings are less important than his legacy. In 1967, he was widely criticized for his betrayal of Israel and his anti-Jewish remarks. Still, he was and he remained de Gaulle, a larger than life character and France’s greatest national hero since Napoleon. Thanks to his enormous stature and his major domestic achievement—a new, modernized, and all-powerful state bureaucracy fully committed to his doctrine of “national independence”—the decisions he made and the stands he took would exercise a growing influence not just on France but on all of Western Europe.

The anti-American, pro-Arab, and objectively anti-Israel policies initiated by de Gaulle in the 1960s have remained to this day an essential tenet of French foreign affairs and French political culture, whether under conservative or socialist governments. If they have also spread like a virus into the European Community and the European Union as a whole—and they have—the reason is that the EU’s decision-making process, at French insistence but with British acquiescence, is based on the principle of unanimity or near-unanimity rather than on majority opinion. France may at one point have been the lone country in Europe with an explicitly anti-Israel agenda, but when it came time to formulate an all-European position on the Middle East, the choice was between no position at all or a compromise between, on the one hand, the French line and, on the other hand, the more pro-Israel approach advocated by other countries. Since Europe very much wanted to have, or appear to have, a say in Middle Eastern affairs, it chose the second option, thus turning a tiny minority view into, in effect, half the European view. And since every European country was supposed to abide by the EU’s “common foreign policy,” a modicum of hostility to Israel was now routinely endorsed. 

Over the years, the entire European political class has been reeducated into a culture of Israel-bashing. Think of William Hague and David Cameron: as young Conservative activists or backbenchers, these British politicians were as pro-Israel as Stephen Harper of Canada; today, as mature politicians, they have joined Europe’s anti-Israel choir.


5. The End of the Dream

To the degree that Israel’s popularity had been an important factor in Europe’s postwar embrace of its Jews, the growing rejection of Israel undermined the Jewish image and standing. According to a 2011 study on “intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination in Europe” by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (linked to Germany’s Social Democratic party), 63 percent of Poles and 48 percent of Germans believe that Israel is conducting a genocidal war against the Palestinians aimed at their “obliteration.” The same study found 55 percent of Poles, 41 percent of Dutch, 37 percent of British, and 37 percent of Germans in agreement with the following statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”

Still, the Gaullist-inspired reversal of attitude toward Israel would probably not have been strong enough on its own to resurrect old-fashioned European anti-Semitism. It was powerfully abetted by two additional developments.

First, the half-century of Europe’s virtuous cycle started to unravel. From the 1990s on, one could sense growing discomfort with the top-heavy, anti-democratic, and chaotic governance of the European Union. The successive treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2001), and Lisbon (2007), clumsily mixing heavy-handed overregulation with a free-market economic model, were ratified by national parliaments that were rightly seen as subservient to the unelected European Commission in Brussels, rather than by referendum as most citizens in most countries would have preferred. An exception was the 2005 European Constitutional Treaty, a comprehensive summing-up of Europe’s new institutions; rejected by both France and the Netherlands, the two countries that submitted it to a referendum, it had to be quietly dropped.

Disillusionment with the European project gathered strength after the launching of the euro in 2002, a deflationary “single European currency” that undermined whatever stability in the world economy had been provided by the American dollar, and that was also totally incompatible with the welfare programs ingrained in the culture of many EU members. Not only did the euro fail to sustain prosperity on the Continent—with the exception of Germany, which in time undertook to lower wages and cut welfare payments—but after 2008 it led to a series of national bankruptcies or near-bankruptcies from Ireland to Greece and from Spain and Italy to France.

And where did the Jewish community fit in this picture? Jews had benefited from their identification with the European project as long as “Europe” was a warrant for prosperity and progress. As “Europe” came increasingly to connote disruption, stagnation, and poverty, they were increasingly held in suspicion—guilty by association with a false dream, as it were, and all the more so since many of the charges against the EU (undemocratic, ruled by an opaque clique with no concern for ordinary Europeans) dovetailed with classic conspiracy theories about the Jews.

The second, very large factor working against the Jewish community arose from an abrupt shift in Europe’s demography. In the early postwar decades, population growth had contributed to the era of good feeling. From the 1970s on, everything changed. The European birthrate plummeted, just as immigration from Muslim countries was attaining unprecedented heights. Today, Muslim immigrants and their children amount to 10 percent or more of the population in major countries like Germany and France as well as in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the United Kingdom and Denmark, Muslims comprise upward of 5 percent of the population.

Estimates of actual figures vary since most European countries do not allow ethnic or religious census or registration, immigrants are reluctant to give accurate information about themselves or their families, and Muslims in particular resort to taqia (dissimulation about their identity and religious practice) when and as they deem it necessary. What is undeniable is that the proportion of Muslims in European society is rapidly increasing, either naturally or by further immigration or by conversion of non-Muslims, and that the proportion of Muslims in the youngest age brackets is much higher than the proportion overall.

The entire French population, including overseas territories, stands currently at 67 million. Some seven to ten million of these—10 to 15 percent—are non-European, mostly Muslim immigrants or children of immigrants. Among younger cohorts, the figures are much higher: 20 to 25 percent of those under twenty-five are of non-European and Muslim origin. Within the next half-century, unless the ethnic French embark on a new baby boom of their own, or immigration stops, or immigrant fertility falls dramatically, France will become a half-Islamic and half-Islamized nation.

This is quite problematic in itself, and all the more problematic to the degree that Islam overlaps with radical Islam: a philosophy and a way of life that reject democracy, the open society, and, needless to add, Jews. Islamists see Europe as an Islamic-society-in-the-making; attempts by ethnic Europeans or by democratically-minded Muslims to reverse that process, or to reconcile Islam with European and democratic values, are regarded prima facie as “Islamophobia”: i.e., a Western war on Islam. Indeed, in the radical Islamic view, any objection or opposition to Islam or to the transformation of Western secular democracy into Islamic theocracy vindicates jihadism as a legitimate form of self-defense.

In Islam: The French Test, the veteran French journalist Elisabeth Schemla, formerly an editor at the leftwing magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, conservatively estimates Muslims in France at seven million. In her judgment, based on survey data, one third of that community—fully two million people—already embrace radical Islam, and the proportion is steadily growing. She quotes Marwan Muhamad, secretary-general of the ominously named Committee against Islamophobia in France (CCIF): “By what right can anyone say that, 30 years from now, France will not be a Muslim country? . . . No one in this country can wrest from us . . . our right to hope for an entire society faithful to Islam. . . . No one in this country can decide French national identity for us.” The Committee’s logo features the capital letters “CCIF” arranged so as to suggest an alternative reading: çaif, the Arabic word for sword.

Mohamed Merah, the murderer of Samuel Sandler’s son and grandchildren, started his killing spree last year by slaying a lone French soldier in Toulouse on March 11. Four days later he shot three more soldiers in the nearby town of Montauban: two died on the spot; the third, severely wounded, is now a quadriplegic. Merah selected his eight victims in order to “avenge” Islam, as he boasted shortly before being gunned down by security forces. Presumably the four soldiers, either of North African or West Indian origin, were guilty of betraying their Muslim brethren by joining an “enemy” army that has been fighting in Afghanistan, the Sahara, and the Sahel, and that defends the (by definition) Islamophobic French state. As for his Jewish victims, are not all Jews the enemies of Palestinians in particular and the worldwide Muslim umma in general?

