Answers to Anti-Semitic Terrorism Against the World’s Jews
By Sarah Ann Haves
Recent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have caused Israeli and world Jewish leaders to take a harder look at terrorism against Jews and to increase security and make preparations for Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Since attacks have increased against the Jewish communities of France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Ukraine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for mass Jewish immigration from Europe. Measuring his words, he has not declared that all Jews must leave their countries of origin and come to Israel immediately. But, he has encouraged members of world Jewish communities that Israel is their home; and, that Israel is waiting for them with “open arms.” Netanyahu is specifically emphasizing that Jews fleeing Europe will find a safe haven in Israel.
Protests from European leaders, who are encouraging Jews to stay in Europe, have been followed by promising measures to increase security for Jewish communities, especially at religious institutions and schools. But, the shocking reality of what it means to live under the shadow of constant police protection is resulting in fear and anxiety among European Jews.
Understanding their concerns, Jerusalem government leaders are offering special assistance to those who want to immigrate to Israel, especially from “emergency areas” like the Ukraine. New websites are being established to reach out to European Jews in their own language, helping to speed up their Aliyah process. There are a series of measures now in place to strengthen their absorption into the Jewish State. And, the Israeli government has committed more than $46 million in financial aid for these new initiatives.
This past year
This past year 26,000 Jews came to Israel on Aliyah. Among those who immigrated from around the world, there was a substantial increase from France and the Ukraine because of the terror events in Europe. In 2014, there were 7,100 French Jews who made Aliyah and 6,000 from the Ukraine.
The trend is expected to continue, with an anticipated 15,000 French Jews planning to make Aliyah in 2015. That is a very small portion of the approximately 500,000 Jews now living in France, But, Israeli leaders also believe that half of French Jewry is considering a future exodus.
Statistics show that over the past two years at least a quarter of the Jewish population in the U.K. have considered leaving their country. More than 50% do not believe they can stay in Europe long-term. Whether they will immigrate to Israel or other nations is not known. But, at least 70% of French Jews prefer to move to Israel.
Jewish Agency Chairman, Natan Sharansky believes this is because of strong pro-Zionist leadership in the French Jewish community, as well as years of Israeli programs being implemented that have encouraged French Aliyah.
Sharansky, gave a report at a recent meeting of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors in Jerusalem. He stated, “It is very important that the French Jewish leadership is equally concerned to help us in our efforts of Aliyah… Every day, we are concerned about the strengthening of the Jewish community of France; and, making sure that the Jewish community will continue being secure, strong, connecting Jews with their tradition, and leading in the process of Aliyah.”
While some Jews in France are dealing with their personal Aliya preparations, Danish community leaders are still reeling over the recent murder of a popular Jewish security guard who was protecting a Copenhagen synagogue when a terrorist opened fire. Since that incident, the government of Denmark is assisting Jewish leaders in crisis management, helping them deal with the need for heightened security, while hoping Danish Jews will overcome their fears and stay in Denmark.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke during the Jewish Agency Board of Governor’s meeting, addressed this increase in anti-Semitism which he claims is not Israel related. He sees it as Jews being attacked simply because they are Jews.
Rivlin acknowledged the terror facing European Jewish Communities. “In light of the recent events in Western Europe and the Ukraine, we face two main challenges, helping all those who wish to make Aliyah; and, securing the Jewish communities wherever they are…. We must stand strong together in order to face the challenges we have as a nation….The Jewish communities in France and in Denmark are yet another reminder that we are all one family.”
While most European nations with Jewish communities are now on high alert, France has taken extra emergency actions to stop general terror attacks through the country. The government has deployed an additional 10,000 military personnel to protect public sites. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders have been carrying out their own emergency preparations.
Sharansky explained that 2014 was a year when the Jewish Agency had to constantly meet “very big emergency situations, sometimes of historical proportion.” At the same time, he said, the agency’s goal was “to bring Jews to Israel and to bring more of Israel to Jewish communities.”
According to Sharansky, because of the ill ease among Jews in the West, especially those living in Europe where so many feel insecure, there has to be an effective solution. He feels the program of the Jewish Agency has met expectations. “It’s successful only because we built our infrastructure and continue every day, and because we had our reform, which changed the emphasis.”
That reform has been a point of controversy for Sharansky and his staff. Since he came to the Jewish Agency five years ago, he has put a greater focus on Jewish identity in the nations, as well as Aliyah. This writer asked Sharansky about it, and he confirmed. “Jewish identity and Aliyah.”
