You Only Live Twice

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

<i>Jumping across the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.</i> Photomontage from Wikipedia.
Jumping across the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Photomontage from Wikipedia.
Aug. 5 2013
About the author

Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think tank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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.

More about: Anti-Semitism, European Jewry, European Union, Holocaust survivors, Israel, Michel Gurfinkiel, slaughter, Terrorism


Grounds for Hope?

Yes, European elites routinely turn a blind eye to the revival of anti-Semitism on the continent where six million Jews were murdered within living memory. But I’m still cautiously optimistic about the European Jewish future.

Daniel Johnson
Aug. 11 2013

As an Englishman, I smiled at the title of Michel Gurfinkiel’s brilliant essay. “You Only Live Twice” alludes, of course, to the 1964 James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, whose books (unlike the better-known films made from them) are peppered with stereotypical Jewish villains. It is well to be reminded that Fleming’s unabashed anti-Semitism was still common among right-wing Britons of his class and generation—the same generation that had fought and defeated Nazi Germany.

Gurfinkiel paints a somber, even apocalyptic vision of the long-term future for Jews in Europe. I share his concerns and to some extent also his pessimism. One estimate (by Andre Kaspi of the Sorbonne) is that by 2080 Europe will have only 600,000 Jews. But I believe there are still grounds for hope that Europeans could yet avert the hideous prospect of a posthumous triumph for Hitler and his latter-day avatars.

Gurfinkiel is right to observe that the majority of European Jews, unlike most of their American counterparts, have recent family memories of persecution, demonization, and expulsion. Increasingly often, they may also have personal experience of anti-Semitism, even in countries that were not involved in the Holocaust. One young German-Jewish student of my acquaintance, whose family came from Kiev via Frankfurt, is an enthusiastic Anglophile. “I always wanted to live in England,” she says. But her own first personal encounter with anti-Semitism came not in Germany or Ukraine but at the London School of Economics, where she found herself confronted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanting: “Throw the Jews into the sea!”

Nor are such public displays limited to the fringes. David Ward, a member of Parliament for Bradford East, belongs to the Liberal Democrats, now part of Britain’s coalition government. Earlier this year, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Ward wrote: “I am saddened that the Jews . . . could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.” Last month he returned to the subject, tweeting: “At long last the Zionists are losing the battle—how long can the apartheid state of Israel last?” His party responded by suspending him for two months in the summer—when Parliament does not convene. This token rebuke reflects the grim fact that nationally some 37 percent of Liberal Democrats agree with the views held in Ward’s own, largely Muslim constituency.

Turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism or, worse, tacitly encouraging it has insidiously become the default position of public authorities in Europe. When I recently asked the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg—at seventy-five, Europe’s leading elder statesman—what he made of the rising tide of hostility to Jews, evidenced not only by the re-emergence of anti-Semitic parties in some countries but by bans on circumcision and kosher slaughter, he dismissed such concerns as marginal. Israel, he argued (changing the subject), was to blame for its own unpopularity because it ignored European pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. When I criticized his comments in Standpoint, Prince Schwarzenberg protested that he had been misunderstood, insisting that he still remembered the day in 1948, “in the house that belonged to my parents” (i.e., the Palais Schwarzenberg), when Israel declared its independence. Such happy memories, alas, are little consolation. The European Union’s political elite seems blind or indifferent to the revival of anti-Semitism on the continent where six million Jews were murdered within living memory.

Why, then, am I cautiously optimistic? As Gurfinkiel acknowledges, Islam is seen by many Europeans as intolerant and violent, and Muslim anti-Semitism is one of the most visible manifestations of such intolerance. But many sectors of Western society feel threatened by radical Islam, just as Jews do, and this common threat has spurred some leaders into action. François Hollande, the French president, has set a good example to his countrymen and to the European Left by refusing to equivocate about the murder of the Sandler family by the Islamist terrorist Mohamed Merah, the incident with which Gurfinkiel opens his essay. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has striven to make Germany a country where Jews feel welcome, moving swiftly to pass a law overturning the ban on circumcision imposed by a German court. Pope Francis, as philo-Semitic as his two predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has made a point of telling Jewish leaders that Christianity and anti-Semitism are incompatible.

It is tempting to dismiss such European shows of solidarity, as Gurfinkiel largely does. Some undoubtedly are mere gesture politics. I was present at a Conservative Friends of Israel event in 2007 when David Cameron declared: “I am a Zionist.” As British prime minister, by contrast, he has been decidedly cool toward Israel, a country he has yet to visit. In this respect, Gurfinkiel is right to contrast Cameron with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper, who is much more supportive of Israel. Other European leaders, such as Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy, have been friendlier, but have not been able to stop the EU from dancing to the Palestinian tune. Victor Orban, the Hungarian premier, told the World Jewish Congress meeting in Budapest last May that he would show anti-Semitism “zero tolerance”—while, outside the hall, the fascist party Jobbik was whipping up hysterical mobs against “the Israeli conquerors.”

This is an old story. But there is also a newer, more hopeful one. Despite the noise made by the boycott movement, for instance, the “Silicon Wadi” of the Middle East exercises a real magnetism for young Europeans. Exports from Israel to the UK are growing by 50 percent a year, and the Jewish state is now Britain’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. Exports to the rest of the EU are growing equally rapidly. Cultural links, too, despite their greater sensitivity to political prejudice, are becoming stronger. European and Israeli security and intelligence cooperation has become even more intensive as a result of the turmoil in the Muslim world. True, EU politicians continue to snub their Israeli counterparts in public, preferring to be seen with Muslim leaders, even deposed ones; a particularly ludicrous episode was the recent Egyptian démarche of Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU, who poses as the protector of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood while seeking to damage Israel by restricting export products with any connection to Jewish settlements. Fortunately, European consumers are fond of Israeli goods and vote with their credit cards.

At the grassroots level, Jewish communities in Europe are not in terminal decline, as even the Fundamental Rights Agency survey and the study by Dov Maimon cited by Gurfinkiel attest. Spectacular acts of Islamist terror, like Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse or the beheadings in London and Amsterdam, are no more typical of Europe than the Boston bombing was of the United States. Security around Jewish schools, synagogues, and other institutions has been tight for so long as to be taken for granted.