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, has warned that the growing radicalization of the Islamic milieu in France is producing “dozens of new Merahs” every year. And France is hardly alone: one need only recall the slaughter of the film director Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands in 2004; the Madrid train bombings in the same year; the London suicide bombings in 2005; or the beheading in London this year of the British soldier Lee Rigby.

Islamist violence is not only a matter of murder or terror—often, as we have seen, directed at Jews. Most frequently it manifests itself in intimidation, taking the form of petty crime and racketeering, threatening behavior on trains and buses, or full-fledged rioting and looting. While not always openly Islamic in character, these acts primarily involve Muslim youths, as was the case in the French riots this year and earlier in 2005, and in this year’s Swedish riots. The implicit message they convey is clear enough: any perceived slight to the Muslim “nation within the nation” is liable to trigger mob violence or even urban warfare. They thereby strengthen the bargaining power of Muslim organizations, especially the radical ones, vis-à-vis the government and the political class.


6. Confronting Reality

For years, some Jewish leaders entertained delusory expectations concerning the rise of Islam in Europe. Some believed that a more religiously diverse Europe would conduce to an even more secure place for Judaism in the long term. Others thought that by joining the fight against such conventionally defined evils as “anti-immigration bigotry,” “anti-Arab racism,” and “anti-Islamic prejudice,” European Jews would earn the affection and gratitude of Islam at large and perhaps even contribute to peace between Israel and its neighbors. Still others were of the view that Muslims would gradually become integrated and assimilated into the European mainstream, just like Jews in the past.

Such hopes are long gone. The sad fact is that many European Muslims subscribe to the unreconstructed forms of anti-Semitism that are prevalent in the Muslim world at large, and are impervious to any kind of Holocaust-related education. In today’s Europe, hard-core anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity, from harassment in the street or at school to arson and murder, is mostly the doing of Muslims.

Another, opposite set of delusions is also gone: namely, that European Jews could easily or safely take part in a broad alliance against radical Islam. True, there is no doubt that most ethnic Europeans feel as threatened by Islam as do most Jews. A Tilder/Institut Montaigne poll released in April this year found that, with one exception, all religions in France are regarded positively; the one outlier, Islam, is regarded negatively by fully 73 percent of Frenchmen. According to another poll, by Ipsos/Le Monde, 74 percent find Islam “intolerant” and 80 percent believe it is “forcing its ways on French society at large.” A parallel poll conducted in Germany last year yielded similar results, with 70 percent associating Islam with “fanaticism and radicalism,” 64 percent calling it “prone to violence,” and 60 percent citing its penchant for “revenge and retaliation.” In addition, 80 percent of Germans think Islam “deprives women of their rights” and 53 percent foresee a battle between Islam and Christianity.

Is there any comfort to be drawn by European Jews from such findings, on the grounds that, for a change, a different minority has been singled out for aspersion? Alas, there is none. For a variety of reasons and out of a variety of motives—one might list among them the upsurge of an undifferentiated European xenophobia, combined in this case with a felt need to deflect the fear and resentment of Muslims onto an easier target— many ethnic French, Germans, and other Europeans are now of the opinion that Judaism, too, is an alien creed, and must be duly countered or curtailed. In surveys, they point to external similarities between Jews and Muslims: related Semitic languages, insistence on ritually processed food and ritual slaughtering, circumcision, and gender separation. Two-fifths of Britons and up to three-quarters of Germans now oppose circumcision. Last year, after a medical mishap involving a Muslim circumcision, a German court banned the practice altogether for minors; it took parliamentary action to make it legal again.

Ritual slaughtering, kosher as well as hallal, is likewise under threat in Europe. Almost three-quarters of Frenchmen disapprove of it, and almost one-half of Britons advocate a complete ban. Indeed, the practice is already prohibited in five European countries. The most recent to join the ranks is Poland where, only a few months ago, a sparkling new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened to great acclaim in Warsaw. “When [Poles and Jews] look in the same direction,” gushed a Polish Jewish businessman at the lavish inauguration ceremonies, “it’s great for [Jews], great for Poland, and great for the world.” Now, in a bitter irony that Samuel Sandler would recognize and appreciate, Poland has effectively banned the production of kosher meat.

Some political figures have rushed to condone and encourage these developments. Last year, François Fillon, the prime minister of France in the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy administration, urged both Muslims and Jews to renounce “ancestral traditions with not much meaning nowadays,” like kosher and hallal slaughtering. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, who came in third in the 2012 French presidential race, suggested in Le Monde that both the Islamic female veil and the Jewish male kippah (yarmulke) should be banned in public. In a TV interview on the same day, she conceded that the kippah is “not a problem” in France, but pressed Jews to adjust to its banning anyway as “a small sacrifice” since “laws must apply to all.”

But evenhandedness in these matters is absurd, and wholly unjust. Punctiliousness in ritual observance is far more central to traditional Judaism than to Islam, and there are already many instances where, as the researcher Dov Maimon has detailed, the religious rights of Jews have been set aside by European governments. Above all, putting Jews in the same category as Muslims in order to appear evenhanded requires pretending that they are two of a kind when it comes to the problems each presents to civic and social life in Europe, to democracy, and to Western values. This way lies surrender to blackmail and, eventually, conflict without end.


Even worse scenarios may be contemplated. Real life is often circular: the farther you travel in one direction, the closer you come to those traveling in the opposite direction. What about a nightmare fusion, at some point in the future, of an anti-Semitic Left, an anti-Semitic Right, and an anti-Semitic Islam? In the case of France, there are ominous precedents: many Frenchmen who started out as fierce anti-German patriots in the late-19th century ended as pro-German activists or collaborationists in the 1930s and early 40s. “Better Hitler than Blum,” went a slogan of French pro-German appeasers at the time of Munich (the reference was to Léon Blum, a Jew and then the socialist prime minister of France). Many right-wingers might feel closer today to the stern creed of Islam than to either Zionism, globalism, or the flaccid morals of liberal democracy.

Alternatively, many prewar left-wing anti-racists and philo-Semites were eventually seduced by Hitler’s “socialist” credentials, and accepted anti-Semitism as part of the package. Following the same pattern, today’s European Left and far Left tend to cultivate Muslim voters at any cost in order to gain an edge over the Right. And indeed, in the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, 86 percent of French Muslims voted for the Left, probably enough to ensure a win in both races. In another exquisite irony, a cottage industry of European academics and intellectuals has taken to promoting Muslims as Europe’s “new Jews” and indicting present-day Jews for betraying their “universalist” mission on earth by “regressing” to a reactionary ethnocentrism.

