Thursday, June 27, 2013

  • Thursday, June 27, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
The Jewish People Policy Institute release a report, European Jewry - Signals and Noise, which seems to do a very good job in only 12 pages of describing the situation of Jews in Europe and the reasons things are the way they are today.

The paper is more nuanced than the reporting about it has been.
For their part, European Jews, on the whole, enjoy comfortable day-to-day lives, and their representative bodies have not felt the necessity to launch any emergency pan-European or even local strategic thinking process in response to these developments. Since they do not encounter state-sponsored anti-Semitism or barriers to their social and professional fulfillment, they trust their governments to protect them and believe that – provided they lower their Jewish profile – they can comfortably remain in Europe.

...Beside this apparent ‘business as usual’ discourse, it may, however, be possible that Jews are much more pessimistic about the future than they claim. According to a large-scale survey on Jewish people’s experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism commissioned by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the official results of which have to be published in October 2013, Jews all over Europe feel insecure.

More than one in four (26%) of Jewish respondents claim to have experienced anti-Semitic harassment at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey and one in three (34%) had experienced anti-Semitic harassment over the past 5 years. 5% of all Jewish respondents said that their property had been deliberately vandalized because they were Jewish while 7% of respondents had experienced some form of physical attack or threats in the last 5 years.

In three of the nine states surveyed (namely Belgium, France and Hungary), between 40 and 50% of respondents said they had considered emigrating from their country of residence because they did not feel safe there.
The paper notes that many specific initiatives that make practicing Jews feel disenfranchised are put forward as being anchored in universal values. Cumulatively, however, they make normal Jewish life impossible:

* The attempt to ban circumcision in Germany (so-called ‘intactivist’ movements have also pushed for a ban in Denmark, Austria, the United Kingdom, and other European countries – resting on children’s rights and medical claims;
• The attempt to ban ritual slaughter (Shechita, along with Halal) in Holland, Poland and France, which is already proscribed in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland – resting on animal rights claims;
• The abolition of eternal cemeteries (in Switzerland and Belgium) – resting on environmental claims;
• The rejection of requests to accommodate conflicts with the Jewish calendar in scheduling public examinations (in France and Switzerland) – resting on a claim of church/state separation;
• The rejection of requests by Shabbat observant Jews for non-electric entry access in private condominiums (in France) – resting on security claims;
• The reconsideration of traditional public funding of Jewish cultural institutions (in France and other countries) – resting on equity claims;
• The increasing interference in the internal operation of Jewish day schools (all over Europe) – resting on ethnic non-discrimination claims, and more.

The report discusses several reasons why Europeans push this anti-religious agenda.

One is that economic decline and political turmoil often increases antisemitism.

Another is because Europeans believe religious freedom is far less important than loyalty to the nation:
The opposition to religious dress, rituals, and practices is not an incidental conflict between the value of religious freedom and the bodily integrity of children or animal rights that can be resolved by conciliation. Instead, these rituals will be increasingly perceived as threats to the national ethos and to its core values of Equality (secular neutrality inthe public sphere), Liberty (individual autonomy and emancipation) and Fraternity (civic loyalty to the community of citizens), especially as conceived in the French political tradition. According to the French conception of the Social Contract (Rousseau), one gives all of one's powers and rights to the volonté génerale and one receives back civic rights, not natural rights. In the predominant political philosophy in America, that of John Locke and Jefferson, in contrast, one retains one's natural rights and only gives the state the power to protect them. In response to the massive influx of Muslims, the state secularist attitude has been strengthened in France as cultural patrimony.
A third reason is that, while the tiny Jewish community's adherence to brit milah and shechita would not bother anyone, the much larger Muslim community's insistence on similar accommodation and the resulting cultural shift forces a pushback against Islam and towards "European core values" - and Jews get caught in the middle.

The fourth, related reason is that Europe does not trust religious particularism:

Built following centuries of bloody ethno-religious and national conflicts, the founding ethos of the European Union is that strong ethno-religious and national identities are better avoided. Jewish particularism is perceived with suspicion. Nicolas Sarkozy's successor as leader of the UMP liberal party and current French opposition leader, Jean-François Copé, whose mother is of Jewish Algerian descent and whose father is of Jewish Romanian ancestry, illustrates this pressure to disengage from ‘assigned' Jewishness in order to make one's way to national political leadership. He felt the need to declare, "[his] community of reference is not the Jewish one but the French one." Whereas Judaism as a culture is sometimes praised and celebrated, the ethnic, collective, and communitarian dimensions of Jewishness are repudiated. All over Europe, Jews are increasingly encouraged to privatize their identity and avoid emphasizing their Jewishness. This has already been the rule for the last two hundred years, but with the demographic shifts and the massive influx of Muslim populations, this expectation of "voluntary amnesia" is becoming mandatory in the public sphere.
All of this has major impact in the lives of practicing Jews:
All over Europe but especially in the United Kingdom and France, which are home to 80% of Western Europe's Jews, we find the expression of this polarization In order to avoid friction with their environment, Jews take various steps – the more practicing Jews relocate in self-segregated neighborhoods, the more idealistic ones make Aliyah, and the most ambitious ones quit Europe for more promising horizons.
The analysis seems to me to be on the money.

(h/t Irene)

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