Why Israeli Politicians Aren’t Talking About America’s anti-Semitism Crisis, Even After Monsey

May 11, 2020

Many are fearful of saying the wrong thing, with Netanyahu and Bennett’s tone-deaf approaches to previous Diaspora attacks seemingly serving as warnings

As news of the horrific knife attack in Monsey was breaking on Saturday – the police still in pursuit of the perpetrator, the injured victims being rushed to hospitals – the CNN anchor turned to the network’s correspondent in Jerusalem for reaction.

It’s hard to imagine how, in any other circumstances, a violent crime in the heart of the United States would cause a network to turn to a foreign nation for comment. But the spate of anti-Semitic attacks on American Jews over the past few months, culminating in this month’s Jersey City and Monsey attacks, sent them to what they assumed would be a logical address for the most immediate reaction to Jewish persecution: the Jewish state.

In reality, though, Israeli leaders are now often hesitant to be among the first to speak out against anti-Semitic violence in the Diaspora. It isn’t because they aren’t deeply concerned by the phenomenon, which is being covered thoroughly in Israel, but because the odds of saying the wrong thing are high.

The degree of difficulty in devising the appropriate response has also risen in an era where anti-Semitism has become a political weapon. Israel’s leaders are justifiably fearful that the slightest slip of the tongue will be transformed into ammunition in the left-right political wars overseas, and then fired against the Jewish state itself.

That caution was evident in the defensive tone of the very first official response to the attack, provided by President Reuven Rivlin. “Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of Israel’s problem,” Rivlin stated. “We must work together to confront this rising evil, which is a real global threat.”

Rivlin’s words set the tone for other Israeli officials. They walked a tightrope between Israel’s commitment to defending Jews around the world, refusing to stand by passively as they suffer and die at the hands of attackers, while avoiding the appearance of treading on the internal political and security matters of another country.

It took until Sunday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue his carefully worded reaction at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Israel strongly condemns the recent displays of anti-Semitism, including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, NY, during Hanukkah,” he said. He also expressed willingness to “cooperate however possible with the local authorities in order to assist in defeating this phenomenon. We offer our assistance to every country.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, meanwhile, vowed to “work tirelessly to restore the sense of personal security each and every Jew deserves,” lacing his statement with a pro-Israel advocacy message, saying that “the delegitimization and anti-Semitism we face every day has raised its ugly head once again.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, pushed a bit harder, calling for unspecified “action” against violent anti-Semitism, declaring that “This is a time for action, not words. ... This is a time for enforcement that deters the perpetrators of hate, whoever they may be.”

Only one Israeli official – Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman – offered up the traditional Zionist response to anti-Semitic violence in the Diaspora: Suggesting Jews could only be truly safe in their own state. “Again and again, we are witnessing the dire consequences of anti-Semitism,” he wrote. “Alongside the deep grief and best wishes for the injured, it is important to know that the main solution to such phenomena is immigration to Israel.”

Maybe it is because Lieberman is not currently serving as a government minister, or perhaps because he made his call for embattled Diaspora Jews to move to Israel in Hebrew, that the blowback was minimal.

In contrast, when Netanyahu sent the same message in 2015, following the murderous attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris, France’s Jewish community was infuriated.

Two days after the attack took place on January 9, Netanyahu responded by forming a special ministerial committee to discuss steps to encourage aliyah from France (and Europe in general), stating: “I wish to tell all French and European Jews – Israel is your home.” He reiterated that message when he visited a synagogue full of Parisian Jews shortly afterward, pointing out that “Jews these days have an opportunity that did not exist in the past: to live freely in the only Jewish state, the State of Israel.” He added that “any Jew who chooses to come to Israel will be greeted with open arms and an open heart. It is not a foreign nation, and hopefully they and you will one day come to Israel.”

There was a fierce negative reaction from France’s chief rabbi, Haïm Korsia, and other representatives of French and European Jewry. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, general director of the European Jewish Association, said Netanyahu and others “must cease this Pavlovian reaction every time Jews in Europe are attacked.”

