Comment: Europe has a problem with Islamist extremism, not with Jews

Netanyahu has called for Jews to emigrate to the safety of Israel, but we cannot concede to terrorists


A terror attack in Copenhagen over the weekend left two people dead. They were documentary film maker Finn Nørgaard, who was attending a seminar on free speech, and Dan Uzan, a Jewish security guard who had been guarding a bat mitzvah ceremony at the city’s Krystalgade synagogue.

Because of Uzan’s death, and building on statements he had made after January’s Paris shootings, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem to call for a mass immigration of European Jews to Israel:

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

But Denmark’s chief Rabbi Jair Melchior rejected Netanyahu’s invitation, saying simply that ‘terror is not a reason to move to Israel’.

Netanyahu’s invitation is flat out irresponsible. It perpetuates the idea that Jews must always be running, undermining the way that Jewish communities rebuilt themselves in Europe after the Holocaust. It tells Jews that they can never truly trust anyone but other Jews, that the security they feel among Danes, Belgians, or Britons is false.

It also ignores the fact that many Jews have reason to feel very unsafe in Israel, now a far more complicated place than it was after the second world war. Israel cannot be viewed simply as a sanctuary because it now has a history of its own, and it is one that many Jews do not identify with, one that they consciously choose to live outside of. It even undermines the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence, by implying that antisemitism is its raison d’etre.

In Neil MacGregor’s Radio 4 Series Germany: Memories of a Nation, he asked modern German Jews how they reconcile their sense of security with the country’s history.

One of the people he spoke to was a rabbi who had moved to Frankfurt from the USA. He described the doubts that he had felt when he first arrived in Germany, but said that he had concluded, ‘we are going to do what Hitler wanted to do? I think we should do the opposite.’

The same is true now. We should do the opposite of what terrorists want, otherwise we cannot call ourselves free. As Dave Rich wrote yesterday, ‘jihadists have assaulted Europe’s core values’ – values which grew up out of the ruins of twentieth century Europe, and which the Jewish population know the value of better than most.

The history of Jews in Denmark stands out. Denmark was the only country in Europe to actively resist the Nazis’ attempts to deport its Jews, and there was a nationwide effort to help Jews to asylum in Sweden. For many people, what happened in Denmark was a glimmer of hope that showed that, in some places, the unthinkable was still impossible.

If the majority of Danish Jews could survive a mass, coordinated attempt to exterminate them, then they must be able to survive the actions of a few fringe lunatics – if, that is, Europe is united in condemning their attackers.

This time, Jews do have the protection of the state. When there was a spike in antisemitic incidents during the 2014 bombardment of Gaza (a connection which Netanyahu ignores), European leaders were rightly unanimous in their condemnation: Angela Merkel called the incidents ‘an attack on freedom and tolerance and our democratic state’, while French prime minister Manuel Valls said ‘to attack a Jew because he is a Jew is to attack France’.

A recent poll of the general Danish population conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that only nine per cent of adults held antisemitic attitudes, one of the lowest levels in western Europe.

The sad lesson from the murders in Copenhagen is that the left must stop making excuses for the actions of violent individuals. France was criticised for its colonial past in Algeria, whose legacy manifests itself as socio-economic hardship and discrimination for North African migrants, as well as the discriminatory ban on full-face veils.

Denmark, in contrast to France (and Britain) has tried taking a liberal approach with returning jihadists. The number of jihadists travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight with IS and other groups is one of the highest per capita in Europe, and Denmark has tried to rehabilitate those who return, using police screening rather than arrests and involving them in mentor programmes which aim to take the violent impulse out of their religious beliefs.

There is complete religious freedom in Denmark, just as there is complete freedom of speech which inevitably creates satire like that which was attacked on Saturday. Jews, as we found out last month, are not the only ‘provocation’ for extremists.

The problem, which Netanyahu is unclear on, is not with Jewish integration, or with the way the majority of Europeans relate to Jews, or Muslims for that matter. The problem is with a hardline strain of political Islamism whose adherents cannot accept free speech as a part of life in Europe, and as a part of what makes Europe a good, hospitable place to live. Israel, as Netanyahu knows only too well, is not immune to this strain of radicalism.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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