A fascinating argument over the future of European Jews is raging throughout the Jewish world. Jeffrey Goldberg posed the provocative question in the pages of The Atlantic: Has the time come for Jews to leave Europe? European-Jewish intellectuals aligned against him, including Antony Lerman, Diana Pinto and others, and gently asked that he stop butting in. As expected, only a very small number of these discussions made their way into Israeli public discourse.
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Over the last half century, much weight has been lifted off Europe’s shoulders. The United States has assumed responsibility for peace in the world and the West. Industrial revolutions and commerce have made their way into new, far-flung markets. Europe, free of the burdens it once bore, is now even more important, though in different ways, and Jews have a more central role to play than ever before in this new Europe.
Roughly 80 percent of world Jewry lives in Israel and the United States, and it seems that European Jews have become prey to ideology. I do not share the sincere concern that Israelis or Americans feel for the Jews of Europe. On the contrary. American Jews are stuck in the past, trying to make up for their greatest failure – their helplessness during the Holocaust. And Israelis? How can one believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls to Jews to leave a unified Europe with a Muslim population of less than 5 percent (most of whom are peaceful) in order to move to Israel, where 20 percent of the population is discriminated against due to their heritage, and 50 percent of the people under Israeli rule — between the Jordan River and the sea — are Muslim?
The adherants of ‘catastrophic Zionism’
There are Israelis who want Europe to be void of Jews in order to prove Zionism correct. In order to show how relevant “catastrophic Zionism” still is. The complexes of American and Israeli Jews are seeking to be dismantled in the very place where there is no need for them – Europe.
These missionaries, dreaming of a 2015 European exodus, are cannibals looking to feast on the flesh of the oldest communities in Europe. Few bother to investigate European current events.
Even though less than 1.5 million Jews live there, the European Jewish community is no less important than the younger, American and Israeli Jewish communities. Not only because of the thousands of years’ of Jewish history in Europe, or the languages, or the religious and national ties to European culture, but because after hundreds of years of bloodshed, horrible wars and crimes against humanity, after colonialism and religious wars, Europe has done the unbelievable. It destroyed its swords, and became the most important continent in terms of freedoms, reconciliation, equality and secularism.
Europe reinventing itself
The human models developing before our very eyes from Scandinavia to the Iberian Peninsula, from Germany to Greece are a testimony to the fact that this ancient continent did not lose its ability to reinvent itself. It’s not easy; there are anti-Semites and fascists and dangerous Muslims, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like always, it wasn’t built in a day, and in the meantime, something significant is happening there. Europe – for better or worse – will determine the future of the West, and its relationship with the rest of the world.
All central and Western European governments are committed and working fiercely against hate crimes and incitement, and not only against Jews (and painfully, we must admit that they are doing much more than the Israeli government is doing against similar hate crimes in Israel). Jews have helped shape the new secular Europe of rights and freedoms. Zealousness for equality and the sanctity of all human life were in themselves strongly shaped by the fate of the Jews. In many respects, Europe has become “Jewish.” If Europe were to become void of Jews, it would be a strategic victory for the enemies of the Jews, and the enemies of the West’s values of tolerance and inclusion.
A meeting point between Islam and the West
In a generation in which we Israelis have forgotten how to be sensitive and empathetic to minorities, to those who are different, to the persecuted, and many American Jews are swallowed up in their comfort zones of white society and are abandoning their partnership with the “others,” in America, the “United States of Europe” is presenting a new model of identity – a union between those who are different, and the “other.” It’s a model no different from the American one which seeks to assimilate all into a monochromatic American democracy.
Further, Europe is the current meeting point between Islam and the West. Some of that encounter involves clashes, and some involves learning. The Christian continent is learning to make space for other, rich and varied identities. My friends, Ziya from Bangladesh, Shaida whose family is from Turkey and Rob from Jamaica, are impressive Europeans, and Europe is better off with them. Just like Shaul from Venice, Yoop from Amsterdam and Brian from London – there is no dissonance between their Jewish heritage and their European identity. The discourse between white, Christian Europe and those who are different is fascinating. More important is the dialogue between Western Europe and the Muslim forces in its midst.
The Muslim world and some of its members are embarking on a long journey toward the Western values of freedom, equality and brotherhood. The institutionalization of Western Islam in the heart of Europe – that which is absorbing values of democracy while remaining true to Muslim tradition – is where the strategic potential exists for bridging the gaps peacefully in the generations to come. It’s not happening in the Middle East or North America, but only in Europe. That is where the vanguard of humanity and humaneness is to be found. There has never been a worse time for Jews to abandon Europe.
The challenge facing the West and Europe is no longer military or economic, but rather an intellectual challenge of values. The philosopher Hans-George Gadamer said that he regards abundance of diversity as the most precious treasure which Europe managed to save from the conflagrations of the past, to offer to the world today.
“To live with Another, live as Another for Another, is the fundamental task of man – both on the highest and the lowest level ...therein perhaps dwells that specific advantage of Europe, which could and had to learn the art of living with others,” Gadamer is quoted in Zygmunt Bauman’s book “Culture in a Liquid Modern World.”
A fight for the future of the West without the Jews of Europe would be almost tragic, and must be avoided at all costs.