Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent with The Atlantic, discsusses the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York. And welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and the audio will be available on our website, www.CFR.org.
We’re delighted to have Jeffrey Goldberg with us today. Mr. Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in D.C. He was previously the Middle East correspondent and the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, a reporter for New York Times Magazine and The New York Magazine. Mr. Goldberg has received numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for reporting, the Overseas Press Club Award for the best human rights reporting, and he Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is the author of “Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror,” and is currently writing a book about the Middle East policies of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Mr. Goldberg, thank you very much for being with us today. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. And you have just authored in the April issue of The Atlantic an article entitled, “Is it Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” I thought you could begin by talking about your research to—in Europe—to put together this article, and the broad themes that you have—that you outline there.
GOLDBERG: Sure. And thank you for having me. And thanks, everyone who’s on the line.
Let me be as brief as possible, because I don’t want to talk into the void forever. But let me just sort of frame out a little bit of what I was trying to do. Obviously, we are in—and people don’t like to hear this sometimes—but we are in the epilogue of the European Jewish story in many ways. I start from that perspective. I have—and I freely admit this in the story—I have a kind of typical American-Jewish bias about Europe and about the future of the Jews of Europe, in that like most American Jews, I’m the descendent of people who ran away from Europe to flee persecution. So I start from the position that Europe is not utopia for the Jews.
After the Holocaust, however, there was a long moment of reflection and repentance and an attempt by most European nations to grapple with what happened. And, you know, what happened is something that it’s worth, not only today, but it’s worth remembering, not only in order that we don’t forget the dead, but it’s worth remembering in the following sense. As much as we don’t like to admit this, Hitler basically achieved his goal of turning Europe judenrein—making Europe judenrein. In 1939, there were 9.4 million Jews in Europe. Today there are 1.3 million Jews in Europe. That number is dropping. A recent Pew study suggests in the coming years that that number will drop by another 200,000.
So when I say that we’re in the epilogue, I don’t say that based on a feeling. I say that based on the raw numbers. Nevertheless, for a long period after the war, not only in Germany—especially in Germany but in many other places, there was a feeling that the post-war European experiment—which became the European Union—sort of a post-national European experiment—its success was contingent partially on how well Europe deals with its remaining Jewish populations. And for a very long time, there was a great deal of tranquility in the—in the Jewish communities that remained on the continent and Britain. And then about 15 years ago or so things started to change. And they’ve changed in some ways that are—that are very negative.
Obviously, the impetus for the story—which I started researching last year well before the attacks of January—the impetus was the—a couple of events. The Toulouse attack, which was almost three years ago, the Jewish school in which three children and an adult were murdered by a—essentially a returning ISIS affiliator—ISIS-inspired jihadist. And then the—a little later on, the mass murder at the Brussels Jewish Museum, similar sort of story. And, you know, what we began hearing with greater and greater frequency—I began hearing from friends in Europe, who were beginning to—an old Jewish joke was resurfacing. It’s the, you know, how many—is your bag packed and how many bags do you have packed? You know, I started hearing from people when I traveled there and even here and in Israel that, you know, the unease was spreading fast and that the flight impulse was taking hold once again.
And so I started this reporting, obviously motivated by the most violent attacks. But what I found—what I find more interesting and almost more troubling—obviously, murder is the most troubling aspect of this of all—but almost as troubling is not the great dramatic events, the Hyper Cacher market massacre, the killing of the—of the Jewish volunteer security guard in Copenhagen a couple of months ago. But what I found fascinating as I started traveling and meeting with people in different Jewish communities across Europe was that normative Jewish life is becoming more and more difficult to lead.
In other words, again and again, because of the fear of these random attacks but not only because of the fear of the general attacks, just because of a general climate of social exclusion, a climate of general unspoken and sometimes spoken hostility, Jews are making or being forced to make what I consider to be unpleasant and unpalatable choices. The classic example for me is a woman I know in Brussels, husband born in Antwerp, she in Brussels, they’re Belgian as can be. And they’re about to—planning on starting a family. And had a conversation with her one night in which, you know, I said, do you want to send your children to the Jewish school here in Brussels?
And said, well, yes, ideally, but I’m very worried that if we send the kids to the Jewish school, the Jewish school is, itself, obviously a top-tier terrorist target. We know, obviously, of various jihadist networks that are in place in Belgium. And I said so then you’ll—what about public school? And she said, well, the problem in public school in Brussels is that Jewish students are regular targets of harassment within the classrooms, in the hallways. And so I looked at her and basically said so Jewish school isn’t really an option and non-Jewish school really isn’t an option. And then she paused and said, maybe we’re just kidding ourselves about our ability or willingness to stay here.
There are obviously very many differences between this period and the period leading up to World War II and the Holocaust. One of the most—well, obviously, the most obvious difference is that, unlike 1939, there is now a Jewish state that people can run to if they have to. If Israel had existed in 1939, you would have many fewer dead Jews in the 1939 to 1945 period. So they—A, they have a place to go. B, the European governments—many governments and their leaders are seized by this issue and are dealing with it in various ways. Some of them are effective, some of them are not. But Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and Hollande and Manuel Valls in particular in France are seized by this.