What affects Jewish morale more deeply are the hundreds of more or less serious anti-Semitic incidents that the police typically fail to prosecute, such as last year’s attack on a Berlin rabbi with his six year old daughter. (The four Muslim youths responsible have yet to be caught.) There are more of these incidents every time Israel is vilified in the media, usually after it responds to some intolerable provocation. However, in most EU countries, the Jewish community tends to live in the more prosperous districts, well away from large concentrations of Muslim immigrants; France, with its large proportion of poorer North African Jews, may be unusual in this respect. What does, of course, strike fear into the hearts of all European Jews, rich or poor, is the specter of a pogrom. When Muslim “youths” riot in Paris and Stockholm, threatening lives and property, accompanied by anti-Semitic agitation, it is hardly surprising that French or Scandinavian Jews tell pollsters they are considering emigration.

Few Jews have actually left, however, and many of these have moved elsewhere in Europe. In Hungary, the rise of Jobbik has caused some Budapest Jews to pack their bags and move to nearby Vienna (which has its own anti-Semitic populists). Even those who have left Europe may not be doing so out of insecurity: European Jews in general are a mobile, globalized population, and quite a few keep apartments in Israel for family reasons or because they like it there.

Nor do all Jewish communities in Europe suffer from declining numbers. Germany’s Jewish population has increased steadily despite the conflict over circumcision, while in the last decade Britain’s has halted a half-century of decline. Europe as a whole is characterized by low birthrates and an ageing demographic profile; Jews are not special in this respect, but neither is the profile a uniform one across the Jewish spectrum. All that one can say for certain is that, as things stand, there is little likelihood of a mass exodus by European Jewry, and demographic extinction is by no means inevitable.

Gurfinkiel’s nightmare scenario is certainly possible. Entire regions where Jews had lived for thousands of years have witnessed mass expulsions and emigrations: think of North Africa, the Middle East (apart from Israel), or the former Soviet Union. But for Europe to revert to the pattern of the mid-20th century in its treatment of the Jewish people would imply the abandonment of Western civilization. This outcome is eminently preventable if European leaders make it clear to Muslims that while they and their religion are welcome, shariah law and Islamist supremacism are not.

Merkel and Cameron, among others, are to be commended for rejecting multiculturalism. But they have not dared to denounce the radical Islam that threatens Europe’s Judeo-Christian identity by seeking to supplant the church and abolish the distinction between mosque and state. Such cowardice is largely to blame for the predicament of European Jewry. Yet this failure of leadership can and must be rectified. Bankrupt as Europe may be, morally and economically, most Europeans are not ready to renounce their core values. For any civilized person, a Europe without Jews would be uninhabitable.

Daniel Johnson, the founder and editor of the British monthly Standpoint, writes widely on politics, culture, and religion.  

More about: Anti-Semitism, apartheid, Circumcision, European Jewry, Israel, Michel Gurfinkiel, slaughter


Too Good to Last

The time has come to pay our respects to what was once but is no more, and for Jews to move elsewhere as they have done through so many centuries.

David Pryce-Jones
Aug. 14 2013

Michel Gurfinkiel is in the tradition of the great French essayists who put the issues of the day squarely before the public. It is a bold thing to do, especially when the subject under discussion is the fate of the Jews.

“You Only Live Twice” argues that, in the relatively short term, Jews are likely to have left Europe. The Jewish contribution to European civilization has been “a crowning glory of the human spirit,” but now the majority of European Jews and also those non-Jews who are paying attention to the march of history “insist that catastrophe may lie ahead.” The causes of this coming catastrophe are already evident to Gurfinkiel, and they tend toward an unhappy ending. In any case, the wise will not linger, awaiting certain submission. The time has come to pay our respects to what was once but is no more, and for Jews to move elsewhere as they have done through so many centuries.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Europeans adopted the phrase “Never Again,” implying shame for the perpetrators and at least a shading of guilt for the many who had stood by and taken no notice. For some years, survivors of the Nazi genocide, along with Jewish refugees expelled from the countries of the Middle East, were able to remake their lives everywhere across the continent. This was all too good to last.

Since 2000 in France alone, as Gurfinkiel notes, 7,650 anti-Semitic incidents ranging from petty insults to brutal racist murders have been reported, and this statistic ignores many more incidents that are known to have occurred but were not reported to the authorities. Things have come to the point where the chief rabbi of France advises Jews not to wear a kippah in the street because it makes them recognizable as Jews. “Never” has dropped out of the slogan of solidarity, leaving “Again” to stand on its own.

Several countries have residual fascist political parties, but the far greater danger to Jews stems from Arab nationalism and its Islamist twin. Zionism was one among other national liberation movements struggling after 1945 to be fulfilled. Gurfinkiel recalls the time when many in Europe admired the state of Israel either as an example of practical socialism or as a life-renewing response to genocide. Arab and Muslim leaders, above all the master propagandist Yasir Arafat, have imaginatively persuaded swaths of public opinion that Jews do not, and should not, have a national liberation movement of their own. In this perspective, Israel is made out to be the illegitimate colony of a few empire-building Jews with the United States behind them. The fiction serves to cast a bad light on whatever Israel might or might not do, and holds Jews everywhere answerable.

The crucial turning point came in June 1967, when Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser with the support of the Soviet Union made his move to destroy Israel. The build-up to war had spread fear of an imminent second Holocaust. The atmosphere of insecurity in Israel was so close to panic that officers of the rank of major-general were reported to weep at briefings. And then, in six days, it was suddenly over in a feat of arms very different from what had been expected.

Only hours after the fighting ended, the Soviet media were compensating for the defeat of the Soviets’ Egyptian client by blackening Israel as a Nazi state, in criminal conspiracy with America, imperialist, an occupying power oppressing its Palestinian victims. Taking hold as they did, these ideological assaults were updated versions of ancient stereotypes of Jews as secret masters or corrupt lackeys or both. But from that moment on, people in the West began condemning Israel for having survived the fate that shortly beforehand had seemed so unbearably dreadful. The immediate inversion of opinion had the hallucinatory effect of the Two Minutes Hate that George Orwell describes in 1984.

