I was on another mission this morning at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore when I walked past the open shelves in the Periodical Section and saw the cover of the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” jumped out at me. I really didn’t want my attention to be diverted from another research and writing project, but the Editors had me hooked with that headline. 90 minutes and 12 pages later, Goldberg answered the question he had posed:
I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew — which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.
Goldberg* (see endnote) spent months in Europe (Paris, Toulouse, Malmo, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Moldova) visiting Jews of all walks of life to research this article. The testimonies he gathered were mostly heart-wrenching accounts of the rise of anti-Semitism and recent violence against Jews.
My pulse quickened as I read about the Principal of a Jewish school who witnessed the execution of his 8-year-old daughter in the school yard at the hands of Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who, the author writes, was radicalized in a French prison and later trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan. This happened in March 2012.
In another school, students talked about ways that Jews conceal their identity, where it’s already becoming fairly common practice for Jews to remove the mezuzot from their doors. In December 2014, a group of robbers broke into an apartment in Creteil (a Paris suburb) and told the occupants they knew they were Jewish, and therefore wealthy, and then they raped a 19-year-old woman in the apartment.
No one with an ounce of compassion can read Goldberg’s article without feeling both alarm and sadness.
The author also attempted to bring the “other side” into his research. Several of the Muslims he interviewed “expressed benign feelings toward Jews.”
One man, an Iraqi refugee, told me, “The Jews have too much power everywhere.” Another man, of Sudanese background, explained that the Koran itself warns Muslims to fear double-crossing Jews. “They killed the prophets and tried to poison the Prophet Muhammad,” he said. I did not hear critques of Israel’s occupation policies. I heard, instead, complaints about the Jews’ baleful influence on the world.
Several Muslims told him they find their information about Jews and Israel from Al Jazeera and the Hezbollah station, Al-Manar. (The author’s attempt to denigrate those news sources?)
Goldberg attributes the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe to the inability of European states to integrate Muslim immigrants into the community, as well as to the radicalization of a “small but meaningful subset of Muslims”. That may very well be part of the reason, but not the only reason.
The author’s blind spot (or more accurately, his bias) appeared throughout the article but was clearly visible when he equated anti-Zionists with anti-Semites; and characterized criticism of the State of Israel as a pernicious attempt to deligitimize Israel.
In my observation of “both sides” — Jews and Muslims — I believe Goldberg, himself, should be part of this story, because he fails to ask some critical questions.
- What role does the nearly 70 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine have on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe? (Although some might argue that point, I’ll agree with the author’s conclusion that anti-Semitism is on the rise.)
- How does dividing and separating people from one another lead to healing or better understanding? (Certainly that is the conclusion we must draw when the author, and Netanyahu, urge Jews to “make a run for it” and flee to Israel.)
- Does HaShem, Allah, or God teach her children to separate from their neighbors? Live apart from those who are different or unlike you? Avoid rubbing elbows with the “other”? (I assume not, which leads to the final question that Goldberg should really ponder.)
- Do Jews (now and in the future) really want to live in a prison camp?
What else do we call a State where only a certain identified group of people are allowed to enter, and the perimeter is guarded by the military, and violence is endemic?
We often talk about the Gaza Strip as an “open air prison” and concentation camp. Many Jews take offense at that characterization, seeing it as a blight on the memory of the German concentration camps where 6 million Jews suffered and perished.
I think it might also be instructive to look at the State of Israel as a prison camp, albeit one where the inmates flock to voluntarily, but a prison nonetheless. If Goldberg’s vision is realized and European Jewry immigrates to Israel, will that protect Jews around the world or ostracize them even more?
I venture to say, there’s a sequel to Goldberg’s story and I hope he spends some time pondering it.
Personally, I hope Jews in Europe don’t take Goldberg’s advice. The hard work of learning compassion and living the Golden Rule requires integration and pluralism, not segregation and elitism.
* Jeffrey Goldberg’s views about Israel, anti-Semitism, Palestinians and the Occupation are well-known to readers of The Atlantic. The SHAME Project summarizes his bias here.