Last Saturday, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Israeli PM Netanyahu responded to the bloody events by urging France’s Jews to move to Israel. “I wish to tell to all French and European Jews”, he said, “Israel is your home.”
A tweet from Netanyahu reiterated the point: “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe…the state of Israel is your home.” Finance Minister Yair Lapid echoed these sentiments: “European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the State of Israel.”
These remarks can be best understood in three ways. First, they reflect the core idea of political Zionism – that Jews can only be safe in a Jewish state. Zionism’s founding father Theodor Herzl believed that the only solution to the antisemitism of European societies was for the Jews to leave those countries for one of their own. Yet as pointed out by Brian Klug:
“There is an irony here: it is a staple of anti-semitic discourse that Jews are a people apart, who form ‘a state within a state’. Partly for this reason, some European anti-semites thought that the solution to ‘the Jewish question’ might be for Jews to have a state of their own.”
Thus, Klug adds, “Herzl certainly thought he could count on the support of anti-semites” for his Zionist project. (And note that there was no condemnation of Lapid’s remarks by those monitors of antisemitism who double up as Israel’s defenders).
Second, Netanyahu’s appeal for mass emigration also reflects the settler colonial nature of political Zionism as it manifested itself in Palestine. Creating a state for one group of people in a land where there was already another people not only entailed mass expulsions: it has also meant a past and present obsession with the ‘demographic battle.’
A striking example from 2013: the Israeli government approved the arrival, under the country’s Law of Return, of “mixed-race Peruvian converts.” The new arrivals were housed in Ramla – a town almost entirely ethnically cleansed of Palestinians in 1948.
Third, the remarks by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders over the last few days are part of a wider pattern of crude, propaganda point-scoring. Just today, a prominent Israeli columnist penned a piece titled ‘West’s anti-Israel propaganda encourages terror.’
As Orly Noy wrote in +972, the Israeli premier seeks to “promote a worldview in which there is no national conflict, no occupation, no Palestinian people and no blatant disregard for human rights” – just “Jews and Muslims.”
Back in August, the former president of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou claimed that “the role of anti-Semitism in this latest wave of [Jewish] immigration [from France to Israel] has been widely exaggerated.” Certainly, the data paints a complex and unclear picture.
But, in the words of Haaretz writer Chemi Shalev, by encouraging the mass emigration of French Jews, Israeli leaders “could very well be helping terrorist fanatics finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.”
As European Jewish Association head Rabbi Menachem Margolin put it this weekend, Israel should “recognize that such statements…offer a message that encourages those anti-Semites who might like nothing better than to see France Jew-free.”
Netanyahu’s efforts at exploiting the events in Paris were sufficiently clumsy as to completely back-fire, creating what the Israeli press has called no less than a “PR disaster.” A microcosm, then, of the Israeli government’s track record in recent years – and further proof that the tactics of repeating “ISIS” over and over again with your fingers in your ears is of rather limited value.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.