Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?

For the April cover story, Jeffrey Goldberg reported on rising anti-Semitism in Europe. The recent spate of attacks on Jews, he wrote, has deep roots on the Continent, as well as ties to current right-wing politics and radical Islamism.

Some of the “time to pack up” editorials may seem, at first blush, very empathetic. “Jews,” they say, “you’ve suffered enough. Don’t wait for this weak civilization to stand up for you. Stand up for yourselves!” But why are the writers ready to empathize the Jews right out the door?

In February, when Benjamin Netanyahu invited European Jews to move to Israel, he not only invited them to give up on Europe. In effect, he invited Europe to give up on them, which would mean giving up on itself as a society that has tried so hard to learn to live in unity after World War II. Whether or not any significant number of Jews accepts Netanyahu’s invitation, Europe as a whole should decline it.

Decades ago, in the United States, there was a “back to Africa” movement encouraging African Americans to give up on an incurably racist society. Suppose this movement had succeeded. That would have been an incurable wound for America, which would have faced a moral challenge and utterly failed. I don’t know how likely a mass departure of European Jews really is, but it, too, would inflict an incurable wound. As America’s long embrace of slavery and then segregation eventually forced a moral reckoning, so does Europe’s long embrace—and postwar rejection—of anti-Semitism now demand that the Continent meet the moral challenge and not wait for the problem to walk away.


Todd Pittinsky
Port Jefferson, N.Y.

American exceptionalism renders even the most virulent anti-Semitism less dangerous on these shores. Despite a history that includes many instances of Jew-hatred, unlike every European and Asian country, America is a place where there is no real history of government-sponsored discrimination against Jews. Moreover, unlike in Europe, where Israel’s existence is considered a vestige of the original sin of imperialism, support for Zionism is embedded in the political DNA of America …

But the trends that Goldberg discusses in Europe have established beachheads here on university campuses, where Israel is a constant object of hate speech and boycott movements are part of the mainstream of academic culture. [February’s] incident at UCLA where a Jewish student was initially disqualified for a student government post was just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of prejudice …

The difference is that American Jews are in a position to stand up against these disturbing trends while European Jews find themselves isolated and at risk. Though attacks on Jews still vastly outnumber those on Muslims (despite the incessant harping of the media on the myth of Islamophobia), Jews know they are at home in America in a way they can never be in places where they have already experienced expulsion and extermination.


Jonathan S. Tobin
Excerpt from a Commentary post

Jeffrey Goldberg’s article concerning the future of European Jews is an important piece of reporting on a vital human-rights issue.

However, certain matters bear particular emphasis. One is that the anti-Semitism seen in today’s Europe, unlike that of the 1930s, is not generated by the state. The Jews of Europe participate robustly in all aspects of civil society. The European governments staunchly defend Jewish domestic standing, even as they express critical views on the policies and actions of Israel.

European Muslims see their co-religionists in Israel and the occupied territories as oppressed by a Jewish state. They see their Jewish neighbors as surrogates for Israel and, unable to suicide-bomb a Tel Aviv café, take it out on nearby Jewish institutions and individuals.

The state of Israel has a duty to Diaspora Jews, from whom it expects political cover in their respective countries as well as considerable financial support. This duty involves respect for the human and civil rights of the people subject to its jurisdiction. Israel’s legal and military abuse of Palestinians is refracted in the toxic European environment Goldberg reports on so vividly. Netanyahu’s call for Europe’s Jews to self-deport is a cynical response to a situation his government helped create.

Israel, as a state founded for the oppressed, is now too often seen as the oppressor of others. This seriously compromises its moral standing among nations. When that image festers over time, sentiments of political outrage are focused on the most-available targets—namely, European Jews.


Stephen Wertheimer
Boca Raton, Fla.

There is a small error in translation in this article. The slogan “Juif, la France n’est pas à toi” is translated as “Jew, France is not for you.” The correct translation is “Jew, France does not belong to you.”

While also hostile, the meaning carries extremely important nuances of perception on the part of French anti-Semites, at least the ones chanting this slogan. It implies resistance to what is ostensibly perceived as control of the country by French Jews, as opposed to a wish to expel them. Make no mistake: the hostility is in and of itself a problem; the perception of Jews as wealthy, powerful manipulators is schismatic propaganda; and I don’t doubt that some of the protesters do, in fact, wish to expel Jews from France—but to misrepresent and exaggerate any part of the substance of the protesters’ aims is to foment greater divisiveness.

The actual slogan, which implies that Jews have control over the social, economic, and political framework of France, is a matter of statistics—something that can be discussed rationally and countered with data. The mistranslated version is pure ideology, against which it is much more difficult to make a stand.

F. J. Bergmann
Poynette, Wis.


Jeffrey Goldberg replies:

Todd Pittinsky raises a compelling point about the future of Europe; the European Union will fail as an idea if Jews believe the Continent to be unsafe. But I don’t think it is the responsibility of the Jews to salvage the postwar European idea. Jews should leave Europe if they feel unsafe. Europe’s remaining Jews (there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe in 1939, and there are 1.4 million today) have little power to shape Europe, or even shape their own destiny. As Jonathan S. Tobin notes, American Jews are in a much better position to fight anti-Semitism than their more besieged European brethren.