He complained that “after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah, rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.” Margolin added that “every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are.”

France’s then-prime minister, Manuel Valls, also rejected Netanyahu’s call, stating that if 100,000 Jews left the country, “France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”

Whether because Israel’s government leadership learned a lesson from the 2015 experience, or due to its general caution around American Jews, there has not been a hint of a call for American Jews to consider emigration to Israel – even after the most shocking recent anti-Semitic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway in October 2018 and last April, respectively.

After those incidents, the official Israeli response ran into a different kind of trouble: the perception of political partisanship. Israeli officials were criticized for taking sides in the bitter round of finger-pointing that followed the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, after supporting President Donald Trump and defending him against those who felt he had fanned the flames of white supremacism.

Then-Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, who visited the United States following the Pittsburgh shooting, insisted in an interview that “using the horrible anti-Semitic massacre to attack the president is unfair, it’s wrong,” adding that Trump was “a great friend of Israel and of the Jews.” And at a public event, Bennett indicated that the reaction to the massacre was overblown, saying: “This is not in any sense Germany of the ’30s, it doesn’t resemble that in any possible way.”

Bennett was slammed for stepping out of line – for lecturing, instead of listening to the pain of American Jews trying to cope with the threat of anti-Semitism. The minefield of U.S. identity politics has only grown more treacherous since, with an intensification of what pundit Benjamin Wittes calls “selective outrage” around anti-Semitism.

Increasingly, those on the right and left are pointing fingers at each other depending on who the perpetrator of an anti-Semitic attack may be, refusing to acknowledge that hatred of Jews “does not align with any simple political narrative,” Wittes wrote in The Atlantic on Sunday.

And so it is little wonder that Israeli leaders – particularly while they are consumed with their own country’s domestic political turmoil – are choosing the path of issuing carefully worded statements about Monsey and other attacks, and then, for the most part, staying out of the fray. They have much to potentially lose, and little if anything to gain.

As The Forward’s opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon pointed out Sunday in an op-ed titled “Why no one can talk about the attacks against Orthodox Jews,” “At a time when ideology seems to [reign] supreme in the chattering and political classes, the return of pogroms to Jewish life on American soil transcends ideology. In the fight against anti-Semitism, you don’t get to easily blame your traditional enemies – which, in the age of Trump, is a nonstarter for most people.”

Including, it seems, Israel’s political leaders.

The article was published on Haaretz

Additional Articles

ITALIAN POLITICIAN LISTS ‘ANTISEMITIC’ AS HIS RELIGIOUS VIEWS ON FACEBOOK

A member of the city council of an Italian town listed “antisemitic” as his religious views on Facebook, Italian media reported on Sunday.
Stefano Altinier, 35, was elected in the city council of Gorizia, North East of the Italian peninsula, in 2017. He belongs to the right-wing party League, whose leader Matteo Salvini recently triggered a political crisis, pulling the plug from League’s coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Altinier deleted the entry on Friday after being alerted that someone had spotted his profile. However, screenshots of his Facebook page started to circulate online.
“The opposition is trying to discredit me in a boorish way. I have always thought that social media do not reflect reality. Some people claim to exercise a certain profession or to be married, and it happens not to be true. I have never been antisemitic, I have even attended a Hanukkah celebration once, and I’m fascinated by the history and tradition of this people,” Altinier said.
Altinier also claimed that he was “a teenager” when he compiled his Facebook profile identifying his religious views as antisemitic, “ten or fifteen years ago.”
“The word was meant as a joke,” he further said. “I apologize if I hurt someone’s sensitivity. Today there is no more trace of what I wrote.”

“Some Things Simply Should Not Be Traded” writes EU Jewish Head to Munich Auction House Ahead of Nazi Memorabilia Sale.

