Thousands took to the streets of Paris Sunday in a silent march against racism, anti-Semitism and terrorism. (Photo: Leela Jacinto/France24)
The anti-Semitic killings in Toulouse, France last week predictably led a slew of Israelis to raise the specter of European anti-Semitism. This scary prospect was invoked to promote the idea of Israel as the only safe home for Jews. But a close reading of the evidence on anti-Semitism in France, and in Europe as a whole, reveals the specter to be a cheap political trick, perhaps meant to help fix Israel’s “demographic problem.”
Israeli Members of the Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) and Ya’akov Katz (National Union) led the way in exploiting the murders. The Times of Israel reports:
MK Ya’akov Katz called Monday for Jews to leave France in the wake of a deadly attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse.
“There is no Jewish future in France,” Katz, of the National Union party, said, adding that the state of Israel is the future of the Jewish people, and that Jews should not trust their fate to “Sarkozy, Obama or other world leaders…”
In the wake of the deadly attack, MK Danny Danon (Likud), called for an urgent session Tuesday of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, which he chairs, to discuss the attack.
“We will not allow the pogroms of the beginning of the 20th century to return to Europe,” Danon said.
Katz and Danon are expressing the basic Zionist principle that Jews will never be safe in Europe and that Israel is their haven.
The Anti-Defamation League is also peddling a similar line of thought. “ADL Survey In Ten European Countries Finds Anti-Semitism At Disturbingly High Levels,” read the headline on a survey released March 20, a day after the killings in France.
But decades after the Holocaust, just how bad is it for Jews in Europe? It’s nowhere near the point of “pogroms,” to say the least.
Anti-Semitism in Europe exists, for sure. But Dov Waxman, an associate professor of political science at Baruch College, takes a close look at the evidence on anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe in an excellent piece of analysis on +972 Magazine. His takeaway:
The truth is that anti-Semitism in France and in Europe as a whole, though it certainly exists, is not nearly as great a danger as many outside observers in Israel and the United States believe. While the threat of anti-Semitism is real and must be taken seriously, it should not be exaggerated or blown out of proportion. In fact, far from being on the verge of catastrophe, European Jewry is experiencing a renaissance that we should be celebrating.
And his evidence:
To properly gauge the threat posed by anti-Semitism in Europe today we must rely upon empirical data, not traumatic collective memories. In France, the data reveals that anti-Semitic incidents have generally been declining in recent years since an upsurge of incidents in the first half of the 2000s following the outbreak of the Second Intifada (there was another upsurge in 2009 prompted by Israel’s war in Gaza). According to statistics compiled by the French Jewish community’s Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ), last year there were 389 anti-Semitic incidents, this was down 16.5 percent from the previous year (when 466 incidents occurred). Although more serious acts of anti-Semitic violence (physical assaults, vandalism, and arson) have not decreased, it is simply wrong to claim that France is experiencing a growing wave of anti-Semitism. In reality, anti-Semitism ebbs and flows in France and elsewhere.
Waxman also skewers the ADL survey:
When it released its most recent survey last week (I can’t help but wonder whether the timing was just a coincidence?) its press release declared that the survey revealed “large swaths of the population [in the ten European countries surveyed] subscribe to classical anti-Semitic notions.” While this was true in some of the countries – Hungary, Poland, and Spain – in others, anti-Semitic views (specifically, that Jews have too much power in business and in international financial markets, are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, and “talk too much” about the Holocaust) were held by only a minority of people, less than a quarter of respondents in most countries, while clear majorities rejected such views.
The press release also highlighted an increase in the overall level of anti-Semitism in France despite the fact that the purported rise in anti-Semitic attitudes there from 20 percent of the population in a previous ADL poll conducted in 2009 to 24 percent in 2012 was actually within the survey’s margin of error. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop Abraham Foxman, the head of the ADL, from simply asserting that: “France has seen an increase in the level of anti-Semitism.”
Danon and Katz may very well know that there is no danger of anti-Jewish pogroms erupting in Europe. But they won’t admit it, because that would undermine a different struggle, what they see as the demographic struggle in Israel/Palestine.
An ulterior motive for the calls for Jews to move to Israel exists. The motive is the fear of Israeli Jews losing their edge in numbers over Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. This is the “demographic threat” one hears so much talk about. Both Katz and Danon talk of it.
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Danon advocated for the annexing of the West Bank by Israel, but emphasized that in his plan, “Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.” Likewise, Katz has warned that African refugees coming to Israel pose a “demographic threat.”
So Africans and Palestinians need not apply. But French Jews? Come along.
It’s important to realize that Danon and Katz are not primarily concerned with the safety of Europe’s Jews. Their knee jerk reactions to the killings in France were not concerned with the facts. So it’s not a leap to suggest that the specter of European anti-Semitism is raised in the service of consolidating a Jewish majority so that Israel will always be a “Jewish” state.