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.