TOULOUSE, Brussels, Paris and now Copenhagen. The list of European cities where Jews have lately been murdered for being Jews grows longer. It adds poignancy that this should happen in Denmark, which saved most of its Jews from the Nazis by helping them flee to Sweden. There are many smaller outrages, such as the desecration of Jewish graves. And what to make of Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister, who claims that Manuel Valls, the prime minister, acts under “Jewish influence” because his wife is Jewish?
No wonder Jews in Europe ask themselves questions they hoped had been banished long ago: is it safe to wear a kippah (skullcap), send one’s children to Jewish schools or attend synagogue? And, given the rise of populist and far-right groups, is it time to leave Europe ?
Such worries are understandable, but they need to be put in context. The shooting at the Great Synagogue on Krystalgade does not herald another Kristallnacht. Jews are targets, but so are groups of non-Jews: commuters, off-duty soldiers and, above all, cartoonists. The jihadists are shooting at all Europe’s liberties: not just the right of Jews to assert their identity, but the right of all Europeans to speak about religion, even to give offence. When Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, says that he is preparing for “mass immigration from Europe”, he is partly posturing ahead of next month’s election.
To state the obvious, Europe does not have state-sponsored pogroms or discriminatory Nuremberg laws. In western Europe Jews are more integrated than ever; often their real worry is of decline through assimilation. In much of the east, there has been a flowering of Jewish life since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlin itself boasts Europe’s fastest-growing Jewish community. The far right in Hungary really is anti-Semitic, but in France and the Netherlands these days populists now abjure anti-Semitism, even as they denounce Muslim migrants.
Moving to Israel may fulfil a religious, cultural or political longing for some Jews—but it is hardly safer. As the Danish chief rabbi rightly put it, emigrating to Israel should be out of love, not fear. European democracies must ensure that this remains so. Given their dire history of Jew-hatred—from the Norwich blood libel in 1144 to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 to the Nazi Holocaust—Europeans must be ever-vigilant against any sign of anti-Semitism, whether of the old endemic Christian sort or the newer Islamist variety.
Like all Europeans, Jews must be able to live free from the fear of violence. This means greater protection for Jewish institutions. Security forces must try to protect innumerable soft targets, and these days these almost always include Jews. More broadly, European governments must redouble their effort against jihadists in their midst: better intelligence to identify potential attackers, especially in prisons where criminality meets Islamic radicalism; measures to prevent citizens from joining jihadists in Syria and elsewhere; and policies to deradicalise as many as possible of those who return and to limit their access to firearms and explosives.
The balance of freedoms
The dilemma for European governments is to defend free speech while curbing anti-Semitic hate-speech, particularly when uttered by Muslim minorities that feel themselves to be victims of Islamophobia, often with good cause. A measured public discourse about Israel would help. There are fuzzy but real boundaries between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and rightful criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Jews collectively are not responsible for the actions of Israel; legitimate censure of Israeli occupation policies should not extend to delegitimising Israel as a refuge for Jews. Likewise, it would be wise to distinguish between the faith practised by most Muslims and the jihadist justification of barbarity.
By proximity and make-up of its population, Europe is bound to feel the upheavals of the Middle East. Its task is to show that tolerance can be maintained in the face of bloodshed. The jihadists detest few things more than the sight of European Muslims declaring “Je suis Charlie Hebdo”.