Yes, it’s fair to compare the plight of the Syrians to the plight of the Jews. Here’s why

Josh Zeitz writes: Peter Shulman, an associate professor of American history at Case Western Reserve University, [recently] caused a political stir when he tweeted results from a Fortune Magazine poll dated July 1938. “What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?” Fortune asked its survey audience. Over two-thirds of respondents answered in the negative.

Shulman’s tweet went viral, igniting a spirited debate about whether opposition to welcoming Syrian refugees is morally or situationally equivalent to American indifference in the 1930s toward Jewish victims of the Nazi state. In what can only be described as a sharp reversal of prevailing norms, many conservatives, who these days seem inclined to liken every government overreach to Nazism, are incensed by the analogy, while many liberals, who have grown accustomed to rolling their eyes each time that Bill Kristol invokes the Munich Agreement, are sticking by it.

So is the analogy a good one? In short, yes. Contrary to what conservatives are saying these days, language commonly invoked in opposition to admitting Syrian refugees bears striking similarity to arguments against providing safe harbor to Jewish refugees in the late 1930s. Then as now, skepticism of religious and ethnic minorities and concerns that refugees might pose a threat to national security deeply influenced the debate over American immigration policy. For conservatives, this likeness is an inconvenient truth.

But the analogy doesn’t stop there. There may be no historic precedent for the rise of the Islamic State, but many current-day conditions in the Middle East are reminiscent of the broader context in which the Holocaust occurred. Europe in the 1930s and 1940s witnessed a systemic breakdown of national borders and civil society; brutal ethnic cleansing and population transfers; and a refugee crisis that strained the world’s creativity and resources. These human-made disasters do not just befall majority-Muslim countries.

For liberals, this raises its own inconvenient truth. Even had the United States admitted a large number of Jewish refugees in 1938, the underlying forces tearing Europe apart would not have abated. Winning this particular argument is important, but it does not resolve the larger challenge facing Syria or Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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Diaspora Jews value communities’ unity more than connection to Israel, poll indicates

Ynet reports: The world’s Jews feel secure in their countries, including in Europe: In a survey conducted among Jewish community leaders in different places around the world, 77 percent reported that their members do not feel threatened in their places of residence, including 56 percent of European Jews.

Only 21 percent said their community members felt unsafe – about half of them due to the growth in anti-Semitism, and others because of the anger towards Israel, local criminal crime, the economic situation, the immigration problem in Europe, etc.

Ahead of the 9th World Conference of Jewish Community Centers (JCC Global), which is being held in Jerusalem this week, JCC leaders were asked whether the current situation in Israel affected them. The findings were surprising: Forty-six percent said the community’s sense of security was unaffected by the current round of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, while 35% said they felt less secure. Ten percent even reported a higher sense of personal safety recently.

The interviewees were also asked to rank the Diaspora Jewry’s challenges. They revealed that the communities’ unity is more important to them than the connection with Israel, preventing assimilation and fighting anti-Semitism. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu, the Grand Mufti and the Holocaust: why it is important to get the historical facts right

By Rainer Schulze, University of Essex

In a speech to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on October 20, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Haj Amin al-Husseini, former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, of “inspiring the Holocaust” and urging Hitler to exterminate the Jewish people.

Netanyahu then explained that he wanted “to show that the father of the Palestinian nation wanted to destroy Jews even without occupation.” These comments led to widespread condemnation and outrage. But who was al-Husseini, and what was his role and involvement in the Holocaust? Rainer Schulze sets the record straight.

Who was the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini?

Born in the mid-1890s, and appointed Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 (Grand Mufti in 1922), Haj Amin al-Husseini was one of the most prominent nationalist Arab figures in Palestine during the time of the British Mandate. He opposed both British rule in Palestine, and the Jewish-Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland in the region, aiming instead to establish a pan-Arab federation or state with himself as the spiritual leader.

His political activism led him to organise and support protests against Jewish immigration and Jewish settlements, which peaked in the 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine. In 1937, in order to evade arrest, he fled Palestine and took up residence first in the French Mandate of Lebanon and then in Iraq. In October 1941, he escaped to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

[Read more…]

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After Netanyahu claims Hitler didn’t want to kill the Jews, Germany insists it holds full responsibility for the Holocaust

Reuters reports: The German government said on Wednesday that responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Germans, after Israel’s prime minister sparked controversy before a visit to Berlin by saying a Muslim elder had convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate Jews.

