Is there a future for Jews in France, or in the rest of Europe?

The war in Gaza has captured the world's attention, but in the streets of Europe displays of antisemitism are rising, so the question remains whether Jews can hope for a hassle-free life in Europe; the Netherlands may be paving the way with the rise of the far-right; "Not just about safeguarding Jews, but their own societies as well.

Ze'ev Avrahami, Dortmund|
The German city of Dortmund played host to the inaugural conference of European mayors dedicated to combating antisemitism, an event organized by the global Combat Antisemitism Movement. The three-day conference held last week saw the participation of over 100 delegates from more than 60 countries, including over 30 mayors. The agenda included a variety of panels aimed at addressing antisemitism. This gathering provided a valuable platform to engage with local officials across the continent about the status of Jewish communities in their respective cities. A key focus of the discussions was the future of Jewish life in Europe.
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Paris Deputy Mayor Marie-Christine Lemardeley extended an invitation to Jews and Israelis, including those who wear a kippah, to come to France and especially to Paris. She is dedicated to ensuring that they can enjoy a safe and fulfilling life in her country. Her statement came after her participation in a panel discussion titled Cities United Against Hate.
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הפגנה פריז פרו פלסטינים קולקטיב בעד שלום בין ישראל לפלסטינים
הפגנה פריז פרו פלסטינים קולקטיב בעד שלום בין ישראל לפלסטינים
Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris
(Photo: AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
Is it prudent to tell Israelis to come to France at this stage? "While I acknowledge that there are challenges, I urge you to come. Just last week, I met with a rabbi from Lyon who shared a story about a medical student who was subjected to antisemitic bullying. Her professor's advice was to ignore it, stay home and return when things had calmed down. Instead, she left for Israel. This incident raises questions about how we educate our academics, and it infuriates me. I plan to convene a meeting with the heads of all French universities to discuss their strategies for combating antisemitism. It's concerning that many Jewish students don't even know who to approach when they are attacked."
But you tell them it's safe to come while offering no defense. "I'm going to work on making you feel safe. We recognize this problem at the local and national level. I was naive, I wasn't aware of how much hidden antisemitism exists in universities."
Do you believe Jews have a future in France? (Long pause) "I don't know how to answer that."
You're unable to offer an immediate answer to that question? "Yes, I believe there is a future, but it's clear to many decision-makers that we're facing a problem. We're in the midst of a deep crisis, but as Churchill once said: 'Never waste a crisis.' We should leverage this crisis to raise awareness and fight harder. However, I'm relatively new to this issue, so perhaps I may not be the best person to answer this."
Do you think the French understand the national loss if Jews leave? "When asked about his Jewish heritage, Charlie Chaplin, who wasn't Jewish, stated that he never refuted such claims because he would have been proud to be Jewish. He associated Jewishness with genius. I share similar sentiments. I observe the large number of Jewish psychoanalysts in France and acknowledge the significant contributions of Jews to research and science. They set a benchmark for us."
Does the average French person understand this? "Sure thing. We totally get it. We know we're in a big mess and we're doing a lot of things to fix it. Many of our actions aren't visible to everyone, but we're working hard. This isn't a quick fix – it's work we'll be doing for our whole lives, and probably even longer. We've got a tough situation with our political leaders and educated folks. We're trying to figure out how to beat this problem. We think the best way is to deal with it directly where it happens."
You seem unable to distinguish Israeli policy and the life of Jews in France. "I reckon the biggest letdown of our schools in France is this: We've got long-standing immigrant groups here who haven't managed to fit in. They go around threatening to 'chop off French heads.' To them, French folks are seen as outsiders. This is where we've really messed up. Jewish folks in France see themselves as French Jews. But immigrants, they see themselves primarily as Muslims. The first time I stepped foot in a synagogue, I was already grown up. I recall being taken aback when the rabbi, after the prayer, gave a blessing for the Republic."
If Jews embrace local culture, why should they be on the lookout? "I'm stumped. I don't have a ready answer for that. I get what you're driving at. Politics isn't going to fix this issue – the hate, the refusal to accept others. An outside solution isn't going to cut it. That's why I'm planning to put most of our budget into educating our children."
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הפגנה אנטי ישראלית באמסטרדם, שבה קראו ל"שחרור פלסטין" מהירדן לים
הפגנה אנטי ישראלית באמסטרדם, שבה קראו ל"שחרור פלסטין" מהירדן לים
Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Amsterdam
(Photo: Reuters/ Piroschka van de Wouw)
Can you look to the future while constantly atoning for the past? "I got into politics because I believe we can make things better. I used to work at a university, but I left because I saw an opportunity for change. I also understand that antisemitism isn't just a Jewish issue, it's a problem for our whole society, which is showing signs of breaking down. Jews have always been like a canary in a coal mine - a warning sign of danger.
We can't just erase our past, we have to face it and move beyond it. Otherwise, we're just avoiding responsibility. We know our past holds us back. It took time for us to realize that, during the Holocaust, we were both part of the problem and part of the solution; we saved many Jews. Society isn't all bad or all good. We need to come to terms with these complexities if we really want to make a difference."

