Election Envy: The Europeans and the Jews
Why do Europeans feel such revulsion toward Jews? At a certain level, to be sure, European leaders deeply regret the new persecution of Europe's Jews. Many share the sentiment of European Commission Vice-Chairman Frans Timmermans, who warned yesterday that an exodus of Europe's Jews would call into question the premises of European society. Last September, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told a rally in Berlin that it was the duty of every German to fight anti-Semitism. Nonetheless even the best-intentioned Europeans feel their skin crawl in the presence of the sort of Jews who represent the future of the Jewish people: those who follow Jewish tradition, raise Jewish families, and embrace the cause of Zionism. Europeans adore secular Israelis who wallow in existential doubts, for example, the novelist Zeruya Shalev, a bestseller in Germany and the winner of any number of European literary awards. I've never read Shalev, but then again, I don't like fiction. Jews like Naftali Bennett, Israel's economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, give them the creeps.
The truth is that it doesn't matter much whether the assimilated, secularized Jews of Europe stay or leave, for most of their children and very few of their grandchildren will be Jewish. Among non-Orthodox French and British Jews, intermarriage rates are around 45%, not as alarming as the 71% among non-Orthodox U.S. Jews and 80% among Russian and Ukrainian Jews, but high enough to sharply reduce Jewish numbers over a generation or two. Except for a minority of non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews, the impassioned and engaged Jews whose children and grandchildren will be Jewish identify strongly with the state of Israel. The infertile and feckless Europeans don't have much of a future, either; at present fertility rates, the German and Italian languages will disappear altogether in two hundred years. It is easy for them to swap existential spit with denatured secular Jews who don't have a future, either. Religious Jews are most likely to leave, for they depend on communal institutions -- synagogues, schools, kosher food providers, and so forth -- that offer easily identifiable targets for terrorists.
It's been so long since Europeans took their own national identity seriously that it's hard for them to remember why it is that they can't stand the sort of Jew who represents the Jewish future. One has to put them on the proverbial couch and coax it out of them: Europeans hate Jews because European national identity from the outset was a dreadful parody of Jewish identity. One learns this most clearly from the great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, who argued the secret of European identity was the desire of every nation to be chosen in the flesh. As I wrote in this space on the anniversary of the First World War, "The unquiet urge of each nation to be chosen in its own skin began with the first conversion of Europe's pagans; it was embedded in European Christendom at its founding. Christian chroniclers cast the newly-baptized European monarchs in the role of biblical kings, and their nations in the role of the biblical Israel. The first claims to national election came at the crest of the early Dark Ages, from the sixth-century chronicler St Gregory of Tours (538-594), and the seventh-century Iberian churchman St Isidore of Seville....Saints Isidore of Seville and Gregory of Tours were in a sense the Bialystock and Bloom of the Dark Ages, the Producers of the European founding: they sold each petty monarch 100% of the show. One hardly can fault them. Transmuting the barbarian invaders who infested the ruined empire of the Romans into Christians was perhaps the most remarkable political accomplishment in world history, but it required a bit of flimflam that had ghastly consequences over the long term. The filth of the old European paganism accumulated in the tangled bowels of Europe until the terrible events of 1914-1945 released it."
When real Americans -- the kind of Americans who identify with the American Founding -- meet real Jews -- the kind of Jews who embrace Israel's past and future -- there is an instant sympathy, for Jews remind Americans of what is best in their character: the new mission in the Wilderness, the vision of a new City on a hill. New England was settled in response to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, and as many German Protestants -- the losers in that war -- came to America as Englishmen. When Europeans meet Jews, we remind them of what was worst in their character: the lampoon of Jewish identity that infected European nationalism. The Nazi delusion of a "Master Race, " after all, was a satanic parody of the Election of Israel. In the past, each European nation that fancied itself God's instrument on earth set out to humiliate, expel, or even exterminate the Jews, for how could France or Spain or Russia or Germany be the Chosen Nation when the Jews claimed that status? Old Europe hated the Jews because it envied election; New Europe hates the Jews because it eschews election altogether. The old hatred suppurates and boils under the ectoderm of the new hatred.
There is a lot more to it, to be sure: the old Kantian illusion of perpetual peace, what Germans call the "Multi-Kulti" belief that all cultures must have equal outcomes as well as equal opportunities, the whole ideological apparatus of social engineering -- these all influence European thinking. But what rattles around in the European cerebrum is less important than what ferments in Europe's viscera.
After three devastating wars lasting two generations each -- the Thirty Years' War of 1618-1648, the Napoleonic Wars of 1799-1815, and the two World Wars of the 20th century -- the Europeans grew weary of their contentious national identities. They agreed to become nothing in particular. Patriotism is an obscenity in Germany, a joke in Italy, a curse in Spain, a relic in England, and a faux pas in France. To declare one's self a Jewish patriot, a Zionist, transgresses the boundary of civilized discourse in today's Europe. Personally, I find this disappointing; I speak three European languages apart from English and have nothing to say to anybody in any of them.
So when we hear expressions of sympathy from European leaders who treasure their Jewish communities, but tell Israel not to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza, and propose to concoct a Palestinian State without an end-of-hostilities agreement from the Arab side, our instinctive and correct response is to send them to hell. We well know wes Geistes Kind es sei.
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