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Jewish Journal

Counterevidence to Perceptions of Pervasive European Antisemitism

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum

December 9, 2010 | 1:37 pm

It’s been a dreary week in the world.

Fires cost the lives of more than two score Israelis, burned more than 4 million trees—each planted as part of the Zionist enterprise of reforestation— exposed the structural vulnerability of the nation and the irresponsibility and massive incompetence of successive governments of the right and the left.

The leadership of the United States government – right and left – demonstrated that it too was unwilling to solve a national problem. No sooner had the bi-partisan debt commission reported on its finding and called for shared national sacrifice, increasing taxes, raising the age of retirement when the President and the Republican Party entered into a grand compromise giving away $900 million of tax giveaways over the next two years. The President capitulated; he gave in to Republican blackmail. If we could not give tax breaks to the rich, to those making over $1 million dollars a year, or to the near rich, those making over $250,000 a year, then unemployment benefits would not be extended for those who have been jobless for years and taxes would rise for the near poor and the middle class. We were told in no uncertain terms that no one is serious about reducing the debt, no national sacrifice is needed and our President is unwilling to lead. I am not alone in feeling that the American century is coming to an end and that my children and theirs will live in a world where the American is less a leader and more a fraying power.
I know that some supporters of Israel are rejoicing that the Obama Administration has abandoned its ill- fated efforts for a settlement freeze on the West Bank as a gesture to foster negotiations. I understand all the reasons it failed, not the least of which was because the Palestinians dallied during the 10 months when it was in effect and only began negotiations in the 9th month. Still, I remain that settlements are not in Israel’s national interest because they make the achievement of two separate states all the more difficult and a two state solution is essential to retaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Settlements also use resources that are vitally needed elsewhere. Look at the roads in Israel’s North; look also at the absence of firefighting equipment.

Furthermore, one way of reading the recent Wikkipedia leaks is to note that Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are now part of anti-Iran coalition. If there is a strategic alliance between these states, tacit and hitherto unacknowledged as it may be, a wise Israeli government would want to achieve concrete political goals while this alliance is in effect and would not fritter away the opportunity with peripheral tangent issues. It would also not alienate Jewish support abroad by sidebars of the conversion issue, oaths of allegiance and even the insistence that Palestinian leadership acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state – something that the United Nations General Assembly did by a vote of 33 to 13 on November 29, 1947. Keep Israel a democratic Jewish state and it will be acknowledged as such.

I was proud to see that Yad Vashem condemned the recent so-called Rabbinic ruling that prohibited Jews from selling or renting property to non-Jews. In the insulated world of these Rabbis no one has heard of restrictive covenants, which the US Supreme Court dismissed as unenforceable. These Rabbis, in the name of our religion, want Jews, once in power, the behave in the way that non-Jews had behaved toward us.

In such a dreary atmosphere, I came across an enormously important argument that challenged my perceptions of European antisemitism, a topic that I have researched and written apart extensively. Last Monday, Project Jumpstart reported on its survey of European Jewish startup organizations. The results were impressive. There are more Jewish start ups in Europe per capita than in the United States where cultural creativity flourishes; they are almost always the products of lay leaders and not rabbis and many are the creations of newly avowed Jews who are rediscovering and re-embracing their Jewish roots. European projects are more educational and more cultural than spiritual, less involved in Holocaust remembrance and more engaged in the Jewish past.

Dr. Barbara Lerner Spectre, who heads Paideia, the most successful Jewish effort to train young European Jewish leadership with its year long course of study in Sweden and the commitment of its participants and graduates to engage in a creative and innovative Jewish projects, often start ups, remarked that the presence of these Jews, their re-embracing of Jewish life and their choice of identification or re-identification with the Jewish people merits the use of a new term disassimilation; the deliberate decision to reverse the process of assimilation now more than two centuries old in Europe and to move in a new direction.

“If antisemitism were the dominant experience of European Jews, as is most often portrayed in the United States and in Israel, why would these intelligent and successful Jews, who enjoy every for success and creativity that globalism offers engage their Jewish roots. They have no need to be hated and no desire to be hated? They can be whatever they want to be. They have chosen to be Jews.”

I don’t know the answer to her question, but I intend to find out.

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