I mean, one of the historical ironies is that in the late ’30s it was the chancellor of Germany who was the foremost proponent of anti-Semitism. And today, the chancellor of Germany is one of the foremost opponents of anti-Semitism. So that counts as obviously a positive development. And one of the other more subtle differences between then and now is that if a Jewish person in name your city—London, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm—chooses to not be Jewish, which is to say not participate in the religious or cultural or political life of the Jewish community—and Judaism is in many ways a communal activity. It’s very hard to do alone. So that means choosing not to be involved in the synagogue, not to be involved in Jewish social activities or social activities, not to go—not to be around Jews—physically be around Jews, then that person is as safe or unsafe as any other European. If they mask their Judaism, if they hide it, if they disavow it, if they bury it in some way, then they’re OK. And that was not true, obviously, during—when the Germans defined Judaism by blood.
But if you want to stay Jewish in some sort of meaningful way in Europe you are putting yourself in danger. And that was sort of the more unpleasant conclusion, even than sort of the period outburst of terror that occurred. And this is why more than—one of those periodic attacks—this is why when I talk to Jewish students, for instance, in Paris or Toulouse, these are the things that they talked about, sort of the background thrum of unpleasant anti-Semitic dialogue or discourse, the sort of street-level harassment. Not talking about ISIS and what ISIS wants to do to Jews, but just sort of the general feeling of hostility and of exclusion.
I can talk about—maybe in the questions we can talk about how this relates to the Middle East and how it doesn’t. I’m obviously on the position that, you know, while—that many people in Europe will use the conflict in the Middle East as an excuse to launch attacks of Jews. I am obviously of the opinion that Jews don’t cause anti-Semitism, that the state of Israel doesn’t cause anti-Semitism any more than gays cause homophobia or black people cause racism.
You know, one of the big questions that I’ve gotten since this piece comes out is, you know, what—if something were to happen in the Middle East in a positive way, would that lower the temperature of this problem? And my answer to that is, probably no. Maybe in the most sort of intense moments yes. But here’s the thing about the anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism always finds a reason. You know, and so in Europe, which has obviously a long and storied history of anti-Semitism, the Jews were blamed for killing Jesus at a certain point. That was what made people angry about the Jews. Voltaire blamed the Jews for inventing Christianity. I mean, you get it coming and going, obviously. You know, in the middle ages the Jews were poisoning the wells. In the 19th century Jews were the—you know, were the—were the creators of rapacious capitalism. And then, of course, Jews were also the inventors of communism. In other words, there’s always something to blame Jews for.
And the way you—or the way I, at least, sort of define what is anti-Semitic versus what is, you know, an appropriate response to someone being upset about something Israel is doing, is it’s a pretty simple formula. If you are upset about settlements, you’re upset about what’s going on in Gaza, and you go out in Paris in front of these Israeli embassy and have a huge demonstration and yell, you know, “stop the war,” or “down with settlements,” that is political discourse. If your response—or if you say that your response—or if you—if you go out and try to burn down a synagogue and say it’s because of Israel, that’s not actually true. That’s your excuse, but you have a much—there’s a much deeper problem, and more ancient problem that’s manifesting itself when you choose to take out this anger, or his alleged anger, on individual Jews that happen to be walking down the street, or synagogues, or Jewish Museums, Jewish schools, and the like.
So where we are today—and let me wrap it up with this—you know, where we are today is we’re sort of at maybe an extended tipping point moment. Most Jews won’t leave, obviously, although thousands left France last year and thousands more are scheduled to leave this year. And one of the interesting things I didn’t realize would happen once this story came out, is I’ve gotten several calls and emails and the like from people I know in some cases and people I don’t know in some cases—people who are connected to me, just one or two steps removed—in Scandinavia, one in Belgium, a few in France, a couple of Britain, just asking me for advice about how to get American visas. You know, just sort of looking—there are a lot of people who are actively mapping out a future that does not include Europe for them.
So we’re at this moment where a lot of people are sitting—let’s say, they’re not sitting on their suitcase, but they know where their suitcase is. And obviously this is a—it’s a moment of enormous importance for European Jewry. I would also argue that it’s a moment of enormous importance for Europe. I do believe that, you know, the European experiment—the post-war European experiment is at risk if Jews who are—who have been the most persecuted group—minority group in Europe over the past thousand years come to believe that even in the post-Holocaust and EU era that there is no place for them, that it’s simply too unsafe, and then start looking for alternatives. It means that the European liberal experiment will have failed, I think. And the more perspicacious or at least thinking European leaders, like Merkel, like Manuel Valls in France, I think understand this.
So it’s a big moment for the Jews. It’s a big moment for Europe. The problem for the Jews is that they are too small a minority to actually influence the way the future is shaped. So, you know, again, it’s always the formula that—for me, that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem. Jews are the victims of anti-Semitism, but they have no control over it. And so what we’re, you know, looking for, and what everybody who’s observing this is watching, is can these European governments fix their problem? And maybe the questions will go into what is the nature of the problem a little bit.
Obviously one of the weirdnesses of this moment is that while there is anti-Semitism in—you can look and you can find anti-Semitism in many different kinds of pockets and subgroups in different countries in Europe, the actual violence that precipitated the crisis—the violence is located almost exclusively in a subgroup of European Muslim immigrant populations that have been effected in a way by jihadist ideology and now by sort of the—what we would think of as ISIS ideology. They are, of course, a small minority within a large, but still minority, population in Europe. and it’s a population that has its own deep problems with disenfranchisement and disempowerment within Europe.
