After Attacks, Is Europe Still Safe For Jews?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One job of a journalist is to pose provocative questions. Jeffrey Goldberg poses a big one in the latest issue of The Atlantic. He's been traveling in Europe after a series of anti-Semitic attacks. You'll recall, for example, that this year's strike at a French satirical magazine was followed by an attack on a kosher market. So here is Goldberg's question - is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: What prompted me to ask the question is my discovery, over months of traveling through European-Jewish communities, that it's become increasingly difficult for people to live normative Jewish lives, wearing Jewish clothes - meaning kippot, mainly, yarmulkes - to go to a synagogue without fear of being blown up, to go to a kosher supermarket without fear of being blown up or shot. And so the question is not whether you can live in hiding, meaning masking your identity, but if you want to live a life as a Jew in some form or another, it's become, in many places, including and especially France, quite difficult. And since there are alternatives in the world now - this is not the 1930s - the question arises that perhaps there's someplace better.
INSKEEP: When you say that it's become quite difficult, what did European Jews tell you that made you conclude that?
GOLDBERG: One of them is the fact that in the suburbs of Paris - and remember the suburbs in the French terminology are some of the more difficult areas.
INSKEEP: They tend to be a little poorer than the center.
GOLDBERG: A littler poorer, working-class. They're not the parts that American tourists would see necessarily. One of the things that really struck me was that many Jews are taking down from their doorposts their mezuzot - those are those little signposts that have a bit of Scripture in them - because they serve to identify the apartments as places where Jews live. There was a number of attacks on people in some of these suburbs lately in which the mezuzot were used as signposts. Not only are people voluntarily taking down their mezuzot, there are other Jews in these apartment buildings who are pressuring their neighbors to take down their mezuzot. The ones who don't want to take this down, this is a self-defense mechanism - don't draw attention to the fact that there are Jews in this apartment house because this will cause us trouble. But there's another aspect of this. I was talking to young couples in places like Brussels and in Stockholm and they often want their children to go to Jewish schools, but they're afraid that the Jewish schools are targets now of terrorists. On the other hand, they don't want to send their kids to public schools because in many of the public schools in the big cities Jews are targeted individually, in other words, a kind of anti-Semitic bullying. And so they are running out of options.
INSKEEP: Who's targeting Jews?
GOLDBERG: Anti-Semitism comes from a number of sources in Europe. The classical, European anti-Semitism of the far-right; you have a far-left anti-Semitism that begins as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism and then quickly sort of mutates into just flat-out anti-Semitism. But most of the violence against Jews is being done by a subset of the Muslim immigrant populations in places like France and Belgium and Scandinavia; people who have fallen under the sway of ISIS-style ideology or al-Qaida-style ideology that holds Jews out as a kind of universal evil. We saw in Toulouse a couple of years ago a fatal attack on a Jewish school that was conducted by a kind of an ISIS devotee; happened in Brussels the same sort of thing.
INSKEEP: Now, in exploring the difficult choices that European Jews are confronting, you interviewed, in addition to many European Jews, Marine Le Pen.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, she is the leader of the far-right-wing National Front Party that was led for many years by her father, the infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen.
INSKEEP: In France.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, a well-known anti-Semite and racist and obviously anti-Arab as well. She is currently the most popular politician in France, and she'll be running for president in 2017. And she believes that the Jews of France - just like everyone else in France - is a victim of Islamic fundamentalism. And she is trying a very, very new tactic for the National Front, which is to say that only the National Front can protect the Jews. This is obviously quite an irony historically because this is a party with its roots in Vichy fascism. What is interesting and disturbing is that many of the Jews who live in these put-upon suburbs are being drawn to her message because they feel that she's the only politician talking straight about the threat of violent jihadist fundamentalism. And she's not going to get a huge number of Jewish votes in 2017, but she understands that if she can neutralize the accusation that her party is anti-Semitic then that is one more path toward mainstream acceptance. And so...
INSKEEP: She wants to pick up Jewish concerns to prove she's not a Nazi.
GOLDBERG: Exactly. Well, you know, the shorthand, blunt way of putting this is that the National Front has decided that Jews are not the main problem, that Muslims are the main problem. What obviously some Jewish commentators will point out is that once the National Front deals with the Muslim problem, it'll turn back again to the Jewish problem. That's sort of the joke that people make.
INSKEEP: So you've documented real problems here, but by asking the question is it time for the Jews to leave Europe, aren't you raising a rather catastrophic solution? You're talking about an entire group leaving an entire continent here, many of them anyway.
GOLDBERG: Well, look, the least surprising phenomenon in European history is anti-Semitism, right? I mean, this is the continent that gave us programmes (ph) and the ghettos and the Inquisition and the Crusades and the Holocaust. Now, obviously, European Jews - many of them - want to stay and want to succeed and many of their governments want them to stay and want them to succeed. But I'm asking a practical question, which is if you can't lead an open, normal life as a Jew and there are alternatives to places - where you can go to live, then maybe it's a question that should be asked. These are the conversations that Jews are having, so I'm reflecting the fact that they're having these conversations.
INSKEEP: Although, at the same time, what a difficult solution. Imagine if people said, well, African-Americans face prejudice in the United States, maybe they should leave. That solution actually was discussed in the 19th century and discarded.
GOLDBERG: And it happened in some cases, yeah.
INSKEEP: This is a hard - that's a hard call, to say the least.
GOLDBERG: Well, you know, it's not on the Jews to decide this. If it becomes untenable for people to go to synagogue or go to a Jewish school or go buy food in a kosher supermarket then maybe they should leave. I mean, it's not - anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem. I mean, let's be very clear. Anti-Semitism is a problem of anti-Semites. And anti-Semitism is a problem of governments and police and law enforcement and a larger culture. So if the governments of these countries can't protect them adequately, if they can't solve the social problems that underlie this then the choice is to leave.
INSKEEP: Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks very much.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's a national correspondent for The Atlantic, and his new article out today is called "Is It Time For The Jews To Leave Europe?" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.