As for Muslim anti-Semitism, it has been intimately connected with classic European anti-Semitism for more than a century, and has massively borrowed the latter’s doctrines and tropes, from the blood libel to Holocaust denial to the crazed conspiracy-mongering of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The two brands share a common language, and each sees in the other a mirror image of itself. Much money has also circulated between them. Just as fascist and Nazi funds helped Arab and Iranian anti-Jewish activists in the past, so Arab and Iranian money has been lavished on all stripes of European anti-Semites in our time.


7. What Is to Be Done?

The Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky once famously distinguished between the “anti-Semitism of persons” and the “anti-Semitism of things.” The former category, made up of individuals (including some Jews) with their particular moral or political shortcomings, can be fought, at least up to a point. The latter, which has to do with deep-seated social factors, with demographics, and/or with hard, obdurate, ingrained ideology, is another matter entirely. Of the two varieties, European Jews now confront the second. What will they do?

Emigration, either to Israel or to America, is an option being actively considered. Should this become a widespread choice, it will inevitably be followed by the shrinkage of Jewish institutions, the drying-up of religious and cultural life, the deepening erosion of morale, growing anxiety and fearfulness—and more emigration.

The signs are everywhere. Recently, a leading rabbi in Paris reported that four-fifths of the young people being married at his synagogue no longer see their future in their country of birth. Admittedly, right now everybody in France is pessimistic about the future, especially the economic future; according to a recent poll, more than one in three citizens are considering emigration, and the proportions are higher among the young and the working class. Still, French Jews, and young French Jews in particular, appear to be considerably more pessimistic than others, and more serious about their pessimism.

And it must be said that they have reason. A sense of history, even if unarticulated and perhaps barely conscious, inevitably hovers over today’s situation. Almost a half-century ago, in an essay entitled “Jews and Germans,” the great scholar Gershom Scholem endeavored to locate the “false start” that led from Germany’s guarded mid-19th-century enfranchisement of its Jews, and from German Jews’ grateful embrace of all things German and the dream of a unique German-Jewish “symbiosis,” to the savage German attempt in the mid-20th century to annihilate all the Jews of Europe. While granting that the key to the mystery remained elusive, and that in any case the past could never be “completely mastered,” Scholem dared to hope that increased communication between the parties might yet yield the “reconciliation of those who have been separated.” Dying in 1982, he was spared the need to witness the outcome of his brave hope.

An even longer sense of history might take one back to late-18th-century France, the cradle of the Enlightenment, and to the moment when, during deliberations over the civic enfranchisement of French Jews, the liberal nobleman Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre rose in the National Assembly to declare: “To the Jews as individuals, everything; to the Jews as a people, nothing.” Citizenship for the Jews was to be purchased conditionally, at the price of an end to their communal apartness and to many of their religious traditions.

For the most part, in France and throughout Western Europe, that price was fully and willingly paid. Generations of Jews eagerly pledged their allegiance to the ideals of democracy, patriotism, and religious tolerance, pouring their prodigious talents and energies into making Europe a better place. Over the centuries, in fair weather, the bargain held; in foul, the price would be successively raised, the conditions of acceptance revised, the bargain hedged, until at last the offer was finally, brutally, rescinded in wholesale massacre.

Now, busily building monuments and museums, Europe ostentatiously engages in celebrating and mourning its lost dead Jews of yesterday, whose murder it variously perpetrated, abetted, or (with exceptions) found it could put up with. Meanwhile, it encourages and underwrites the withering of Jewish life today. Once again, Jews are accepted on condition: that they separate themselves from their brethren in Israel and join the official European consensus in demonizing the Jewish state; that they learn to accommodate the reality that so many ethnic Europeans hate them and wish them ill, and that Islamists on European soil seek their extinction; and that in the interest of justifying their continued claim to European citizenship, they accept Europe’s proscription of some of the most basic practices of their faith.

To the dead Jews of yesterday, everything; to the living Jews of today, little and littler.

Can it really be that European Jewry was reborn after the Holocaust only in order to die again? Can it be that, even as Jews, you only live twice? History, of course, is unpredictable except in retrospect. But it would be irresponsible in the extreme to brush off the possibility of demise; “unthinkable” is no longer a word in the Jewish vocabulary. The sober assessment of Robert Wistrich, the instincts of Samuel Sandler and so many other European Jews—these rest on firm foundations. The expiration date looms nearer, however slowly and by whatever intermediate stages it may finally arrive.

A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.


  1. Grounds for Hope? by Daniel Johnson
    Yes, Europe routinely turns a blind eye to the revival of anti-Semitism. But the outlook is not so bad—yet.
  2. Too Good to Last by David Pryce-Jones
    Time to pay our respects to what was, and for European Jews to move elsewhere?
  3. Demography is Key by Walter Laqueur
    Anti-Semitism is only one factor contributing to the demise of European Jewry, and not the most decisive one.

  4. How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden by Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
    Shut up and fade into the woodwork.
  5. Cause for Grief? by Hillel Halkin
    The Jewish people would suffer no great loss if all the Jews of Europe were to pack and leave tomorrow.
  6. The Next Aliyah by Michel Gurfinkiel
    Replying to his respondents, Michel Gurfinkiel assesses the destiny of Europe’s Jews.

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  • Sarah Williams

    Breathtaking and incisive — thank you!

    • Kenneth Mathews

      Very good article, but why such mourning over the end of Jewish life in Europe? Why not eager anticipation of Jewish life in Israel—life in your true home? Some consider emigrating from Europe to the USA instead of Israel. Why go to the USA? So that you can put down roots only to be uprooted again at some point in the future? Why not go to Israel and put down roots in the Holy Land, where Hashem has promised you will never be uprooted again and promised to make you prosper far more than you have ever been able to among the nations. I am an American and I love my home, but its moral decline is obvious. Moral decline will always be followed by national decline and increasing hatred of anything and anyone associated with Hashem and his laws. Don’t mourn—you are not losing Europe, or America, or the West, but gaining your home, your promised land, and your Jerusalem.

  • Martin Gray

    Cogent, precise, accurate. One draws the inevitable conclusion that Jews must get out of Europe and the UK while they can. Jewish organizations everywhere and the State of Israel must re-organize their priorities to facilitate this emigration. The recent action by the EU is just another “brick in the wall”.

    • Ninkie

      I agree Martin. Thank the Lord you have got a home waiting for you all in Israel. He will draw you back there to serve Him. He is making the desert bloom.

    • Michael Mckee

      Yes, but will they?

  • Michael Lerman

    I remember Menachem Begin said leave France for Israel and I say leave Europe as soon as possible.

  • Dr. Efraim Zuroff

    This article should be required reading for every Jewish leader and will hopefully spark a serious attempt to deal with the situation so astutely described by Michel Gurfinkiel.

