Europe's Increasingly Targeted Jews Take Stock

Old fears are stoked as anti-Semitic attacks increase.

After recent anti-Semitic murders in Paris and Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on European Jews to leave the continent. He urged them to go to Israel, "your home." Of course, their home is France or Denmark or whatever their country of residence. But as Zack Beauchamp notes, outside of the United States, attacks on Jews have been rising over the last decade, and many are now wondering if Europe will remain their home forever.

Politicians are wondering too. "Prime Minister Manuel Valls has urged France's Jews not to emigrate after the desecration of some 300 Jewish graves," BBC News reported Monday in another appalling story of apparent anti-Semitism in France. A day earlier, Israeli journalist Zvika Klein published an even more depressing piece after donning a yarmulke and walking around Paris for a day with a hidden camera:

Areas known as tourist attractions were relatively calm, but the further from them we walked, the more anxious I became over the hateful stares, the belligerent remarks, and the hostile body language. ... Walking into a public housing neighborhood, we came across a little boy and his hijab-clad mother, who were clearly shocked to see us. "What is he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?" the boy asked.

Walking by a school in one of Paris' neighborhoods, a boy shouted "Viva Palestine" at me. Moments later, passing by a group of teens, one of the girls remarked, "Look at that—it's the first time I've ever seen such a thing."

Walking down another neighborhood, a driver stopped his car and approached us. "We've been made," I thought. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "We've had reports that you were walking around our neighborhood—you're not from around here."

In one of the mostly-Muslim neighborhoods, we walked into an enclosed marketplace. "Look at him! He should be ashamed of himself. What is he doing walking in here wearing a kippa?!" one Muslim merchant yelled. "What do you care? He can do whatever he wants," another, seemingly unfazed merchant, answered. Over at a nearby street I was lambasted with expletives, mostly telling me to "go f*** from the front and the back."

At a nearby cafe, fingers were pointed at us, and moments later two thugs were waiting for us on the street corner. They swore at me, yelled "Jew" and spat at me. "I think we've been made," the photographer whispered at me. Two youths were waiting for us on the next street corner, as they had apparently heard that a Jew was walking around their neighborhood.

They made it clear to us that we had better get out of there, and we took their advice. "A few more minutes and this would have been a lynching," the bodyguard told me as we were getting into the car. "Leave this area right now." Is this what life is like for Paris' Jews?

The moments captured on the video would be disgusting even as anomalies, and the statistics about anti-Semitic attacks in France suggest they're only getting more common.

Last year, an essay by Michel Garfinkel, "You Only Live Twice," argued that Jews experienced a Golden Age in Western Europe during the years after World War II, but that "since 2000, 7,650 anti-Semitic incidents have been reliably reported to the Jewish Community Security Service and the French ministry of the interior; this figure omits incidents known to have occurred but unreported to the police. The incidents range from hate speech, anti-Semitic graffiti, and verbal threats to defacement of synagogues and other Jewish buildings, to acts of violence and terror including arson, bombings, and murder." He quotes a French Jew of Moroccan origin who worries that tolerance for Jews in Europe is expiring:

Right after Morocco won its independence from France in 1956, my family joined the country’s ruling elite. My father, a close friend of King Mohammed V, had access to everybody in the government. It went on like that for two or three years. Then one day, out of the blue, Father told us we were leaving. We children asked why. “We’ve passed the yogurt’s expiration date,” he said. “We have no future in Morocco; as long as we’re free to go, we must go.” So we left, leaving behind most of our money and belongings. Ever since then, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been on the lookout for the yogurt’s expiration date.

In France, I think it’s close.

The essay is accompanied by a number of responses.

One argues that "there are still grounds for hope that Europeans could yet avert the hideous prospect of a posthumous triumph for Hitler and his latter-day avatars." A more striking point of contrast came from Jewish journalist Claire Berlinski in a powerful blog post that she wrote at Ricochet soon after the attacks in Paris:

If you check the Drudge Report right now, you’ll see a screaming headline:


It links to an article in the Daily Mail. The claim was made by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

Mr. Pollard, it is perhaps true that every Jew you know has left Paris. But it is clearly true that you do not know every Jew in Paris.

I have not left. And I will not. And neither will my father. That is at least two of us. And I know many more.

It is true that in the end, the Nazis managed to drive my family out of France. But not before my grandfather killed thousands of them. If these eighth-rate savages think they’ll succeed in getting my family out of France twice, they will discover that I am my grandfather’s granddaughter.

