Recently, a song from the old hootenanny days has become an earworm: the Weavers’ “Sinner Man.” The repetitive phrase of the song is “Oh, sinner man, where you’re gonna run to all on that day?”
With world conditions deteriorating, especially for European Jews, the question “Where you’re gonna run to?” is an increasingly important one. The answer comes from Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to run, baby. Nowhere to hide.”
Eventually, you run out of sanctuaries, forcing you to take a stand, even a suicidal one, as in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Increasing anti-Semitism, anti-Israel activity, Islamic terrorism, and Iran nuclearization have been recurring themes of this column. The question “Where you’re gonna run to?” or, in Hebrew, “Eifo?” has been slowly surfacing in my mind.
We went to France two weeks ago. It was a trip planned months ago. After the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market attacks in Paris, we debated whether to go. In the end, we did. It was an interesting time to be in France and Europe.
We expected heightened security but little was visible. We got waved through immigration control at Charles De Gaulle Airport. The police were virtually invisible both in Brittany, our first stop, and in Paris. The only heightened security we saw was on Rue des Rosiers in the heart of the Marais, the old Jewish quarter: two troopers with automatic rifles and three national police in body armor and automatic rifles. (A video was being shot by what appeared to be Orthodox men.)
The Danish shootings occurred while we were there, as did major vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in France. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that European Jews should leave and immigrate to Israel was big news, as were the social conditions of European Jews. After the Paris shootings, Reuters and The Independent ran an article headlined “Most British Jews feel they have no future in Europe.” The Guardian ran with “Almost half of Britons hold anti-Semitic view, poll suggests.”
On a wall adjacent to Centre Pompidou in the Beaubourg area of the Fourth Arrondissement were two signs, one a graffiti cartoon with the words, “Boycott Israel,” the other with the word “Coexist,” in which the “C” is a crescent, the “x” a Magen David, and the “t” a cross. A French graffiti artist, Combo, was attacked by a gang and suffered a dislocated shoulder and bruises when he refused to remove his “Coexist” sign as demanded by four youths.
The Parisian kiosk billboards advertised the cover story in Le Point, “Etre Juif en France” (“To be Jewish in France”), with a picture of a young couple on the cover, the man wearing a kipa. The subhead read, “After the attacks, the Jews of France are afraid, yes, but many want to believe that life continues. Stories, secrets, and debates.”
The Paris Hotel de Ville (city hall) was draped in two roof-to-ground black banners with white letters reading “Paris est Charlie” (“Paris is Charlie”) and “Nous sommes Charlie” (“We are Charlie”). Indeed, placards with “Nous sommes Charlie” and “Je suis Charlie” were everywhere in Paris. Despite statements in support of the French-Jewish community by President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, I searched in vain for any expression of “Nous sommes Juifs.”
There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. Increasing numbers of European Jews — French and British in particular — are looking to make aliya. I and others feel that European Jews are increasingly in the same position they were in the 1930s.
At that time, European Jews looked to escape the Nazis by fleeing to the United States, Palestine, and South America. The route to the United States was often blocked. The British made immigration to the Palestinian Mandate difficult. In many cases, South America, particularly Argentina, became the safety valve.
One of Israel’s main missions was to be the ultimate refuge of the world’s Jews. “Never again!” It was in this vein that Netanyahu called for all European Jews to immigrate to Israel.
When Jews ask “Where?” at least Netanyahu has an answer: “Here.” But he also knows his is also a dangerous neighborhood; he knows a nuclear Iran will be itchy to annihilate Israel and finish Hitler’s work. (Iran is sponsoring the Second International Holocaust Cartoons Contest — the first was held in 2006 — for cartoons that ridicule the Shoa. Israel has demanded that the UN condemn the contest, although if the past is any guide, the world body restricts its condemnations to purveyors of Islamophobia.) This is why Netanyahu considers a nuclear Iran an existential threat to Israel and to Judaism, something that the president of the United States doesn’t seem to appreciate.
If Israel is imperiled, how reliable will the United States be as the ultimate sanctuary for the world’s remaining Jews? Just think back to Roosevelt and the doomed Holocaust-era ship the St. Louis.
The BDS movement is picking up momentum in the United States. Anti-Israel sentiment is becoming a public proxy for anti-Semitism. If the United States will not accept the role of haven, eifo?
As Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned 80 years ago, Ehr kumt — “He is coming.” What will Jews do on that day?