So ultimately the Jews are in some way collateral damage in the conflict between European nation-states and their immigration Muslim populations. So much of this problem is located far outside the realm or the reach of European Jewry. Much of the problem has to do with the way Europe absorbs, or doesn’t absorb, Muslim immigrants. And it has to do with the way radical ideas take root or don’t take root in these European Muslim populations. But let me end it there because there are so many different permutations of this problem, I don’t want to—I don’t want to just drive this without hearing your questions first.
FASKIANOS: Jeffrey, thanks very much. So interesting. Let’s open it up for questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
And our first question will come from Andrew Baker with the American Jewish Committee.
BAKER: Thank you. Thank you, Jeffrey, certainly for your article and now for this report.
I want to focus in really on your very last comments, because I wonder overall if you look—and it’s hard to generalize about Europe. Mostly your focusing on Western Europe. Eastern European communities, where attitudes towards Jews may be rather negative, nevertheless don’t feel the same kind of fear that you see in France and Sweden and elsewhere in Western Europe. But the issue of what’s coming out of Arab and Muslim populations—not just most recently the radicalized jihadist threat, which is a lethal one, but the more low-grade issue of verbal, physical harassment that I think has degraded the sense of Jewish openness and Jewish life over the last decade or more, plays, it seems to me, the more the significant role.
And the fact that you have now even attitude surveys that show this population has a much more negative view of Jews, not talking about the Middle East conflict, in France two to three times greater than in the larger society. And governments being nervous knowing that there’s a kind of political correctness in dealing with this population. I know you met with political leaders as well as representatives of the Jewish community. What’s your sense of how governments see this as the real source or a main source of the problem in terms of whether Jews feel they have a future in Europe or not?
GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, I think I addressed a little bit of that. One of the—one of the interesting things for me about the response in France, and Manuel Valls, the prime minister, has taken the lead on this question. And it’s interesting to contrast the way he’s talked about this general issue with the way the Obama administration talks about this issue, for instance. He’s very open about speaking about the threat of Islamist fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalist thought, the threat that it poses to France—not just the Jewish community, but to France—where you see the dialogue in America, or what you’re hearing from the Obama administration, is to downplay—to talk about terrorism and radicalism, but not talk about—not to, from the Obama administration perspective, build up the idea that we’re at war with radical Islam.
It’s interesting that—I mean, maybe—I think, obviously in France they feel this more acutely than we do here. But I—you know, that the big problem—and let’s just stay with France for a minute. I mean, and France is sort of the locus of the problem—the problem in France is that one of the main reasons Marine Le Pen, you know, the National Front, is the—according to polls—the most popular single politician in France is that larger and larger numbers of people in France believe that she’s the only person talking straight about what they consider to be a dire issue, which is the spread of radical ideology within European—or within the French Muslim community.
And I mean, I know, obviously, members of the—leaders of the Jewish community are worried about the rise of the radical right in France. And for once, the radical right in France is not focused on the threat of Jews. It’s focused on the threat of Muslims. So that has a—it gives you sort of an open parenthetical, but something that’s very interesting to me, you find in some of the more hard-pressed Jewish communities, on the outskirts of Paris for instance, the Sephardic communities, North African communities are living in working-class communities with Muslims right next to them. They are—they are open, in a way, to the message of the National Front in a way that you never imagined 10 or 15 years ago because they’re so worried about it.
So one of the—one of the consequences of these difficulties is that far-right parties will find a way to capitalize on this issue and draw in voters, draw in support because there’s a feeling among large swaths of the population that the mainstream parties are not grappling with the threat the way they should be. I don’t know enough to say whether or not the Socialist government in France is doing enough. I mean, I know that they’ve been mocked for, you know, opening—after the Charlie Hebdo—you know, opening websites—deradicalization websites that people can go to for resources, and that’s their response. Obviously a more direct French response to what happened in January was to deploy thousands of paratroopers onto the streets of France, to put them—6,000 alone are defending Jewish institutions right now. So that’s an immediate sort of Band-Aid. But I don’t know what they’re doing long term. And I don’t think what they’re doing is adequate to counter the radicalization.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Steve Gutow with JCPA.
GUTOW: Thank you, Jeffrey. Thanks for your articles and thanks for all you do and thanks for doing this call.
You know, there’s also a lot of vitality and vibrancy, and some of it new, in the European Jewish community. If you look at Germany and Czechoslovakia and even Britain, you know, they are just blossoms coming out. And I could go through them, but I’d rather you respond. Are you—are you thinking that—you know, like, I know that it was thought—it was felt that the prime minister of Israel had suggested to Jews that they—whether they should come or could come was the argument. But certainly he dutifully said that Israel is open. Are you thinking that, I mean, that they should leave? Or are you thinking in certain countries? Or are you thinking that you’re not taking a position on this? Or—I mean, it’s an interesting—it’s just an interesting thought to me what—we have a lot at stake. We care. So what do you think of this question?
GOLDBERG: Right. So first of all, we’re talking about 30 different countries. And every country has its own unique situation. I would never, obviously, advise individuals, you know, about how to make the choice that they—that they need to make. You know, I try to put myself in the shoes of people we’re talking about and saying, OK, so if I want to be Jewish, and I find that being Jewish puts my safety and security and that of my children at risk, then maybe I’m going to go find another place to be Jewish.
