The ‘New Normal’?

In Regional Analysis, Thought by Judith Bergman

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(Originally published on Israel Hayom)

In Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian novel, “Submission” (2015), which takes place in an imaginary France ‎in 2022, when the Muslim Brotherhood has won elections and rules the country in alliance with the Socialists, the non-Jewish protagonist, a professor at the Sorbonne, tells his Jewish student, who is escaping to Israel with her family, that there ‎can be “no Israel for me.” This is one of the most poignant observations in the book.‎

Another is the protagonist’s reflection that the increasing violence, even the gunshots in the streets of Paris as a ‎civil war threatens to explode during the run-up to the elections, has become the ‎new normal: something that everyone is resigned to as an inevitable fact, barely reported in the ‎media and treated as unremarkable by his fellow lecturers. Even after the Muslim Brotherhood wins the ‎elections, and the Sorbonne is turned into an Islamic university, with all that this entails, his colleagues treat ‎this development as nothing out of the ordinary. Houllebecq’s indictment against the silence and ‎complicity of his fellow intellectuals in the face of the Islamist encroachments on French society is ‎scathing. As a matter of course, in the new France, where freedom of speech comes at a prohibitive ‎price, Houllebecq now has to live under 24-hour police protection. “Submission,” by the way, was published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.‎

The resignation and the precarious pretense that everything is normal in the face of rapidly deteriorating ‎circumstances, is a predictable human reaction, testimony to the sometimes practical but lamentable human capacity for adaptation to most circumstances, whatever they may be. ‎Historically, Jews have excelled in this discipline, simply because they had no choice. Just like Houllebecq’s ‎protagonist, they had nowhere else to go. However, whereas there “can be no Israel” for the lost ‎professor, today, unlike the last time Jews were threatened on a large scale in Europe, there is an Israel ‎for the Jews. Uniquely among all the peoples of Europe, the Jews have a welcoming place to go. ‎Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Western European Jews choose to stay put in Europe.‎

In 2015, 30,000 Jews made aliyah from all over the world. Almost 22,000 of these arrivals were from ‎France, Russia and Ukraine, and approximately 3,700 new immigrants made aliyah from the United States and ‎Canada. Other countries included Argentina and Venezuela, but Western Europe, outside of France, only ‎accounted for the tiniest contribution to these figures.‎

From the Netherlands, home to an estimated 50,000 Jews, only 96 Jews made aliyah in ‎‎2015, still the highest figure recorded in a decade. In Belgium, which saw an Islamic terrorist attack on the ‎Jewish museum in 2014, only 287 Jews made aliyah last year out of an estimated Jewish population of ‎‎40,000. Aliyah from the Scandinavian countries was equally negligible in 2015, despite a terrorist attack on ‎the synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015 and a growing anti-circumcision lobby in all the Scandinavian ‎countries, threatening to literally make a continued Jewish presence in those countries untenable. In ‎‎2014, kosher slaughter was made illegal in Denmark. In Sweden and Norway it was already outlawed. ‎

In the Netherlands, the beginning of 2016 saw an extraordinarily savage anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish ‎octogenarian couple in Amsterdam, who were robbed and beaten nearly to death while the Muslims ‎who perpetrated the attack called them “dirty Jews.” The couple had to be confined to an old-age home, ‎having sustained permanent injuries. Incredibly, the Dutch media, aided by the prosecution, upon reporting ‎the crime, chose not to mention the strong anti-Semitic element of the hate crime. Anti-Semitism was ‎also reported to be on the rise in Dutch schools, a dire foreboding for the future. ‎

The situation all over the European continent is depressingly similar with the occasional fluctuations in the ‎rise and fall of anti-Semitic incidents, but with a clear and persistent anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli ‎sentiment that makes itself felt in everyday life. Recently, the president of the Jewish society at the ‎London School of Oriental and African Studies explained that “we are too scared to go anywhere ‎so we walk in a group to the station. People come up to me and say, ‘I heard you hate Palestinians.'”‎

Jews are particularly at risk from the rise of jihad on the continent, but they are also existentially ‎threatened by the anti-Semitic campaigns against circumcision and kosher slaughter, which often have a broad ‎popular base that defies any categorization of left and right. The Social Democratic government of Helle Thorning-Schmidt brought about the prohibition against kosher slaughter in Denmark in 2014.‎

Added to this is the threat from far-right groups, which is sometimes exaggerated yet ‎nevertheless very much there. In the Netherlands, for instance, a Jewish organization, the Center for ‎Information and Documentation on Israel, was pressing charges in May against supporters of the ‎Dutch soccer champion PSV Eindhoven. A video was posted of PSV fans singing, “My dad was in the ‎commandos, my mother in the SS. Together they burned Jews, for Jews burn the best.” A PSV ‎spokesperson expressed his horror at the video. ‎

Nevertheless, Dutch high school graduates at a graduation party this month at Elde College in the ‎town of Schijndel, 60 miles southeast of Amsterdam, broke out in a song with almost the same lyrics. As ‎they approached the party, several graduates sang, “Together we’ll burn Jews, because Jews burn the ‎best.”

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, whose home in Amersfoort has been attacked five times in recent years, says ‎that the frequency of anti-Semitic chants and other hate crimes “means Dutch Jews are less inclined to ‎report hate crimes, when they occur around them all the time.” In other words, hate crimes have become ‎the new normal, just as in Houllebecq’s dystopia, the violent riots in the streets of Paris and the ‎incremental Islamization of France became the new and accepted normal. The status quo ‎gradually transforms itself from what is first seen as unbelievable and deeply shocking to something that is considered quite ordinary. “Only six years ago, we were profoundly shocked ‎when two young men screamed ‘Heil Hitler’ during a commemoration ceremony at Vught,” said Jacobs, ‎‎”But today, this wouldn’t be so shocking anymore. It is happening all the time in the Netherlands.” ‎

This is perhaps inevitable, a function of the plasticity of human nature and its ability to adapt to even that ‎which is most abhorrent, but it is also truly lamentable. Unlike Houllebecq’s professor, these Jews have a ‎place to go, no matter how imperfect and difficult they consider Israel to be compared to their often materially ‎comfortable lives in Western Europe. ‎

The questions inevitably arise: Why put up with the miseries of the European continent and the constant ‎and incremental assaults on Jewish freedom there, whether they come in the form of jihad or “native” ‎European anti-Semitism? Why suffer the indignity of hiding their identities for fear of verbal or ‎physical attacks when they can be open and free in Israel? 


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