  • Anna

    I do not recognize the description of the situation of Jews in Europe and in particular in France as described in this article. A similar article could have written for American Jews urging them to leave the USA following the recent terrorist attack at the Boston marathon and giving statistics of their numerical decline and assimilation. The situation is even worse in Israel with the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb and major instability in Syria, Egypt and more then just a wobble in Jordan and Lebanon. Clearly going to Israel is no solution either, but nobody would seriously suggest that Israelis should leave their homeland. Of course such arguments would all be equally nonsense, not because the facts are not true, but because the interpretation and weight given to them is false. The situation in France has to be considered in it historical context following the revolution and that it is a society based on secularism. France is a country which takes philosophy seriously and its best known philosopher is Jewish. President Sarkozy had a close relationship with the Jewish community. Gilad Shalit has dual French-Israeli nationality, if he had stayed in France, it is unlikely that he would have been kidnapped. The majority of French and European Jews support Israel without being ardent Zionists. They are proud of its achievement and sometimes disappointed by its politicians. I think the major problem that the French community has to deal with are the rabbis of the Consistoire who like many other rabbis are becoming more rigorous in their application of Jewish law as understood from a particular Orthodox perspective and alienating a large number of religious Jewish, so that they are caught in a bind in both wanting to support the establishment of religious schools and other institutions, but not practice their Judaism in a less rigid manner. Go to the Marais district of Paris and you will see lots of religious Jews with men wearing kippot, but it is also a gay center and the two communities live side by side. I don’t see this happening in Mea Sharim, or B’nai Brak. It is not all about the dead as the article suggests, but very much for the future. I like living in a country that recognizes gay marriage, not because I am gay, but because it is right in a humanitarian society in which all are equal before the law. A new cultural center is being build in London and the Limmud educational programs started in the UK have become an international success with similar programs in France and Germany. Who would have thought that the number of Jews in Germany has recently doubled just over 50 years since the end of the Shoah—that many Jews given a free choice would rather go to Germany and the USA rather then Israel? As for Morocco, I have been to two Jewish weddings there in the last 12 months. I don’t think there are any other Arab countries in which I would feel safe doing so, but Morocco is fine.

    • Yisrael Medad

      Your comment on Gilad Shalit?

      Perhaps. But he couldn’t have fought back like we do in Israel. And maybe he would have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered, like Ilan Halimi.

    • Squall

      I disagree with you, Anna. You are taking examples and transforming them into generalities (I have been to weddings in Morocco, Shalit, …).

      The truth is that thousands of French Jews are making aliyah every year. Its not the other way around. Most olim are young religious Sephardi Jews. In France, 50% of marriages involving a Jew are mixed marriages. The number of Jews is already decreasing from its peak of 600,000. In Morocco, there are 6,000 Jews, but there used to be 40 times more.

      As regards Shalit, it does not matter that he would have been safer in Paris (try to tell that to the Halimi family). What matters is that most young French Jews feel unwelcome and unsafe. The middle way no longer exists for them: now you either assimilate, live in an Orthodox community, or go to Israel.

      Gurfinkiel might be calling time too early, but he’s spot on.

  • Les

    An excellent, informative article.

    Near the end, the author’s views reflect the considerable differences between U.S. and French (or broader European) views of religious freedom.

    In the U.S., the rights of Muslim women or men to wear religious garb is equally as important as the right of Jewish men and women to wear head coverings wherever they wish, so long as it does not harm others. The reactions of others are not pertinent, nor are objective written traditions about the relative seriousness of Jewish halakhah or minhag vs. Muslim tradition. Mr. Gurfinkiel’s assertion that “even handedness is absurd in these matters” is contrary to American historic or legal values. The paragraphs making that point are off-putting in an American context, whether or not the Muslim are anti-Semitic.

    French Jewish emancipation, and later that of Western European Jews more generally, exchanged religious tolerance for patriotism, which is now understood to imply anti-Zionism as well. From its inception, the U.S. rejected such a conditional bargain. Religious freedom is absolute and unconditional, as President Washington emphasized in letters to the Newport synagogue, and to Catholic and “dissenting” Protestant congregations.

  • Alan Hoffman

    It always amazes me how long it takes European Jewry to see the threats. I would go a step further than the author. Some American Jews (myself included) see trends similar to those in Europe emerging in the U.S. Europe is the prototype for Jewish failures. If and when Americans begin to act and think like Europeans, that will be an early warning for American Jews to think about aliyah. Meantime, I am ensuring that my passport is kept up to date.

  • Al Neuman

    Thoughtful, incisive, perceptive–and very much on point.

    Those who wish to deny these painful realities do so at their own peril.

  • Richard

    The same situation applies in Sweden, particularly Malmo. There longtime Jewish residents have been threatened by Muslims. As a result the Jews are leaving.

  • Nachum

    Anna, you may not realize this, but many Jews reading your piece have the visceral reaction of “Yes, that’s exactly the problem here.”

  • Victor

    Anna is unable to recognise the situation of French Jewry as presented in this article and, similarly, I’m unable to recognise the situation facing the Jews in the land of my birth, the United Kingdom, where most of my family still live.

    As Anna writes, Jews everywhere (including Israel and the U.S.) face problems of security. Mr. Gurfinkiel has accurately identified some of these threats and vastly exaggerated others. But, even if his jeremiads concerning Europe were all justified, the fact is that there’s no certain, sure safety zone for us to run to.

  • costin andries

    Very well thought-out article, which I think is correct in its allegations concerning Western Europe. But, regarding anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, the situation is a bit more complicated. Here (I’m from Romania), most of the agents of anti-Semitism are closely tied to both the old Communist structures, which still play an important role in day to day life, and the New Left. You quote a study made by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung about Eastern Europe. In Romania, Friedrich Ebert is financing, a hard left website that posts elegies to Lenin and old Romanian Communist figures such as Lucretiu Patrascanu. devotes significant attention to Claude Karnoouh, a Holocaust denier with ties to both the hard left and neo-fascists in Europe. Consequently, I can’t fully trust what Friedrich Ebert has to say on this topic.

    The anti-Semitic political parties in Eastern Europe are equally tied to the old Communist establishment. In Romania, PRM was created immediately after the 1989 revolution and directly originates from Ceausescu’s Communist Party (Vaim Tudor, the leader of the PRM, wrote poems to Ceausescu). In Hungary, Jobbik has close ties to Putin’s openly anti-Semitic regime ( Russia is fully controlled fully by ex-KGB agents. There were no Nuremberg trials after the fall of the USSR.

  • amy caplan

    A comprehensive and astute analysis. Bravo, Monsieur Gurfinkiel.

    As an American and as a student of Jewish history, I must say that Anna’s critique is simply wrong. The American Jewish community certainly has internal problems— among them assimilation, intermarriage, political disagreements about Israel, decreasing Jewish literacy and observance—but there is nothing like the climate Mr. Gurfinkiel reports in France, which I have witnessed myself during my last six visits. The boys at the day school my children attended can wear their kippot anywhere in the U.S. but are cautioned to wear baseball caps when the French class makes is annual visit to Paris. There is nothing like the anti-Israel sentiment here in America that I have seen in the U.K.; landing in London on a flight from Israel in 2006, during the Lebanon war, we were greeted by signs reading “We are all Hezebollah.” When I lived in Texas, it was common for evangelical churches to display Israeli flags next to American ones, to attend Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations at the JCC and to raise money for, and travel to, Israel. Repeated polls in the US demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly have positive views of Jews.

