U.S. Jewish Leader: No Need to Tell European Jews to Flee

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Malcolm HoenleinCredit: Haaretz Archive

Malcolm Hoenlein, one of American Jewry’s most powerful figures, said Monday that Jews should not be urged to flee Europe, but that world Jewish leaders bear a collective responsibility to help those anxious to relocate to Israel or elsewhere because of rising anti-Semitism.

“I do not believe we should panic or that we should tell people to flee,” Malcolm Hoenlein, long-standing executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told a news conference in Jerusalem. “What we should do is organize an orderly transition for those who want to leave, while ensuring the protection of those who remain. We need to keep demanding that European governments do what they are obliged to do,” Hoenlein said.

A delegation including more than 100 leaders from the conference’s 50 member organizations is convening in Israel this week. In recent weeks, government leaders, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been criticized for calling on European Jews to immigrate to Israel, following the recent attacks in France and Denmark.

Hoenlein, one of the most influential and hawkish figures among American Jewish leaders, defended these statements. “Criticism lodged against some leaders when they call attention to this reality is misplaced,” he said. “It is imperative that people be alerted and are aware of it. The only way we can prepare for an orderly transition and avoid crises is if we prepare the facilities here to integrate people.”

He said it was important that Israel be an “inviting” destination for potential immigrants, but did not rule out other possibilities. “Some will go to Australia, some will go to the United States,” he said. “I don’t think you can dictate to people where they should go.”

Hoenlein urged world Jewish leaders to mobilize not only behind European Jews but also Jews in other places who “face very severe dangers,” noting in particular the communities in Turkey, Argentina and Venezuela.

He was reluctant to express his views on the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to the U.S. Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat, scheduled to take place just two weeks before the March 17 Israeli election. “I think mistakes were made on all sides about the process, but we have to look at the substance,” said Hoenlein. “I hope this can all be resolved because Israel can never be a partisan issue.”

Asked whether it would be wise for Netanyahu to go, Hoelein responded: “That’s his decision. He has to assess it.”

Hoenlein disclosed that he had met with leaders of “five or six” Muslim countries in the past two weeks who told him that containing the Iranian nuclear threat was their top priority. “They are more worried about it than Israel because they say Israel can defend itself but they can’t,” he said.