See the previous installments of P. David Hornik’s fascinating series:
This summer a total of about 800 Jewish immigrants from France are expected to arrive in Israel. They’re part of a total of about 2500 who are expected to make their way here from France over the course of the year—an increase of 40 percent over last year.
As Sabrina Kozirov, arriving in August with her husband and two teenage daughters, told Israel’s Ynetnews:
The situation in France had become unbearable. There is a large Muslim community and harsh political criticism of Israel. Therefore we preferred to leave.
Her words dovetail with a report by an Israeli institute on the bleak situation of France’s Jews and Europe’s generally, and with a much-read article by French Jewish intellectual Michel Gurfinkiel on the same theme.
Along with the problems Sabrina Kozirov alludes to—the animosity (not infrequently violent) of Muslim populations and an intense anti-Israeli atmosphere generally—many of the European countries have been banning or trying to ban kosher slaughter and even circumcision, a Jewish practice going back to Abraham’s time in the Book of Genesis.
The attempt to “rebuild Jewish life” in post-Holocaust Europe was, of course, problematic from the start. A continent that could have produced the Holocaust could not, realistically, have been expected to make an abrupt about-face and become Jew-friendly. But the form European antisemitism now takes—particularly the animus against Israel—is not without some striking ironies.
The Zionist ideology that produced the state of Israel took a dim view of Jewish life in the Diaspora. Zionist leaders like Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned that the Jews of Europe were in grave danger and should get out before it was too late. Zionism also embraced the doctrine of shlilat ha-Golah—negation of the Diaspora, positing that even in countries that were Jew-friendly, Jews would disappear quietly through assimilation.
But while Zionism was all too right about the dangers of antisemitism, it was not necessarily right in its diagnosis of it.
As many Zionist thinkers saw it, the Jewish state in the Land of Israel would not only be a refuge from antisemitism, but the solution for it. Antisemitism, in this view, arose from the anomaly of Jewish life in the Exile, dispersed among other peoples. Once Jews became a “normal” people in their own state, antisemitism would wither on the vine.
By now we know, of course, that while Zionism got many things right, it didn’t get that right. Just in 2012, according to a study, global antisemitism rose 30 percent, and it was already high. But what is all the more confounding, and wasn’t supposed to be in the script, is that the Jewish state itself has become a focus of antisemitism—and not only in the Arab and Muslim world but in Europe, whose antisemitic agitations got Zionist visionaries worried in the first place.
“All over Europe,” writes Gurfinkiel, “with exceptions here and there, the story is much the same.” And he goes on to note,
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….
Israeli writer and translator Hillel Halkin, in a comment on Gurfinkiel’s piece, notes that the rates holding that view about Israel and the Palestinians are now 48 percent in Germany and 63 percent in Poland (countries of special resonance in this context), and remarks: “This is not just mass psychology. It is mass psychopathology.”
It’s indeed that, but it’s the reality after 65 years of Israel’s existence as a democracy that has made dramatic land concessions in a quest for peace. Many Europeans, of course—and particularly elite, “educated” ones—will protest that they’re not antisemitic at all, just “critics” of Israel. In other words, the Jews are a fine people, but for some reason the state they’ve created is the epitome of evil, rapacious, devious, and mass-murderous.
One can’t say for sure whether this Israel-animus is fostering the push to proscribe kosher slaughter and circumcision in European countries—which can only be called antisemitic, since the success of this effort would make Jewish life impossible. One can say for sure, though, that the existence of the Jewish state is at least intensifying the antisemitic mood. In a sad travesty of Isaiah’s words, antisemitism is “going forth from Zion.” That is not what any Zionist thinker or activist had in mind, but it’s a testament to the remarkable power and tenacity of Jew-hatred.
During the three years (2006-2009) I lived in Tel Aviv, French Jewry affected my life in two ways. One was rental prices. Many French Jews own flats in Tel Aviv, live in them only in August, and don’t rent them out, shrinking Tel Aviv’s supply and further increasing its glut on the demand side. My landlord reaped the benefits.
The other way was more pleasant: going down to the beachfront in August and hearing all the hubbub in French, which on some days even seemed to prevail over Hebrew. It wasn’t only that French sounds nice; it was also a sense of pride and accomplishment in the fact that all those French Jews were availing themselves of our Jewish state to create a real connection to it. Some, of course, end up moving here permanently; about 10 percent of French Jewry now lives in Israel.
Among the European Jewish communities, the French one is particularly significant because, at about 600,000, it’s by far the largest. The abovementioned report on European Jewry’s alarming situation says that about 40-50 percent of European Jews are considering emigrating. Of those, a sizable portion will come to Israel. They’ll be affirming that they see past their societies’ systematic denigration of the Jewish state, and that instead they see it as it is: a source of light, of democratic decency in a bad region, outstanding creativity in various fields, and an insistent aspiration for peace.
They’ll be making, then, a sort of double affirmation. If the Jewish state couldn’t end antisemitism but, quite the contrary, gave it more fodder, then—paradoxically—its necessity is all the greater. These immigrants—olim, those who ascend—will be fully becoming who they really are, turning their backs on those who will always be blind to it.