“Why Europe Matters”

June 5, 2014 by  


By David Harris

A week ago, four people were killed at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. The next day, two kippah-wearing brothers were severely beaten outside Paris en route to a synagogue.
One man has been arrested for the Brussels attack, while the perpetrators in France haven’t yet been found. There is a widespread belief that the attacks were linked to a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. And indeed, the tide has been rising.

There have been some observers who’ve reacted by calling on Jews to leave Europe and dismissing Europe as part of the Jewish past, not future.

Such reactions are not helpful. They take complex issues and reduce them to the level of simplistic slogans.

Should we be outraged by violent attacks on Jews? Absolutely.

Should we be concerned about the electoral success of extremist parties peddling anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism? Certainly.

And should we be outspoken about a climate in Europe too slow to acknowledge the magnitude of the growing anti-Semitic threat, and too quick to demonize Israel and its supporters? Unquestionably.

But Europe is important to the Jewish people, the democratic world, and, more specifically, the United States and Israel. Thus, we have a profound stake in Europe’s ability to address its challenges successfully. Those who suggest that Europe is “getting what it deserves” are myopic in the extreme.

Let’s begin with Europe’s Jews.

Anyone who wishes to leave can do so. No, it’s not easy to get up and go, and start a new life, but, unlike earlier eras, it’s entirely possible.

For starters, Israel exists. And the Jewish state is eager to welcome those who wish to come, and will assist any Jew who may otherwise have difficulty in making the move.

At the same time, most European Jews are likely to stay put.

They have deep roots, strong ties, and a belief that the battle for their well-being can – and must – be won. Too much hangs in the balance to simply pack their bags and leave behind all they have fought for, especially in the remarkable rebuilding process after the Shoah.

Further, at the risk of generalization, Europe’s Jews, I believe, understand this is not about their governments leading the anti-Semitic charge, supported by hostile religious majorities and structural impediments to full Jewish participation in society. That was all too true once upon a time, but is not remotely the case today.

The current struggle against anti-Semitism is also a struggle for the defense of Europe’s foundational values. If Europe fails on the Jewish front, it fails, period. It cannot be that anti-Semitism grows, Europe’s Jews leave, and the EU continues to proclaim its championing of human dignity.

Europe must succeed.

For the sake of the million-plus Jews who reside within the 28 EU member states, and their non-negotiable right to live free of fear and able to practice their faith.

And for the sake of the precious and vital community of democracies. Europe is at the heart of that community. Indeed, the EU is the most ambitious and successful peace and democracy-affirming project in modern history. It needs to remain strong, resilient, and engaged in global management.

True, the EU has at times fallen very short in dealing with the Middle East in particular. Naiveté about Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the 1990s and earlier in this century; delays in branding Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups (and, even today, just Hezbollah’s “military wing”); moral squeamishness at the UN; and the infantilization and coddling of the Palestinians, are all part of a longer list.
But, at the end of the day, Europe remains essential to the United States as our closest and most like-minded strategic, diplomatic, economic, and cultural partner. And the EU, it should be recalled, is larger than the United States in terms of both population and economy.

And, likewise, Europe remains indispensable to Israel.

The EU is Israel’s top trading partner and the source of major research and development support. Israel is no more than 165 miles from the EU’s nearest border, which is Cyprus. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Israel and the 28 member states is vast, and likely to grow even more so. EU member states hold up to four of the 15 all-important UN Security Council seats. And the potential power of Europe as a stabilizing force along its periphery, including the eastern Mediterranean, should not be underestimated. That has enormous possibilities for Israel as well.

As Europe faces growing anti-Semitism and intolerance more generally, emerging extremist parties, and slow economic recovery, now is precisely the time to remind ourselves of what hangs in the balance – and stand with those defending the democratic and pluralistic EU envisioned by its postwar founders.

The writer, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), has been honored by 10 European countries for his commitment to the transatlantic partnership and defense of human rights.

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