Netanyahu Sells French Jews Short

At the turn of the last century, Nachman Syrkin, a young democratic socialist drawn to the “political Zionism” of Theodore Herzl, was a student in Berlin, a member of a discussion group of émigrés from the Russian Pale of Settlement. One day, the speaker was a left-wing intellectual eager to prove that an emancipated Europe would be a home to all Jews — that separatist nationalisms were a mark of obsolete despair. He held up his tattered jacket. “Look at this,” he said. “The wool was taken from sheep which were pastured in Angora; it was spun in England, woven in Lodz. The buttons came from Germany; the thread from Austria” — at which point Syrkin called out, “And the rip in the sleeve was no doubt from Kiev!”

For Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, last week’s crimes in Paris were that kind of Zionist déjà vu, instructive for emancipated citizens and for Jews — often the same people, yet distinct enough from each other to learn different lessons. The enemy has changed since Syrkin’s time but, for Mr. Netanyahu, apparently, not much else has. The Jewish response must be to self-segregate: affirm, in principle, the liberal values of the West, but deny that they ever worked well enough for diaspora Jews; insist that we fight for our freedoms from our own ground.

Who exactly are “we”? That question is superfluous, because anti-Semites will let us know. And their hatred, which tracks from the Roman expulsion, has migrated in this generation to “Islamic radicalism,” which must be confronted globally, and which, Mr. Netanyahu says, Israel is confronting in the form of Iran and Hamas. The French, and the whole European Union for that matter, must now, in his words, “wake up” and fight to protect “our common civilization.” “Israel stands with Europe; Europe must stand with Israel!” he told Norway’s foreign minister here last week. French Jews, in contrast, must realize that “the state of Israel is your home,” as he told them in Paris after four Jews were killed at a kosher supermarket.

What of France’s republican tradition, to which marchers in Paris gave poignant tribute? Although it has struggled since its inception against ignorance, venality, and primordial fear, it has not failed this generation. What of the once unimaginable standards for European integration? What of French Jews who justly feel themselves a part of French civil society and approach Jewish religious culture with emancipationist skepticism? Would they not be lost — upon arrival and for years — in Israel’s secular Hebrew culture and under its Orthodox religious hierarchy?

Read on at The New York Times