Throughout Europe today many Jews are contemplating a painful dilemma sometimes characterized as the choice between “the coffin and the suitcase.” With violence against Jews on the rise, should they leave Europe?
Seven decades after the Holocaust, it appears that memories of the 6 million Jews who died have largely faded. And now the fantasy that Judenhass, the hatred of the Jews, ended with Adolf Hitler is fading too.
In recent months, Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen have been added to the growing list of European cities marred by sensational murders of Jews. Meanwhile, other unsettling acts of anti-Semitism—such as physical assaults and intimidation of Jews on the street, synagogue arsons, anti-Semitic graffiti and desecration of Jewish cemeteries—are becoming frighteningly common.
While European leaders link arms and proclaim “never again,” their words are drowned out by hordes shouting anti-Semitic bile: “Jews to the gas!” “Slit Jews’ throats” and “Hitler was right.” Charging that “European governments have failed their Jewish citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed for European Jews to join the exodus already underway to the haven of Israel.
Consider these major newspaper headlines:
- “Europe’s Alarming New Anti-Semitism” (Wall Street Journal).
- “Anti-Semitism on Rise Across Europe ‘in Worst Times Since the Nazis’” (The Guardian).
- “Somewhere Between the Holocaust and 2015 It Became OK to Blame Jews Again” (The Telegraph).
The media has started to note the eerie trends that have some European Jews pondering an age-old question: “Is it time to leave again?”
- A survey published by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union in 2013 found that 29 percent of European Jews have considered emigrating because they no longer feel safe. Two-thirds of the 6,000 Jewish respondents considered anti-Semitism in Europe to be on the rise and 76 percent said that anti-Semitism had worsened in their country, with the most marked deteriorations in Hungary, Belgium and France.
- In France 475,000 Jews represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s population; but in 2014, according to French Interior Ministry, 51 percent of all racist attacks targeted Jews. This is resulting in a “new exodus,” with over 10,000 French Jews emigrating (7,000 to Israel) in 2014—nearly double the number that left the previous year. The number is expected to double again this year after the recent attacks. Significantly, 50,000 more have made formal inquiries to relocate.
- Britain, home to 300,000 Jews, recorded over 1,100 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, double the previous year and the highest number of such acts on record. Recent surveys of Jews in the U.K. show more than half (58 percent) fear that Jews have no long-term future in Europe.
- Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, is often mentioned as the capital of European anti-Semitism, with attacks on Jews tripling between 2010 and 2012—without a single resulting conviction.
Why is this happening now?
The demographic changes underway in Europe are staggering. In 2010 there were only 1.4 million Jews left in Europe—just 10 percent of the world’s Jewish population, and a miniscule 0.2 percent of Europe’s population. This figure has plummeted precipitously from the 1939 population of 9.4 million or 57 percent of the world’s Jews (February 2015 Pew Research Center’s Global Religious Landscape report).
Conversely, tidal waves of Muslim immigration to the Continent have initiated what many are calling a “European intifada.” This rapidly swelling, but not well assimilated, Muslim population stood at 44 million in 2010—up from 29.6 million in 1990—and it is projected to reach 58 million by 2030. “The world’s oldest hatred,” once considered a phenomenon of the nationalist right, is today found more often among Europe’s Muslims than anyone else.
“We are a microcosm of the Middle East,” said Philip Carmel, the policy director for the European Jewish Congress, because “the Middle East is being imported to Europe” (Jim Yardley, “Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows,” New York Times, Sept. 23, 2014).
“The continent of ‘wine and roses’ is also crawling with home-grown second- and third-generation jihadists, run-of-the-mill right-wing Neo-Nazis, politically correct leftists, and native Europeans who resent being made to feel guilty for Hitler’s past crimes” (Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism, 2003, pp. 7-8).
The ancient roots of Europe’s oldest hatred
The Continent has a long, ugly history of bigotry and persecution toward Jews. “Antisemitism in the sense of ‘Jew-hatred’ had been endemic throughout European history,” states historian Norman Davies. “Its embers were always alight, bursting into flame and dying down in patterns that are not easily explained” (Europe: A History, 1998, pp. 846-847).
As a result of the Diaspora—the dispersion or scattering from their ancient homeland of Judea—many Jews spread throughout the Roman Empire.
According to historian Paul Johnson, later European sovereigns from Spain to Russia noticed that “the great Jewish strength lay in the ability to take quick advantage of new opportunities; to recognize an unprecedented situation when it arose and devise methods of handling it” (History of the Jews, 1987, p. 253). “They were the best of all urban colonists, they had useful trading networks, possessed rare skills, accumulated wealth quickly and were easy to tax” (p. 205).
While European leaders link arms and proclaim “never again,” their words are drowned out by hordes shouting anti-Semitic bile: “Jews to the gas!” “Slit Jews’ throats” and “Hitler was right.”
“The Jewish passion for education, which was rooted in the study of Torah, but which could be easily redirected to the early acquisition of foreign languages, of legal qualifications, or of scientific expertise” gave Jews an advantage with “the expanding frontiers of knowledge and communications, where people with international contacts stood at an advantage over their homegrown confrères” (Europe: A History, pp. 847-848).