The Netanyahu—the response to Netanyahu was not saying—I mean, he said it in maybe an atonal way or too strident way, but of course the position of the Israel is that Europe’s Jews should be in Israel. It’s Israel’s de facto position that all Jews should be in Israel. And remember that Zionism is—at its core is a critique of Europe. The only reason Zionism ever came into being was because Europe made itself unpleasant for Jews. So, you know, that to me—that was a little bit of a tempest in a teapot.
You’re right about Jewish vibrancy. I mean, I’ve been to 15 or so different countries by this point in my life, and experienced the Jewish community in many of them. So you’re right that there’s a lot of dynamism. And you’re also right to sort of separate out Britain a little bit—the 300,000 Jews of Britain—from the million or so on the continent, because it’s a little bit more sheltered and protected there, and there’s a lot of dynamism there. But let’s not kid ourselves.
Like I said, the number right now is 1.3 million. It’s going down to 1.1 million. In the German community, which is blossoming in many ways, you had—in the Jewish community you had, I think, it’s 1,200 registered deaths last year and 200 registered births. So the demographics are no good. I mean, and we sort of have to just acknowledge that.
Putting even aside—putting aside even the issue of anti-Semitism, you do have to ask yourself—and I’m not a demographer so I can’t answer this question in a kind of authoritative, fluent way—but, you know, you’re talking about 5,000 Jews in this city, 3,000 in that city, 10,000 over here. And, you know, you have to ask yourself the multigenerational question. Is can minority communities sustain themselves with that level of—at that size, when they have not been growing over the past 60 or 70 years? So that’s another interesting question to ask.
I don’t want to disparage—and I write a bit about this—I don’t want to disparage the hard work that many European Jews and the institutions and synagogues, et cetera, are doing to maintain a vibrant Jewish life in their communities. But I also don’t want to—I also don’t want to disparage the data, that suggests that it’s—even in the best of circumstances is an uphill fight.
GUTOW: Thank you very much.
FASKIANOS: Thanks, Steve. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Maha Elgenaidi with Islamic Group Network.
ELGENAIDI: Thank you. It’s actually Islamic Networks Group, ING.org. (Laughs.)
So I actually had a different question of mine, but I was really alarmed by the first question and the sorts of anti-Semitism in Europe around Muslim radicalism or Islam. You had started by addressing the roots of anti-Semitism in Christianity, which is very accurate. And I would just cautious American Jews from scapegoating Muslims instead of dealing with actual origins of anti-Semitism in Europe, and much-better funded sources of anti-Semitic campaigns in Europe and here in the United States.
My question actually has to do with whether anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate campaigns in Europe overlap, and if they do how do they overlap? And I’m really interested in working towards addressing this problem here by American Muslims and Jewish groups working together to do this. We’ve had now in—I think in probably the last decade, a really good amount of work and programs of American Muslims and American Jews working together. And I’m just wondering whether both of these groups could do something to address the anti-Semitic campaigns, as well as the Islamophobic campaigns in Europe, if they do overlap.
GOLDBERG: Right. That’s a good—it’s a good series of questions. Yes, to answer your last one first, yes, of course there can be—can be work. And there are very brave imams—not enough, maybe—but very brave imams in Europe who are speaking out against anti-Semitism. But I would also need to point out something that’s very obvious, which is that the mass murderers of the past couple of years of Jews in Europe—the murderer in Toulouse, the murderer at the Brussels Jewish Museum, the murderer in—at the kosher supermarket, the murderer in Copenhagen—these have all been radical Islamist Muslims living in Europe, many of whom who have had connections or direct transit back and forth between Syria and Europe. So, the violence is driven by this subgroup of radical Islamists, and there’s no way around that. These are just—this is just a fact, and everybody understands that fact. Obviously, over the past thousand years, European anti-Semitism had been a Christian phenomenon, but I think the first speaker was correct in citing the—there’s actual polling done about attitudes in Europe among Muslims and non-Muslims, and many of these polls have shown an alarming rate of anti-Semitic thought among Muslim immigrant groups. There’s no way around that.
Is there an—I mean, this is why—this is one of the reasons it’s so complicated, is because France is a perfect example. In France, you have a Jewish community that lives in fear of the larger Muslim community, and the larger Muslim community in many ways lives in fear or at least anxiety about its own place in a country that doesn’t seem to accept them. So, this is not—the one—this is a very hard issue to unpack because you have a disenfranchised group, or elements within this disenfranchised group, acting against another even smaller minority. So, it’s very, very hard to unpack.
And the most crucial thing that could happen, I think—even more than government intervention—the most crucial thing would be for more of these imams to come out and talk about and fight against anti-Semitism within the Muslim community and also sort of do the things—I mean, I’m not much for these symbolic gestures, but I can’t help but acknowledge them and think of them as better than the alternative. When groups of Muslims and non-Muslims made a protective ring around a synagogue a couple weeks ago in Copenhagen, well, that’s certainly better than the alternative.
