I am no longer surprised by what Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu says or
does. No leader with any pride and sensitivity would have tried to exploit
for political gain the tragic deaths of four French Jews who were
assassinated in a kosher supermarket in Paris. It is one thing to travel to
France and demonstrate solidarity with the French people after the horrific
execution of 12 journalists at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo; it is
an entirely different matter to use the occasion to call on French Jews to
immigrate to Israel to avoid anti-Semitism and ''live secure and peaceful
At this moment, when France has a good deal of soul-searching to do, we may
do well to recall the thoughts of Jean-Paul Sartre, whose Anti-Semite and
Jew, though written over seventy years ago, contains observations that are no
less true today, such as his diagnosis of anti-Semitism as an all-consuming
passion, a ''total choice'' that transforms hatred into a faith.
Sartre understood that the answer to anti-Semitism did not lie in the Jews of
France leaving their country—''their original fatherland''—to live in
Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, as Netanyahu recently proposed.
Any solution to the problem of anti-Semitism (which is on the rise all over
Europe) will involve recognizing, in Sartre’s closing words, that ''[n]ot one
Frenchman will be secure so long as a single Jew – in France or in the world
at large – can fear for his life.''
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls recognized this fact when he expressed
deep concerns about the prospect, however remote, that a large segment of
French Jews may leave France because of the rise of anti-Israel and
For Valls, the recognition of Jews as full citizens is a founding principle
of the 1789 French Revolution and remains one of the central pillars of
By calling on French Jews to immigrate to Israel while still on French soil,
Netanyahu was rudely suggesting that they are no longer safe in France and
only Israel can provide a safe haven where they can live without fear and
Netanyahu conveniently forgets that 80 times more Israelis were killed in
Israel by suicide bombers and random acts of violence in the past 20 years
than all Jews killed in Europe by terrorists in the same time period.
French, British, and American Jews do not see Israel as the exclusive home
for the Jews; they are proud to be citizens of their respective countries.
Netanyahu’s scare tactics to prompt the Jews to leave their places of birth
is an affront to France and to Jews as well.
Yes, the majority of these Jews have a special affinity to Israel, but they
do not feel torn between their loyalty to their country of birth and their
kinship with Israel.
Although a greater number of Jews left France to live in Israel in 2014 than
the previous year, many more immigrated to the US and Canada, among other
countries. It should be noted that the overall number of young Western Jews
immigrating to Israel has declined over the past ten years.
They no longer view Israel as a pioneering, free, and democratic state the
way they envisioned it before. They do not accept the occupation as if it
were a way of life; they vilify discrimination against Israeli Arabs and
loathe the endemic corruption of Israel’s political elite.
While Netanyahu calls for Jews to immigrate to Israel, he has done next to
nothing to stem the flow of Israeli Jews emigrating from Israel; nearly one
million left in the past 20 years. Ironically, many are leaving because they
fear for their security and do not wish to have their children enlisted in
the army, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinds on.
Anti-Semitism has existed from time immemorial. There is probably little the
Jews can do to change that sad reality, just as African-Americans can hardly
change the racism of many white Americans.
Even after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the passage of the 13th
Amendment outlawing slavery two years later, after decades of struggle for
civil rights, and the election of a black President in 2008, racial profiling
remains a source of deep resentment for African Americans.
Whether anti-Semitism is instigated by envy, enmity, or is culturally
espoused, escaping to Israel would simply hand a victory to the anti-Semites.
There will always be Jews living throughout the world (perhaps it’s the
secret behind their survival) and the anti-Semite will still lurk in the
The question is, since anti-Semitism cannot be expunged and the Jews will
have to live with it, what can they, and particularly Israel, do to allay the
disease of anti-Semitism?
Regardless of where they may live, the Jews need not bend backwards to please
their enemies, but the onus falls especially on Israel to do the right thing
and stop feeding fuel to the fire.
It is not by sheer accident that the whole world, including Israel’s closest
friend and ally—the US—rejects the settlement enterprise and the continued
occupation, and it is not accidental that there is a spike in global
anti-Semitic incidents every time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares up.
Netanyahu must accept the fact that the occupation is one of the main causes
(but not the source) behind the recent rise of anti-Semitism. Instead of
focusing on ending it, he is calling on French Jews to immigrate to Israel
only to 'become oppressors’ of the Palestinians.
Reaching an equitable peace agreement with the Palestinians will not
eliminate anti-Semitism, as Sartre observed, ''If the Jew did not exist, the
anti-Semite would invent him.'' But it will, at a minimum, regress
No, if Netanyahu cannot find his soul, the hour is calling for another
Israeli leader to rise and have the courage to answer the call.