Murders in Toulouse prompts debate over safety in Diaspora

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur  

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM — The tragedy inToulouse has received much attention throughout the world. As carefully as thoughtful observers may read the expressions of sympathy and support, especially by French politicians, they’re also aware that what’s being said and written must be understood in the context of the forthcoming presidential elections inFrance.

That’s one reason why apparent experts on anti-Semitism often refuse to take the words of politicians at their face value. Instead, they may point out that only a day or so after the murders in Toulouse the media quoted statistics about a further increase in anti-Semitic incidents inFrance. They tend to hold similar views about the rest of Europe.

Writing in this vein Barry Rubin, Israeli professor and expert on Jewish affairs, declared in the aftermath of the Toulouse massacre that while the outpouring of sympathy came from many quarters, “the next round of murders and inciting antisemitic lies are being perpetrated by respectable people and institutions.” And: “There is no real soul-searching, no true effort to do better, no serious examination about how the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hysteria is paving the way to murder and potential genocide.”

Rubin’s data may be sound but his conclusions probably reflect the prejudices of many Israelis who seem to have a deep psychological need – perhaps rooted in their own insecurity – to prove that Jewish life outside Israel is doomed. That doesn’t prevent Israelis to want to live abroad, but, of course, “only for a couple of years.”

Corresponding prejudices that lead to opposite conclusions come from many spokespersons of the Jewish Diaspora. They aren’t blind to anti-Semitism but refuse to see it in as dramatic terms as does Rubin. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they’re more objective than he but it does remind us how well-nigh impossible it is to make sense of the various pronouncements and know how to interpret facts on the ground.

I don’t know enough about France even to have opinions, but I’m more familiar with Britain(about which below) and Sweden, that’s often cited as a hotbed of anti-Judaism. My Jewish friends in Sweden, for example, have more nuanced views and say that they don’t feel particularly threatened.

Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel, who accurately describes himself as “a member of Britain’s Jewish community,” is presenting a very positive picture. Writing in the March 23 edition of the Jerusalem Post he repudiates the notion “that Britain’s Jewish community is cowering from an unstoppable wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the country.”

Gould writes: “The UK is not an anti-Semitic country, and Britain’s Jewish community is proud, strong and flourishing. The community’s leadership is robust, and speaks up about its concerns both in public and with the government.”

Emotionally and rationally, I’d like to think that there’s more truth in the Gould declaration than in the Rubin presentation, but I also know that both speak from their own perspectives: the Israeli may very well be inclined to side with A.B. Yehoshua’s anti-Diaspora stance (about which I wrote recently) and Gould is more likely to reflect the desire of Anglo-Jewry to see itself as fully integrated.

Both may be right to describe things as they see them, but it’s doubtful that either tells us how things really are. Perhaps the picture is too complex and too confusing.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  Now dividing his time between Canada and Israel, he may be contacted at [email protected]

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