Unlike Stephen Wertheimer, I do not believe in victim-blaming. Jews, and the Jewish state, do not cause anti-Semitism, any more than gay people cause homophobia or black people cause racism. Assaults on synagogues in Paris, and the murders of Jewish children in Toulouse, are not caused by Israel’s settlement policies, or by its conflict with Hamas. They are caused by anti-Jewish hatred. Wertheimer is advancing a condescending, even prejudiced view when he argues that European Muslims, offended by Israel’s actions and unable to “suicide-bomb a Tel Aviv café,” then “take it out on nearby Jewish institutions and individuals.” European Muslims are just as capable of controlling their homicidal instincts as the rest of us, and should not be held to a lower standard of behavior because they are Muslim.

I thank F. J. Bergmann for his letter. I tend to think that prejudice by its nature is illogical, and is therefore largely immune to statistical truth—in this case, the statistical truth that Jews don’t control France. I would also note that many French anti-Semitic rallies feature calls of “Death to Jews,” which is grounded in pure ideology.


How to Treat Alcohol Abuse

In April, Gabrielle Glaser examined whether alternative approaches, including drugs such as naltrexone, are in many ways superior to “The False Gospel of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

I am perplexed at the harsh tone and vitriolic nature of Glaser’s article. Why not just say that Alcoholics Anonymous works for thousands, but there are other ways, and here are some? We in AA make no claim to have found the exclusive remedy, and we take no position on other methods. We do say that if you work our program with a real desire to quit drinking, you will probably succeed. I pray that Glaser’s attack does not prevent alcoholics from trying AA.

Terry Murphy
Dallas, Texas


I found Gabrielle Glaser’s article to be a well-balanced, well-researched, and fascinating read. After decades of alcohol abuse, I finally “surrendered” and enlisted the help of AA five years ago. With the exception of one very short relapse, I have lived my life free of alcohol, and my life is immeasurably better. My relapse occurred shortly after I stopped attending AA meetings on a regular basis. I have yet to embrace and complete all of the 12 steps, but I do believe that regularly attending meetings and merely staying connected to this “fellowship” has helped to virtually eliminate the compulsion I had to drink.

However, I will also admit that I would love to one day be able to enjoy a glass of fine wine without fearing the risk of spiraling into another cycle of abuse and destructive behavior. Prior to reading Ms. Glaser’s article, I had thought that possibility was, as AA’s Big Book says it has to be, “smashed completely.” Perhaps not. I intend to discuss options like naltrexone with my doctor. If, given my past history with alcohol, it is not a viable option for me, then I am still in a good and safe place. If it is an effective alternative, then I will give thanks for better living through modern medicine.

Rick
Virginia Beach, Va.


AA is not considered therapy—not by its members, not by addiction-treatment professionals, not by state oversight agencies. It is a self-designated “fellowship.” That specification is crucial to understanding its value. AA is, by and large, a gathering of outcasts who have lied, cheated, and stolen their way into isolation as a result of their addiction. AA provides sober support, a process to repair damaged relationships, and hope. Some addicts are religious, some are agnostic, and some are even atheist. Every one of them has violated his or her own moral code. While it is true that AA was founded on religious principles, it—like society as a whole—has adapted. The “higher power” can represent anything greater than the self: it can be the four walls of the meeting room, it can be science, it can be progress. But it is not God or the higher power that requires confession and absolution. These are the means of restoration to loved ones and to lost values. It’s not quaint to believe that society demands any less.

Where AA fails is in its repudiation of pharmaceutical interventions. Both AA and Narcotics Anonymous have reputations for insisting on abstinence from even prescription drugs. But methadone, and Suboxone, for all their abuse potential, do save lives. Many treatment facilities have a psychiatrist on staff to write prescriptions for one or the other drug. The lack of availability of Vivitrol (injectable naltrexone) is not due to the recovery industry’s insistence on treatment as usual. Vivitrol’s promise as a drug that effectively curbs cravings, has no abuse potential, and has no street value has been recognized in the U.S. as the best hope for recovering addicts.

The reason Vivitrol has not become a part of conventional treatment is the staggering costs charged by pharmaceutical companies for the drug, and the reluctance of insurance companies to cover those costs. That circumstance has made it difficult for treatment facilities to offer the option. Nonetheless, Vivitrol is becoming increasingly available for treatment. But moderation, for an alcoholic, could require a lifetime supply. Who will foot that hefty bill?

Lisa Hughes
Monroe, N.Y.


It is a false dichotomy to pit science against AA. For some, the medical approach is enough. Others eventually want to stop drinking, and many of those people find AA. The process is a continuum rather than a binary choice.

Science provides the data and medical interventions that are often enormously helpful. AA provides support for the person who wants to stop drinking and guidelines on how to do it.

Stephanie Brown, Ph.D.
Director, Addictions Institute
Menlo Park, Calif.


