It is both lamentable and entirely understandable that many in Europe’s Jewish communities have begun to speak uneasily about the threat posed by anti-Semitic extremism. The shootings in Copenhagen took aim at the same targets which bore the brunt of last month’s terrorist attack in Paris. First are those who would dare to depict and poke fun at the Prophet Mohamed, and who are singled out effectively for having taken a particular career path. Second are Jews, who are murdered simply for being Jews. That is a stark reality to bear.
But, of course, attacks on innocents are designed precisely to terrorise. The extremists of Isis and their supporters wish all Jews to be scared about possible attack, just as the sickening beheading of Coptic Christians in Libya is designed to frighten all Christians. It is crucial to the future cohesion of society in this country and elsewhere that fear is not permitted to force the hand of those it stalks.
In this context, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for Europe’s Jews to flee to Israel should be resisted. He and his government regularly highlight the importance of not giving in to terrorism, and yet his statements in the wake of the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen give the impression of doing just that. This adds strongly to the suspicion that Netanyahu is endeavouring primarily to serve the interests of the Israeli state, as he sees them, as much as any individual Jews. (An enlarged Jewish population in Israel would, according to the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “resolve all problems.”) But as Denmark’s Chief Rabbi, Jair Melchior, put it succinctly in a rejoinder on Sunday: “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.”
In any event, Netanyahu’s reassuring declaration to the Jews of Europe, that “Israel is your home”, underplays and undermines the extent to which Jewish communities in most European countries are embraced by the vast majority of those they live alongside. In Britain, it is a grim truth that the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose considerably last year (in part a reaction, if an utterly unacceptable one, to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza). And it is deeply concerning that a small fringe of “nationalists” have recently been promoting a march in London to protest against a supposed “Jewification” of the UK. Yet there is no evidence that anti-Semitism in this country is anything other than the preserve of a small minority. And there are several positive initiatives which aim to tackle prejudice head-on where it exists. That work, however, must now be stepped up – both here and across Europe.
As for the men who have perpetrated murders on the streets of Copenhagen, Paris, London and elsewhere, falsely in the name of Islam, they are not representatives of anything but a despicable perversion of the religion, and this perversion has no place in the modern world.
Indeed, it is notable that the individual suspected of having carried out the attacks in Denmark was known to the police, just as were those who committed the atrocities in Paris. The killers of Lee Rigby were on the security services’ radar too. This is indicative of their place within the realm of criminality and challenges the notion that there are hordes of people who are simply waiting, out of sight of the authorities, to strike.
Islamist terrorists, whether attacking Jews, Christians, off-duty soldiers, or cartoonists, aim to cause division and loathing. The response of the West, with its multi-faceted, worldly societies, must be unity, tolerance and forgiveness.
People of Jewish heritage play a central role in the life of the United Kingdom and the country would be diminished without their contribution. Britain is and must remain their happy home.Reuse content