Call for French Aliyah: Fulfillment of Zionism or Capitulation to Terrorism?

Encouraging mass Jewish emigration would help terrorist fanatics finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande at the Grand Synagogue in Paris. January 11, 2015.
Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande at the Grand Synagogue in Paris. January 11, 2015.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The terrorist attacks in Paris, anti-Semitic and otherwise, have elicited widespread calls in Israel for French Jewry to come on mass aliyah. Such exhortations are in line with two well-established Zionist principles: negation of the Diaspora and Israel as a safe haven for persecuted and endangered Jews.

It stands to reason that even without the electioneering that is so rampant these days, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers would have portrayed emigration to Israel as a Zionist antidote for the anti-Semitism and atmosphere of fear that have developed in recent years in France, in particular, and in Europe, in general.

Nonetheless, this instinctive reaction – perhaps Pavlovian is a better word – should give reason for pause and discomfort, even among the most ardent of Zionists. Because whether French Jews answer these calls by emigrating to Israel or whether they simply take the advice in principle and go somewhere else, in some ways this campaign is no more than blatant capitulation to terror. It gives its instigators a prize they could never have dreamed of: a frenzied flight of Jews, at best, or the complete elimination of Jewish presence in France, at worst. By encouraging mass emigration, Israeli politicians could very well be helping terrorist fanatics finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.

Such a surrender, as Netanyahu regularly lectures the West, can only invigorate the Jihadists and spur them to adopt similar tactics in other European countries. The precedent by which Jews can be expelled from any country in which there is a sizable Muslim minority by means of anti-Semitic incitement and a few successful terror operations could prove tempting for Al Qaida, Islamic State and similar fanatic groups. Israel might view the absorption of thousands of French Jews as a rescue operation that strengthens the Zionist enterprise, but the Islamic fanatics could draw the opposite conclusion: First we’ll kick the Jews out of Paris, Berlin and London, they’ll tell the Muslim world, then we’ll take Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.

Sadly, some Israelis can no longer differentiate between totalitarian anti-Semitic regimes that persecuted Jews in the past and were happy to see them go, and today’s Europe - which wants nothing of the kind. Part of the reason for this blurred vision is the right-wing government’s self-serving propaganda that equates harsh criticism of Israeli policies with classic European anti-Semitism.

But despite our hasbara enthusiasm, which convinces mainly ourselves, France is neither Algeria, Morocco or Iraq of the 50’s or 60’s nor the Soviet Union of the 70’s and 80’s: notwithstanding decades-long disdain for French foreign policy, Paris is still a founding member of the Western civilization to which Israel rightfully seeks to belong. The mass demonstration in Paris on Sunday provided ample proof of where French sympathies lie, if any was needed.

Thus, in the concerted call for French Jews to leave their country, issued by most Israeli leaders only a few short hours after four innocent Jews were murdered in the kosher supermarket near Paris’ Vincennes neighborhood, there was an undeniable element of stabbing a beleaguered sister democracy in the back at its time of dire need. On the one hand, Israel issued platitudes of solidarity with the French, but on the other its undermining message was clear: Paris is either unwilling or incapable of overcoming the Islamic terror and anti-Jewish forces that threaten it, and Jews should run for their lives. Just imagine the scandal that would have erupted after the 2002 massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya, if a French politician would have told French citizens in Israel that it’s time to come home, to their safe and sound birthplace.

Patriotic Israelis will welcome French immigrants to Israel, but that does not contradict the fact that Israel has no interest in promoting the eradication of over two millennia of Jewish presence in Europe. “France without its Jews would not be France,” the country’s prime minister has said, but Israel without its Diaspora might not be the Israel that many of us are still hoping for either. There is nothing wrong with Israel promoting emigration, preferably out of choice and not out of fear, but this week was not the right time for such a campaign: the government should have seized the opportunity to strengthen the Jewish community in France, rather than weaken it.

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