Netanyahu’s invitation to French Jews was awkward. For many reasons.

January 14, 2015

French President Francois Hollande welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Elysee Palace before attending a solidarity march in the streets of Paris

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned call for French Jews to immigrate to Israel, after a series of attacks that began on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre killed four in a kosher supermarket in Paris. To many, it seemed like the most natural response he could deliver. After all, this is Israel’s stated raison d’etre: to provide refuge to persecuted Jews, wherever they may be. Underlying this sentiment is a deeper one, shared by Israelis across the political spectrum. It is the idea that Jewish life is at its most meaningful, and relevant, if carried out in the Jewish state.

There are many holes in this narrative, of course. To start with, despite the Holocaust wiping out much of the world’s Jewish population, most Jews still prefer not to live in Israel. There is roughly the same number of Jews in the United States as in Israel. That’s not counting another half a million Jews in France, close to 400,000 in Canada and around 300,000 in the UK. Brazil’s Jewish population is bigger than Haifa’s. If nothing else, these numbers suggest that for most Jews, the reasons for making aliyah — the Zionist term for immigrating to Israel — are anything but self-evident.

Then there is the awkwardness of timing. On one level, packing up and taking off is a natural and sometimes absolutely life-saving response to having your community targeted. The hundreds of thousands of Jews who moved westward at the turn of the 20th century were doing just that. Tens of millions of  refugees around the world are doing so now, desperately trying to get away from conflict zones like Syria and Sudan. Jews, many Israelis would point out, at least have a “home” country to go to, and should be using that.

Many French Jews will, undoubtedly, do so. France has been the largest “exporter” of Jews to Israel among Western countries in recent years, and the number is rising steadily — although the yearly migration rate has not yet gone above 10,000.

But calling on Jews to pack up and leave in the immediate aftermath of an attack has a strange ring to it. It sounds like calling them to give up and discard everything they have ever achieved in their own societies because of the actions of three goons in Paris. Whatever else it says, such a call gives little credit to the long and resilient history of France’s Jewish community, which has survived much worse than last week’s attacks, without being compelled to give up either their Jewishness or their Frenchness.

This stinging implication of Netanyahu’s call was picked up even in Israel, where aliyah is still seen as a profoundly sensible decision for any Jew to take, in any circumstances. Haaretz’s Washington bureau chief Chemi Shalev’s reaction was among harshest. In a tweet on Sunday he wrote: “Call for mass Jewish emigration helps terrorists finish the job started by Nazis and Vichy: making France Judenrein” — Jew free. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was more diplomatic, but still pointed out that Zionism is meant to make Jews want to come to Israel by choice, not flee there at the point of a gun.

And quite apart from ideological considerations, calling on Jews to come to Israel for considerations of safety is like offering them a ticket from the frying pan into the fire. The numbers don’t lie. Since the end of World War II, Israel was and remains the most dangerous place in the world for a Jew to live in.

For Israelis, Netanyahu’s six years in power were the most peaceful ones in over two decades (not so much for Palestinians, whose civilian casualties in the summer’s war in Gaza outnumber those of Israelis by a stunning 253 to 1, according to UN figures.) But even those years saw many more Israelis killed than diaspora Jews worldwide — 60 Israelis died in the summer’s war alone. Whatever reasons Jews might have for coming to Israel, personal safety cannot reasonably be cited as one of them.

Zionism, of course, is predicated on the insistence that Judaism is not merely a faith, but also a nationality. This is the very core of its claim for self-determination, with Israel as the Jewish nation-state. It follows that Israel is the nation-state of all Jews, even if they have not yet immigrated.

But national identity, especially among minorities, is complex — much more complex than the simple Zionist binary of homeland and diaspora will allow.

This was illustrated neatly toward the end of Netanyahu’s visit to Paris, when he gave a speech at the city’s Great Synagogue. The Israeli prime minister was received with rapturous applause, and his call to emigrate was not met with jeers or protests. But when the visit was about to conclude, the crowd — overcome by the national tragedy, and wishing to defy the hatred and violence that was visited upon their community — broke out into the national anthem. Two national anthems, that is: Israel’s ha-Tikva, followed by a thundering rendition of La Marseillaise.

PHOTO: French President Francois Hollande (R) welcomes Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) at the Elysee Palace before attending a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris January 11, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol 

17 comments

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In recorded history there have been many cultures, and several could be called “great” cultures. Ancient Greece, the Romans, the Jews, the British Empire, the American Empire, the Japanese.

Every one of these great cultures have done magnificent things that make every person reading history proud to be a human being, even if not part of that culture.

And every great culture has done horrible, terrible, despicable things of both military and financial nature, on vast scales.

The world is changing so fast now that it has become most important that discussions begin by first realizing that human nature, or a human culture, is not all good or all bad.