“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilisation that was the Holocaust,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks.

“This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers’

The New York Times reports: Israeli historians and opposition politicians on Wednesday joined Palestinians in denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for saying it was a Palestinian, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jews during World War II.

Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the Zionist Congress on Tuesday night that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews.” The prime minister said that the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine.

“ ‘So what should I do with them?’ ” Mr. Netanyahu quoted Hitler as asking Mr. Husseini. “He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”

Prof. Meir Litvak, a historian at Tel Aviv University, called the speech “a lie” and “a disgrace.” Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, a specialist of German history at Hebrew University, said, “With this, Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers.”

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition in the Israeli Parliament, said the accusation was “a dangerous historical distortion,” and he demanded that Mr. Netanyahu “correct it immediately.” [Continue reading…]

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European Jews have no intention of fleeing their homelands

Anshel Pfeffer reports: ‘The Cossacks aren’t coming’ – a series of dispatches from Jewish communities across Europe – was born from a feeling that the true story of Jewish life in Europe is not being told.

It is obscured in both Israeli and international media due to a, perhaps understandable, focus on terror attacks and perception of a rising tide of anti-Semitism washing over the continent. The narrative which has emerged in recent years, to an increasing degree since last summer’s conflict in Gaza and in the wake of the Paris killings in January, has been one of fearful and endangered Jews on the brink of tragedy – that can only be averted by mass emigration to safer shores.

Much of the reporting on European Jewry in recent months has been tinged with disbelief: Who are these foolhardy Jews that have failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust and are once again ignoring the coming storm in this cursed continent?

It fails to take into account that for a million and a half Jews across Europe, this is home. They are part of the social fabric and national identity of the countries where they were born and continue choosing to live their lives. While thousands of communities were wiped out in the Holocaust and many others have since drastically dwindled in numbers, Jews still live openly throughout Europe, both carrying on traditions and creatively innovating new and fascinating Jewish experiences.

Very little of this has been reported, and the complex challenges the Jews do face, are routinely reduced to the simplistic formulations of physical threat from the new Islamization and a resurgence of old anti-Semitism. Most of the coverage has also disregarded how in the wider upheaval occurring now in Europe, the Jews are not victims of change, but also have a key role to play in the continent’s future.

Ten features cannot provide a broad picture of such a wide range of communities, each facing its own particular set of circumstances and carving out a unique place in wider national identities. It is intended to present a series of snapshots, illustrating how the Jews of Europe are not only responding to tragedy and intimidation, but also busy building a future. In addition to my research in five countries, chosen to give a cross-section of regions and Jewish populations of different size and temperament, the insights are informed by my reporting for Haaretz over the last eight years from all the major Jewish communities in Europe and many of the smaller ones as well.
The Jewish cemetary in Krakow. Photo by Moshe Gilad

It is an attempt at a clear-eyed appraisal of the dangers facing Europe’s Jews but also an optimistic view of their future; which is why my journey began down the road from Auschwitz, at the bright and new Jewish Community Center in Krakow. [Continue reading parts 1-10…]

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Norway’s Muslims form protective human ring around synagogue

Reuters reports: More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million. [Continue reading…]

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Danish chief rabbi responds to Netanyahu: Terror is not a reason to move to Israel

Haaretz: Denmark’s chief rabbi on Sunday said he was “disappointed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call on European Jews to immigrate to Israel, following the double shootings in Copenhagen a day earlier, including one on a synagogue that left a young Jewish guard dead.

“Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” said Rabbi Jair Melchior.

Netanyahu issued his call for immigration hours after the attack, telling ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem: “Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish. This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe – Israel is your home.”

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Auschwitz remembered

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The Holocaust’s forgotten victims: The 5 million non-Jewish people killed by the Nazis

The Huffington Post reports: Six million Jewish people were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945, and the Jews are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the Holocaust.

But the Nazis targeted many other groups: for their race, beliefs or what they did.

Historians estimate the total number of deaths to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters. [Continue reading…]

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The rise of antisemitism and Jewish extremism in Europe

Christopher Dickey: “Can you criticize Israel’s military actions and a lot of its policies without being antisemitic? Yes. Can you do it without having some people accuse you of antisemitism? No, you can’t.”