    A cousin, who spent a year in the UK when her husband was on sabbatical, enrolled her children in a day school whose entrance was unmarked, she reported, because of security concerns. Most Jews in France recognize they may need to emigrate and many vacation and own apartments in Israel, as much for insurance as for recreation. American Jews may make aliyah but it is strictly for ideological or family reasons, not security concerns.

    There may be an increased number of Jews in Germany but they are primarily Jews from the FSU who were given significant financial incentives by the German government to relocate. Germany, it seems, has to import its Jews.

  • Arlene

    You fail to mention a huge factor in the decline of Jewish communities in Europe (and elsewhere): intermarriage. This is at least equal to anti-Semitism in its disastrous effect on the Jewish people.

  • Gila Gold

    Very insightful article! Thank you for bringing these issues to light.

  • IDoBeWhatIBe

    Europe itself is in serious trouble, particularly from the tensions between native Europeans and Muslim immigrants—and neither group particularly likes Jews. I predict that Europe will degenerate within the next 30 years into sectarianism and even civil war. Jews always get caught in the middle in situations such as this. Not only that, but the socialist economies of Europe are failing, leading to emigration on the part of the already demographically small younger generation. All of these are the signs of declining and dying civilizations.

    So, with the possible exception of the UK and Italy, I don’t see a future for Jews in Europe. Aliyah, however, is not a practical solution for most of them and, besides, Israel is too densely populated already. Other places, however, can serve as safe havens for European Jews—places with growing economies that Jews might just find to be amazingly hospitable, such as the Far East and sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Michael Mckee

    Nothing I didn’t know, but written so beautifully.

    I do not see a future for Jews in the UK, life there is increasingly becoming anti-Jewish too.
    30% of young Muslims will not let the authorities know if there is any illegal activity planned and politicians are scared to speak truth for fear of political suicide.
    British Prime Minister David Cameron appears to be balancing between attacking Israel or standing up for her, according to Melanie Phillips.

    Here at the ends of the earth in New Zealand, it all seems so far away; but viewed at the end of a long telescope, I watch with horror as politicians and academics seem to be blind to what is going on and incapable of reacting.

    • StephenKay

      One year ago, New Zealand voted to recognize the PLO as a member of the UN. Why should anti-Israeli feelings feel so far away to you?

  • Brianna

    I agree with this article and think that Jews would be smart to leave Europe while they still can.

  • Victor

    I wonder whether the ever-active Europhobic ghost of “American Exceptionalism” doesn’t lie behind many of the comments on this thread.

    I also wonder whether America’s changing demographics and its own entrenched liberal/conservative culture wars might not, over time, make the US a less comfortable place for Jews than it currently seems to be.

    And I wonder how the many thousands of South African and Zimbabwean Jews (including dedicated opponents of their country’s erstwhile white racist regimes) who have now fled elsewhere will feel about the notion that sub-Saharan Africa is ripe for Jewish settlement.

    As to the “Far East”, it is rapidly becoming China’s version of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. There may be a place for Jews therein but not as members of the ruling ethnicity. Do not fool yourself that you would ever be considered a Chinese Jew in the sense that you might now be considered an American, English, or Dutch Jew.

    Yes, European Jews currently face some serious common problems. Most of these result from the presence of large and often hostile Islamic immigrant populations. I believe that Gurfinkiel has overstated the size of some of these communities. But, certainly, they and the politicians’ need to pander to them can be a source of insecurity for the continent’s Jews. Another common but largely separate concern is the attenuated clash between religious pluralism and an increasingly intolerant secularism.

    But both types of problem have ramifications for majority populations as well as for their Jewish fellow citizens. I suggest we have some confidence in the ability of democratic nations to sort out these issues. Certainly, cutting and running is no solution.

    • David

      “I also wonder whether America’s changing demographics and its own entrenched liberal/conservative culture wars might not, over time, make the US a less comfortable place for Jews than it currently seems to be.”
      Oh it will. It may take another century, but history’s track record has been unrelenting in that respect. What’s happening in Europe is a blueprint for the future of Islam and Judaism in America; and the Christian religious right is paving the way with its support for laws favoring its religious views. When they are superseded demographically, those same laws will be wielded like a sword against all who stand against Islam.

  • Cromulent

    Muslim anti-Semitism is woven tightly into the Quran and hadith. It cannot be extricated. It’s been this way for 1400 years.

  • Rob Miller@ Joshuapundit

    “Instead, a few days after Israel’s victory in that war, he [DeGaulle] struck a “neutral” pose by placing an embargo on weapons deliveries to Middle Eastern belligerents; since Israel was then France’s only customer in the region, “neutrality” amounted to a switch to the Arab side.”

    Actually, De Gaulle’s perfidy happened a few days before the Six Day War broke out and was one of the reasons Israel struck when it did – because a delay might have meant the hamstringing of Israel’s air force because no spare parts were to be had. De Gaulle not only cut off future shipments but all orders in the pipeline, a number of which had already been paid for.

  • Avery

    As someone who has lived in the Far East for several years and knew the Jewish community there, it is amusing to think that French Jews could make a home there. They will have to choose the most palatable option out of France, America, or Israel. There will be no Uganda question this time.

  • Editors@Mosaic

    Rob Miller is right: de Gaulle’s embargo on weapons deliveries to the Middle East in June 1967 was imposed not a few days after Israel’s victory but, as Mr. Miller writes, “a few days before the Six-Day War broke out.” The text has been corrected accordingly. We regret the error, and we thank Rob Miller for pointing it out.

  • Tally

    Please contact me—I have some further information for a possible follow up. This was a fantastic in-depth piece.

  • Avraham Teitz

    The writing is on the wall in the USA as well. The Democratic Convention vote on God and Jerusalem, broadcast live, was but one signpost. Delusion, collusion, and suspension of sanity run free as soothsayers and court Jews reassure the public.

    We have seen this movie many times. Don’t stay for the ending.

  • Yitzhak Klein

    I have never lived in Europe. I don’t know what it was like growing up as a Jew there a generation ago, or what it’s like now. Reading Daniel Johnson has reinforced my conviction that Gurfinkiel is correct and that the watchword for European Jewish communities should be, as in Herman Wouk’s novel The Winds of War, lekh l’kha—get out.

    Both Gurfinkiel and Johnson are looking over their shoulders. Both are engaged in an ancient European Jewish debate: How bad is it? Are the skies simply lowering, or is the storm about to break? Neither questions that the storm could indeed break. In both I detect a victim mentality: their fate will be decided by the golem called European civilization. Their ability to do anything about it is very limited, just as in 1096, or 1648, or 1933.

    I cannot understand why anybody would want to live that way, even if he could. Lekh l’kha!