Whether they know it or not, those today who continue to fit Israelis and Jews into this perverse framework are dupes of Soviet cold-war manipulation. Once such an infection has begun circulating in the world’s bloodstream, it is virtually impossible to cure it. Gurfinkiel recalls how even someone as independent as General Charles de Gaulle could denigrate Israel and Jews in irrational terms akin to those dreamed up by the Soviets for their Arab clients.

The changing demography of Europe has only hardened this vicious caricature. What with illegal immigration and incomplete censuses, the exact number of Muslims in Europe is unknown, but everywhere they are somewhere between five and ten percent of the population. Every European nation is flummoxed by the arrival in its midst of a minority ready to assert values incompatible with those of the majority. Within fifty years, Gurfinkiel predicts, France will become “a half-Islamic and half-Islamized nation.” He cites a statement by Marwan Muhamad, secretary-general of a pressure group called the Committee against Islamophobia, that is a scarcely veiled appeal to violence, and typical of its kind: “No one can decide French national identity for us.” 

In such circumstances, the best that Jews could hope is to be granted the status of dhimmis and so acknowledge their inferiority. Even to analyze such a social upheaval, as Gurfinkiel does, never mind trying to resist it, is to incur the charge of Islamophobia and the loss of reputation. 


Is Gurfinkiel right? Since Cassandra, prophecy has served to avert perceived doom. The Jewish future surely depends on the international standing of Israel. The United Nations seems to have few other purposes than expressing and magnifying hostility toward Israel. Year in, year out, the world body has sought to make Jews feel that any attachment to their national liberation movement is contaminated. In this forum, Arab and Muslim nation states accuse Israel of the racism and exclusiveness that they themselves practice. Sub-committees packed by representatives from despotisms granting no human rights to their own citizens regularly single out and condemn Israel for alleged abuses of human rights. The falsification of Israel’s measures of self-protection as aggressions driven by the ambition to colonize Arab territory puts Jews on the defensive and undermines any identification they might feel with their nation-state.

The European Union perceives nationalism itself as the cause of war, and seeks to deconstruct altogether the concept of the nation-state. Israel is the embodiment of the sense of proud nationhood that runs counter to EU ideology. With a logic all their own, EU policy makers oppose Israel while doing whatever they can to build a nation-state of Palestine. Jewish communities are unsettled to observe large-scale EU subsidies ending up in the hands of Palestinian Arab terrorists, or measures like the boycott recently imposed on products, goods, and personnel coming from Jewish settlements beyond the pre-June 1967 borders.

If Jews do indeed abandon Europe, it will be to escape a situation in which their very identity is increasingly treated as a matter of suspicion and political contention. Should an emigration en masse come to be a reality, Gurfinkiel concludes, it would constitute “a profound blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people” as well as a shattering judgment on the “so-called European idea.” In the absence of living Jews, Europeans will have nothing but Holocaust museums and memorials on which to base the moral reckoning of their past.

David Pryce-Jones, the British novelist and commentator, is the author of, among other books, The Closed Circle and Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews.

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arab nationalism, European Union, Holocaust, Israel, Michel Gurfinkiel


Demography is Key

Anti-Semitism is only one factor contributing to the demise of European Jewry, and not the most decisive one.

Aug. 18 2013
About the author

Walter Laqueur is the author of, among other books, WeimarA History of TerrorismFascism: Past, Present, Future, and The Dream that Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union. His newest book, Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West, has just been released by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s.

I broadly agree with Michel Gurfinkiel’s thoughts concerning the eventual disappearance of European Jewry. The process will probably take longer than we assume today—such events have multiple causes, and there are almost always retarding factors as well. In my judgment, however, anti-Semitism is only one factor contributing to the demise of European Jewry, and not the most decisive one.

This is hardly to deny the truth of everything Gurfinkiel records about the incidence of verbal and physical anti-Semitism, up to and including murder. Indeed, every passing week supplies fresh evidence. Anti-Semitism has appeared even in the most tolerant European lands, among them the countries of Scandinavia and Benelux where Jews have been advised not to wear certain types of clothing or display other obvious signs of their identity, and Israeli tourists are cautioned against speaking Hebrew.

It is also true that whereas, in the past, most anti-Semitism, especially in its virulent forms, issued from the extreme Right and fascist groups, today it is spearheaded by new Muslim immigrants. A number of writers, including myself in The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism (2006), have pointed to the increasing pressure on European Jews from this quarter, and it has been clear for some time that Jewish communities are well advised to adopt a low profile. Exacerbating the situation is the policy of silence and accommodation that prevails in many “enlightened” European circles: when a leading left-wing French intellectual, writing in Le Monde, ventured to discuss the political implications of the fact that there are ten times as many Arabs as Jews in France, he was chastised for saying out loud what everyone knew and what most had quietly accepted.

Still, to repeat, anti-Semitism is not the main factor. The main factor is demography. Before World War II, more Jews lived in Europe than in any other part of the world. Ever since the great bloodletting of the Holocaust, the presence of Jews in Europe has been insignificant. Against the backdrop of earlier European history, and contrary to what Gurfinkiel writes, European Jewry today does not even look healthy. The postwar flowering that he describes, impressive as it is (or was), should not be exaggerated; the real vibrancy of a community is not measured in new museums and similar institutions.

In the 27 member states of the European Union, Jews today number, in all, only slightly more than a million souls: demographically, an immaterial factor in the affairs of Europe and one that appears destined to become even less consequential as the century progresses.

True, the Jewish communities in France and Germany have increased in size since 1945, although this is less the result of natural growth than of the migration of Jews from other parts of the world. In all other EU countries, however, the numbers have declined, in a process that continues to gather momentum. The number of Jews in Britain, for instance, has fallen from about 320,000 two decades ago to 270,000 today. Synagogue membership and attendance in Britain have likewise fallen by 20 percent in the same period. Mutatis mutandis, the same holds true throughout the continent. Tempting as it is to locate the cause in anti-Semitism—from the aggression of young Muslims to the anti-Israel obsession of the European elites—this is at best the smaller part of the answer.