“Some Things Simply Should Not Be Traded” writes EU Jewish Head to Munich Auction House Ahead of Nazi Memorabilia Sale.

As Europe marked the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Chairman of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin has had to write to a Munich Auction house asking them to cancel the sale of items belonging to infamous Nazis Hess, Goring, Himmler and Hitler himself.

Hermann Historica will be holding an auction on the 20th November that includes a number of pieces for sale from the Nazi leadership including framed photographs, silver dinner services, plates, letters and Jewellery belonging to Goring’s wife.

In his letter to the Auction House, Rabbi Margolin said:

“I am writing to respectfully ask you to withdraw the auction. This is not a legal appeal to you, but very much a moral one. What you are doing is not illegal, but it is wrong.

“I need not remind you of the many millions of lives lost as a result of national socialism, nor of the approximately six million Jewish lives that were lost due to mindless antisemitic hatred. This is history.

“Yet today, across Europe and including Germany (which now has the highest recorded cases in Europe), antisemitism in on the rise, and we believe the sale of such memorabilia has little intrinsic historical value but instead will be bought by those who glorify and seek to justify the actions of the greatest evil to affect Europe. The trade therefore in such items should simply not take place.

“In Israel recently there was a case of a letter written by a child murdered in the holocaust that was put up for sale. This went to court, and the ensuing public pressure resulted in the cancelling of the sale. The message from society was clear and unambiguous: some things simply cannot be traded.

“It is in this spirit of understanding that I ask you again to withdraw the Nazi auction items, again not because of any illegality, but instead to send a message that some things particularly when so metaphorically blood soaked, should not and must not be traded.” 

Rabbi Margolin letter:

Some of the items on sale can be viewed here

Federal Chancellor of Austria Blessings for Rosh HaShanah

The EJA warmly thanks Federal Chancellor of Austria, H.E. Sebastian Kurz for His Excellency's kind wishes to the European Jewry in light of the recent holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Chairman of EJA, Rabbi Margolin's Words on the Latest Poll on Antisemitism

Have you ever been stuck in a dire situation where someone wants to help you with a problem, but you know their approach isn’t going to work? And you don’t want to offend them by saying as much as their intentions are good?

In ordinary life, it’s a dilemma. But when it comes to the Millions of Jews living in Europe, the time for such niceties and politeness is now officially over.

On Tuesday, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the European Commission published their second survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jews in the EU. The FRA’s director said the findings “make for a sobering read”.  That would be understatement.

With 28% of respondents indicating that they have been harassed at least once in the past year, with 79% of Jews who experienced anti-Semitic harassment in the past five years not reporting this to the police or another organisation, with 34% avoiding visiting Jewish events or sites because they do not feel safe, with 38% considering emigrating because they did not feel safe as Jews in Europe, and with 70% considering that efforts by Member States to combat Antisemitism are not effective, this is not sobering. This is an unmitigated disaster.

The report, as brutal and stark as its findings are did not shock me in the slightest. It simply confirmed all the feedback, all the phone calls and all the reports that we at the Europaen Jewish Association had been getting, and made the red lines that we ratified at our conference in November all the more pertinent and pressing.

Before we get to the red lines, let us ask the most pressing question. Why is Europe failing so badly in making Jews feel secure? It does after all say all the right words, publishes reports and invests in people to fight the scourge of this oldest hatred. How can it be that 70% of Jews don’t believe it will make a difference?

The answer is wrapped up in the same word that entangles much of the good intentions of the EU institutions, and that word is competence.

Competence is basically which areas the EU can have a say (or interfere depending on your position). So, the EU can, if you are a Member State, tell you how many fish you can catch a year but not where your army should be deployed. It happens that human rights and freedom of religion, indeed the very subject of antisemitism itself is not an EU Competence. That means in essence that all the fine words, all the reports, and all of the various agencies looking at this in Brussels cannot compel, sanction or effectively reprimand any breaches. That, therefore,  makes human rights, freedom of religion and antisemitism voluntary instead of compulsory and open to interpretation or political manipulation.

