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Anti-Semitism Means The Future Of Europe's Jews Is Under Threat, Says Natan Sharansky

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At a time when the population of the country's major cities spend time everyday in bomb shelters, young people are called up weekly as army reservists, and when popular opinion of the nation is at its lowest ebb, it seems a strange time to want to emigrate there.

But Israel has seen a huge wave of new immigrants since the beginning of its offensive in Gaza three weeks ago, a war that has killed 1,300 Palestinians and 58 Israelis. And the main reason for European migrants making the journey, according to the man charged with bringing more Jews to Israel, is anti-Semitism.

"In this three weeks of war, we have had 2,600 new immigrants arrive. We have had more new immigrants than missiles," Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the country's former deputy prime minister, told HuffPost UK. "None of them cancelled."

sharansky

Former Soviet political prisoner, Israeli politician and chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky

"We have 10,000 young Jews, mainly from America but some from Europe who are coming here to study different programmes, for 10 days, six months, a year. Only 2% have returned home, on the insistence of their parents. More and more keep coming.

"We are a small island of freedom in this boiling Middle East, it feels safer than Europe, which doesn’t seem like it can defend its own ideals."

Sharansky, a former Soviet political prisoner, firmly believes that European Jewry's day are numbered, and that more and more will head for Israel. "The way things are developing in Europe, Jews will increasingly start to feel there is no future there. The number of French Jews leaving is very symbolic," he said.

Statistics released today by the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, show that anti-Jewish attacks and abuse shot up by 36% in the first six months of 2014, with experts predicting they will climb even further once incidents triggered by the Middle East conflict are included. More than 100 incidents targeting Jews, most linked to Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip, have been recorded in the last month.

And UK Jews have not suffered anything on the same scale of those in France, which is Europe's biggest Jewish population and the second largest Diaspora in the world. The Paris Jewish district of Sarcelles was vandalised last week, with shops and Jewish-owned businesses attacked and burned, by protesters who reportedly shouted 'Gas the Jews'. They were driven back from the synagogue by French police with tear gas.

“Jews in France should not be afraid but many of them are afraid,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France's Inter Radio last week, acknowledging the fears that have driven some to emigrate to Israel. From France, 2,830 Jews have emigrated since the beginning of 2014, a rise of 249% from the same time last year. Italy has seen an 88% rise in the number of Jewish people emigrating, and Belgium 38%.

JAFI told HuffPost that they expect the number of immigrants from France to top 5,000 by the end of 2014, marking the first time that a western Jewish community will have 1% of its Jews emigrate to Israel in a single year.

"There is a real increasing feeling of insecurity, and it has become stronger in the past three years," Sharansky said. "Events like the tragedy in Toulouse [where three children and a rabbi were shot at a Jewish school by an Islamist extremist] have had an effect.

"That has amplified the feeling, but it goes back further. In 2002 or 2003, rabbis of Paris were already advising their congregation not to wear the kippah [skull cap] in public, to put a hat on instead so they won’t look Jewish.

"Now we have a whole generation in Europe who believes you should not show your Judaism in public, on the streets of the capital. That fear has got stronger and stronger."

The Israeli idea that anti-Semitism in France, and in Europe, is so overwhelming terrible that Jews should be packing their cases and fleeing immediately has not always gone down well with European communities. In 2004, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged all French Jews to move to Israel immediately to escape rising anti-Semitism. France's foreign ministry was infuriated, but so were French Jewish leaders who said that the comments were "unhelpful".

"It's not up to him to decide for us," said Theo Klein, honorary president of Crif, which represents French Jewish organisations, on France's Channel 2.

Sharansky disagrees. "For Jews who want to maintain their religion, and keep a close connection with Israel, there is no place for them to feel comfortable [in Europe]," he said. "Now, Britain has to decide if it even wants to be in Europe, and I think British Jews are able to preserve their identity better, but it could easily head in the same direction as other places."

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Labour MP John Mann, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, said he was concerned by Sharansky's comments. "It to Europe's shame that Jews in some countries are feeling so threatened that they wish to relocate," he said. "Thankfully, Britain has some of the best race relations laws in the world and we are leaders in the global fight against anti-Semitism. I will continue to work with parliamentary colleagues to ensure we retain our position as a country that ably protects its Jewish and other minority communities."

Sharansky said he felt most Jews were intimidated by perceived anti-Semitism amongst their European Muslim neighbours, as well as "the traditional far right-wing, who have always been anti-Semitic".

"But on top of that, Jews had historically and naturally felt very much at home in the liberal, progressive parts of European society, they were part of developing that," he added. "Now, the ideology of liberalism has become bound-up with multiculturalism, against religion, against nationalism.

"These two forces [anti-Zionist campaigners on the Left, and Muslim radicals] are not allies, but they inevitably are co-operating and work in one direction. One side hates Jews as a race, the other blames Israel for being racist. Unless this changes, Jews will not continue to live in Europe.

"Europe's new ideology comes from John Lennon; let’s see the world without anyone having religion, or cultural identity, without state, without nationality. Europe has embraced this."

"Israel is proud of its national character, it wants its own borders, and that is a relic, as far as European liberals are concerned and they don’t like it," he continued.

"I believe that the values of national states and freedom gives people a reason to come together to fight for their values. Of course, if you put nationalism above democracy then you have Nazism.

"But if you sacrifice your national identity, then you have a society that cannot protect itself from fundamentalism and extremism."

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