The larger part was outlined in a book published over a century ago entitled Der Untergang der deutschen Juden (“The Downfall of German Jewry,” 1911). The author, a German Jewish physician named Felix Theilhaber, stressed an inescapable fact: with the exception of the Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox, the Jewish fertility rate was already well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family. And as for the Orthodox, they numbered, then as now, too few to compensate for the overall demographic drift downward. Intensifying the attrition, again then as now, was the rising number of those “marrying out” of the community altogether. (On a purely personal note: I knew Theilhaber, who was also the brother-in-law of the novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger, quite well in his old age in Jerusalem, and was friends with his son Adin.)      

Although Theilhaber wrote about German Jews, his analysis applied to Western Europe in general, where, in a pattern universal among all cultures in modern history, the number of children was falling as the Jewish standard of living improved. Needless to say, the devastations wrought by both world wars would magnify the Jewish demographic losses hideously; in our own time, ineluctably, the process has resumed its steady course onward.

It is noteworthy in this connection that Jews are not the only religious community in Europe that is suffering a decline: the number of practicing Catholics and Protestants has also substantially decreased. But the situation of a Jew who no longer belongs to the religious community, or who does not identify himself with Israel, is quite different from that of a non-church-going French or Italian Catholic. Take the example of the Berlin Jewish community. Officially, it has 10,000 members; but the real number of Jews in that city is considerably higher, with estimates ranging anywhere from 25,000 to 95,000, among them about 10,000 Israelis.

Why do the great majority demur from identifying themselves as Jews in a modern-day city that, while hardly free of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel outbursts, is no hotbed of anti-Semitism?  Some point to the off-putting stringencies of Jewish religious practice. Others cite the special burden of the tax that has to be paid by registered members of any German religious community (but which entitles them to a variety of social services they could otherwise not obtain). One might mention as well the absence of an active Jewish intelligentsia or cultural life, and the consequent disaffection of many younger Jews. To all these might also be added the lamentably low level to which German Jewish leadership has fallen. In Berlin this year, the general meeting of the local Jewish council ended in a bitter confrontation over real estate that in turn led to an out-and-out brawl necessitating intervention by the police.

An extreme case, no doubt, and a sad story. But, in considering the decline of Europe’s Jewry, and the pressures under which Jewish officialdom operates, the story of the Berlin community also highlights the analytical imperative to avoid single-issue explanations, even such compelling ones as the presence of real and enduring hatred by one’s enemies.

Walter Laqueur is the author of, among other books, A History of Zionism, Weimar, A History of Terrorism, and After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent. His newest book, Optimism in Politics and Other Essays, is due out from Transaction in January.

More about: Anti-Semitism, European Jewry, European Union, Michel Gurfinkiel


How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden

The only way to survive as a Jew in Sweden is not to be seen as one.

Aug. 21 2013
About the author

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a Swedish writer and political adviser and an activist in support of Israel.

The following, written as a private letter to Michel Gurfinkiel, appears here by permission of the author.

Dear Mr. Gurfinkiel,

On April 26 of this year, I was on a train with my five-year-old son Charlie. We were on our way to spend shabbat with friends in the city. You see, our town, significant in the history of Swedish Jewry, shut its synagogue in the late 90s. All that remains now is a plaque stating that there was once Jewish life here, while we are left with an hour-long train ride every weekend to attend services.

 My son was wearing his kippah as we got on the train. He loves his kippah. He is not yet old enough to know the dangers entailed in wearing it, for this is a fact from which I have tried to protect him. But April 26 would change all that.

There was a gentleman sitting in our reserved seat. An Arab, maybe fifty years old, listening to music. Apologizing for the inconvenience, I asked him politely for our seat. He got up, inspected my son, and then leaned over me, saying: You people always take what you want. You need to learn.

He then walked straight into my son, causing him to fall over, and took the seat behind us.

We sat. Hiding my trembling hands from my son’s sight, I picked up Shabbes for Kids and started to review the week’s Torah portion with him. We hadn’t progressed as far as a page before the man stood up and screamed:  Quiet! I don’t want to hear that! You take what you want and never think of others! Shut up!

He stamped his feet, grunting and glaring at my son. Fighting tears of rage, I assured Charlie that the man was just grumpy and tried to turned the episode into a game, one that required us to remain super quiet for as long as possible. I even managed to coax a conspiratorial smile out of him.

But even this failed to appease our tormentor, who spent the rest of the trip repeatedly kicking the back of my son’s seat. At one point I glanced around our compartment: there were four other people there, four adults witnessing a single mother and her five-year-old child being attacked by a grown man. They did nothing. I tried forcing them to meet my gaze; but they just turned away, put on their headphones, stared at their screens, ignored what was happening in front of them.

I did not summon the railway police. I did not scream back at the man. I know better. I know that the only way to survive as a Jew in my country is not to be seen as one. Not to be exposed but to shut up and fade into the woodwork. I’ve known this for quite some time. Unfortunately, my son knows it now, too.

In your fascinating and informative article you mention that ritual slaughter, kosher as well as hallal, is under threat in Europe. Well, in Sweden kosher butchering was outlawed in 1937 and has been illegal ever since. The threat is not a threat but a reality—for me as, on a much graver scale, it had been for my grandparents, forced into hiding in a Sweden silently collaborating with the Nazis throughout the world war. The next threat on the horizon is a ban on even importing kosher products, compelling me and many of my friends to smuggle kosher meat from Israel on our return trips from that land.

By contrast, hallal slaughter is not banned in Sweden. My government, when asked about the disparity, replies that the methods of slaughter in Judaism are uniquely barbaric.

