Why Kippa Walks and Muslim Peace Rings Won't Solve Europe's Crisis

These stunts distract us from Europe’s real problem.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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A 'ring of peace' formed around the synagogue in Oslo, Norway, Feb. 21 2015.
A 'ring of peace' formed around the synagogue in Oslo, Norway, Feb. 21 2015.Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Last week, a news organization contacted me about making their own version of “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew,” the YouTube sensation which has so far (as of Thursday morning) been viewed more than four and a half million times.

If you haven’t seen it, the clip shows Makor Rishon journalist Zvika Klein walking with his kippa and tzizit [the fringes of his prayer shawl] through various neighborhoods in Paris. In the condensed 97 seconds of the clip, Klein gets spat at, cursed and threatened by men of North African appearance, for daring to walk there openly as a Jew.

The producer who called me wanted to go one better and film similar walks in five different cities around Europe, starting with Brussels. I was intrigued by the concept but after a few minutes of reflection I declined. Something felt wrong about the idea.

As Klein’s “Kippa Walk” went viral, there was a lot of mean-spirited and, frankly, quite biased criticism of him and the clip. Some said it was unfair to so drastically edit 10 hours into just a minute and a half, as if this isn’t how so much of televised news works.

There was the ridiculous accusation that he was somehow causing a “provocation” by going around openly looking like a religious Jew – which says much more about the accuser than anything else. And of course there were those who tried to portray Klein and his newspaper as being “far-right” and, therefore, by some strange logic, their journalism shoddy or invalid.

This is the kind of stupid talk you only hear on the far-left, as if there’s something politically suspect about highlighting the fact that Jews do get harassed. The clip isn’t fabricated and the incidents there are real enough.

But I still felt uncomfortable with the idea. I didn’t quite know why. On Saturday night, I finally understood what bothered me.

The Web was filled with images from the “peace ring,” a group of purportedly 1,000 young Norwegian Muslims who, in an act of solidarity, arrived outside the main synagogue in Oslo to stand as a human chain “protecting” the Jews. And, of course, a few hours later the detractors were also out in force, this time from the far-right.

The “thousand” Muslims turned out to be only a few dozen, many of them pro-Palestine activists, including one speaker at the event who, five years before, published an anti-Semitic and homophobic screed accusing the Jews of orchestrating 9/11.

This wasn’t what bothered me, however. Numbers at these events manufactured for the media are always inflated, I had no expectation that any of the Muslim participants would be fervent Zionists (it would have somehow been missing the point if they had been) and if a young man was willing to publicly recant his previous vile beliefs, what’s wrong with that?

What troubled me about the “peace ring” was that it was ultimately a gesture which, more than it symbolized any real solidarity and cooperation that is so necessary between the religious and ethnic minorities living in Europe, fed the existing stereotypes and reduced the burning issues into pathetic symbols.

And that is exactly the problem with 10 hours compressed to 97 seconds in Paris as well.

The Jews of Europe aren’t some cowering defenseless group, and their main problem certainly isn’t that they are afraid of wearing a kippa in dodgy Muslim neighborhoods.

Actually, Jews are the best-integrated and most successful minority on the continent. They are currently receiving the highest level of security from their local governments and police forces, who are only improving and intensifying security measures in the wake of attacks in France, Belgium and Denmark.

Reducing contemporary anti-Semitism to nasty reactions to a man wearing a kippa is minimizing, trivializing and simplifying the challenge facing all Europeans right now.

The world’s attention has been drawn to these issues by the attacks carried out on Jewish (and other) targets in the last three years by radicalized, European-born Muslims. Yet while the murder of 13 Jews in the course of these attacks is tragic, it is not a threat to the continuation of Jewish life in Europe.

These acts of violence are a symptom of a wider malaise affecting the continent. The Jews are indeed frequent victims, but in many respects Jewish casualties are more collateral damage rather than the main target, which is European civilization.

Similarly, the fact that old European anti-Semitism is now prevalent primarily among new European Muslims is a symptom. Just as the tiny minority of them who have heeded the call of Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and traveled to fight in Syria and Iraq, or tried to emulate the terror group’s actions by carrying out attacks in their home countries, are also symptoms.

A small number of homegrown jihadists is not the problem, just as a few Muslims standing in solidarity outside a synagogue is little more than an empty gesture.

I am not about to excuse anyone who curses or spits on a Jew, and the security establishment and intelligence community in Europe has to rapidly up its game and ferociously root out the jihadists. It’s not a Jewish issue, but a threat to all Europeans, particularly to Muslims.

But the real threat is the too-slow acknowledgment of the collapse of identity in Europe. While politicians and the media are focused on the inevitable collapse of the joint currency, the failing euro is only one aspect of what’s ailing the continent.

The old national identities discredited in the last century by fascism and communism left a vacuum that the dream of pan-European multiculturalism failed to fill.

Now, as decades of prosperity have come to an end, entire societies with failing birthrates have little to offer a restless younger generation that lacks a sense of belonging and hope of a future.

No wonder all the old phobias and some new ones are making a comeback, making minorities ever more vulnerable. The implosion of Greece and the emergence of irresponsible radical leftists and hate-filled neofascists could be just a microcosm of what lies in store for the entire continent.

Charlatans on all sides are exploiting this identity crisis. European Muslims are facing xenophobia and poverty, while external players, not only ISIS, are trying to use them for their own noxious interests.

It’s certainly no coincidence that Europe’s most prominent anti-Semite, French comedian Dieudonne, turned up in Tehran this week. Jews are trying to tackle assimilation, intermarriage and tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and other streams, while trying to maintain the numbers to have a viable communal life. The physical threat is just the latest addition to their ongoing challenges.

Rising anti-Semitism is largely a symptom of this European breakdown. It is a result of tensions in the Muslim community, the resurgence of the nationalist far-right and the toxic way the Israel-Palestine conflict is prominently portrayed in European media, ramped up by far-left BDS activists.

This has been internalized by young Muslims, only a tiny proportion of whom are of Palestinian origin themselves, as their own narrative. As a result, their Jewish neighbors have been forced into the role of proxies for Israel and targets for the frustration felt by Muslims with a lack of opportunities.

Antipathy toward kippa-wearing Jews in neighborhoods they never go to anyway is the least of the Jews’ or the Muslims’ problems. Human chains of Muslims outside synagogues or mosques certainly won’t solve them. All these stunts are distractions from Europe’s real crises. That’s what is wrong with them.

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