‘At what point,” columnist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted recently “do the Jews of America and the Jews of Israel tell the Jews of Europe that it might be time to get out?”
While Goldberg did not elucidate the reasons for his stark view of the future of European Jewry, it is likely that he had in mind the shooting of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24 and the success of several far-right parties in the following day’s European Election results.
Goldberg is not the only one to have had this thought. In fact, according to a 2013 opinion poll by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, more than a quarter of Jews in the E.U. have considered emigrating at some point in the past five years, because in their own countries they do not feel safe as Jews. This figure rose to more than 40% for Belgian, French and Hungarian Jews.
It is too soon to speculate about who might be responsible for the Brussels shooting. Whoever is behind it, though, it is not too early to appreciate the impact it could have on the sense of safety and belonging of Belgian Jews, 45% of whom (according to the FRA poll) frequently or always avoid wearing in public their yarmulkes, or Star of David necklaces, or other identifying markers that they would otherwise wear, lest they be identified as a Jew and attacked.
Yet just this April, after an alleged neo-Nazi shot and killed three people at Jewish community buildings in Kansas, there were no concerned tweets about the future of American Jewry; nor did American Jewish leaders voice their concern about the unsustainability of “normative Jewish life,” as European Jewish Congress head Moshe Kantor did about European Jewry even prior to the Brussels shooting.
Many observers will explain this inconsistency by pointing to the political atmosphere in Europe. A continent where traditional Jewish practices such as shechita, ritual slaughter, and circumcision are under increasing scrutiny will now have neo-Nazis sitting in its parliament for the first time in its 56-year history. Three of them will be Greek; one, in a development full of historical foreboding, will be German. Most worrying of all, in France the Front National followed up its recent successes in local elections by winning a plurality in the European Elections for the first time, coming first with 25% of the vote. A realistic run at the presidency in 2017 for F.N. leader Marine Le Pen cannot be discounted.
As British political commentator Paul Mason put it: “The Euro project was supposed to make sure the continent could never again go fascist. If European legislatures are now crawling with fascists, what was the point of that?”
Yet the portrayal of these elections as a sweeping success for the European far right can be slightly misleading. There is certainly reason to worry, but the problem is much more nuanced than how it is often presented.