“Barbaric” is also what I was called just this past June. As a political adviser to a Swedish party, I was debating the anti-circumcision bill that had just been proposed by another, right-wing party in our parliament, and things got heated. The bill called for a general ban on all circumcision unless medically prescribed, and it enjoyed much bipartisan support. During the debate, I outed myself as a Jew, only to be informed that what “we” were doing to our children was inhumane and barbaric, and should be summarily outlawed. I did my best to maintain my composure, but ended up crying in the courtyard—not for the first time, or for the last.

In your essay you mention that Jewish religious and cultural activities in Western Europe are everywhere on the rise. This, too, is not my reality. What I see is that the Holocaust wing at the Jewish Museum is crowded with visitors, while the synagogues are empty. I see cute Woody Allen-ish activities being promoted, and actual Jewish life being banned. The dead, suffering Jew is glorified; the healthy, active Jew is vilified.

There are 20,000 Jews in Sweden, a country of close to nine million. As for Muslim immigrants and their children, they, as you point out in your article, amount to 10 percent or more of the population: perhaps as many as a million people, fifty times the number of Jews. Still, I would not say that demography is the only threat to Jewish life in Western Europe, and maybe not even the biggest one. What frightens me most is that my government is proscribing Jewish life. Yes, by outlawing circumcision, banning kosher slaughter, and telling us forthrightly that the only way to avoid being harassed in the streets is to distance ourselves from Israel, they are reinventing the conditions of the Eastern Europe past that brought our community to this country in the first place. This is what is driving us out: one by one, bill by bill.

In the “Comments” section following your essay, I noticed a debate among readers over the perceived harshness of your article. I am writing to you because I do not believe it was harsh enough. I value Jewish thought, but I crave Jewish action. More than I need eloquent eulogies, I need people—the same people who so passionately debate our future in Mosaic and elsewhere—to help me fight.

We in Sweden are still here, but we are feeling lonely and forgotten. We want a strong Jewish community in the Diaspora. We want to live. We are fighting every day against the pressure to turn us into plaques on the wall of former synagogues or into exhibits in guilt-wallowing museums. We need the help of our kinsmen.

My son no longer wears his kippah in public. Now he does what the men at my shul have done for years. He carries it in his pocket, donning it only when we are safely within the iron gates. Guarded and hidden from the world.

With kind regards,

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein


Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a Swedish writer and political commentator and an activist in support of Israel. In September 2012 she organized the first public pro-Israel demonstration in Sweden in seven years.

More about: Anti-Semitism, Circumcision, European Jewry, Holocaust, Michel Gurfinkiel, slaughter, Sweden


Cause for Grief?

The Jewish people would suffer no great loss if all the Jews of Europe were to pack and leave tomorrow.

Aug. 25 2013
About the author

Hillel Halkin’s books include Yehuda HaleviAcross the Sabbath RiverMelisande: What are Dreams? (a novel), and, most recently, Jabotinsky: A Life (2014). His essays and columns have appeared in MosaicCommentary, the New Republic, the Forward, the Jewish Review of Books, and elsewhere.

On the level of generalities, little in Michel Gurfinkiel’s “You Only Live Twice” will come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the growth of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe in recent decades. To have the evidence so clearly and systematically laid out before one, however, is depressing and alarming even for those familiar with much of it.

As a theoretical exercise, one could debate the chicken-or-egg question of which came first. Did European hostility toward Israel, which has increased slowly but steadily with continued Israeli control of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967, awaken a traditional anti-Semitism that had lain dormant since the end of World War II? Or did, on the contrary, this dormant anti-Semitism fuel hostility toward Israel as a way of venting anti-Semitic feelings whose direct expression was made taboo by the Holocaust?

This is not, though, a very useful way of posing the problem. In reality, we are dealing with a process of mutual reinforcement. Without Israel, widespread anti-Semitism in post-Holocaust Europe would most likely not have awakened from its dormancy; had it not been there to be awakened, criticism of Israel would never have reached the pathologically ferocious levels that it has. In the language of the rabbis, tsvat b’tsvat asuya—the smith’s tongs make each other. Each cause has caused the cause that caused it.

Although Michel Gurfinkiel does not explore the issue, the influence of the Holocaust on European attitudes toward Jews and Israel has been double-edged. On the one hand, horror at the Nazi genocide, and guilt for the widespread complicity in it of many European governments and peoples, initially encouraged sympathy for its survivors and support for a Jewish state. On the other hand, the desire to get rid of this guilt has grown with time—and psychologically, there are few better ways to get rid of guilt than accusing the accuser of the crimes one is accused of. The reversal of roles whereby Israelis are now cast as the Nazi aggressor and the Palestinians as their helpless victims has been a wonderful salve for the European conscience. It has enabled Europe to say: “By what right do you Jews blame us? You are doing to others what Hitler did to you.” There is no other way to account for such facts as the one cited by Gurfinkiel that 48 percent of all Germans and 63 percent of all Poles now believe the insane charge that Israel is waging a “genocidal war” against the Palestinians.  This is not just mass psychology. It is mass psychopathology.

This reversal bears a chilling resemblance to the one on which the entire edifice of Christian anti-Semitism was constructed. A popular preacher of Judaism is crucified in first-century Jerusalem by the Romans—and the Christianized Roman Empire that deifies him turns the people he preached to into his crucifiers, setting the stage for centuries of persecution. This archetype is deeply embedded in the European psyche. One could give endless examples of how it works. I encountered a small one ten years ago in Spain, during the second intifada. A mass-circulation tabloid published a large front-page photograph, dramatically retouched for effect, of a Palestinian mother cradling in her lap a dead child allegedly killed by an Israeli bullet. The pose was identical to that of a medieval Pietà I had seen that same day in a local church.