Gabrielle Glaser’s scorched-earth approach criticizes a program for not being what it never intended to be, and also ignores or minimizes the benefits millions of people have derived from AA.

I work in a substance-use-disorder treatment center that is affiliated with a hospital’s brain-sciences center. We have five levels of care and in June we will have a sixth. We introduce our patients to the 12-step programs and encourage them to attend meetings and get a sponsor, because the research supports the efficacy of this, as does our observation of what works and what doesn’t work for our patients in their long-term recovery. We are constantly abreast of the latest research on the most-effective modalities of treatments for substance-use disorders. Many if not most of our patients take medications for physical problems or mood disorders, and many are prescribed medications such as Campral, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. Our patients see state-certified addiction counselors daily (many of whom have master’s degrees) and licensed therapists or psychologists at least once a week. We provide group therapy (not to be confused with AA meetings), stress-management coaching, and other best-practice forms of treatment, including expressive arts.

Would we love it if everyone with a substance-use disorder came to our center or one of the many excellent facilities for treatment? Sure. In the meantime, however, tens of thousands of people get well and stay well through the support of their 12-step friends.

Lesley Donovan, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
Chemical Dependency Recovery Center, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian Newport Beach, Calif.


If I followed all of Alcoholics Anonymous’s precepts, I would simply “accept” that the revered Atlantic published a poorly researched and deeply flawed article. The author’s slurs and misstatements about AA do a major disservice to The Atlantic’s readership and its tradition of quality journalism.

It’s good to know that a pill can reduce cravings for alcohol. AA’s Big Book, written 75 years ago, predicts such a result. But for many in recovery, drinking is not the major problem—living well is the problem. AA provides a pathway for members to build quality, sustainable living habits that make drinking unnecessary—a much healthier result than taking a pill to inhibit cravings and leaving untreated the problems many face.

AA is not a “faith-based” program, as Ms. Glaser misstates; it is a spiritual program in which a “higher power”—it might be the order or beauty of the universe, or the rhythm of the tides—guides one on a personal, spiritual pathway to recovery. True, the program does not work for everyone, but for those who meet the criterion for entrance to the program (a genuine desire to stop drinking), rather than the vast pool of those referred by courts who do not particularly want to stop drinking, works very well indeed. That is not to say naltrexone and other such pills are not important tools that science has provided—the data Ms. Glaser cites suggest they are good for what they do—but real recovery is more than simply stopping drinking. Despite Ms. Glaser’s remonstrations, for those interested in recovering quality in their living and serenity in their life, AA’s 12-step program can be invaluable.

Ben R.
Pasadena, Calif.


The appropriateness of AA to the current general public, as in “one size fits all,” is skewed by the fact that the early members were not only “chronic, severe drinkers,” as the author says, but also predominantly moderately successful middle-class white males between the ages of 35 and 60. None of this is true today, which is obvious to anyone who has “sat at the tables” even once in the past 25 years.

Quentin Bick
Dubuque, Iowa


Gabrielle Glaser replies:

The thrust of my article was that there are far more treatment alternatives than is popularly understood. For a condition as complicated as alcohol-use disorder, it would be inconceivable that one approach could fit all. Some critics sought to distinguish between the meetings organized by members of Alcoholics Anonymous and those organized by the for-profit treatment industry. The former, of course, are freely available, while the latter can cost tens of thousands of dollars a month. But at most of the priciest facilities, the prevailing method of treatment remains rooted in principles established in the 1930s.


Nothing to Fear?

In the March issue, Jonathan Rauch agreed with President Obama that the world has never been safer (“Be Not Afraid”). Here, a reader argues not only that the world is dangerous, but that Obama believes the same.

Jonathan Rauch is highly selective in choosing a quote by Barack Obama asserting a safe America. In contrast, Obama, in The Hague on March 25, 2014, asserted that the No. 1 threat to U.S. security was a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan. Obama’s seriousness about nuclear terrorism has been demonstrated by his holding three nuclear-security summits. Each brought heads of state together to seek preventive actions. Mr. Rauch is cavalier in dismissing the threat of nuclear terrorism with a vague comment about the “host of technical and political reasons” making it unlikely. He fails to mention that, in recent years, numerous authorities, including a former assistant secretary of defense and the president of the Federation of American Scientists, have written books emphasizing the ease with which terrorists who possess 140 pounds of highly enriched uranium could fabricate the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb. Given that global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium exceed 2 million pounds, the possibility that a mere 140 pounds could be obtained through theft or bribery is plausible. In fact, WikiLeaks made public a cable from Anne Patterson, then the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, stating her fear that sufficient material for a weapon was being smuggled out of Pakistan’s bomb-production program. Such a weapon could destroy Manhattan between 14th Street and Central Park, while killing several hundred thousand in the immediate region of the blast and in the areas of intense radioactive fallout. Such is the basis for Obama’s fear and his pursuit of nuclear summits.

Edward A. Friedman
Hoboken, N.J.


To contribute to The Conversation, please e-mail letters@theatlantic.com. Include your full name, city, and state.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.