The problem for—and as a lot of people on this call know, the problem for Muslim leaders in Europe who are actively fighting ISIS ideology is that it’s very dangerous for them. I mean, there’s an imam in Drancy, in France, who walks around with police bodyguards because he is—he is preaching against anti-Semitism and he’s preaching for cooperation between Jews and Muslims, and his life is in danger. And it’s not in danger from Jews and it’s not in danger from the European right. And so—and so I would say a couple things—and just to be summarizing this answer, let’s not kid ourselves about the nature of the immediate problem that Jews are facing in Europe. Let’s not kid ourselves about Europe being necessarily a healthy place for vast numbers of Muslims. And, you know, so far as I’m comfortable being prescriptive, yes, I mean, it would be quite a wonderful thing for Muslims and Jews to work together against prejudice that affects both of their communities.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Bruce Knotts with Unitarian Universalists Office at the United Nations.
KNOTTS: Hi, Jeffrey. Thank you so much for your article and for your discussion.
I do a lot of work vetting international homophobia, and I’m sort of drawing parallels between what you’re saying about anti-Semitism and the work I do on international homophobia. And it seems to me you’ve got two questions here. You’ve got one you need to protect people and at the same time you need to combat bigotry. In the context of LGBT people, a lot of people are leaving Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and such should be come—to come to this country to be safe. But at the same time as those people are leaving, those are possible advocates to work against bigotry in their own country, so we’re losing some of our most talented advocates in those countries as they leave to come here.
KNOTTS: And similarly, you know, as Jews leave Europe, then they are not there to combat the bigotry that exists in Europe, and yet you want to save people’s lives. You don’t want people to suffer and you don’t want the culture to suffer, either.
GOLDBERG: Right, right.
KNOTTS: So, it’s a perplexing dilemma. Again, I think you need to fight the fight, but then you also want to save lives, and I don’t know how you resolve that dilemma. I’d be interested in your views.
GOLDBERG: No, you’ve hit on something really important. So, again, maybe this is my bias showing, but I don’t believe it’s a Jewish responsibility to save Europe. You know, I mean, you know, just speaking as a—no, just individually, but speaking with an acute sense of history that I have—sometimes to my detriment, you know, a thousand years of this nonsense was enough, you know? And if you still can’t figure out a way to make Jews not the—make Jews safe in Europe, then, you know—then your European Union experiment will have failed and I don’t care. I mean, obviously, I care in the sense that it’s bad for the world if the EU experiment and liberal tolerance fails, but I don’t want to say to a single Jewish person in Europe stay and fight that fight because it’s important for humanity, you know? At this point, it’s like get out if you feel like you’re unsafe.
And—but this is the problem. You know, the problem is not mass flight of Jews. You’ve hit on the problem that European Jewish communities are going to face, and the—sort of the downstream effect that European governments will face—is that if the most talented and younger leaders of individual Jewish communities pick up and go—whether to Israel, Canada, the U.S., wherever they go—if they go, you know, who’s going to take care of the people who aren’t leaders, who don’t have the intellectual, financial, political resources to advocate for their communities and protect their communities? I mean, you know, I can—I know the Toulouse Jewish community fairly well, and I could—and it’s about 20(,000), 18,000 people now. It’s been dropping pretty fast, but it was probably 25(,000) a few years ago. But it’s still 18,000 or so people, and I can name three or four people who, if they left, would cause the—sort of the collapse, the slow collapse of that community, because they’re the talented, connected, energetic leaders. But again—you know, so, again, you know, it’s not my place, not your place to tell someone to stay or go or fight the fight. But the problem is more subtle then, you know, thousands of people packing their bags and marching out of Marseille or Toulouse or Lyon, or whatever, Brussels in the next five years. The problem is that—is that people who can move and can get out are also probably the people who are the most talented people in those communities and therefore the leaders of those communities, and so that’s a big problem.
And I don’t want to sound too harsh about—well, actually, I don’t really care if I sound harsh about it. I don’t—no, no, no, because, you know, it’s very moving when the prime minister of France talks about—and he said this to me a few months ago in an interview that got some attention after the Charlie Hebdo massacre—he said, you know, if a hundred thousand—and he’s of Spanish origin, so this is why he felt he could say this—he said if a hundred thousand French citizens of Spanish origin were to leave France tomorrow, it would not be a national tragedy. If a hundred thousand Jews picked up from France and left, that would be a national tragedy, because the idea of France—one of the—one of the compelling ideas of the Revolution was the emancipation of the Jews—in other words, the goal—one of the goals of the French Revolution was to emancipate the Jews. And if the Jews decide 200-plus years later that they can’t have a place to stay, they have no place for the—no place to live in France, then that’s a failure of the Revolution, of the French idea, of the idea of the republic itself. And my response to that is to say that’s beautiful and touching. But you know what? My immediate concern is to make sure that Jews don’t get killed. And if the best way to make sure that these Jews don’t get killed is to encourage them to move to Montreal, then they should move to Montreal.
KNOTTS: If I could just follow up, then that also means the ones that can’t get out are more vulnerable.
GOLDBERG: Well, this is the problem. That’s the exact problem, and that’s why—and that’s why it’s so important for people to advocate for the general safety of these Jewish communities so that the—so that the people—so that the leaders don’t leave, because then that creates a whole other set of problems, where the Jews who remain are even more vulnerable.
KNOTTS: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Holly Folk with Western Washington University.
FOLK: Yes, good morning.