Yet had I pointed this out to a Spaniard, he would probably have looked at me wonderingly, for it is precisely the de-Christianization of contemporary Europe that makes most Europeans unaware of the psychic mechanisms driving them. They have inherited Christian anti-Semitism while losing all touch with its roots. This permits them to protest with a measure of sincerity that they are only “anti-Israel,” not “anti-Jewish,” and precludes their understanding the Israeli experience. For all its distortion of Judaism and Jewish existence, Christianity always had some idea of what these things were about; as Judaism’s offspring, it was theologically incoherent without its Jewish background. Christians may have considered Zionism misguided or villainous, but they also knew from their Bible what its historic rationale and emotional impetus were. Post-Christian Europe hasn’t a clue. It more easily conceives of Israel as an illegitimate colonial presence on Arab land than as the return of a people to its own land, because it is more familiar with the European colonial past than with the European Christian past.

If European attitudes toward Israel and Jews differ strikingly from American ones, this is in part because Americans do not feel guilt for the Holocaust and live in a country in which Christianity remains a force. Not all American Christians, of course, are sympathetic to Israel. Only among evangelicals does one find a remarkable support for Israel accompanied by pro-Jewish sympathies that are unprecedented in the history of Christianity, although they were foreshadowed in England by various low-church and dissenting movements that have by now disappeared from English life. If not for them, there would have been no Balfour Declaration and probably no Jewish state. American evangelicalism is their descendant, and fortunately it continues to thrive.

There are, needless to say, other crucial factors in contemporary American attitudes toward Jews and Israel, such as the traditional tolerance and openness America has shown toward its immigrants and its financially wealthy and politically powerful Jewish community that has no counterpart in Europe. The relatively small number of U.S. Muslims and their successful integration into American life have helped, too. These things give one reason to hope that, despite the assimilation that is gradually eroding the strength of American Jewry and the “Europeanization” of thinking about Israel that has taken place in liberal and intellectual circles, the United States will not follow in Europe’s path. This is a comfort in light of how dire the situation in Europe has become.


I cannot say that I feel grief over the end of European Jewry (if that is really what we are looking at). I say this, to be sure, as a Jew born and raised in America; were I a European Jew like Michel Gurfinkiel, I suppose I might feel differently. But I say it even more as a Zionist, as an Israeli, and as a Jew who knows something about Jewish history.

I have written once or twice about my aversion to all attempts to reconstitute or reinvigorate Jewish life in Eastern Europe  in particular. Not only were the countries of this region hotbeds of anti-Semitism for hundreds of years, they were also, with considerable native aid and abetment, the killing grounds of the Jewish people during World War II. Anti-Semitism continues to run high in them. I will have to beg pardon for my intemperance, but all talk of a new start for Jewish life in a country like Poland makes me think of the verse in Proverbs, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is the fool who repeats his folly.”

Western Europe is not Eastern Europe. The Jewish story there has been more nuanced. It has had many more happy chapters alongside its grim ones. Yet the grim ones have been grim indeed, and the worst of them took place, historically speaking, just yesterday. Nazi Germany was, culturally, a Western European country, and Western European collaboration with the Nazis was great. Countries like Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, and Greece were not killing grounds, but they helped round up their Jews and ship them off to slaughterhouses elsewhere.

One can understand many survivors of the Holocaust choosing to rebuild their lives in these places. Human beings seek to return to the familiar even when the familiar has sought to spew them out. One can also regret, however, that a sense of Jewish pride and dignity did not deter them from doing this when they had Israel as an alternative.

No one can say whether the current anti-Israel and anti-Jewish mood in Europe will eventually run its course. Perhaps an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would temper it, perhaps not. Yet as unkind as it may be to say so, the Jewish people would suffer no great loss if all the Jews of Italy, Holland, Germany, and even England, let alone countries like Sweden and Switzerland, were to pack and leave tomorrow.

The only European country in which Jewish life currently has any real demographic strength or cultural dynamism is France—and this is only because of the post-World War II influx of hundreds of thousands of North African Jews who have transformed, who knows for how long, the French Jewish community. But this is precisely why French Jews are more apprehensive about their future than are, say, the Jews of England. They know that, outnumbered ten-to-one by French Muslims, they are politically weak and that the more visible they are as Jews, the more vulnerable they are, too.

If Jews do start leaving Europe in significant numbers, I hope many of them will choose to settle in Israel rather than drift off to America, Canada, Australia, or other places. This of course depends on Israel as much as it does on them. Indeed, it depends, ironically, on Israel’s becoming a more European country—more soundly and efficiently run, more economically affordable, more environmentally caring, more peaceful, more livable. This was the vision of Theodor Herzl’s utopian novel Altneuland (1902): to lure Jews from Europe by creating a Jewish society that could compete with any in Europe. It’s a goal still worth aiming for.


Hillel Halkin, the Israeli essayist, novelist, and translator, is the author of Yehuda Halevi (Nextbook/Schocken) and has recently completed a biography of Ze’ev Jabotinsky for the “Jewish Lives” series (Yale, forthcoming). 

More about: Anti-Semitism, European Jewry, Holocaust, Israel, Jewish State, Michel Gurfinkiel


The Next Aliyah

Replying to his respondents, Michel Gurfinkiel assesses the destiny of Europe's Jews.

Aug. 27 2013
About the author

Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think tank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.

I feel very fortunate that such distinguished figures as Daniel Johnson, David Pryce-Jones, Walter Laqueur, and Hillel Halkin accepted Mosaic’s invitation to respond to my essay on the European Jewish future, and that Annika Hernroth-Rothstein gave permission to publish her personal letter about the severe dislocations of Jewish life in her country. From other places around Europe I received additional messages sounding similar notes to hers, some of them equally shattering. Nor is there room here to list and thank all those who mentioned or recommended my article in blogs and on social media.

I could only wish my conclusions were sunnier—and that, if European Jews are news today, the news were good news. Unfortunately, a mere seven decades after the Holocaust, the prospect of stormy times is not to be taken lightly. However one may finally come down on the facts and arguments marshaled in my essay, I am deeply grateful that at least they are being discussed.


Daniel Johnson’s deeply sympathetic comment begins with an anecdote about a Ukrainian-German Jewish student who encounters anti-Semitism for the first time at . . . the London School of Economics. I love that anecdote, which says so much. I also echo Johnson’s disappointment with Karl Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister who, despite his family’s heroic stance under the Nazis and his own affection for the Jewish people, has not only succumbed to repeating anti-Israel clichés but dismisses reports of anti-Semitism in 21st-century Europe. I met Prince Schwarzenberg several years ago and will never forget something he said about his father: upon learning shortly after the 1938 Anschluss that the Nazis had forbidden access by Jewish children to Vienna’s public parks, the elder Schwarzenberg opened his own palatial gardens to them.

