My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors. They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France. Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.”
Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a speaking tour of Southern Africa. In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza. In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.
In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.
In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country’s leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.
And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.
In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”
Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized. Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalleled outbursts of antisemitic activity and sentiment in their countries.
The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of the world’s capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.
For surely it is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping Western Africa – deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world.
If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?
That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant ‘Kill the Jews!’ Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?
Theodor Herzl’s words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words. Despite whatever you read in the world’s newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world’s most sophisticated armies. United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies. That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East. It is an age old war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of human hatred and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own terms. The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.
I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia.
Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked: “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”
As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without hesitation I wrote back:
” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.”
Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in Israel. This piece appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and subsequently in the Australian Jewish News and the Jerusalem Post