Europe and the Jews

The changing face of Europe leaves the Jews of Europe with no way out; they have but one insurance policy: Israel’s Law of Return.

Over the past month, three important elections were held in Europe: On Sunday in France; last week in the United Kingdom; and around a month ago in the European Union Parliament. Their results mark an inflection point in an ongoing process that casts a pall over the future of the Jews in Europe.

In the 19th century, the Jewish people were distinctly European. Europe was home to 90% of the world’s Jews at the time of the First Zionist Congress. Today only about 9% of Jews live there, about one and a quarter million.

At the same time, Europe is becoming Islamized at a rapid pace. Over 5% of the European Union residents are Muslims – one in 20 – and the continued massive immigration and high Muslim birth rates in Europe (three times that of other Europeans) indicate a clear demographic trend.

The increasing power of Islam in Europe is fueling two major political trends. One is a significant and fierce counter movement of those alarmed by the phenomenon. This is a key driver of the incredible growth of far-right parties all over Europe. The Center-Right has also grown, but the far-right is becoming stronger in a way unmatched since World War II.

In response to this, an opposite political trend is evident: the Center, threatened by the Right, is looking for allies on the Left, and sometimes on the extreme Left. Indeed, the global trend of an eroding political center in favor of extreme movements on the Right and Left appears to be the current European zeitgeist.

These are the facts: In the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s far-right National Rally Party received nearly a third of the votes cast, and the distinctly anti-Israel far-left New National Front came in second. Macron’s centrist Ensemble Party trailed in third place. In order to preserve its power, the Center decided to embrace the far-left in the second and final round, this past Sunday.

The results are particularly bad. The alliance of left-wing parties – headed by an Israel hater with antisemitic proclivities – has become the largest faction in parliament. One senses a heavy cloud of political and social uncertainty hanging over the republic, and one of the groups that will suffer under it is the Jews.

IN THE UK, although the Labour Party won a historic victory, the far-right also became considerably stronger with the support of some 10 million voters, an unprecedented number. If this is the case in the UK, a well-established parliamentary democracy, it is even more so in countries where the democratic tradition is less well-rooted. In Italy, the far-right Brothers of Italy Party won only 4% of the vote in 2018. But in the last elections, held at the end of 2022, after a certain softening of its message, it became Italy’s largest party with 26% of the vote and catapulted Giorgia Meloni into the Palazzo Chigi as prime minister.

This was the broad picture in the European Parliament elections last month. About half of the 190 million eligible voters cast their ballots. The clear result is a strengthened Center-Right, which will continue to dominate, but almost a quarter of the seats in the European Parliament will be filled by the far right for the next five years. In these elections, the far-right came in first place in France, Italy, Austria, and Hungary. It took second place in Germany. And not even 80 years have elapsed since the liberation of the death camps.

The changing face of Europe leaves the Jews of Europe with no way out: the far right threatens them with the force of classic antisemitic tropes, which had been suppressed in recent decades but now permits itself to resurface and show its ugly face. The far left threatens them with a modern strain of antisemitism, motivated by hatred of the State of Israel and fueled by the war in Gaza. The elections in France demonstrate this lack of a way out: a French Jew going to the polls last Sunday had to choose between pestilence and boils; between the far right and a center that has forged an alliance with the far left.

Is extremism in Europe a passing contemporary phenomenon? It seems that no improvement can be expected. The era of global stability to which we have become accustomed is over. Globalization is in retreat and American hegemony is loosening. The world order is again becoming multipolar, and the big power rivalry is nearing a boiling point.

The internal order of key countries has been breached, and Western democracies are experiencing social and constitutional crises. Public trust in state institutions is increasingly undermined. These are bad winds blowing, not just in Europe, although their howling there is particularly loud.

European Jews must consider their future. They have but one insurance policy: Israel’s Law of Return.

Published by Jerusalem Post