Religious-based anti-Semitism reflects back to fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine, who declared the customs of the Jews as unbecoming and said, “Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this people.” Rabid anti-Semites instigated the false belief that the Jewish people alone were responsible for the death of Jesus. The personal venom of Martin Luther, author of On the Jews and Their Lies, was such that, on his deathbed, he condemned Jews for his chest pains.
Through conspiracy theories, Jews were also falsely impugned for all of mankind’s evils. They have been blamed for poisoning wells, blood libels (murders of young children) and the Black Death. Hoaxes—like the discredited but still popular forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion—accused the Jews of nefarious economic domination of the world.
Jews have frequently been given the choice of conversion, death or exile. They often were not allowed to own land, but were forced to live in segregated ghettos. A large chunk of Russia’s ex-Polish provinces was turned into the Pale of Settlement where Jews were confined; but following the assassination of Czar Alexander II, the first of many violent pogroms took place as Jews were made the scapegoats. The slogan “thrash a Jew and save Russia” was flaunted then, and the attitude seems to be resurfacing today.
An Israeli psychiatrist once noted with bitter irony that “the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.” And it’s not just Germany.
“In many European countries, Jews have long represented an irksome reminder of the blemishes on the nation’s moral standing. This is most obviously the case in Germany, where Jews are widely seen as flesh-and-blood embodiments of the darkest hour in the nation’s history—a chapter that a younger generation of Germans, impatient with the ubiquitous memorials attesting to their nation’s past crimes, is determined to make a less prominent part of public life. But the same goes for countries that once saw their own history in unambiguously positive terms: whether in Poland, Sweden, or France, past treatment of Jews complicates long-standing narratives about heroism in World War II” (Yascha Mounk, “Europe’s Jewish Problem,” Foreign Affairs, Sept. 17, 2014).
A distinction without a difference
Virulent anti-Semitism has also been repackaged and given a more intellectual fig leaf as anti-Zionism. This phenomenon emerged in the 1960s, defaming and demonizing not Jews personally, but rather the Jewish state of Israel.
“Britain hasn’t escaped the anti-Semitism sweeping Europe,” writes Brendan O’Neill of numerous boycotts and divestment initiatives. “The British have merely found new and subtler ways of expressing it” (“It’s Britain, so the Anti-Semitism Is More Refined,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 15, 2014).
O’Neill also wrote, “In Nazi Germany, it was all the rage to make one’s town Judenfrei [meaning cleansed of Jews]. Now a new fashion is sweeping Europe: to make one’s town or city what we might call ‘Zionistfrei.’ … Across the Continent, cities and towns are declaring themselves ‘Israel-free zones,’ insulating their citizens from Israeli produce and culture. It has ugly echoes of what happened 70 years ago” (“Rinsing Israel Out of Europe: The Zionistfrei Movement,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2014).
Why do the Jews, a scattered people, so few in number—less than one fourth of 1 percent of the earth’s population—inspire such bitter resentment and ferocious animosity?
“Strangeness,” as historian Paul Johnson has described the Jewish laws of diet, cleanliness and worship, “lay at the origin of anti-Semitism in antiquity: the Jews were not merely immigrants, but they kept themselves apart” (A History of the Jews, p. 134). The refusal by many Jews to assimilate into the melting pot of polytheistic and pagan religions, in addition to the importance of marital and family bonds, made them different in many ways.
For millennia the Jewish people have also believed that they are God’s chosen people. Though without a complete understanding of God’s plan of salvation, many Jews down through the ages have taken very seriously a calling to be a special people (Deuteronomy 14:2; 7:7) with a covenant established with God (Genesis 17:1-9). The New Testament shows God does have a special love for the Jewish people, through whom the Old Testament was preserved for us (Romans 3:1-2; 11:1-28).
But this tradition of “chosenness” has provoked intense antagonism aptly expressed by best-selling Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder’s comment, “to act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity” (“God’s Chosen People,” Aftenposten, Aug. 2006).
The concept of God working through chosen people should not be strange except for the fact of biblical ignorance. True Christians have also been given the mandate to not conform to the world around them (Romans 12:2) because they have been given a special calling (1 Peter 2:5-12) and traditions to hold to (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15).
Jesus Christ was a Jew. The earliest apostles were all Jewish. Christianity can only be properly understood with the foundation of the Hebrew Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
A warning for others too
Jews have always been the canaries in society’s coal mine, with attitudes and violence toward them serving as a warning of potential upheaval. The political truism that “what begins with the Jews doesn’t end with Jews” should remind people of previous periods of turbulence.
“It is not 1933. But could it be 1929?” cautions author Jeffrey Goldberg. “Could Europe’s economic stagnation combine with its inability to assimilate and enfranchise growing populations of increasingly angry Muslims in such a way as to clear a path for volatile right-wing populism?” (“Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” The Atlantic, April 2015).
Current conditions are setting the stage for end-time events that will be increasingly dangerous for both Jews and others who follow the teachings of the Bible. Thankfully, that same Bible promises that after the destruction that such hatreds will bring, Jesus Christ will return to bring a wonderful world tomorrow. We must focus on and prepare for the time of peace in order to endure the troublesome times ahead.