Shuffling the deckchairs…writes Michael Kuttner

February 20, 2015 by Michael Kuttner
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Current events in Europe evoke memories of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as the superliner steamed its way towards its catastrophic fate.

I believe that my analogy of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic is very apt. Showing bravado in the face of impending doom, having missed previous opportunities at rescue and counselling others to ignore the obvious, seems to be a recurring theme and yet despite past horrors many still trip down the same disastrous path again and again.

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

The latest manifestations of malevolent malice breaking out all over the continent are spawned by the growing numbers of jihadists living in Europe and in this respect the situation is different from that experienced pre war. Then, classic Jew hatred was fuelled by centuries of theological demonization and rampant right-wing fascism, in many cases fostered and nurtured by Governments. Thus, the hatred displayed at the time of the Dreyfus Affair in France seamlessly transferred into Vichy co-operation with the Nazi agenda of genocide against Jews. Likewise in other parts of Europe, west and east in particular, the same pattern existed, all of which led to the eventual murder of six million Jews and other “undesirables.”

The Nordic countries are often held up as paragons of virtue but all is not necessarily as it seems or is popularly portrayed. Norway had its Quislings ready to hand over local Jews and it is conveniently overlooked that it was only in 1851 that Jews were actually allowed to freely live in that country. Denmark’s Jewish community was founded in 1682 but they needed special permission to live there and this was only granted on the basis of personal wealth. They were subject to social and economic discrimination and were only completely emancipated after the Napoleonic Wars. Anti Jewish riots broke out in 1819 and lasted several months. The Danish rescue of most of its Jewish subjects during the 2nd. World War is indeed a unique and worthy episode in Danish history. Unfortunately, however, today’s situation reveals a somewhat murkier picture.

The incessant anti Israel rhetoric of recent years combined with a rapidly growing Moslem population which identifies Israel and by association, Jews, as evil and moreover inculcates this in the minds of the next generation, has resulted in a situation where Jews are at risk. This phenomenon is now a common trait in most of Europe and Scandinavia and its evil consequences are being felt with increasing ferocity. Click on the following link to see & hear what was preached at the Copenhagen Mosque one day prior to the latest terror attack. This will give you an inkling of the poison bubbling below the surface not only in Denmark but also in Europe including the UK and who knows where else.

How have politicians and communal leaders reacted to this latest wave of Islamic jihadism? It is instructive to observe how a similar pattern of denial and hostility to any suggestion that Jews should leave for Israel has emerged and how eerily this mimics the actions of pre war spokespersons. Researching the history of German Jewry I discovered that most of the establishment maintained until the bitter end that it was best to keep a low profile and not upset the Jew haters. The campaign by Zionist leaders, especially Jabotinsky, to motivate as many as possible to escape to Palestine precipitated a torrent of abuse on the part of communal leaders who maintained that as loyal and integrated citizens of Germany the idea of fleeing to a yet to be re-established Jewish homeland was traitorous. Moreover in places like Poland most of the religious establishment saw a move to Palestine and even the USA as surrender to secular blandishments.

German Jews who had fought for the Fatherland in World War 1 proudly wore their iron crosses and declared undying allegiance to a society already organizing to murder them. This pattern repeated itself throughout Europe. Thank goodness many ignored the exhortations of their representatives but just imagine how many more could have been saved if only the early warning signals had been heeded sooner.

Fast forward to today and listen to the pronouncements of the current spokespersons which are indicative of the reactions one hears in European countries. You have to pinch yourself to make sure that what is being spouted is not some old recording from the 1930’s.

First of all we have fervent pledges of loyalty and patriotism. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but when it blinds one to reality it becomes dangerous. I have read declarations of impassioned devotion to places which not only have a sordid history but also a murky present when it comes to tolerating Jews. Interestingly many of those rallying around the flag are individuals who are not involved with established Jewish communities, committed to any sort of communal solidarity but only too eager to condemn Israel. In this regard the media are having a field day digging up anyone who spouts anti Israel venom and rejects a call to move to Israel. The very idea that Jews should leave Europe has suddenly awakened a whole group of people who view this advice with alarm and scorn. We are witnessing European political leaders pleading for Jews to stay and declaring that their respective countries would not be the same if Jews left. Given recent history I find this sudden outpouring of “love” ironic in the extreme. Past warnings about terror threats and pleas for Governmental action fell on deaf ears so these latest expressions of concern sound rather hollow. Take Denmark as an example. It adopts what has been described as a “soft” approach with Jihadists returning from Iraq & Syria. Unlike other European countries which bar or jail them, Denmark does not but instead offers free psychological counseling to help them integrate back into Danish society. Well, we can all see how successful this has been.

It is the reaction of communal leaders however which causes one to wonder whether anything has been learnt 70 years after the Holocaust.