I’ve been told today that “the odds are against me.” By well-meaning people, I’m sure. First, they are not. That’s absurd. What happened was a horror, and it is by no means over, but if these people think they can win against a determined modern nation-state—once it’s woken up—they are even more out of their minds than it seems. Yes, it’s a war—and that was only the opening shot. But they are not the Nazis. They’re just dumb thugs with a taste for blood—and while France may be quite a sane place overall, God help them if they push the Germans so far that they find out what real Nazis are like.

And if you want to talk about odds, I’ll tell you about odds: In my grandfather’s regiment of 1,250 men, only 250 survived. So don’t tell me about the odds: It just makes you sound like a hysteric with no sense of history or proportion.

And while we’re at it: Let’s remember who won that war.

I am Jewish. I am in France. And I am not leaving—not because of a handful of terrorist swine, and not even if there’s an army of them. This family of Jews will not be driven out of Europe twice. And as far as I’m concerned, the response a Jew should have to this outrage is the one we should have had before—when up against a far more fearsome enemy. We may die, but we’ll die fighting, and you’ll be amazed how many of you we take down with us.

So let me speak personally now to anyone who thinks he’ll get me out of here: We will always have Paris. I will always have Paris. As will all the people who belong here. You, however, will die.

I have much more to say. But there is one more thing that strikes me as more important than all the other things on my mind. There are also many terrified Muslims in France right now. And yes, some of them are my friends—and close ones.

They too are the victims of these savages. They are victims in a double sense: Terrorists are as eager to kill them as they are eager to kill anyone in France. One of the cops they killed happened to be as Muslim, as has widely been reported. And they are victims in the second sense in that ... this is only country they have. They will be associated forever with those animals—but they are French citizens. They have no Israel to go to. They have nowhere else to go to.

So they will stay here too.

The degree of danger that Jews in Europe actually face is beyond my knowledge. But I very much hope that Berlinski, her co-religionists and her Muslim friends grow old together in a Paris where "Hitler's latter-day avatars" are but forgotten nightmares.

Update. Freddie deBoer has a response to this article up on his eponymous blog. It states:

Friedersdorf spends the requisite amount of time showing Grave Concern about the increasing threat to Europe’s increasingly threatened Jews, who are threatened, at an increasing level. Near the end, he helpfully includes the caveat: “The degree of danger that Jews in Europe actually face is beyond my knowledge.” Or to paraphrase, the phenomenon that is the sole justification for my piece may or may not be occurring, I just don’t know. It’s an excellent little bit of postmodern maneuvering: I’ll take my Muslim-throngs-are-advancing-across-Europe clicks, please, but don’t take my word for any of this.

Lest anyone else misread this article in the same way that deBoer has let me restate its actual claims and clarify the line that deBoer quotes out of context. 1) "...As Zack Beauchamp notes, outside of the United States, attacks on Jews have been rising over the last decade, and many are now wondering if Europe will remain their home forever." 2) Statistics on anti-Semitic attacks in France suggest they've been getting more common in the period after 2000. Jews have definitely been victimized by everything from high profile murder to anti-Semitic street harassment. 3) This is worthy of attention and condemnation. 4) As Jewish residents ponder whether to make the continent their permanent home, as I hope they do, or emigrate to Israel or the U.S. or elsewhere, they face incomplete information. The degree of danger that Jews face in the future is beyond my knowledge–there are no facts and figures to determine whether the fears expressed in "You Only Live Twice" are a case of undue pessimism or prescience; whether the new terrorist groups that are increasingly targeting Jews since the turn of the last century will continue to successfully launch attacks in Europe; or whether Berlinski will have to fight. We do not know what will happen.

Some claims the article has not made include anti-Semitism is getting worse each year in every European country or "the Muslim throngs are advancing." (Like Berlinski, I regard the majority of Muslims as fellow victims of Islamist radicals–if anyone doubts that point, see Graeme Wood's cover story on ISIS–and the deadly threat to Europe's Jewish communities comes from both radicalized Muslims and right-wing bigots, though lesser racism exists outside those groups.)

Discussions about the future of Jewish communities in Europe often focus on France, the UK, and Germany, because those countries contain so much of the continent's Jewish population. If significant outmigration occurs there, Jews are unlikely to have a strong future on the continent, regardless of the trend lines on anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic or Iceland. As a new terrorist group, ISIS, increasingly targets European Jews, among others, for murderous attacks; as Al Qaeda, a relatively new group, continues to target them; as armed guards stand outside most Jewish institutions in Paris and Berlin, fearing a lone-wolf attacker; as German leaders worry openly about rising anti-Semitism in their country; and as The Jewish Agency reports thousands of French Jews emigrating in 2014 alone, we need not wait for better statistics to discern a problem.