    Daniel Johnson’ s pious hopes that the liberal strain in Europe’s post-Christian culture will win out are unconvincing. The historical record is entirely against him. I used to think that Europe’s Jews and the State of Israel might profit somewhat from the deepening crisis between Europe’s post-Christian and Muslim cultures. But as even Johnson points out, anti-Semitism is endemic to both cultures. If xenophobia is to become once again the dominant strain of the politics of European post-Christians, Jews will be tossed in with the demonized rather than desired as allies. Not that one would want to be the ally of that kind of political agenda.

    Reading Gurfinkiel and Johnson, I thank God that I made the decision to make aliyah. Most thoughtful Israelis are deeply critical of their society, and I am no exception. But I would much, much rather be here than in Europe. Israel can take Europe or leave it. Disengaging from Europe wouldn’t be easy and would require a long period of adjustment, but it can be done and if Gurfinkiel’s prognosis is borne out I suspect we’ll have to do it. The are other, rising powers and civilizations in the world whose self-interest leads them to appreciate economic and scientific relations with us.

    I disagree with Gurfinkiel’s conclusion that “the end of European Jewry will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people.” By the end of the 19th Century, Zionists decided that the Jews could and should shake the dust of that cannibal continent off their shoes. Would that the Jews had done so! What should impress the Jewish psyche today is that Jews can indeed put Europe behind them, and go where Europeans who wish them ill dare not follow. My sons, who keep their IDF reserve uniforms in the upstairs closet, are the guarantee of that, thank God.

  • Robert

    I spent six months working in Eastern Europe last year, and as I traveled from Estonia in the north to Greece in the south and as far east as Ukraine, I could never free myself from the horror of the exterminated Jewish communities.

    You sit in the 3,000-seat Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest on a Saturday when there are only 40 Jews present and you know you are sharing space with the dead.

    You sit among the Jews in the Great Synagogue of Rome and need only reach out and touch those Jewish ghosts who once sat in these very seats and were one day hauled off to die in the camps. You touch the little boys and girls dressed in their Shabbat clothes.

    I came to understand that Europe is simply a continent-wide cemetery for the Jews.

    What Jew would want to live among the dead millions? Why would Jews wish to raise a family in Europe? Why rebuild Jewish communal institutions in Europe?

    Why build lives on top of the dead when there are any alternatives?

  • Izzy Hananel

    Very incisive and extremely timely. Thank you, Mr. Gurnfnikel. As one who had survived the Holocaust, it is hard for me to understand why our people in Europe are so blind. It is hard for me to understand why so many of our people, even here in United States do not see the importance of the existence of Israel and supporting it politically. What would it take?

  • Raphael

    In Saarland, the coal-mining district from which my family originates, the old miners used to climb down the pit with a canary in a cage: the bird warned them of the dangers of gas explosion. For centuries, the Jews in Europe have been the canary in the mine.

  • Ben Tzur

    Gurfinkiel has written a very important article, and I thank him for it. One of the chief points in it is that things will get just worse, not better, both for Jews and for Europe as a whole, as the Muslim problem just gets more and more threatening. One of the more depressing confirmations of this is the evidence that Islamist radicalism, extremist jihadi views, rejection of social integration or assimilation into liberal European societies and anti-Semitism, all increase in the second and later generations of settlement by Muslim immigrants, entirely unlike the history of other immigrants. This pattern holds in European countries that are multicultural and those who are monocultural, so it does not reflect the surrounding cultural outlook or method of dealing with immigrant cultures. It also holds in societies that are liberal and those that are less so, and for immigrants who have gained a thorough education and even higher degrees and are employed in professional vocations in their chosen European state, and for those who have not. So it is not a matter of educational background, employment history, or even residence in chiefly Muslim suburbs or not.

    In August of 2007, the Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit (“Institute for the Study of Labor”), associated with the University of Bonn, published a research report on just this question of whether social or economic explanations really explain increasing Muslim radicalisation in later immigrant generations. It gave the various social and economic parameters statistical and comparative testing. It was entitled: “Are Muslim Immigrants Different in Terms of Cultural Integration?” The Abstract on p. 1 gives the basic conclusions: “We find that Muslims integrate less and more slowly than non-Muslims. A Muslim born in the UK and having spent there more than 50 years shows a comparable level of probability of having a strong religious identity than a non-Muslim just arrived in the country. Furthermore, Muslims seem to follow a different integration pattern than other ethnic and religious minorities. Specifically, high levels of income as well as high on-the-job qualifications increase the Muslims’ sense of [Islamic] identity. We also find no evidence that segregated neighborhoods breed intense religious and cultural identities for ethnic minorities, especially for Muslims. This result casts doubts on the foundations of the integration policies in Europe.” Those integration policies were mostly multiculturalist. But the same applies to monocultural environments such as in France, so the radicalisation has no clear correlation to the environing socio-cultural conditions. In fact, as we read in the “Introduction,” p. 3: “Also,education does not seem to have any effect on the attenuation of their identity, and job qualification as well as living in neighborhoods with low unemployment rate seem to accentuate rather than moderate the identity formation of Muslims.” For the whole report, see

  • Abarafi

    Europe is the graveyard of the Jews. Why any Jew would want to remain there after the Holocaust is beyond me. The Holocaust taught us a valuable lesson. Even when Germany’s Jews embraced Reform Judaism and even tried to adopt a Sunday rather than Saturday sabbath, the Nazis looked for any trace of Jewishness in choosing their victims. Islam has been against Jews since Mohammed felt rebuked when Jews did not flock to this ‘new’ faith. Anti-Semitism is institutional in Islam, and Europe’s embrace of its Islamic horde does not bode well for its Jews. Whereas Israel is far from a secure, peaceful country right now, as a Jew there one feels a sense of Jews defending themselves rather than relying on the good will of non-Jews. That makes a huge difference.

  • Randy McDonald

    As a point of fact, Gurfinkiel is demonstrably wrong about the demographics of Muslims in Europe. Many people, and governments, do understand what is going on. Briefly, Muslim populations are experiencing some growth across Europe, but nothing close to a “half-Islamization.”

    His own France is projected to have a Muslim population amounting to a shade more than 10% of the total in 2030. As Muslim fertility rates continue to converge, and immigration to Europe is certainly not all Muslim, it won’t rise much more than that.

    Can he provide citations?

  • Malcolm Lowe

    A valuable analysis, except for its use of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation survey. The survey was problematic because interviewees were asked leading questions instead of being asked to choose from a range of alternatives. Had the latter approach been used, as is proper in opinion polls, there would not have been such high proportions of people assenting to the leading question suggesting that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” By the way, the same survey suggested that “Jews enrich our culture”; great majorities agreed (up to 70%). Also, as I suggested in a recent article “Israel as a Gulf State,” the discovery of vast deposits of natural gas in Israel’s territorial waters is already making Israel more attractive again in European eyes.