Antisemitic displays on streets of Netherlands are straw that broke the camel's back

"Antisemitism in the Netherlands tends to flare up when people are struggling or when there's uncertainty about what the future holds," says Pieter Verhoeve, the mayor of Gouda, South Holland. He recently took part in a panel discussion titled "Transition of National Strategies to the Local Level," along with three other Dutch officials. "Since October 7, there's been an alarming 800% rise in antisemitic incidents," he said.
"Ordinary Dutch voters are witnessing this surge of hatred spill out onto their own streets, and it's hitting close to home. They didn't sign up for this, and they certainly don't want their tax money supporting it. They don't want to see the values that our country holds dear being disregarded," Verhoeve said. "In my view, this is what has driven many to support (Geert) Wilders. The blatant anti-Jewish sentiment on our streets, its growing acceptance, and the fact that it's becoming the norm – it's a step too far, and it goes against everything the Netherlands stands for."
Verhoeve is quite a magnetic character. He bears a slight resemblance to Wilders in both looks and gestures. He too has a history in the world of education as a history teacher.
"I'm wary of the average person. In Zollingen, a German city that's a sister city of Gouda, a man named Adolf Eichmann grew up. He was just a regular clerk at Mercedes Benz, but thousands of people helped him, even those who stayed silent, in the business of deporting Jews. There were Dutch shopkeepers who, one day, decided to hang a sign over their door prohibiting Jews from entering. Every story has a starting point," he said.
"Evil exists around and within us. It's vital to refresh our memories, fight against hate, and rejuvenate our sense of compassion. We should strive for good deeds and peace. It's acceptable to acknowledge that even the majority can err. However, if there are public objections to Israel's existence and Zionism in Holland, it becomes evident that our recollection of the Jews' experiences in Holland and Europe has faded," he added.
"It also highlights a lack of understanding among the Dutch and immigrant populations about Jewish history and their rights in Israel. This week, I unintentionally caused the death of my aquarium fish by providing them with excessive oxygen. Similar to this, an excess of freedom of speech can also be harmful. When someone abuses this freedom to spout hateful and inflammatory statements against Jews, then this freedom, much like oxygen, can turn toxic," according to the Dutch mayor.

"The Dutch right in rising because they've had it with Muslims"

Sasha Roytman, at 37, has been at the helm of the Combat Anitsemitism Movement since its founding in 2019. Originally from Brussels, he relocated to Israel along with 12 friends at the age of 18, during the period of the Second Intifada.
"They started asking me why I'm killing Palestinians," he said, adding: "At that point, your sense of self undergoes a transformation. You come to recognize that you're Israeli and Jewish first, then Belgian, and that you no longer have a claim to the streets you once knew."
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הולנד בחירות חירט וילדרס חרט וילדרס אחרי פרסום המדגמים ניצחון
הולנד בחירות חירט וילדרס חרט וילדרס אחרי פרסום המדגמים ניצחון
Geert Wilders rising in the Dutch polls
(Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
So all of this is to help little Sasha? "No, my efforts are aimed at supporting my sister in Belgium, whose children attend a school under the watchful eyes of rooftop snipers. We're working toward creating something new. The prior generation failed to address this, leaving us in a world where antisemitism is even more rampant. Now, it's up to us. We've developed a strategy and assembled a team with a focus on young, local members. These are individuals who are not just Jewish, but also fluent in both the local language and the language of social media platforms like TikTok."
And? "Regrettably, the figures have been on the rise, and this began even prior to the war. Nonetheless, we have mayors who are joining us for the third time now, demonstrating their efforts. A good number of them have embraced the definition of antisemitism, and many have begun to celebrate Jewish life. This is in addition to their efforts in studying antisemitism and the Holocaust."
Does that mean you're faltering? "While it's accurate that the instances of antisemitism are escalating, it's unrealistic to completely eliminate it. Instead, it should be appropriately defined and controlled. This has led to an increased involvement from law enforcement, allocation of budgets, and participation of decision-makers. Both city administrations and their citizens are becoming more aware of this issue," according to Roytman.
"Jewish Belgians, who are tax-paying citizens, deserve to live without fear. They recognize that when a minority group is subjected to discrimination, it reflects poorly on the city, and the emigration of Jews is detrimental to the nation. While some cities, like Barcelona, may not acknowledge this issue, many others do. They recognize the correlation between the rise in antisemitism, the erosion of democratic values, and the growth of right-wing ideologies."
Is there a future for Jews in Europe? "Jews will continue to reside here, as eventually local communities will understand that their efforts are not just about safeguarding Jews, but their own societies as well. The Dutch right is rising because they've had it with Muslims — who they perceived as dominating public spaces and disregarding local values. This is leading to a situation where one form of extremism is battling another. We're seeing the rise of a new right-wing faction that is opposed to aspects of Islam that seem resistant to integration."
So if success means managing it, that suggests suspending democratic values to save democracy. "Democracies need to safeguard themselves, and sometimes this requires methods that seem less democratic. Actions will be taken as necessary. They may not yet see the danger, but when it comes to Israel and Jews, they recognize that ignorance prevails and simplistic slogans have gained strength. It's important not to forget Europe's history. They're waking up late to these issues, which tends to result in extreme reactions, often leaning towards the right, which now listens more to public sentiment," he said.
"There's a halt on low-skilled immigration, which isn't conducive to the democracy they inhabit, and a stop to provocative figures and imams who should return to their countries. However, they are apprehensive about confronting these issues and are unsure about what actions to take. I believe they attend conferences like this to gain strategies to tackle these problems."
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