It’s fortuitous that this conference call happened, because I’m supposed to go this summer to Estonia and Hungary to do some research on the Jewish communities and also on religious minorities there. And I’m wondering if you can comment anything about the regional differences within the EU, because it seems to me that in some places like Estonia and Hungary, the need to hide one’s identity has been longstanding. But my sense is that they don’t have large Muslim populations, so there isn’t a similar type of violence. And yet I’m wondering if you can say anything impressionistically, nation by nation, and also if I could email you later with some questions.
GOLDBERG: We’ll figure that out later. But the country—look, this is—I mean, what I’m trying to stress and probably haven’t stressed enough, is that you’re talking about 28 or 30 different places.
GOLDBERG: And there are even regional differences within countries. And what you have—and I nodded to this in the story, but the main part of the story was about the violence—in Hungary, you have kind of the old fashioned European anti-Semitism that one of the previous callers was referring to, calling it Christian or calling it right-wing or whatever, but not Muslim, obviously. You have a pretty powerful far-right party that believes in the same sort of conspiracy theories that people in Europe have been susceptible to for a very long time. And so, yes, you don’t have the worry of—that you might have in France of gangs of Moroccan immigrants beating up a Jewish guy wearing a kippah walking to Synagogue, but in Hungary you have a similar fear of, you know, kind of a skinhead type—skinhead type doing the same thing.
FOLK: Right, yeah.
GOLDBERG: And you have it—and you have it deeper, obviously, because you have it penetrating the government. I mean, in Greece you had this—Greece is another place, obviously, with a strong kind of proto or semi-fascist movement, the Golden Dawn people—and in Greece you have this—had this unbelievable situation a couple of months—I think it was a couple of months ago, maybe it was longer—of the defense minister—I think the guy who became the defense minister—saying that the problem in Greece, economic problem is due in part because the Jews don’t pay their taxes. There’s 2,000 Jews in Greece. I mean, the Greek Jewish community was pretty much wiped out during the Holocaust, and so it’s sort of—I mean, it’s darkly funny, if you will, that people will still resort to these same sort of idiotic calumnies about Jews. So, yes, the further east you go, this becomes more and more of a problem and the problem of that—of that tension between a Muslim radical subgroup and Jewish communities becomes less of a problem.
In the Baltics, I don’t know the situation in the Baltics very well. I know that they have small Jewish communities. And there are—you know, and one of the interesting things in the east, by the way—and this goes to an earlier question about positive developments in Jewish life in Europe—one of the things the further east you go is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and some of the things that have happened since then, a lot of people who didn’t know they were Jewish, are rediscovering that they were Jewish.
GOLDBERG: And so, when I was in Moldova, for instance, it’s quite touching. It was a Friday night gathering of like a Jewish youth club. They’re in their teens and 20s, 50 or 60 kids in Chișinău. And, you know, I was talking to them afterwards, and very few of them knew growing up they were Jewish. This is sort of something that just emerged—you know, either the father’s Jewish or mother is Jewish, sometimes even just the grandparents, sometimes both parents, but it was just something that was tamped down. And so, one of the interesting things you might find is, you know, this large movement of sort of newly self-discovered Jews who are—who are learning what Judaism is and learning that they have this connection to this larger people and this larger idea, and it’s quite—and I’ve met other people in Hungary like that. So, it’s quite moving, actually. I hope that’s something that you find.
FOLK: That’s great. Thank you.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Father McWeeney with Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
MCWEENEY: The sadness of the Holocaust, we know, was created many times by the indifference of the Christian community. What is going on in Europe today vis-à-vis the churches? I know that many of the churches only get 2 or 3 percent of their people coming to church, but what does the hierarchy say about this anti-Semitism that is once again raising its ugly head?
GOLDBERG: It’s an interesting and complicated question, and I would answer it first by noting that one of the distressing aspects of this problem that we’re seeing in Europe is that while the leaders of many of these countries, including some of the most important countries, are very much taking a vociferous stand against anti-Semitism, there seems to be broad indifference to the problem. Angela Merkel did something that she usually doesn’t do. She went to a rally, I guess at the Brandenburg Gate, not so long ago, called to—called to, you know, denounce anti-Semitism. And I mean, here’s something that the chancellor of Germany is going to, and it still managed only to draw 5,000 people, most of whom were sort of older Jews. And, you know, there’s nothing sadder—you know, and I think people in different faith and ethnic communities understand this—there’s nothing sadder to see that your cause is interesting only to your people. And that said, I—and I don’t know that much about this, so I want to be careful about what I say, but my understanding is that cardinals in various cities have spoken publicly about this issue. I would of course like to see more. I don’t know what the pope has or hasn’t said about this. I mean, I know he’s obviously very sensitive to the Jewish community in sort of the post-Pope John Paul way that popes are, but I haven’t—I haven’t seen a tremendous amount on this. And one of—again, one of the complicating factors is that the Catholic Church in particular is trying to navigate a very complicated relationship with Islam at the same time, and is trying to navigate problems like this. So, it’s a good question, and I don’t know—I don’t know enough of—I don’t know enough of what’s going on to give you a solid answer. But I haven’t noticed a great deal of agitation on this issue from Christian leaders in Europe. That is true.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Walter Ruby with Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
RUBY: Yes, hello, Jeffrey. Thank you for your article.