That’s problem number one. For example, during the religious slaughter debate in Denmark, it was said that animal welfare takes precedence over Freedom of Religion. When it comes to circumcision, a similar argument over the right of the child to choose is being habitually made, in many countries. We can, and often do, get into public discourse of the minutiae of such debates, on scientific, health and any number of grounds, but this misses the central point. Is Freedom of Religion (and freedom to practise) a fundamental right or not? Everyone says so, so it must be right? Then why are we, as a Jewish Association engaged every year in efforts across the continent to defend Kosher slaughter and Brit Milah? It is increasingly apparent that there is nobody to police, much less defend, this vital part of the foundation on which the EU is built.  We as Jews are left with the Animal Farm scenario, where “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The other words that get us all tangled up are political and expediency. And this is problem number two, that of Anti-Zionism/Anti-Israelism. It is clear in a number of countries, and from the EU’s own statistics from the last few years, that there are massive spikes in anti-Semitism whenever Israel is involved in defensive actions, such as operations in Gaza, or efforts to break the navy blockade. The BDS movement, and their followers in the left wing stir up hate speech, draw false parallels with South Africa under apartheid and raise modern blood libels. Anti-Zionism is, make no mistake, the modern ‘acceptable’ face of anti-Semitism. Looking at the report, over 85% of respondents in Belgium and France feel that the arab-Israeli conflict affects their feelings of safety “a great deal”. Whether you support the Israeli government or not, whether you are secular or not, that Israel affects you as a Jew is undeniable.

Which makes the EU’s position on the matter all the more ridiculous. Anti-Semitism is a no-no, but criticism of Israel is free speech. This from the mouth of the EU’s High Representative herself. Where is the red line on this free speech? Does it stop at Jewish Nazi? Zionist child killer? Israeli Organ harvester? There isn’t a clear answer, allowing the Israel haters and the modern anti-Semites in the far left and BDS movement to act and talk with impunity.

Let us recap. On two of the biggest touch-paper issues affecting anti-Semitism across the continent - whether real or perceived - the EU is either incapable in the first instance, and unwilling for the sake of political expediency to act on the second. 

As I opened with, the time for niceties is over. Nobody is questioning the intentions of the European Institutions and European countries to tackle the problem, and we genuinely thank them for this commitment, but you can’t and wont tackle the oldest hatred leaving the competence question open ,nor by maintaining a two-faced approach to anti-Semitism where Israel is concerned. It really is the political equivalent of using a bucket to take the water out of a boat, without blocking the hole in the first place!

And that right there - those two gaping holes in the hull - are why the Jews interviewed by the survey – all 70% of us – don’t have any faith that efforts will be effective.

So, what can be done? The EJA sent every European political party “Jewish Red Lines” that were ratified by democratic vote by our members across Europe.  None of them are rocket science, but they can and would plug the holes.

Our members said that Political parties and their leadership must sign up to the full IHRA definition of Anti-semitism. That Every European Country must appoint a dedicated Special Representative to combat anti-Semitism where one already doesn’t exist. That all political parties pledge to exclude from government parties or politicians that espouse anti-Semitism as defined by the IHRA definition. That all political parties must pass, in accordance with their respective rules of procedure, binding resolutions that reject BDS activities as fundamentally anti-Semitic, and lastly that all political parties support in writing and in party documents their support for freedom of religion and freedom of practice at Member State level and EU level.

These red lines are the bare minimum that is needed to make a real difference. Europe’s principal leaders and parties were sent them, will be aware of them, and should adopt them immediately if they are serious about tackling anti-Semitism and gaining the trust of Jews who feel literally cast adrift from the very people who tell them they want to help.  If you really want to help us, the message is clear. Listen to us, adopt the red lines and let’s consign reports like this to the dustbin of history. Otherwise, expect a worse report next year. And the year after that too.

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