Should Europe’s Jews Give Up and Move to Israel?
On Sunday, the Guardian reported the depressing fact that “almost half of British Jews avoid showing visible signs of their Judaism in public, such as a Star of David or a kippah (skullcap), because of antisemitism,” according to a new study.
The Guardian said that “The Campaign Against Antisemitism and King’s College London gave 12 statements that participants in the survey were asked to agree or disagree with. … Twelve percent showed ‘entrenched antisemitic views’ by agreeing with four or more of the statements. The one that had most backing was ‘Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews,’ affirmed by almost a quarter (23%) of respondents.”
Is anyone surprised?
The question is what to do about growing European antisemitism. Should Jews in Britain give up and move to Israel? Or is making Europe Judenrein exactly what the Nazis sought?
Two of the greatest Jewish leaders of the 20th century had opposing views on this question. Theodor Herzl concluded that antisemitism was unmovable, and the only hope for Jewish survival was the establishment of an independent Jewish state.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, believed that Jews should have no fear, and communities should be expanded to all parts of the globe. Judaism was a global religion with global influence. To assist in this goal, the Rebbe sent emissaries around the world to establish and strengthen Jewish communities, and spread the light of Jewish values and faith.
As an American Jew who spent 11 years in Western Europe, I believe that both Herzl and the Rebbe were correct. We need a Jewish state in the eternal Jewish homeland, while maintaining a global Jewish community that both spreads the light of the Jewish people and supports the Jewish state.
If Israel had existed during the Holocaust, Jews would have had a haven, and a government that would have done everything in its power to save them. In fact, even without a state, Jews in Palestine did what they could to rescue their brethren.
In countless cities and towns of Europe, Hitler eradicated whole Jewish communities. If synagogues survived, they were often museums rather than places of worship because often no one was left to pray in them. Is this really what we want? For Jews to be historical oddities like the dinosaurs?
An Israeli friend of mine disagrees with me on this. He argues, “When we’re not together, we’re weak and we’re exposed. Our enemies murder us. When we’re strong, as one, they can’t. In Israel, we have an army. And if we are all there, it will be harder to defeat us.”
I told him that the genocidal Iranian mullahs make the same argument, but for the opposite effect. Because the Jews are all together, it’s easier to annihilate the whole of the nation.
I was playing devil’s advocate, but my Israeli friend would have none of it. He said that all European Jews should move to Israel, where they would be safe.
I, of course, believe that every Jew who wants to live in Israel should go there and be encouraged to do so. Three of our children already have, and two have served in the IDF, while the third is about to join.
On the other hand, the Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim formulated a 614th commandment — that we should not give Hitler a posthumous victory. No Jew should be lost to his or her people or tradition. Abandoning the Jews of Europe, especially those who survived Hitler’s genocidal war, is unacceptable. Allowing or encouraging Europe to become Judenrein would violate that commandment and betray the ideals of both Herzl and the Rebbe.
Jews believe the purpose of war is to protect life. We fight only because we are forced to fight. There is no glory in it. Even in modern Israel, which has seen the electrifying victory of the Six-Day War — or the more sobering Yom Kippur War — even then, Israel made no celebratory military arches. Israel only has monuments to the fallen soldiers, and countless victims of terror, who gave their lives to defend their people.
Europe, of course, is different. Going back to ancient Greek and Roman times, rulers were celebrated not for peacemaking, but for war and conquest. Even in benign modern democracies, like Britain, the rulers — like Prince Charles and his two sons — get married in military garb.
Which just goes to show how much the Jews can contribute to Europe in the fields of values, faith, charity, and community — if only Europeans decide that fighting antisemitism is a European, rather than a Jewish, priority.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the founder of the World Values Network and the international best-selling author of more than 30 books, including The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.