I wanted to follow up on Maha Elgenaidi’s point, and you ending where she was raising the possibility of a Muslim-Jewish alliance. And you said, well, wouldn’t it be lovely? In fact, much of it is already happening in the—and I’m talking about a group called the Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders, which is affiliated with our own Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. In the wake of the Paris march, 70 Muslims and Jews marched together with a banner “We refuse to be enemies,” was one example. But there are many others. A member of the—a Muslim member of the European Parliament spoke out in September of last year, before all this, appealing for the Jews not to leave Europe. And another example—there are many examples, but in Florence, you know, you have the rabbi of Florence, Rabbi Joseph Levi, has a very close relationship—by the way, Rabbi Joseph Levi, born in Jerusalem—has a very close relationship with the imam of Florence, who was born in Hebron. And they—Rabbi Levi has used his influence to try to help to get a larger mosque for the Muslims in Florence, who obviously outnumber the Jews many, many times. So, there is a basis there.
There’s also the fact that there is—one—we could—certainly can and should work together against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. There’s also been the issue—issues like efforts to ban male circumcisions for boys under the age of consent that passed the Council of Europe Parliament last year, the issue of ritual slaughter, where Jews and Muslims have worked together, have petitioned European governments on this issue. So, I would suggest that your feeling somehow that it’s sort of the governments—well, you know, I mean, you mentioned—(inaudible)—and Merkel, also the good, but I—what about, you know, Jewish leaders, you know, and Muslim leaders reaching out to each other and following someone like Rabbi Levi, who is also giving Muslims the message, look, we’re here for you, too? We understand. And I—you know, I could cite—I won’t, you know, take the time, but I could cite 10 or 20 examples of imams who have reached out to the Jewish community in—over the last year or two. So, why do you give such short shrift to this possibility?
GOLDBERG: I don’t think I do.
RUBY: Well, you barely mentioned it in your piece.
GOLBERG: I don’t think that any group of imams—I don’t think any group of—let me finish. I don’t think any group of imams and rabbis can stop ISIS terror cells from blowing up synagogues, so that’s a separate—that’s a separate problem. I don’t give short shrift to it. It’s great, and I encourage more of it. I just think that the daily life of—in the daily lives of Jews that I’ve been with in hard-pressed parts of France and other places, I don’t see that they’re feeling, A, much in the way of this kind of intercommunal love; and, B, I think they feel so put upon and so oppressed that their leaders and their rabbis don’t feel that they need—don’t feel that they can spend a great deal of time doing outreach on Islamophobia when they feel that they’re victims of Muslim anti-Semitism.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Don Smedley with Rivendell Institute.
SMEDLEY: Yeah, hi. Thank you very much.
I was wondering if you might comment on some of the issues that have been taking place on U.S. campuses like—lately, like UCLA and the recent incident at Stanford where students have been questioned about their faith. Particularly Jewish students have been the ones in the spotlight mostly—
SMEDLEY: —where people are trying to parse out those differences between political issues versus faith-based. And it seems like—it seems like it’s been more anti-Semitic in the way it’s been framed, but I was wondering if you could comment on that and what you think about it, and do you see any trends?
GOLBERG: Yeah, I mean, I have. And I’m actually going to UCLA next week, so I’m curious to ask about it. The—you know, this is a topic not for the remaining eight minutes of this call, because it’s way too complicated to unpack in a short period of time. Yes, you do see on U.S. campuses some of the sort of dialogue or controversies that you see in broader European society about the demonization of Israel. Now, I’m not obviously saying that Israel is not, A, a nation state like any other and therefore ripe for criticism based on its politics; or, B, that it’s inappropriate to criticize Israeli activities that you don’t like. What is interesting and what I guess is a disturbing aspect of what’s happening on campus is not only the demonization of Israel, the scapegoating of Israel as some sort of uniquely evil country, the only country that some of these student groups are demanding that we boycott and divest from and have sanctions on, but the way in which Jewish students who are seeking some kind of middle ground on this are being targeted, in a way, for excortication or for exclusion or for the kind of questioning that you were talking about—the assumption that a Jewish person can’t serve on a student government because issues related to Israel might come up, and therefore, they are genetically biased, or something. So, I don’t know enough about it to say how serious an issue or how broad an issue it is, but it does reflect in a way—even in just the disproportionality that you see in the conversation in Europe about Israel.
You know, and just this is slightly on topic, slightly off—you know, in the Gaza War last summer, huge demonstrations across Europe, a complicated war, to my mind, but obviously a large number of Palestinian casualties, and a large number of Palestinian casualties provoked an intense response. A larger number of Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian Civil War than killed in the Gaza War, and you don’t hear a word. You just don’t hear a word—which—in European capitals, on American campuses, and it makes me—it underscores something that I’ve long suspected about the Middle East conflict and the way people around the world understand it, which is that people are not actually interested in the suffering of Palestinians. They’re interested in the behavior of Jews, because if they were interested in the suffering of Palestinians, there would be mass demonstrations across Europe about the slaughter of Palestinians by both ISIS and the Assad regime. And so, I think what you’re seeing on campus is what you see in some cases in Europe, which is a kind of almost comical disproportionately and pathology of the way this issue is talked about, as opposed to sort of dealing with it as a political issue, as a foreign policy issue, in a slightly less emotional and sort of scapegoating way.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Joel Meyers of the Rabbinical Assembly.
