A new report by Dr. Dov Maimon of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute paints a bleak picture for European Jewry. As Maimon puts it delicately, “European Jewish life has quite possibly reached a negative inflexion point.”
Jews in Europe seem to be caught between the hammer of persecution by Muslims and the anvil of “post-multicultural” native-European animosity toward both Jews and Muslims as “outsiders, clinging to backward, unsavory rituals and beliefs.”
Maimon notes some results of a forthcoming large-scale survey of European Jews by an EU agency. One-fourth had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in the year preceding the survey; 7 percent had undergone physical attacks or threats over the past five years.
Of nine European countries covered by the survey, things appeared particularly bad in France, Belgium (both with large Muslim populations), and Hungary (where the neo-Nazi Jobbik Party is the third largest in parliament). In those countries 40-50 percent of Jews are considering emigrating because they no longer feel safe.
Indeed, in Europe overall in 2012, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 30%—and in France by 58% “with a staggering 96 violent attacks.” That rate quickly accelerated after the Toulouse attack on March 19, which was perceived as an inspirational event by part of the French Muslim population. At about half a million the French Jewish community is Europe’s largest, and about one-tenth have already emigrated to Israel.
And yet, while the native-European hostility toward Jews (and Muslims) takes radical-right forms particularly in countries like Hungary and Greece (where the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement entered parliament last year with 7 percent of the vote), it also takes a more “civilized” and mainstream form that involves, as Maimon puts it, “a rejection of Jewishness and its subtle political and legal ejection from the public sphere.”
Just as Europe has been criticizing Israel as an allegedly immoral country for decades, in recent years—as the post-multicultural mood intensifies both on the far right and in the mainstream—Europe has been training its sights on the Jewish religion as allegedly too morally deficient for European standards.
The most famous instance occurred in Germany last June when a Cologne court voted to ban circumcision. Activists have also pushed for a ban in Denmark, Austria, the UK, and other European countries. Such activists, Maimon notes, “deny they are motivated by anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic feelings. The issue, they say, is children’s rights.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for its part, stated in August last year, two months after the Cologne court’s ruling: “After a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, the…Academy…found that the benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal circumcision.”
Amid Jewish and Muslim protests over the court’s ban, Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted as saying: “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughingstock.” In December the Bundestag voted to legalize circumcision. Yet “disturbingly, if before the Bundestag decision, the rate of Germans who opposed circumcision was 45%, this number reached 75% following the vote.”
Efforts are also underway to ban Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter in the Netherlands, Poland, and France; both are already prohibited in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Again, the basis is alleged to be a moral one—animal rights, even though claims that Jewish animal slaughter is less humane than other kinds are unproved and controversial.
In any case, it seems clear that the outlawing of Jewish religious life is incompatible with any genuine hospitability toward Jews.
Underlying it all, Maimon observes, is Europe’s current economic decline. French historian Fernand Braudel “found that as a general rule every major anti-Jewish persecution in Europe was preceded, accompanied or followed by a severe economic crisis.”
Maimon sees a possible increase in European Jewish emigration and urges the Israeli authorities to prepare for it. Ideally, though, Jews should already be leaving a continent where anti-Semitism is so deeply rooted that dignified Jewish life is impossible.
The raw hatred of Jobbik and Golden Dawn on the one hand, and the “subtle political and legal ejection [of Jewishness] from the public sphere” on the other, are two sides of the same coin. Add the often violent antagonism of the Muslim-immigrant communities, and it’s not a pretty picture.
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