Johnson nevertheless lists some “cautious reasons” for optimism, some of which are well founded. Indeed, given the intensity of anti-Israel campaigns throughout Europe, one marvels at the pro-Israel resilience shown by large sectors (from 25 to 50 percent in polls, depending on the questions asked) of public opinion. Israel is admired as the home of “Silicon Wadi,” as a beacon of contemporary culture (Israeli movies are very popular in France), even as a haven of human rights (especially when it comes to gays); all this offsets the boycott sentiment to some degree. Another important sign is the election in Rome of the philo-Semitic Pope Francis. While Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are not as entrenched in Europe as they used to be, they are still the main religious force on the continent and may yet undergo a revival in the face of an increasingly assertive Islam. That they should exert a positive rather than a negative influence when it comes to Jews and Israel is certainly of relevance.

I am less sure about other facts cited by Johnson. As an Englishman, he is critical of his own government and rather soft on the French political class. As a Frenchman, I disagree. Yes, François Hollande, the socialist president, and his interior minister Manuel Valls have expressed concern about anti-Jewish violence and pointed to its Islamist component, and that is no small matter. But at the same time, Hollande gives house room to the false symmetry of anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.” He has bestowed state honors on Stéphane Hessel, a nonagenarian former Resistance fighter and former diplomat turned rabid anti-Israel propagandist. (Hessel even maintained in a 2011 interview that the German occupation of France in World War II “was, if one is to compare it, for instance, with the current occupation of Palestine by Israelis, a rather mild one.”) French diplomacy under Hollande has stayed as blindly insensitive as ever to Israel’s rights and security interests, a consequential attitude in a country where many media and the main press agency are government-controlled or government-influenced. And then there is the recent case of a photography exhibit on “Palestinian freedom fighters” at the government-controlled and-subsidized Jeu de Paume gallery that amounted to an apology for suicide bombers and a wholesale, implicit indictment of Israel’s politics if not Israel’s existence.

Johnson is correct in saying that European Jews might be protected up to a point by their comparatively higher social and educational status. Indeed, fleeing to wealthier Christian neighborhoods has become a common strategy for elements of the Jewish middle class who were hitherto content to live in less expensive areas. But this is hardly a long-term solution, as Samuel Sandler’s remarks about his own privileged community in Versailles, quoted by me, indicate. Upper-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods can also be subjected to ethnic riots and looting, as has been the case in the UK, in France, and in Sweden, and a thin line divides such riots from pogroms. Moreover, sizable parts of European Jewry—in particular, the Orthodox—simply cannot afford to relocate. That is why the possibility of emigration, for rich and poor alike, has increasingly moved from a last resort to being seen as a preferred option, if not an urgent imperative.


Toward the end of his comment, Daniel Johnson warns that “for Europe to revert to the pattern of the mid-20th century in its treatment of the Jewish people would imply the abandonment of Western civilization.” I am not surprised that David Pryce-Jones, in his own comment, chooses precisely to dwell upon this point. Pryce-Jones knows a very great deal about the innermost workings of civilizations—and about the ailments that can plague them. One does not easily forget his acutely reasoned books on the Arab world (The Closed Circle) and on the history of French diplomatic bias against Zionism and the Jewish people (Betrayal). I fully concur with his remarks regarding the role of the Soviet Union in the demonization of Israel after 1967 and his even deeper observation that the UN, and more ominously the EU, have engaged in a near-Orwellian reversal of values regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.  “With a logic all their own,” Pryce-Jones writes, “EU policy makers oppose Israel . . . as the embodiment of the sense of proud nationhood that runs counter to EU ideology . . . while doing whatever they can to build a nation-state of Palestine.”

All of this leads one dearly to wish for a European counterpart to The Closed Circle, a book that would show how Europe has gradually lost touch with the real world, how this has become reflected in its attitude toward Jews and Israel, and how a latter-day exodus of European Jews may coincide with Europe’s own final demise. That would be some book, and David Pryce-Jones is the man to write it.  


I have followed the writings of Walter Laqueur—on Israel and the Jewish world, Germany and Nazism, Russia and Communism, war and terrorism, Islam and the Middle East, Europe and trans-Atlantic relations—for more than forty years, and I’m honored by his presence among the commenters. I also agree with his insistence on the factor of demography. While I had not previously heard of Felix Theilhaber’s 1911 work, to which he draws our attention, I’m familiar with and have often drawn upon other studies pointing to similar conclusions.

Like Laqueur, I have also had occasion to note the decisive impact of the Orthodox revival and demographic upsurge on Israeli, American, and French Jewry and, conversely, the demographic and political decline of the non-Orthodox and secular Jewish populations in Israel and the Diaspora. I differ from Laqueur, however, when it comes to the chemical interaction between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews.

Already in the 19th century, and certainly by the time when Theilhaber was writing, non-Orthodox Judaism and various movements of Jewish secularism were aggressively on the march against traditionalist Judaism both as a philosophy and as a way of life. Simultaneously, they were raiding Orthodoxy for recruits to their own alternative modes of Jewishness. Since at that time there was scarcely such a thing as a third-generation non-Orthodox or secular Jew, it was necessary to seduce significant numbers of the Orthodox young in order simply to survive. Clearly, such a Jewish Ponzi scheme was bound to collapse one day. A moment would be reached when, in the Jewish world at large, the Orthodox (as Laqueur writes specifically of Germany) would “number too few to compensate for the demographic drift downward.”

