Israel, the Jews and the European refugee crisis
Four million Syrian refugees are now registered in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Within Syria there are 7.6 million displaced persons.
By Manfred Gerstenfeld
3 October 2015
Published in The Jerusalem Post
Major European crises usually have important aspects which are of specific relevance to Israel and the Jews. The Ukrainian and Greek crises serve to illustrate this point. Particularly relevant aspects can already be seen in the fast-developing European refugee crisis. This is due to the number of people involved, their great difference in culture from Europeans, their diversity and the rapidity of their influx into the European Union. Some key elements relevant to Israel and the Jews are already manifest, and others will become so in due course.
Israel has to view the European Union’s mishandling of the current crisis very carefully. The EU has an attitude of moral imperialism, especially where Israel is concerned. It delivers regular admonitions and has set itself up as high-handed moral arbiter, judge and jury. Israel rarely dares to say any of this out loud. In the refugee crisis one can see the EU’s large failures even better than before. It has demonstrated a total lack of foresight as well as major moral and organizational incompetence.
Four million Syrian refugees are now registered in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Within Syria there are 7.6 million displaced persons. The EU should have realized long ago that some of these refugees would attempt to cross its borders.
Syria is the largest source of incoming refugees into the EU, but there are several others. Finland for instance is mainly a destination for refugees from Iraq. It is also estimated that 2,500 refugees have drowned this year alone in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe.
In the past weeks there have been temporary border closures between various European countries despite the Schengen agreements governing Europe’s open border policies. Hungary has built a fence on its border with Serbia, and has started to build one on its border with Croatia. It has announced that it will build a fence along part of its border with Romania. Newspapers quote refugees claiming that the Hungarians treated them like animals. On various occasions refugees are trapped between borders. In Germany and in Switzerland, structures intended for refugees have been torched already this year.
European populations now appear to be divided into three broad clusters. Israel will have to develop different approaches to each of these groups and the country’s leaders would do well to think about that as soon as possible.
The first category comprises those who welcome the refugees. Here the German and Swedish governments are at the forefront in their willingness to let in relatively large numbers of refugees compared to other EU countries. Significant numbers of citizens in several other countries have also welcomed the refugees with open arms.
The second category, by contrast, consists of those who feel that while the suffering of the refugees is significant, the probable long-term negative ramifications of sizable Muslim immigration are of paramount importance. This category divides in two. It includes several Eastern European countries that have learned from Western Europe’s failure to integrate many Muslims who arrived in previous waves of immigration. They prefer being seen as insensitive now to importing major inextricable long-term problems. This the more so as EU President Donald Tusk has described the current wave as only the beginning of the tide.
The anti-Islam parties form the second element within this category. The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party is already the largest in the Swiss parliament.
In France polls indicate that in the first round of the presidential elections National Front leader Marine Le Pen will come out first, while the current, socialist president, François Hollande, will not advance to the final round. A recent poll showed that the anti-Islam party PVV, led by Geert Wilders, is now by far the largest in the Netherlands. In Sweden the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats poll much higher than their present representation in parliament.
The third category consists of people somewhere in the middle. They see both the refugees’ plight and sizable future problems with them. They thus try to find intermediate positions.
For European Jews, frequently a prime target for Muslim terrorists, the problems are more acute. Firstly, although Islamic State (IS) murderers among the immigrants or potential IS recruits among them pose an additional danger to their hosts in general, the threat to European Jews is more palpable.
In addition, a number of arriving Muslims are invariably anti-Semitic – and not only the extremists and the racists who take the Koran literally and think that Jews are animals. Thus an influx of more Muslims usually will raise the levels of local anti-Semitism. This is less worrying as long as the percentage of new Muslim immigrants is small in relation to the existing Muslim population in their new host country.
In the countries where the ratio between new Muslim immigrants and the existing Muslim population is much larger, such as Sweden and Germany, additional problems for the local Jews will be unavoidable. It is no consolation that the governments of these countries are also creating problems on a national scale due to their immigration policies.
The German intelligence service has already warned that Salafists are recruiting among the new refugees.
A third issue is in how far the small Jewish communities in the various countries are free to express an independent opinion on the refugee issue. There is a major debate in the Austrian Jewish community, following its leaders’ decision to donate money to the anti-Israeli Catholic NGO Caritas.
The EU had its successful origins in a laudable target, the Common Market.
However, several key decisions made since that time were great failures. One such decision was to remain dependent on the US military despite the relative affluence of Europe. The second was the admission of a massive, non-selective influx of Muslim immigrants, many of whom did not want to be integrated, or could not be integrated due to the European countries’ incapability. The third was the creation of the euro as a common currency while there is no European economic and fiscal unity. Currently the Schengen free border-crossing agreement may have to be reduced significantly.
Veteran German Christian Democrat politician Kurt Biedenkopf has said that the Romans were smart enough to control the coasts on both sides of the Mediterranean. The EU however did not understand that.
Committing one large blunder after another, the EU has still found time recently to discriminate against Israel through insisting on separate labeling for produce from the disputed West Bank areas and the Golan. No such measures have been taken concerning Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Such double standards are a classic example of anti-Semitism. To make matters worse a variety of European politicians are visiting Iran – with its genocidal policies against Israel – to promote business. I would suggest that the Simon Wiesenthal Center should consider the inclusion of the EU in this year’s list of those most responsible for major anti-Semitic slurs or activities.