Why Jews Shouldn’t Necessarily Flee to Israel
For a people who wandered the globe for centuries in exile, the question of what constitutes a safe haven or just a temporary reprieve from persecution has been one with life or death consequences.
In recent history, the open arms of Germany turned into the deadliest of fists, and the Shah’s hospitable Iran became a hellish prison after the revolution. France betrayed its Jews once, collaborating too willingly with the Nazis to deport Jews, but for the most part it has historically been a place of thriving and growth.
Until now. Attacks against Jews, mostly in Paris and its suburbs, have risen sharply with the rise of Muslim immigrants, mostly from North Africa, who have set back relations with Muslims of longer standing in France that were largely positive. The French government has left no stone unturned in denouncing anti-Semitism, and cracking down on violent thugs and terrorists, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying “France without Jews is not France.” But an unpopular government’s power to protect 500,000 Jews is limited, caught between right-wingers who want to end immigration and left wingers who sympathize with Israel’s enemies.
Recent support for a Palestinian state and a greater role for the Palestinians in the United Nations – with attacks against Israelis on the rise, no progress toward peace, and persistent refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy – send a mixed message.
That’s surely one reason aliyah to Israel is on the rise, with as many as 10,000 immigrants expected this year, up from 7,000 last year, which was double the 2013 number (economic factors such as France’s record unemployment surely also figure into it.)
I too would pick up my entire family and move. Having local police and soldiers on the ground for protection after terrorist attacks, while voting for a terrorist Hamas government to become a legitimate country, does not say much about the government’s sanity and surely does not bode well for the future.
We have seen disturbing videos of street clashes between Muslim and Jewish youths, and images of vandalized Jewish shops and shuls. While it’s important for the Christian-led government to denounce such acts, it’s even more crucial for the French Muslim community (hopefully the majority) not influenced by the radicals – who I still believe simply use Islam as their false claim to a religion – to stand up and show themselves and defend the Jewish people there.
But nevertheless, Islamic extremism is on the rise in France. It doesn’t help when the White House publicly shows ambiguity about the true nature of ISIS, downplaying the Islamic nature of the movement, depicting the savage attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris as not related to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideology.
While it is certainly self-evident that not all Muslims are terrorists, it is equally clear that nearly all the most dangerous terrorists today are Muslims. Not just France, but much of Western Europe has become a battleground, to the point that 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, some observers believe it’s easier to be a Jew in Poland than in Paris.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wasted no time reinforcing Israel’s place as a safe haven for all Jews, but particularly the French. After the deadly Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks, he told Paris Jews last month “The State of Israel is not just the place to which you turn in prayer. The state of Israel is also your home.” He sent a special delegation of ministers to help facilitate more immigrants.
Some, at least, are not ready to pack their bags just yet. After Netanyahu’s address at a Paris synagogue, they rose and sang the French national anthem.
Good for them. While staying in France or saying au revoir may one day be a life or death decision, we are not there yet. Bailing out en masse would inevitably means leaving the most vulnerable – the poor, the sick, the elderly – behind, almost powerless, as the Muslim population continues to rise in both numbers and influence.
Besides – we didn’t spend centuries wandering stateless in the diaspora and prevailing over numerous forms of adversity only to let bullies in 2015 tell us where to live.
Israel should be strengthened by Aliyah and an ingathering of the exiles. But on our terms, not theirs.
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political affairs.