In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris, which included an assault on a kosher grocery store, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to France and urged French Jews to flee their country and emigrate—-make “aliyah”—to Israel.
He declared: “I wish to tell all French and European Jews—Israel is your home.” He said that he would convene a special committee to promote emigration from France and other European countries.
Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s former finance minister, said: “European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the state of Israel.” This, of course, is what Zionism believes, that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews and that those Jews living in France, England, the United States and elsewhere are really in “exile.”
This, of course, is an ideological construct which has no relationship to reality. The overwhelming majority of American Jews, for example, have always believed that Judaism is a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that rather than being in “exile” in America, they are fully at home. This view has been expressed repeatedly in our history. In 1841, at the dedication ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav Poznanski declared: “This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this house of God our temple.”
There is widespread dismay in France at the Israeli notion that French Jews are not really French and their real “home” is Israel. The horrors of terrorism which have been inflicted upon Paris and elsewhere are being confronted by the governments involved. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, said that far better than emigration to Israel would be the preservation and protection of Jewish life in the many countries Jews call home. He regretted that “after every anti-Semitic act in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statement about the importance of aliyah rather than employ every diplomatic and international means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.” He said: “The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe.”
Yonathan Arli, Vice President of CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish institutions in France, says that he believes Jews should remain in France, which is their home. “We have had a Jewish community living here for more than a thousand years,” he said. “We went through bombing attacks, the Holocaust, acts of terrorism, and we are not about to leave now. We just want to be safe.”
Writing from Paris in The Forward, Laurent-David Samama notes that while some French Jews might be considering emigration, “others—including young Jews like me—feel that making aliyah is a too-easy escape; it’s simply not the answer. Those of us who who remain in Paris, Marseille or Lyon are determined not to let the terrorists win. Throughout French history, Jews have experienced many periods of crisis. We’ve always overcome them, and we will overcome them again. Now more than ever…there is another communal faction that believes France needs us to stay here, to play the role of social whistleblower.”
Samadar Bar-Akiva, executive director of JCC Global, a network of Jewish community centers, declared: “Jews in France clearly feel that last week’s events were a turning point in their lives. Yet the calls for French Jews to pack their bags and make aliyah are disturbing and self-serving…It will be more constructive to help French Jewry continue the educational and social work they are already doing.”
Uri Avnery, the leader of Israel’s peace movement, Gush Shalom, noted that, “The blood of the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket was not yet dry when Israeli leaders called upon the Jews of France to pack up and come to Israel. Israel, as everybody knows, is the safest place on earth. This was an almost automatic Zionist gut reaction..The basic belief of Zionism is that Jews cannot live anywhere except in the Jewish state, because the victory of anti-Semitism is inevitable everywhere. Let the Jews of America rejoice in their freedom and prosperity—sooner or later they will come to an end. They are doomed like Jews everywhere outside of Israel. The new outrage in Paris confirms this basic belief. There was very little real commiseration in Israel. Rather a secret sense of triumph. The gut reaction of ordinary Israelis is: ‘We told you so!’ and “Come quickly, before it’s too late.'”
Israel is doing its best to make Jews feel unsafe in their native countries. In mid-January, the Israeli embassy in Dublin posted an image on Facebook showing the Mona Lisa wearing a hijab and carrying a large rocket. The line underneath read, “Israel is the last frontier of the free world.” In a similar vein, the Arab Affairs correspondent of Israel’s Channel 10 broadcast a fear-mongering “investigation” from London supposedly proving that the city was overrun with Islamic extremists.
Writing in Mondoweiss, Jonathan Cook points to the similar worldview of Zionists and traditional anti-Semites: “Israeli politicians of both right and left have parroted his (Netanyahu’s) message that European Jews know ‘in their hearts that they have only one country.’ The logical corollary is that Jews cannot be loyal to other states they live in, such as France…In this regard, Netanyahu and the far-right share much common ground. He wants a Europe free of Jews..The far-right wants the same…One Israeli commentator noted pointedly that Israeli politicians like Netanyahu ‘were helping to finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.”
Sadly, the Israeli government has never recognized that Jewish citizens of France, the United States. the United Kingdom and other countries are not “Israelis in exile.” Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” to Israel. No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans, because of their religion, are in “exile” in the United Stated and that their real “homeland” is that foreign country.
Such claims distort the meaning of Judaism almost completely. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was “a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism…No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit…It cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than the earth.'”
Israel should be content to be the “homeland” of its own citizens, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and stop attempting to speak in the name of millions of men and women who are citizens of other countries. No other country does this. And its call for French Jews to abandon their country at a time of crisis is unseemly in the extreme. Claude Lanzmann, the widely respected French Jewish filmmaker, best known for his Holocaust documentary film “Shoah,” said, quite wisely, that following Benjamin Netanyahu’s advice would have only one result, giving Hitler, who did his best to rid France and all of Europe of Jews, “a posthumous victory.”