  • Nadia

    I’m with Anna! I’m an American Jew, and have been living in Paris for 11 years with my French-Jewish husband and our now 11 year old twins. We are not observant, but live in the 19th arrondissement, which has a large orthodox Jewish community as well as lots of immigrant communities, including Muslims. While my daughter did report a few negative comments about Judaism/Jews/Israel from her Muslim classmates, she also had many lovely encounters, such as a little girl whose mother wears hijab and a full body cover exclaiming upon finding out that my daughter was Jewish exclaiming excitedly, “that means that we are cousins!” My son’s best friend is Muslim and his mother and I have always been very friendly and very open about our religious/culture backgrounds. And I also think of the orthodox Jewish woman on the first floor and the hijab wearing woman on the third floor spotted on several occasions chatting in the lobby, wishing each other happy respective holidays and hoping that their preparations are going well! We are also members of a Reform synagogue here in Paris, and I can’t think of an occasion when the topic of anti-Semitism has come up. Sure, there are extremists out there, but most French Muslims are just normal people, getting on with their lives like the rest of us.

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    For a culture that places learning and history so highly, it always baffles me how Jews can have such a blind spot when it comes to statism and reliance on the kindness of governments. It seems to me that if Jews confronted their history honestly, they would rightly distrust of both governments and institutions that behave as propaganda organs, such as the media and academia, and would be a lot better armed and trained, ready to defend their liberties by force.

  • Bernard

    I cannot speak to the situation in Europe (except to say that London is full of Jews who have left Europe, including many who have escaped from France), but I absolutely disagree with Victor. I am North American but have lived in the UK for years, and this article accurately reflects the situation in Britain. I am still taken aback by both the depth of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in the UK and the weakness of the Jewish community here.

    The first is due to a toxic mix of historic British anti-Jewishness (I prefer this term to anti-Semitism, as many Arabs are Semites), anti-Zionism, anti-Jewishness masquerading as anti-Zionism, Muslim hatred of Jews, craven capitulation to this Muslim hatred (and to Muslims in general) and deep-seated leftist post-colonial guilt and political correctness that equates everything Western (including Jews and Judaism, and especially Israel and Zionism) with imperialism and colonialism (i.e. evil) and everything Muslim or ‘Third World’ with truth and justice. The political and media establishments are anti-Jewish and especially anti-Israel. The bias of the BBC is so well known that it need only be referred to. The Jewish Free School case, where the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (the successor to the House of Lords as the highest court in the land) effectively ruled that Judaism is inherently discriminatory, is not well known. Where they are not demonized, British Jews are largely invisible—as a small example of this, there was no mention of the fact that the two young women who were attacked with acid in Zanzibar are Jewish in the mainstream media here.

    The weakness of the ‘Anglo-Jewish’ community (the preferred term of many British Jews is risible, as if they are accepted by the English as natives) is a function of deep-seated insecurity, a “sha shtil” mentality, assimilation, and the persistent battering referred to above. Many examples of this weakness could be cited, including the ineffective annual Stand with Israel demonstration and the reaction (or lack thereof) to the outrageous decision of the Supreme Court in the Jewish Free School case.

    There is, in my opinion, no future for Jews in Britain.

    I agree with Victor and Alan Hoffman that the situation in North America is likely to deteriorate over time. Nonetheless, as Amy Caplan has noted, there is no comparison between the status of and prospects for Jews in North America and the UK. Anyone who has lived on both sides of the pond understands that the two situations are not comparable. There are real differences based on culture, mentality, and history, the most important of which are probably the absence of a 2,000 year history of anti-Jewish hatred and the fact that both the US and Canada are immigrant countries. For the near future, I think North America will remain hospitable to Jews.

    As for East Asia, and especially China, with which I am quite familiar, it is true that Jews will probably never be localized in the way they are in North America or even Europe. But the crucial point is that this is a function of their being “foreigners,” i.e. non-Chinese, not because they are Jews. In any case, as Asia rises, Jews will move there, as they have always gone where there is opportunity.

    Ultimately, and despite the various existential and self-inflicted threats there, the only place the Jewish nation is likely to survive is Israel. Israel is in any case the only place where we are masters of our own fate. That has never been the case outside of Israel, and it never will be.

    • steve_mendelle

      Well said.

  • Shannon

    This article seems to be largely about France and partially about Western Europe. As such, the title is at best misleading, at worse fearmongering. All of Eastern Europe merits one throwaway paragraph and one mention of the shehitah ban in Poland, and nearly all the citations refer to the situation in France. Also, the statistic on >10% of the Swiss population being either Muslim immigrants or descendants of Muslim immigrants is wrong.

  • Joan

    The major reasons for the decline which should have been mentioned prominently are assimilation and intermarriage.

  • Sally Berkovic

    The ambivalence, nay, animosity towards Jews living in Europe has been palpable in this month’s articles on European Jewry, spearheaded by Michel Gurfinkiel. The readers’ contemptuous comments and their supercilious tone are predictable in their simplicity. As the CEO of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, an organisation committed to Jews in Europe, I wake up in my London bedroom every morning thinking about the future of the Jews in Europe. I spend every day wondering about the impact of our programmes, discussing our strategy with key advisors and talking to people in the trenches who are, as Hillel Halkin suggests, wallowing in their own vomit.
    Europe is not one country – Sofia, Krakow, Barcelona, Paris, Budapest, Berlin, Rome, Moscow….each community with its distinctive character and challenges must be understood on its own terms. Scores of professionals representing Jewish philanthropic foundations and rabbis from all streams of Judaism are working tirelessly to enable Jewish life in these various countries across Europe. I can’t speak on their behalf, but it would not surprise me if they, like me, feel slightly miffed that our efforts are regarded almost like an adolescent folly. Are these writers willing to write-off over a million Jews and consign their contribution to the Jewish people, and indeed to Europe, to the waste bin? I’m no Pollyanna – Jewish life in Europe is complicated, nuanced and in many ways, certainly in trouble – the furore over shechita in Poland and brit milah in Germany are but two recent examples.
    However, while it would be convenient to believe that anti-Semitism is rampant and that Jews are cowering under their beds, the reality is that for most Jews in Europe, day-to-day life is filled with the same struggles that Jews in Israel and USA face: paying rent, securing work, finding romance, gaining skills, supporting children and caring for ageing parents. And like their co-patriots in Israel and the USA, Jews throughout Europe are also supporting Israel in public fora, they are leading pockets of religious and cultural revival, acutely aware that they must attract young people to secure the future of their community, they are preserving their local material heritage and representing their community to the host government. Many will have been to Israel and I trust that those entertaining aliyah will be welcomed with open arms and an array of incentives to stay in Israel.
    In the meantime, please don’t think badly of the Jews remaining in Europe and don’t punish them with harsh words and reprimands. Understand our challenges, explore our opportunities and as Elvis Presley, whose Jewish ancestry was recently discovered, so eloquently suggested; Walk a mile in my shoes/just walk a mile in my shoes/Before you abuse, criticize and accuse/Then walk a mile in my shoes.

  • m

    Below is a letter I posted to the friend who sent me this article:

    “According to rabbinic tradition, anti-Semitism starts when Jews beguile themselves into thinking they can fulfill their destiny in exile.”

