There has been a great deal of press devoted to the Israeli government’s efforts to convince European Jewry to escape anti-semitism and flee for their lives to Israel. Leading the charge is Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who commented thus following the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue this past weekend:
Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish. This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe – Israel is your home.
I can’t help but be struck a certain absurdity at the heart of Netanyahu’s invitation. Why should European Jews move to Israel? After all, it could be compellingly argued that Israel is already a European nation.
Israel was, after all, born of a distinctly European ideology; indeed, the roots of political Zionism are buried firmly in the soil of 19th century European nationalism and colonialism. Zionist figures from Theodor Herzl (whose novel “Altnueland” imagined the Jewish state in Palestine à la 19th century Vienna) to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who infamously described Israel as “a villa in the jungle,” have fancied the Israel as a European style nation-state outpost in an otherwise uncivil Middle East.
This socio-cultural legacy is manifest in a variety of ways. It’s enormously telling, for instance, that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that chooses to compete in the annual Eurovision Song Contest, as well as the European soccer and basketball championships. At the end of the day, though Israel and the EU may experience their fair share of political tensions, Israel is a European country at heart in so many tangible and intangible ways.
Israel has been also proving itself all-too European in a decidedly different way: through the the nationalist racism that plagues its civic life. To cite but one example, Israel has its own brand of European-style racist soccer hooligans who cheer on their teams by violently attacking minorities in the streets.
Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem supporters assaulted Arab cleaning personnel at the capital’s Malha shopping center on Monday, in what was said to be one of Jerusalem’s biggest-ever ethnic clashes. “It was a mass lynching attempt,” said Mohammed Yusuf, a team leader for Or-Orly cleaning services.
Despite CCTV footage of the events, no one was arrested. Jerusalem police said that is because no complaint was filed. Witnesses said that after a soccer game in the nearby Teddy Stadium, hundreds of mostly teenage supporters flooded into the shopping center, hurling racial abuse at Arab workers and customers and chanting anti-Arab slogans, and filled the food hall on the second floor.
Or witness this horrid incident from this past summer:
Earlier this week, Israeli authorities arrested six men in connection with the ghastly killing of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khieder, who, according to reports, was forced into a car and then beaten and burned to death…
Initial reports suggested that some of the suspects in Abu Khieder’s killing were connected to La Familia, a notorious wing of soccer fans connected to Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel’s more prominent soccer clubs. La Familia… has come to define the club to outside observers as a bastion of xenophobia and racism in Israel.
But it’s not only soccer hooligans. Believe it or not, this is an actual report from Ha’aretz last summer:
Some of the right-wing protesters who beat leftist demonstrators in Tel Aviv on Saturday night wore T-shirts bearing a neo-Nazi symbol, photos and videos show.
As shown on journalist Tal Schneider’s Hebrew-language blog, some of the right-wingers wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “Good night left side.”
Neo-Nazis in Europe wear shirts with this phrase, which accompanies an image of a man attacking a left-wing activist, denoted by a star or anarchy symbol…The emblem and slogan are a response to the original left-wing counterpart: “Good night white pride.”
While this kind of street racism is deeply disturbing, it is, of course, the legislated variety that is traditionally the most dangerous. As I wrote this past October in addressing the recent rise of European anti-semitism,
As troubling it is to read of shootings and firebombings, I believe we should be far more disturbed when we hear reports of far-right and even neo-Nazi candidates being elected into Parliaments throughout Europe.
So too we should be equally as troubled by the increasing numbers of high ranking racist Israeli politicians who incite violence against Israel’s African immigrants, call for the transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel out of the country, or introduce legislation that effectively force non-Jews out of its political life.
The legislation I’m speaking of, by the way, was not introduced by a fringe Knesset minister – it Is advocated by none other than the Prime Minister of Israel himself, who is currently attempting to change Israel’s Basic Laws to legally define Israel as “the national state of the Jewish people.” As Netanyahu explained it, Israel “is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people.”
Statements like this make it clear that Israel is not merely a European-style nation – it is a nation that dances with some of the darkest aspects of European ethnic nationalism: i.e., a nation founded exclusively upon the identity of one group and that ipso facto treats its non-majority population as other.
In this regard, we might say that Israel’s commitment to democracy measures up quite poorly against many Western European countries. Just compare Netanyahu’s comments above to the recent statement by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, that “A Jew who leaves France is a piece of France that is gone.” Or to the remarks made by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt this past Monday following the Copenhagen synagogue attack:
I want to make very clear that the Jewish community has been in this country for centuries… They belong in Denmark. They’re part of the Danish community and we wouldn’t be the same without the Jewish community.
Before we judge European countries to harshly for this recent rise in anti-semitism, consider this: could you possibly imagine Netanyahu – or any Israeli Prime Minister, for that matter – saying this following the immolation-murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khieder:
I want to make very clear that the Palestinian community has been in this country for centuries… They belong in Israel. They’re part of the Israeli community and we wouldn’t be the same without the Palestinian community.
Let’s be clear. Those European Jews who do in fact pack up and move to Israel are not simply fleeing anti-semitism to find safe haven in the Jewish state. They are moving to a ethnocractic nation-state that is coaxing them to its shores because it needs them to stand down the non-Jewish “demographic threat.”
And in so doing they are, in a very real way, opting into the power and privilege that comes with being the majority oppressor class in a different kind of European country.