Denouncing the idea of Jews fleeing from Europe, one lay & religious leader after another declare that this is not the answer. Rather, they say, Jews should stay and “tough it out”. How exactly unarmed and defenseless communities are supposed to survive is not explained. Airy fairy suggestions of interfaith dialogues and stiff upper lips will not solve the problem. By advising their constituents to remain, these leaders are ignoring the experiences of the past. Moving to Israel when your life is in danger or your ability to live as visible Jews is compromised remains the only logical option. That is why entire communities from Yemen, North Africa, Arab countries, Ethiopia etc. moved. In those places where this logical step was not taken, life became intolerable. Look at Ukraine and other such nations. Give the rest of Europe another few years and the same scenario will unfold. At least today, Jews facing hate have somewhere to go. The fact that their leaders tell them not to do so merely indicates that nothing has been learnt.

In Denmark and France today Jewish schoolchildren are advised not to wear kippot on the street. Their parents have been told not to wear anything identifiable as Jewish and not to speak Hebrew in public. Is this the way to live in 2015? The Jewish radio station in Copenhagen has gone off the air because of the “security” situation and will only resume broadcasts when “it is quiet again.” Cemeteries in Europe are desecrated on a weekly basis even in places where the dead Jews outnumber the few remaining alive.

Amongst choice quotes on the current situation I have picked out these two:

Rabbi Michael Melchior, whose family have been Rabbis in Denmark for generations, and a former religious leader of the community, stated: “the Jewish community in Copenhagen is proof of the strength that comes from being connected to the general environment. Because it did not exist in isolation and always had ties with its surroundings, it was saved during the Holocaust. Being connected to the community at large and to general civilization is a recipe for a good & healthy society & Jewish community.” Noble sentiments indeed but then I wonder why this formula did not work in Germany. That Jewish community prior to the Holocaust was as integrated and part of the fabric of the country as one could get. In fact many were so integrated that they converted and became good upright German Christians. They fought for the country and they were involved in every aspect of German life. We all know where this integration got them. The Danes at that time displayed an isolated case of moral courage but in today’s reality where Danish and other jihadists are rapidly growing I doubt very much that this will save the non-isolated Danish Jews from the impending catastrophe.

The second quote comes from Rabbi Yair Melchior, the current Rabbi of the Copenhagen community: “It’s not a dangerous antisemitism. It’s spitting, cursing, like that,” Copenhagen Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior told Reuters. “We went back to normal already this morning by having regular morning prayers,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I’m not frightened to be a Jew in Denmark.”

Most commendable but is it normal? The Rabbi’s role after all is to bolster morale and keep his community intact. At what stage will life become so untenable that like the radio station, gatherings in the Synagogue will be shut down and people will need to pray at home behind locked doors and shuttered windows? For how long can reality be denied and at what stage is it too late to act?

I recently read a most applicable quote which sums up the situation.

“In the 1930’s in Germany (and Europe) there were two kinds of Jews, namely pessimists and optimists. The pessimists fled to safe havens in the UK, USA, Palestine, Australia and New Zealand while the optimists remained and were murdered.”

Who says history does not repeat itself?

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.








2 Responses to “Shuffling the deckchairs…writes Michael Kuttner”
  1. Michael Kuttner says:

    Thanks, Liat, for your comments.
    Re. your question about mass influx of aliyah from Europe & possibly USA and how Israel would cope: realistically speaking you can forget about mass aliyah from the USA. Given the high and increasing rate of assimilation and detachment from anything Jewish combined with the fact that more than 70% of Jews voted for Obama the probability of any mass migration is remote. Even if anti Jewish pogroms should break out my guess is that only a few would get the message. As far as Europe is concerned the steadily deteriorating situation there will mean large numbers moving to Israel and elsewhere although given past history the majority will sit tight believing that it will all blow over and that they will be safeguarded. The rise of extreme anti Jewish political parties in France, the Balkans,Hungary, Greece, Turkey etc. combined with financial collapses and austerity makes a secure Jewish future in Europe doubtful. As usual many will leave it too late. Israel can cope with this scenario. After all it absorbed over a million Jews from Russia and although there were hiccups overall we coped.

    Ideally speaking making aliyah should be as a result of personal commitment to rebuilding the Land of Israel and not a byproduct of Judeophobia. However, we do not live in an ideal world and therefore unlike in previous generations Jews facing terror, mayhem and murder have somewhere to go. If only that option had existed prior to World War 2. The question remains however, how many are wise enough to make the move before it is too late?

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    Such a comprehensive and well-argued article, Michael Kuttner. I can see the links, the connectedness of psychological responses by Rabbis and world leaders alike to the very same pattern that was 1930s Europe. Also I believe that anti-Semitism lies dormant, just waiting for events to allow it release again, as we have now. It seems the Holocaust and great shifts of population, the emergence of the State of Israel, none of those huge, momentous happenings have done anything to change that.

    So, it’s more than possible you’re absolutely right. How would Israel cope with a sudden influx of so many if millions of Jews in Europe, and even the US, made aliyah? It might seem a banal question under the circumstances, but I keep pondering it. I’d value your opinion.

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