    Well, C, you’re Jewish, and you’re in Europe. Feel the need to move to Israel lately? I’ve spent 3 decades working in Europe- the last 2 of them as a publicly self identified Jew: time to get a new job?
    Gurfinkiel does exactly what anti-Semites do: conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. While the latter is often a cover for the former, anyone who conflates them has an agenda, and I don’t like the Gurfinkiel’s any more than I like its counterpart in the pro-Palestinian movement. If Gurfinkiel wants to mistake the tropes for the reality, and believe that the often justifiable anger of Arabs, Muslims (and many others with a commitment to human rights) at the treatment of Palestinians is unrelated to the actual political situation in the State of Israel, and identical to the racist theories of the National Front—or that either is comparable to the use of state power against jews in the 30’s and 40’s—let him dream on. One thing is certain: someone with this analysis will never mount an effective fight against anti-Semitism in Europe or anywhere else. Of course, why bother if the ‘rabbinic tradition’ is right: to fight anti-Semitism in such a world view is itself anti-Semitic, encouraging the false hope that Jews can “fulfill their destiny in exile”?

    Dark foreboding about the future shouldn’t be limited to Europe: the Egyptian generals are back in, so the Sinai border is “safe” for now. Hooray henry. But for how long? Gurfinkiel should stop masking his philosophical agenda beneath a discussion about safety: if the fulfillment of our destiny is only possible in the State of Israel, then we should all go there—NOW—regardless of the risk. Is that not what our tradition teaches? (see: Jonah).

    If Gurfinkiel’s foreboding turns out to be correct, then we have a choice of where and how to fight: either regard anti-Semitism as a political/historical/social phenomenon and fight it through political, historical, and social means, OR regard it as a theological phenomenon, a fulfillment of the prophecy, “in every generation they will rise up against us”, and fight it either by moving to Israel or (in what was once considered normative Judaism) by praying to G-d to protect us from our enemies.
    But it’s going to be one or the other.
    Those believing that “they” will rise up against “us” as a fact of being accept two separate ontological categories of humanity. Such acceptance is fundamentally incompatible with the statement that “all men (by which we understand all humans) are created equal.” The State of Israel is founded on the former. Liberal Democracies are founded on the latter.
    I’ve made my choice.
    Enjoy the Notting Hill carnival.

    ps: re: the “danger’ of intermarriage: my teenage daughter had a Bat Mitvah when she turned 13, happily identifies as Jewish, and sometimes attends synagogue with me. if she has children of her own, she will probably raise them Jewish: the only religious tradition she has ever known. Her mother is a British non-Jewish atheist. My daughter would be amused to hear that she represents a danger to Judaism. Whether intermarriage represents a danger or not depends very much on the rabbinic response. Given the actual choices of actual Jews, one might posit an inflexible rabbinic response as an equal danger to Jewish European continuity as those mentioned in this article.

  • Robert

    Missing from the comments and the discussion between Gurfinkiel et al is the economic question. Jews have always been economic migrants. Today, the global confluence of commerce and science has created many opportunities for Jews. Israel’s economic success capitalizes on our intellectual culture and our commercial instincts. Unless Europe opts out of the economic future, the opportunities for Jews as economic migrants will remain and, given our cultural habit of creating communities, Jewish communities will remain, if perhaps smaller, more cautious and even less politically engaged. There is a real crisis in Europe — cultural, political, demographic and economic — portending a decline, and Jews and Israel may well be scapegoated, but there’s still much wealth and civility with a long road for entropy. Europe’s decline may not be inevitable as necessity slowly clarifies political habits of thought.

  • sharla

    Amazing piece, thank you!

  • c hoffman

    After reading each and every paragraph of this article, the “congregational refrain” should be:

    “Thank God for the State of Israel and those who defend Her”


  1. Grounds for Hope? by Daniel Johnson
    Yes, Europe routinely turns a blind eye to the revival of anti-Semitism. But the outlook is not so bad—yet.

  2. Too Good to Last by David Pryce-Jones
    Time to pay our respects to what was, and for European Jews to move elsewhere?

  3. Demography is Key by Walter Laqueur
    Anti-Semitism is only one factor contributing to the demise of European Jewry, and not the most decisive one.

  4. How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden by Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
    Shut up and fade into the woodwork.

  5. Cause for Grief? by Hillel Halkin
    The Jewish people would suffer no great loss if all the Jews of Europe were to pack and leave tomorrow.

  6. The Next Aliyah by Michel Gurfinkiel
    Replying to his respondents, Michel Gurfinkiel assesses the destiny of Europe's Jews.

About the Author

Michel Gurfinkiel, a French journalist and writer, is the author of eight books and a regular contributor to publications in Europe and the United States. The former editor of Valeurs Actuelles, France’s leading conservative magazine, he is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a political think-tank in Paris, and a Shillman/Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum. He also serves on the board of governors of the Consistoire, the union of French synagogues.





European Judaism looks healthy and secure. And yet...


The new synagogue in Ulm, Germany.







Europe's Jewish Population

Rank Country Jews % of Pop.
1 France 480,000 0.77%
2 U.K. 291,000 0.47%
3 Russia 194,000 0.15%
4 Germany 119,000 0.15%
5 Ukraine 67,000 0.16%
6 Hungary 48,200 0.49%
7 Belgium 30,000 0.28%
8 Netherlands 29,900 0.18%
9 Italy 28,200 0.05%
10 Switzerland 17,500 0.22%
11 Turkey 17,400 0.02%
12 Sweden 15,000 0.16%
13 Spain 12,000 0.03%
14 Belarus 12,000 0.17%
15 Romania 9,500 0.05%

Source: Jewish Virtual Library, 2013.










Unlike most Americans, today's European Jews are survivors, or children of survivors. They know from personal experience how a seemingly normal Jewish life could be destroyed overnight.



























































Suddenly, in the aftermath of World War II, Jews found themselves welcome in Europe as Jews, and even as archetypal Europeans.





































Rue Ferdinand Duval, 1975 © Alécio de Andrade. ADAGP, Paris, 2013. Reproduced by permission of the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris.
































According to rabbinic tradition, anti-Semitism starts when Jews beguile themselves into thinking they can fulfill their destiny in exile.






Fans brandish a Nazi flag at a soccer match in Ukraine, 2007. AP Photo/Ukrinform. Reproduced by permission.



















David Ben-Gurion meets Charles de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace, Paris, 1960. National Photo Collection of the State of Israel.










Over the years, the entire European political class has been reeducated into a culture of Israel-bashing.

















63 percent of Poles and 48 percent of Germans believe that Israel is conducting a genocidal war against the Palestinians aimed at their "obliteration."




















Islamists protest outside the French Embassy in London, 2012. Demotix. Reproduced by permission.















A young boy is comforted after the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France, March 19, 2012. Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.














The sad fact is that many European Muslims subscribe to an unreconstructed form of anti-Semitism.








































What about a nightmare fusion, at some point in the future, of an anti-Semitic Left, an anti-Semitic Right, and an anti-Semitic Islam?


















"Any clear-sighted and sensible Jew who has a sense of history would understand that this is the time to get out."











Members of the Union of French Jewish Students march in Paris after the Toulouse massacre of March 2012; the banner reads, “Jews murdered, Republic in danger.” Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.