MEYERS: Hi, thank you.
Two things. First, I’m struck by the fact that when talking about this issue, there has to constantly be this refrain: Of course, we don’t mean we can’t criticize Israel. That, in itself, says a great deal about having a discussion about this particular subject, whether it’s anti-Semitism or Israel.
Secondly, I’m wondering if while we talk about Jews leaving Europe, we shouldn’t be talking more about the pressure on European governments who have a responsibility to in fact protect citizens of their country. And the track record of European leaders is, I don’t know, at best ambivalent in many instances. And I wonder if you could comment about that
GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, I wouldn’t go as far as you go to say that. I mean, it depends country to country. But, look, after the kosher market massacre, the French government put 6,000 soldiers in front of Jewish institutions to protect them. Now, that of course is a sign of societal failure, not—the fact that you need in France, a first-world democracy, a rich powerful first world democracy you need to put actual soldiers with automatic weapons in front of a Jewish school means that something has gone awry in the society, but the governmental response is what you wanted—what you would have wanted it to be.
The long-term response is something different—and we talked about that a little earlier. And I don’t know what the answers are to—you know, to—about deradicalization, about absorption and assimilation of Muslim immigrants, about fighting—about fighting the demonization of Israel, about—you know, which relies on sort of classic tropes and older habits of thought that we associate with Europe. So, you know, obviously, there’s a lot more to be done. And, you know, you raise an interesting point. And again, I’m a journalist. I’m not overly prescriptive about it, but I would say that, you know, when Jewish organizations—and I would hope Christian organizations and Muslim organizations as well—when they speak to European leaders, either there or here, they’re meeting with ambassadors with Washington, that they—that they—that they highlight the issue and that they say, you know, like, we are—we’re watching this. And the way—you know, if our co-religionists fear for their lives in your country, then your country’s a failure. And letting that be known in a kind of way couldn’t obviously hurt at all.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Frances Flannery with the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace.
FLANNERY: Hello. I was glad to hear you mention Golden Dawn, because in our study of terrorism, obviously, Jews are scapegoated not just in extremist Islamist narratives but in Christian identity narratives of domestic terrorism. And getting back to Europe, thinking about Anders Behring Breivik, it’s a pretty constant trope, and it’s Jews and Freemasons—and often Jews, Muslims and Freemasons, and sometimes the Vatican is thrown in there—as the scapegoat of some sort of super conspiracy. And so, it’s certainly not limited to the kind of terrorism that we’ve been talking about with respect to ISIS. Given that it is so pervasive—
GOLDBERG: But the violence—but the violence is. The violence is, and that’s very important to underscore—that, you know, Golden—nobody from Golden Dawn has gone into a Jewish school and shot students to death.
FLANNERY: Right, right.
GOLDBERG: I mean, God forbid they should ever do that. I’m not defending Golden Dawn, obviously.
GOLDBERG: But I just—let’s not—let’s not downplay what’s actually happening.
FLANNERY: Without downplaying anything, certainly there’s been terrorism against Jews in the U.S. and in South America. But my question is actually whether you think that there are any opportunities for intra-Jewish cooperation. We’ve been talking a lot about interreligious dialogue and interethnic cooperation, but what about intra-Jewish cooperation to present maybe a more coherent message about what Judaism is and who Jews are—just to the broader base public, given that anti-Semitism—and we would agree on this—that anti-Semitism is so widespread and pervasive amongst marginalized extremist groups.
GOLDBERG: I don’t know how to—I’m not a rabbi or a Jewish leader. I don’t know how to answer your question. I take a somewhat cynical view of anti-Semitism, which is that it’s not—it’s—obviously like any prejudice, it is not—it is mainly immune to logic and reason and data and facts. And I don’t—I don’t particularly feel compelled personally to go explain to people who don’t like me why they should like me. I’m comfortable being Jewish in the way I am, and it’s all out there for you to study if you want. And I’m not sure that that’s—I mean, again, I’m just giving you my personal reaction. If I were a politician, I would try to avoid this question entirely, but I’m not. So, I don’t know. So, I don’t know the answer to that. I just know that in my study of anti-Semitism and coverage of anti-Semitism, that, you know, yes, you can point out to people that we, you know, don’t actually with the Freemasons control world finance and we didn’t blow up the World Trade Center, but people who are susceptible to the virus of prejudice are not always the—not always people who will say, oh, I see your point and thank you for the data. So, I don’t know if it’s—if that’s a hugely useful exercise. I would say, yeah, generally, more broadly, explaining in churches, for instance, based on the previous question, you know, this is the nature of the prejudice and this is why people become prejudiced and this is why people become prejudiced against Jews in particular—I think that’s probably a useful exercise.
FLANNERY: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, Jeffrey. I think we’ve run out of time. And I know we had many, many more questions on the line than we could get to, and I apologize to all of you for not being able to take your calls, your questions, but we need to end. And this has been a terrific hour. And your work is so interesting. We will—we look forward to continuing to follow your writing that you come out with. So, thank you very much.
GOLDBERG: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you for the time.
FASKIANOS: And we encourage you all to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter, @CFR_Religion, for announcements about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources. I also encourage you to follow Jeffrey Goldberg at @JeffreyGoldberg. That’s his hashtag. So, thank you all again, and look forward to your participation in future discussions.