Text size
related tags

My city of birth, Bielsko, in the region of Silesia, changed hands a number of times during the turbulent 20th century. As a result, I am apparently entitled to Polish, Austrian, German and possibly Hungarian passports, because my grandmother was born in Hungary. I forgo all of them.

The reasons that drive many Israelis to seek European passports are complex. With a European passport, for example, you don't have to stand in line with droves of Turks and Pakistanis at Frankfurt Airport. You are allowed to work with no need for special permits. It's easier to do business, and your children can attend European universities free. Restitution is sometimes easier with a European passport. And some Israelis - though they may stop short of admitting this - view a European passport as a kind of insurance policy. There's no telling what might happen here and it could come in handy on a rainy day.

These are hefty arguments that would not shame any persecuted and stateless Jew quick to latch onto any opportunity to survive. These arguments are, however, problematic for anyone who views himself as a citizen of the Jewish state and understands how the formation of the State of Israel has revolutionized Jewish history.

Israel was formed not only to ensure - on the abstract level - the Jewish people's right to self-determination. It was formed mainly because Europe had failed and betrayed us, as well as its own principles, and did not protect its Jews. The European betrayal preceded the Holocaust and prompted Theodor Herzl - for whom European culture was an essential element - to realize that the Jews had no future in Europe. The Holocaust was merely the pinnacle of this disappointment. As Saul Friedlander shows in his latest book, only a few European nations went out of their way to save their Jewish citizens. They all collaborated passively or actively with the Nazi destruction machine.

No doubt, we owe a lot to Europe. Our modern culture is to a large extent a product of the Continent. Moreover, modern Zionism grew out of the European Age of Enlightenment and education - not from the religious tradition that adjusted itself over 2,000 years to reality in the Diaspora. The Jewish Enlightenment movement and Zionism also borrowed the idea of reviving their national language from the European national movements. Our link to Europe and its culture runs deep. But to return to Europe, stealthily and one by one, as thieves in the night? No thank you.

And there's another reason to decline. Those who seek German, Polish, Hungarian and Romanian passports do not genuinely view themselves as German, Polish, Hungarian or Romanian nationals. The national and civic consciousnesses of these nations are not part of the applicants' consciousnesses. They do not pay taxes in these countries and are not really interested in what goes on there. All they want is to benefit from the advantages without shouldering any of the burden.

This is ugly and immoral parasitic behavior, and only the Europeans' deep and burdensome sense of guilt prevents them from criticizing this. It's not even an issue of dual allegiance, only a cynical exploitation of Europe's collective sense of guilt. Europe's regret for its actions is commendable. But should we profit from it?

Extracting the Jews' Diaspora tendencies from their hearts is a difficult affair. It's hard to separate from their hearts the inclination to wander among the nations. Their ability to feel content with an Israeli passport is a test of exactly that.