Yes, Israel has issues. Israel has its share of racists and violent persons. But that is not what makes a country “European”. After all, racism and xenofobia are not exclusively a European thing.
I agree that Israel is a “European” island. In the good way, though. In Israel, as you say, “Israeli authorities arrested six men in connection with the ghastly killing of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khieder”. This means that in a spectacular display of the rule of law and swift action, the Israeli security forces succeded in capturing the murderers, who are condemned wall to wall by the Israeli society. Compare that to the attitude of Israel’s neighbours to attacks on Jews, that are widely celebrated with handing out of sweets.
In Israel, the LGBT community is safe and Gay Pride events are routinely organized, while gays in surrounding countries are pushed off high-rise buildings. In Israel, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Bahai and countless others are free to excercise their religion as they wish. Israel is “European” in many ways. Mostly the good ones. Lets hope more countries learn from Israel’s example how to preserve an open, law-abiding society in the face of relentless agression and terrorism.
I’ve had the same thoughts about PM Netanyahu’s reason for inviting Europe’s Jews to emigrate to Israel. His cynical reasons are exactly why I would never consider it.
I rarely see any stats on how many Israelis are emigrating — perhaps a lot, and Netanyahu needs to replace them.
Look up the statistics – there is a number of publications on the topic. About 10 to 15 000 Israeli’s leave the country annually. Compared to the natural population growth of over 100 000 per year these are minor numbers.
Please enlighten me,rabbi…just what do you mean by ..devastating…?
@Brant: You are correct that Israel is somewhat like an outpost of Europe or America in the Middle East. It shares the American and European values of democracy, freedom of speech and the press, acceptances of LGBT people, enfranchisement of women, and western values and ideals.
You correctly point out that there are some hooligans. This is because Israel is only a very good society, not a perfect society.
You asked “Why Should European Jews Move to Israel? ” You have answered your own question. It is to escape the anti-semitism and anti-Zionism that is growing in Europe (and, unfortunately, in the U.S. also) and which caused the recent hate crimes committed against Jews in a number of European countries.
No one should suggest that any country on Earth is perfect. But it is very clear that in Israel Arabs are treated very much better than Jews are treated in any Arab or Muslim country.
The major problem, as I see it, is that the new migrants from Europe will relocate into settlements in the West Bank, spurred on by the usual financial incentives from the Israeli government. Thus more and more of the West Bank and its water supply will be consumed by settlers, and the settler bloc will gain more and more representatives in the Knesset. Good-bye to the possibility of a two-state solution.
I appreciate your analysis, Brant, very much, and agree with you. Bottom line: We must all work for societies that welcome everyone on an equal basis, where human rights are respected and our laws support us all.
To me the salient question is why so many of the citizens of Israel, which is over 60% people of color, identifies so strongly with white European society. I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of white racism from the European heritage Jewish elites who have ruled Israel since its inception on the majority non-white Jewish population.
Not to fret…the Jews in Europe will stay there for some time to come…also in america the Jews will assimilate into the general population long before there will be a question of a need …BUT…can Israel develop the kind of all powerful edge in weaponry and deterrence that can keep them safe into the next hundred or more years it will take for their enemy’s to moderate their hatred of the one and only Jewish state?
Israel competes in European cultural competitions because Israel’s is surrounded by racist Islamic societies intent on boycotting and eliminating Israel. Jews are escaping racists and their supporters (like you) in Europe and elsewhere. Your double standards, hate and cruelty are truly disgusting.
In your previous thread, you stated:
I couldn’t help but wonder at the twisted logic of Netanyahu’s invitation: telling the Jews of France to flee their homes to the safety and security of a over-militarized Jewish garrison state in the Middle East,
I can tell you one thing…..it is better to live in a “garrison state” than it is to be dead. Let’s for example look at Iraq and Syria. Before 1948 there were something like 100,000 Jews in Iraq. Remembering the Farhud massacre of Jews in 1941 in which hundreds of Jews were murdered in addition to the massacre of Assyrian Christians that occurred a few years earlier, they decided to get out in 1950 and go to Israel rather than wait for another round. In Syria, there were also tens of thousands of Jews before 1948, there they saw the riots and murders that accompanied the news of the creation of the state of Israel and they left as well.
Now, what if they hadn’t left? What would there situation be today in Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, most of the minority Christians have fled, the Yazidis are being terrorized, enslaved and raped by the Islamic State, Shi’ites and Sunnis are butchering each other. So what would be the situation of the Jews if they were still there?
How about Syria? Quarter million dead, millions of refugees living in dire squalor.
Instead, the Jews who fled Syria and Iraq and many, many other countries including those who fled the Holocaust in “liberal, democratic” Europe are flourishing in Israel, which you call an “overmilitarized garrison state”. Give us that any day!
You are incorrect in stating that “60% of the Israeli population are ‘people of color’.” . The truth is that 100% are people of color. My color, for instance is white. Even albinos have color.
If you are trying to claim that there is some kind of fictitious bond of people because of their sharing a skin color, I have to tell you that racially classifying people by that system went out with Apartheid and Nazism. That is why an Ethiopian Jew and a Polish Jew are both equal members of the Jewish people and nation.
Israel is not a European country. Israel is a Jewish country, the Jewish State, and as a result has a great deal to offer any Jew who may wish to live there. End of story.