Since the beginning of the current war between Israel and Hamas, eight synagogues in France have been attacked. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked for Jews to apologize for the actions of the Jewish state. In Germany, a prominent Muslim imam gave a sermon asking Allah to kill all of the “Zionist Jews.”
The atmosphere in Europe since the beginning of the war has been so toxic that the foreign ministers of France, Italy, and Germany on Tuesday issued a rare joint statement condemning anti-Semitism at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
All of this presents a troubling paradox for Zionism. The state of Israel was founded in 1948 as a haven for Jews. But in 2014 Europe’s anti-Semites have attacked Jews for the deeds of the Jewish state.
It is a classic anti-Semitic canard to punish any Jew for the perceived crimes of all of them. There is no evidence also to suggest that if Israel did not respond to rockets fired from Hamas, the Jews of Europe would be any safer or the continent’s anti-Semites would be any more tolerant. After all, some of the worst attacks on Jews in France occurred at a time of relative quiet in Israel.
But during a war that has claimed nearly 700 Palestinians and far fewer Israelis, Jewish leaders in Europe say their communities are being held responsible for the actions of Israel.
“If you are a French Jew you should not be responsible physically for what happens 4,000 kilometers away,” Roger Cukierman, the president of the umbrella organization representing the Jewish community in France known as CRIF, told The Daily Beast.
Cukierman is also concerned that in some circles the media have portrayed those attacks as being spurred by small groups of young Jewish citizens who have formed self-defense organizations. He said these groups did not represent the community and he opposed vigilantism, but he also said their role in the attacks has been overblown.
“I am shocked when I hear journalists saying if the De La Roquette synagogue was attacked it is because of the Jews,” he said. “This is propaganda. We had eight synagogues being attacked. I am worried about the fact that synagogues are being attacked and not worried about these self-defense groups.”
Victor Eliezar, the secretary general of Greece’s federation of Jewish community groups, said he had not seen in Greece a rise in anti-Semitic attacks like that of France, but he had noticed a trend in Greek media to delegitimize the Jewish state. “I think the continued use of propaganda, the continued use of using the Palestinian blood, is a tool against Israel, but I worry it will arrive also to the Jews,” he said.
The chief executive officer of the World Jewish Congress, Robert Singer, summed up the problem as follows: “I think Jews in Europe are being seen as Israeli.”
Most countries take a special interest in their countrymen abroad. But in the case of Israel, it has a special obligation to protect the Jewish diaspora. Throughout its history, Israel has helped airlift vulnerable Jewish populations in countries like Yemen and Ethiopia to safety. The state also secretly aided the immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel during the Cold War when such dissidents were refused the right to leave the Soviet Union.
Israel also considers in its military planning the potential for violent retaliation not only against its own citizens but also Jewish populations abroad.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of the intelligence directorate for the Israel Defense Force, told The Daily Beast that Israeli defense planners do take into account whether and how military actions will affect diaspora Jewish populations. But he also said that it is only one of many considerations Israel leaders weigh.
“The general mindset in Israel regarding its responsibility towards the diaspora is based on three principles,” Yadlin said. “The first is Zionism—you are all welcome to join us. Secondly, if you’re not interested in joining, we try and help you through your government, and advise you when advice is needed. And third—if your government is unwilling to help, and there is risk to your lives, we will try and help in any way we can.”
With the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, Yadlin said it ironically makes the case for immigration to Israel much stronger. “The threats imposed to Jews by anti-Semitism in Europe are not a surprise to us, Jews have been suffering from them for centuries,” he said. “The irony in it, today, is that it encourages Jews from countries like France to immigrate into Israel, thus making it stronger.”
There may be something to this. The Jewish Agency for Israel—which encourages Jewish immigration to the state—estimates that 5,000 Jews will emigrate from France this year to Israel, the highest figure of French Jewish immigration to the country since its founding in 1948.
But for many Jews that choose to remain in France, they are expecting the country’s police to protect them.
“We are French citizens,” Cukierman said. “It is the duty of the French government to protect us.”