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Antisemitism on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis’

The Guardian reports: In the space of just one week last month, according to Crif, the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organisations, eight synagogues were attacked. One, in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, was firebombed by a 400-strong mob. A kosher supermarket and pharmacy were smashed and looted; the crowd’s chants and banners included “Death to Jews” and “Slit Jews’ throats”. That same weekend, in the Barbes neighbourhood of the capital, stone-throwing protesters burned Israeli flags: “Israhell”, read one banner.

In Germany last month, molotov cocktails were lobbed into the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal – previously destroyed on Kristallnacht – and a Berlin imam, Abu Bilal Ismail, called on Allah to “destroy the Zionist Jews … Count them and kill them, to the very last one.” Bottles were thrown through the window of an antisemitism campaigner in Frankfurt; an elderly Jewish man was beaten up at a pro-Israel rally in Hamburg; an Orthodox Jewish teenager punched in the face in Berlin. In several cities, chants at pro-Palestinian protests compared Israel’s actions to the Holocaust; other notable slogans included: “Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone,” and “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”

Across Europe, the conflict in Gaza is breathing new life into some very old, and very ugly, demons. This is not unusual; police and Jewish civil rights organisations have long observed a noticeable spike in antisemitic incidents each time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares. During the three weeks of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, France recorded 66 antisemitic incidents, including attacks on Jewish-owned restaurants and synagogues and a sharp increase in anti-Jewish graffiti.But according to academics and Jewish leaders, this time it is different. More than simply a reaction to the conflict, they say, the threats, hate speech and violent attacks feel like the expression of a much deeper and more widespread antisemitism, fuelled by a wide range of factors, that has been growing now for more than a decade. [Continue reading…]

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Jewish businesses in Paris are being looted and destroyed by protesters over Israel Gaza offensive

AFP reports: France’s interior minister Monday slammed “intolerable” acts of anti-Semitism after a rally against Israel’s Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.

Sunday’s demonstration in the north Paris suburb of Sarcelles was the third to deteriorate in a week, as shops were looted and riot police lobbed tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd.

The rally had been banned amid concern the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in Paris.

“When you head for the synagogue, when you burn a corner shop because it is Jewish-owned, you are committing an anti-Semitic act,” Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters outside the Sarcelles synagogue.

In the Paris suburb sometimes nicknamed “little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews, the rally descended into chaos when dozens of youth — some masked — set fire to bins and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs.

Eighteen people were arrested after looters wrecked shops, including a kosher foodstore and a funeral home as protesters shouted: “Fuck Israel!”. [Continue reading…]

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The attack at the Jewish museum in Belgium highlights what?

Following the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen who is suspected of killing four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium two weeks, the “big eye-opener … is that he had recently returned from Syria,” writes Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com.

Seemingly, the oft-repeated predictions that Western Muslims, radicalized in Syria, are destined to come home and terrorize their fellow citizens, are coming true.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

French President François Hollande confirmed that a suspect had been arrested and repeated his country’s determination to do all it could to stop radicalized youths from carrying out attacks.

French media reports said Nemmouche was also suspected of having stayed with jihadist groups last year while in Syria, where Islamist insurgents have been playing a major part in the three-year uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Muhammad Merah, the Franco- Algerian who died in a police shootout in Toulouse in March 2012 after killing three soldiers and four Jews, three of them children, also had links with Islamist insurgents. His sister, Souad, has since disappeared and is believed to be in Syria with a companion and her four children.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said that “there must be a lot of Merahs coming back [to France] from Syria.”

According to intelligence specialists, the largest number of European jihadists is in Belgium, a country with a sizable number of North African Arab immigrants.

It’s disturbing that the perspective of some members of the antiwar movement, the Western political mainstream, and the anti-immigrant European far right have come into such close alignment.

But buried in the Jerusalem Post report is a detail that should have garnered more attention: Nemmouche’s own attorney’s explanation about the radicalization of his client.

Salifa Badaoui said that Nemmouche “was not frequenting the mosque [and] was not talking about religion at all….He became radical only in jail, after falling into minor criminality during his adolescence.” Nemmouche served time in prison in 2009 and 2012.

In other words, if we are to understand the process of radicalization that may have led to the murders in Brussels, we should be giving as much if not more attention to Nemmouche’s experiences in France rather than those in Syria.

Last year, Reuters reported:

In France, the path to radical Islam often begins with a minor offence that throws a young man into an overcrowded, violent jail and produces a hardened convert ready for jihad.

With the country on heightened security alert since January when French troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali, authorities are increasingly worried about home-grown militants emerging from France’s own jails.