However, what was true then is no longer true now. As I see it, a reversal has occurred over the past decades as Orthodoxy has retaken the initiative everywhere, both philosophically and demographically. And it is not just a matter of Orthodox communities resilient enough to retain most if not all of their (more abundant) offspring, instead of constantly losing them to the non-Orthodox or to assimilation. It is also, notably, a matter of them beginning to win back many non-Orthodox, secular, and assimilated Jews and, no less significantly, indirectly influencing a partial return to tradition among the non-Orthodox themselves, from Kabbalah-oriented study groups in Reform Judaism to “secular” yeshivas in Israel.

In France, this reversal was part and parcel of the post-1945 revival I described in my essay. First came the rise, almost ex nihilo, of a large Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community; this in turn sparked, more out of mimicry than competition, the growth of Reform and Conservative (masorti) congregations catering primarily to those who in the pre-1945 world would have vanished as Jews. As a result, overall synagogue membership and attendance, which in Britain, according to Laqueur, has dropped by 20 percent in the past two decades, increased dramatically on the other side of the Channel.

Regarding today’s Germany, Laqueur is right that there are many more unregistered than registered Jews (registration meaning, under German law, membership in a congregation funded through a compulsory “church tax”). But the bulk of the new German Jews are recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe, characterized by very little traditional Jewish background, a high incidence of intermarriage, and very little interest in any sort of registration. What is relevant in this context is not the large proportion of unregistered Jews but rather the growing proportion who do agree to register, as well as the growing tendency of unregistered Jews to attend services or share in other community activities. (The “post-Zionist” Israeli community in Berlin poses a slightly different issue.) 

Whether Britain may fully qualify as a counter-example, I don’t know. The substantial Jewish demographic decline that has occurred there may be linked to a protracted economic and social crisis that dissipated only in the mid-1980s and then resurfaced in the late 2000s; one of its side effects has been the emigration of many middle-class and upper-middle-class families and of single young people. Then, too, Britain has not benefited from Jewish immigration as much as France and Germany, and especially not from a mass immigration of “ethnic Jews” like the Sephardim who came to France from North Africa. Finally, due to social and even geographic barriers that do not exist to the same extent elsewhere, there seems to have been less interaction between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox in Britain than in other countries.


Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s account of Jewish everyday life in Sweden is poignant and painful. For years, Sweden was hailed as the ultimate social model in Europe, a brave new world where the best of capitalism combined with the best of socialism to produce affluence, welfare, and a moral society adhering to an ethic of universal human rights. Back in the 1970s, European social-democrats, so-called “Eurocommunists,” and soft conservatives like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing would all invoke the Swedish model in their respective campaign platforms. Four decades later, I am afraid that Sweden still models a possible European future, albeit one where the pursuit of collective and individual happiness has derailed into chaos. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s testimony strikes a chord among many other European Jews, including French Jews. 

An interesting detail in her letter is that while shehitah (Jewish ritual slaughtering) is forbidden in Sweden—a legacy of the 1930s that was not revised upon Swedish accession to the EU in 1995—halal slaughtering is not, on the pretext that Muslims condone the prior stunning of animals. In this connection, it may be pertinent to point out that specifically Christian anti-Semitism has always run high in Sweden, as it has in neighboring Norway—this, in spite of what has always been a very small Jewish presence. (Jews were not allowed into Sweden until the 18th century; in 1939, they numbered 8,000 souls, or 0.01 percent of the total population.) The prospect of this traditional form of Swedish anti-Semitism coalescing with Muslim anti-Semitism is worth pondering.


Hillel Halkin, the dauntless and accomplished champion of Jewish culture and of Zionism, convincingly compares the respective situations of European and American Jewry, pointing in particular to the fact that American Jews still live in a biblical, predominantly Christian culture while European Jews appear to have entered a post-biblical, post-Christian world. Thus, in the eyes of both evangelical Protestantism and modern Catholicism, American Jews, as Jews, still enjoy a high level of legitimacy that European Jews have lost.

What remains to be seen is how long and how strongly America will retain its Christian (or Judeo-Christian) heritage. In his first inaugural address in January 2009, President Obama pointedly departed from the established consensus that the United States, while dedicated to religious freedom and founded on the separation of church and state, is primarily a Judeo-Christian country. A few months later, in Cairo, he initiated a “dialogue” with Islam on Islam’s terms that was academically unsound, politically unwise, and culturally revolutionary. If Obama’s legacy endures, I fear it could signal the beginning of the end of the special Jewish status in America.

I unhesitatingly endorse Halkin’s statement about a possible large-scale emigration from Europe: “If Jews do start leaving Europe in significant numbers,” he writes, “I hope that many of them will choose to settle in Israel rather than drift off to America, Canada, Australia, and other places.” I agree with him again when he says that “this depends on Israel as much as it does on them.” What puzzles me, however, is the next sentence: “It depends, ironically, on Israel’s becoming a more European country—more soundly and efficiently run, more economically affordable, more environmentally caring, more peaceful, more livable.” 

To the best of my knowledge, European Jews who leave for Israel are not looking for a more European Israel. One reason is simply that if Europe is defined, as Halkin seems to imply, by Swedish criteria, then European Jews know better. Perhaps what he has in mind is simply a western Israel, that is, Jewish and democratic, in which case he might be right. But let me make something clear. 

One part of my essay was devoted to the return of anti-Semitism and the possibility of a mass Jewish emigration from Europe. Another part, however, narrated the rebirth of European Jewry after 1945. The salient fact here is that, over the course of the late 20th and early 21st century, European Jews have accumulated an impressive Jewish potential. The main challenge facing both them and their fellow Jews is not to waste or damage this potential in the travails of emigration and relocation but rather to help bring it to even greater fruition. European Jews planning to leave for North America or Australia may just be leaving an unsafe place for a safer one. Those moving to Israel intend to do so as Jews, to enhance their own Jewishness, and to contribute to a more Jewish state.

In that respect, Halkin is ultimately correct: a lot does depend on Israel. One can only hope that the government and other established institutions of the Jewish state have realized what is at stake in the present moment, and considered the best options for helping to facilitate what could be the next major wave of olim


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.

More about: Anti-Semitism, Barack Obama, European Jewry, Hillel Halkin, Israel, Michel Gurfinkiel, slaughter, Sweden, Zionism