Because of a major increase in global assimilation, Sharansky believes that Jews must find their way back to Jewish community life in order to re-gain their Jewish roots before they will consider immigrating to Israel. This trend of strengthening Jewish identity is causing world Jewish leaders to consider financing the establishment of Jewish heritage museums and education centers, while renovating buildings in towns where there once was a growing Jewish population before the Holocaust. The hope is that it will increase Jewish tourism from Israel and throughout the world, and draw Jews to these places of Jewish history and culture.
Meanwhile, the current priority in Jewish communities is security. This is true in Italy, where hundreds of additional troops were deployed in Rome to guard Jewish institutions after a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks in neighboring countries. At least a third of Italian Jews have observed an increase in hatred against Jews in their nation.
For Sharansky, the problem is complicated by those who want to focus mainly on Aliyah, and those who see the component of Jewish identity as significant. It has been a source of contention both within the Jewish Agency and within major Jewish organizations that have opposed his reform plan. Some groups have stopped helping the Jewish Agency with funding over the dispute.
Sharansky expressed his own personal frustration. He shared stories of seeing the tears shed by Copenhagen’s Jews who felt close to the family of the Jewish guard that was killed in broad daylight. Rabbis at the funeral proclaimed that Denmark’s Jewish communities would continue for generations to come. They encouraged Denmark’s Jews to stay home, while Sharansky stood among them representing the state of Israel and Aliyah.
He addressed the Board of Governors with these questions: “Should we dismiss these deep feelings of these people; their patriotic sentiments; their spiritual sentiments; their desire to see their community continue? Or, should we say to them what are you doing here? Leave immediately!”
Sharansky pointed out the disparity he saw in the experience he had in France where there were large demonstrations and marches of solidarity to protest the murderous attacks by Islamic terrorists on journalists and Jews. At the same time, he was hosting an Aliyah fair in which 1,000 attended, and many had questions about immigrating to Israel. He saw a lot of fear on the faces of French Jews who wanted to discuss how they could be absorbed into the nation of Israel.
Recently, there was an Aliyah fair for French youth in which 8,000 attended. Sharansky says the interest is huge now during this special time in history. But he does not want to weaken efforts at strengthening Jewish communities in the Diaspora, especially those who are teaching about Jewish identity. He believes Israel is not only interested in the 50% who will eventually want to make Aliyah, but about the 50% who will want to stay home in their host countries.
“The only way we can deal with this is not to dictate to anyone, or give orders to anyone; but, to try and give them more and more opportunities to experience the depth and meaning of life in connection with Israel. And, maybe then they will find their way in this impossible situation.”
Sharansky believes that the change in emphasis years ago — putting Jewish identity and Israeli experiences in front of world Jewish communities as a way of connecting Aliyah to Jewish education — has paid off. He insists it has helped with the current emergency situations in Europe and the Ukraine today.
“We cannot separate the problems of the security of the Jewish Community or the status of the Jewish Community and the status of Aliyah. We have to see this as a unique moment in history. We have to respond to the fears of Jews and to make sure that as many of them as possible will choose Israel as their destination. We have to remember to view them all as one family.”
The atmosphere is
In his opinion, Sharansky sees assimilation as greatly hurting communities in France, as well as in America, where there are an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks on college campuses. U.S. students are also engaging in BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movements against the state of Israel at their universities. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly hostile for Jewish students on many U.S. campuses.
Sharansky sees problems for global Jewry as only getting worse. He is calling on the next Israeli government to embrace a comprehensive national Aliyah strategy. In his address to the Board of Governors, he proposed, “that we appeal to the government and to the parties, whoever will be the members of the future coalition; that a national plan for absorption of Aliyah from the free world will be the top priority of the government.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency plans to continue its work, establishing new contacts everyday with Jewish families who are preparing for Aliyah. Some, like those living in the Ukraine, don’t want to leave yet; they don’t even have proper documentation; and, they haven’t sold their apartments.
“When the family says they are ready,” explains Sharansky, “then we connect them with our Christian friends.” The Jews are then taken to places where they are airlifted to Israel and begin the absorption process.
Sitting in a room full of Jewish Agency Board members, a majority of whom come to Israel 2-4 times a year to brainstorm about the future of world Jewish communities, one cannot help but consider the mandate of the Jewish Agency. Their intent is to see Jews return to the homeland of their ancient forefathers, which is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Their work is affecting thousands of Jews now and in the generations to come. They are playing a role in the fate of the Jewish People in fulfillment of God’s promises to bring the tribes together and lead His people home.
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” Ezekiel 36:24
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.