"Some Jewish leaders worry that Mr. Netanyahu is flirting with the revival of an age-old problem. By depicting every Jew as a potential Israeli, they say, the prime minister risks giving new life to the longtime accusation that Jews’ true loyalties lie not with their home countries, but with Israel or some other global Jewish entity."wsj.com
BRUSSELS—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls for European Jews to move to Israel after recent terrorist killings are prompting a backlash from not only European leaders but Jews themselves, reopening a long-standing debate about the role of Israel in the Jewish world.
Following attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, Mr. Netanyahu has declared Israel “the home of every Jew.” But for many Jews, such remarks ignore, and even insult, the acceptance they feel in the countries where they and their families have often lived for generations.
“We are a little confused by this call, which is basically like a call to surrender to terror,” said Arie Zuckerman, senior executive at the European Jewish Congress. “It may send a wrong message to the leaders of Europe.” Menachem Margolin, general director of the European Jewish Association, said Mr. Netanyahu is wrong in suggesting that Jews can’t live safely in Europe. “To come out with this kind of statement after each attack is unacceptable,” Rabbi Margolin said.
Other Jews in Europe are reacting the same way. Sydney Schreiber, a Canadian attorney who moved to Brussels in 1992, called Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks appalling, complaining of “a statement that can be interpreted as meaning that Jews don’t belong in Europe.”
The widespread rejection of Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks is unusual, given Jewish activists’ frequent efforts to unite behind Israel’s leaders. It comes on the heels of the furor caused by Mr. Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress, which concerns U.S. Jewish leaders because it is seen as a snub of the White House.
Mr. Netanyahu’s appeals have also revived sensitivities that date to the beginning of the Zionist movement. From the outset, some Zionists envisioned all Jews moving to the Jewish state, while others pictured it as one of many vibrant Jewish communities world-wide.
“In a way, Netanyahu is doing nothing other than repeating a classic mantra,” said Daniel Levy, who heads the Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Few Israelis expect a mass immigration to Israel. But an undercurrent of tension has persisted between Israeli leaders, who urge Jewish immigration, and Jewish leaders in the U.S. and in Europe, who work to foster Jews’ acceptance in their home countries. Mr. Netanyahu’s appeals have broken that tension into the open.
His words are proving more popular in Israel, where the perception of growing European anti-Semitism has featured in the current election campaign. Leaders from across the political spectrum have supported the Israeli prime minister’s outreach to Jewish Europeans.
The Israeli government has set aside about $40 million in additional money to assist Jews who want to come this year, according to Mr. Netanyahu’s office. “It is probably a historical moment in which many Jews in Europe, perhaps tens of thousands, are considering immigration,” said Yigal Palmour, spokesman for the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nongovernmental agency that helps Jews wanting to immigrate.
‘Israel isn’t in the situation where it can guarantee a life without terror attacks.’
—Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the Brussels-based AJC Transatlantic Institute, which fights anti-Semitism in Europe, said many Jews now feel unsafe on the Continent. “European governments have failed their Jewish citizens,” he said. Whether they leave, he added, won’t be determined by Mr. Netanyahu’s invitation, but by whether things improve: “They just feel insecure and in some cases they have lost trust in Europe, and this should change.”
Still, some leaders argue that Israel is hardly a refuge for Jews seeking to avoid violence. “Israel isn’t in the situation where it can guarantee a life without terror attacks,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He said he considered Mr. Netanyahu’s call “not to be appropriate.”
Alberto Saravelle, 58, a lawyer in Milan, said today’s Europe isn’t like that of the 1930s, during the rise of Nazism. “This is my home,” Mr. Saravelle said. “I think it’s important for us to stay in our countries and make a stand here against all forms of anti-Semitism, discrimination and racial hatred. My father and uncle were forced to leave this country in 1939, and I don’t want to do that.”
Some Jewish leaders worry that Mr. Netanyahu is flirting with the revival of an age-old problem. By depicting every Jew as a potential Israeli, they say, the prime minister risks giving new life to the longtime accusation that Jews’ true loyalties lie not with their home countries, but with Israel or some other global Jewish entity.
“It’s a classic dual-loyalty thing,” said Mr. Levy, who used to work for leaders of Israel’s Labour Party, which opposes Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud. “Netanyahu’s message is, ‘You may go around thinking you’re French or Danish or British, but actually you’re just a potential Israeli. Your real home is somewhere else.’ Well, no—these communities have deep roots.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s comments have also drawn rebukes from European leaders, who suggest Mr. Netanyahu is challenging their ability to protect their citizens. “I regret Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on a radio program this week. “Being in the middle of an election campaign doesn’t mean you authorize yourself to make just any type of statement…The place for French Jews is France.”
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, visiting the Copenhagen synagogue where a gunman killed a 37-year-old guard this week, said Danish Jews “belong in Denmark. They are a strong part of our community, and we will do everything we can to protect the Jewish community in our country.”
Although the dispute is unusual, it isn’t unprecedented. Mr. Netanyahu’s calls echo those of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who in 2004 said French Jews were threatened by anti-Semitism and should leave. “I’ll tell them one thing—move to Israel as soon as possible,” Mr. Sharon said, prompting a furious reaction from French politicians and journalists.
Many Jewish leaders unhappy with Mr. Netanyahu’s comments said Europe still must do more to protect Jewish communities, from stepping up security to combating radicalization. But none said that justified Mr. Netanyahu’s comments.
“He is entitled to his view,” said Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “But there is a universal rejection of it by diaspora leaders.”