But despite government efforts to tackle the problem, conditions behind bars are still turning young Muslims into easy prey for jhadist recruiters, according to guards, prison directors, ex-inmates, chaplains and crime experts interviewed over the last few months by Reuters.

“I have parents who come to me and say: ‘My son went in a dealer and came out a fundamentalist’,” said Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque in Drancy, a gritty suburb north of Paris.

As petty criminals become radicalized in jail, the society to which they return is inclined to reinforce their experience of alienation and solidify their ideological conclusions.
In 2012, France 24 reported:

French Muslims have become the target of a marked increase in Islamophobic violence and actions, as well as incendiary statements by politicians, over the last two years, according to a report by a leading anti-racism observatory.

The number of racist acts against Muslims in France is increasing “alarmingly”, according to the country’s National Observatory of Islamophobia, whose president has called for overt Islamophobia to be taken as seriously as anti-Semitism, which is a criminal offence in France.

According to a report by the Observatory, which claims to fight “all forms of racism and xenophobia”, “in 2011 the number [of anti-Muslim attacks] was up 34% on the previous year … but what is happening in 2012 is alarming. Between January and the end of October there were 175 reported Islamophobic acts, a 42% increase compared with the same period in 2011.”

The report highlighted the occupation of a building site of a new mosque in Poitiers, near Paris, by 74 members of the extreme-right splinter group “Generation Identity”, who chanted hostile “warlike” slogans against Islam and Muslims.

The Observatory’s President Abdallah Zekri told FRANCE 24 that the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in France could be partly explained by “the tense socio-political atmosphere in France being driven by a resurgence of the far right”.

The huge success of Le Pen’s National Front in this May’s elections suggests that European leaders have less reason to highlight the threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria than they should fear the huge wave of xenophobia now sweeping the continent.

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Israel pushes West Bank toward economic disaster

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that the highest levels of anti-Semitism in the Middle East exist in the West Bank and Gaza.

These are some of the views cited as evidence of anti-Semitism among Palestinians:

Jews have too much power in the business world.
Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.
Jews think they are better than other people.
People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.

If you’re living in territory that is held under military control by Jews, and you’re frequently abused by Jews operating military checkpoints, and your economy is being strangled by a Jewish-controlled government, is it anti-Semitic to fail to recognize that the Israelis you encounter every day and who are the representatives of the Jewish state, happen not to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole?

If the ADL or anyone else really wants to effectively combat anti-Semitism, they should perhaps pay less attention to the prejudices of non-Jews and focus more on what has become the engine fueling contemporary anti-Semitism: the actions and policies of the State of Israel.

Akiva Eldar writes: One should not put too much diplomatic stock into the threats of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sever ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA), in reaction to the inclusion of Hamas in the new Palestinian government. Even when Hamas was a pariah in Ramallah, the nine months of negotiations did not generate anything near a permanent arrangement.

The diplomatic damage will be nothing compared to the economic implications of severing contact with the PA. Turning the West Bank into an economic twin of the Gaza Strip will result in a similar situation in terms of security, as well. Initial signs of this are already evident in a new-old phenomenon of attacking Israeli journalists covering the occupied territories.

To enable Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take part in the “process,” taxpayers in the donor countries Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) have transferred some $2 billion of their finest money into the PA’s coffers. Absent even a semblance of negotiations on a solution of the conflict, the management of the conflict will become a mission impossible.

The Republican majority in the US Congress will take advantage of the alliance with Hamas to reduce or even completely void the line item of aid to the PA, which in any case is not a particular favorite with the conservatives. The heads of the EU states will have a hard time justifying to their voters continued support for the defunct peace process.

Cutting off diplomatic ties, which will damage and perhaps put an end to the security coordination, is expected to deter the handful of foreign businessmen who are considering investments in research and development in the West Bank.

An official death certificate of the September 1993 diplomatic agreement known as the “Oslo Accord” will also ring the death knell, in theory and in practice, for its economic appendix known as the Paris Protocol, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary these days. The agreement included joint taxation by Israel and the PA; its legal significance is a lack of economic boundaries between the two partners, whereas its practical significance is continued dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli one. The agreement also anchored the total Palestinian dependence on Israel in everything relating to trade with the world. Implementing the “closure and blockade” method that Israel applies against the Hamas Gaza government, also on the Fatah-Hamas government in the West Bank, will turn all of the occupied territories into one big slum.

Nothing symbolizes this dependence and the implications of severing ties more than the danger of cutting off electricity. [Continue reading…]

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