We are all, each individual person and each culture, corrupted by power. Certainly no culture should be off limits to discussion.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Je ne suis pas d’accord. The author plays fast and loose with the facts. Roughly half the world’s Jews live in Israel today; in 1939 it was less than 2% or world Jewry. If, as the author claims, Israel is the world’s most dangerous country for Jews, why would so many Jews have fled to Israel since 1948? There are many reasons: economic, religious, nationalistic. But most important, one can walk down the street wearing a kippa and not worry about being attacked. And one also knows that if there is an attack, shedding Jewish blood in Israel will come with a price. As long as Jewish and Israeli values are consistent with those in the Diaspora, Jews will feel comfortable traveling back and forth between the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel. But France has reached the tipping point, and the UK is close behind : These countries have been unsuccessful in assimilating their Muslim populations, and their open cultures have begun to diverge from liberal democracy — with the safety issues for Jews following. Expect a flood of European immigrants (avec moi) to Israel. From the tone of the author’s article, this would leave plenty of room for him to make yerida and settle comfortably in northeast Paris. I hope he enjoys it there.

Posted by CharlesParisFR | Report as abusive

The guy on the left is an idiot for saying what he said…..the guy on the right is an idiot for supporting militarily the rebels in Syria.

Posted by notlurking | Report as abusive

This is a well-written article, and interesting. The world is changing fast.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

“The author plays fast and loose with the facts. Roughly half the world’s Jews live in Israel today”Posted by CharlesParisFR

What the author actually said was “most Jews still prefer not to live in Israel”

He is right more than 9 million live outside of Israel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_popu lation_by_country

Posted by notlurking | Report as abusive

France has been getting ever more hostile to Jews for many years. It is much more than this incident. There are innumerable anti-Semitic acts that do not make the news as well as many that do. The politics is running toward the xenophobic parties who oppose Jews and Muslims alike. Jews had built up lives and stakes in Germany before WW2, and were very secular, and very German, yet those who did not leave when the winds changed paid the price. It was considered equally ridiculous back then when Jews were worried about their safety, just like today in France. Get out while the getting is good.

Posted by SensibleMan | Report as abusive

If it was just three goons, yes… but it’s not.

Posted by Redford | Report as abusive

I have no political slant on this but pragmatically wonder if Netanyahu’s call was at least partially motivated by the IDF’s longstanding conscription problems.

Posted by carlofab | Report as abusive

Question: Why did the children of Israel wander the desert for forty years?

Answer: Somebody dropped a quarter.

Posted by summarex | Report as abusive

Well, his motives are so transparent…it would give him an excuse to steal more Palestinian land to give away to (French) settlers. Not that this war criminal needs an excuse to steal land or slaughter innocent children.

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive

If only there had been a State of Israel and a Prime Minister of Israel in 1935. He could have asked them to leave Germany, because of the act of a handful of “goons” in Berlin.

Posted by JonAU | Report as abusive

Welcome back Brazilian1?????

Yes, it has indeed been a considerable time since I haven’t posted any comment here. But could guys PLEASE help me understand how to conciliate the following two statements:

1) The numbers don’t lie. Since the end of World War II, Israel was and remains the most dangerous place in the world for a Jew to live in.

2) For Israelis, Netanyahu’s six years in power were the most peaceful ones in over two decades.

Yes, Jews are doing very well in Brazil, thanks God. But not in France!!!!!

???????

Posted by Brazilian1 | Report as abusive

Hierarchy of loyalties. What is it?

The troops of the US Marine Corp have a saying, “Unit, Corp, God, Country” to express their own hierarchy of loyalties. (I think it’s slang rather than official.)

After the 911 attack on the World Trade Center, before anybody else, two very high ranking men in the Bush administration, who happened to be Jewish, began advocating the idea of invading Iraq, even though Iraq was not implicated in any way. Obviously, it turned out to be a disaster for America.

My question is this: What should be the hierarchy of loyalties of a Jewish man holding a very high position in the American government? Is his first loyalty to Israel or America?

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Netanyahu’s invitation to French Jews was not awkward in any sense. He saw a unique opportunity to shore up the population of Jews living in Israel and he went for it. A large resident Jewish population in Israel will ultimately serve to the strategic interest of the Israeli state which he represents.

Posted by keenObserver1 | Report as abusive

The reason there is terrorism against jews is because of policies of ISraeli government. IF bibi really cared about the french jews he would end Israeli apartheid and live in peace with pals as one nation similar to South Africa

Posted by delusional112 | Report as abusive

“Come to Israel. We never have terrorist attacks here.”

1) Hahaha.

2) If you beg to hard, Netanyahu, it will look like you were in on the Hebdo attack.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Without first hand events and candid Hi=def snap shots to chronicle our Idiosyncratic behaviors while in the public eye we can only refer chronologically from this moment into the previous….The Bibi Images#666100 Bibi Throwing Elbows to get through the crowd to appear@ the front of the procession…#66699 Bibi Busting through security staff to Board the Bus he was instructed to not Board…#66698 The Bibi correcting Pope Francis as to only language Jesus Christ spoke; Hebrew…#66697 Telling President Obama,”Not To Ever Second Guess Me Again,”….#66696 Bibi circumventing the White House to Secretly Procure Munitions from the Dept of Defense…#66695 Shadow painting the Hitler mustache under the nose of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Gleeful look behind the eyes of the twelve year old Mind that is the radical Kahane Chai Settler Residing There…..Somewhere between Paddy Chayefsky and a Jewish Mothers Norman Rockwell vision of a Kashrut neighborhood in New York Great Walking Shoes and Straight Seams on Ladies Hosiery We expose the layers that create Who or What resides within Bibi Netanyahu

Posted by DJSanDiego | Report as abusive