Netanya-who? Post-Copenhagen Chutzpah Unsettles Europe

‘Teeming Shores’ is a biweekly column that broadly covers issues related to global migration and how the movement of peoples can reshape traditional conceptions of sovereignty and security. The title is referential to the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty in America.

Following the recent shootings in Copenhagen, where a Jewish man was killed outside the city’s Great Synagogue during a bat mitzvah celebration as part of the two-day spree which left three dead and five wounded, Israeli Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu made remarks to the Knesset that resembled a campaign speech more than a eulogy. In what marks a rhetorical amplification from his emotional speech at the Paris Synagogue memorial service in January, Netanyahu asserted, “This wave of terror attacks can be expected to continue, including anti-Semitic and murderous attacks. We say to the Jews, to our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home and that of every Jew. Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”[1]

His tone irked a wide spectrum of European leaders. German chancellor Angela Merkel promised added security at Jewish sites and said, “We are glad and thankful that there is Jewish life in Germany again…we would like to continue living well together.”[2] French President François Hollande insisted that, “Jews have their place in Europe and, in particular, in France.”[3]

Image courtesy of Downing Street, © 2010, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Downing Street, © 2010, some rights reserved.

In Denmark especially, the push back to Netanyahu’s suggestion that Israel could offer a safer environment for European Jewish people was immediate. The Scandanavian country’s ambassador to Israel, Jesper Vahr, countered, “I don’t think the solution is to leave. We consider the Jewish community to be an integral part of Danish society, and we will do everything so that it feels safe. This is an attack on all the citizens of Denmark.”[4] Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchoir, put it bluntly: “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel. If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island.”[5]

The surface explanation for Netanyahu’s remarks is Robert Putnam’s classic two-level game: the Prime Minister’s remarks appeal to his domestic and international audience because they reinforce the founding myth of Israel as the refuge state for downtrodden Jewish people. His right-leaning rhetoric is especially unsurprising considering the looming general election in Israel slated for March 17, wherein the Zionist Union poses a formidable opponent to Netanyahu’s Likud Party for a majority in the Knesset. With the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s recent polls showing that over one-fifth of the nation’s voters still consider themselves ‘undecided’, Netanyahu may have every reason to worry.[6

Still though, the fact that Netanyahu’s language is clearly political does not eliminate the need for a deconstruction of his chutzpah. Though it may be discomforting that Netanyahu has used the tragedies in Paris and Copenhagen for electoral gain and international legitimation, what’s worse is that his incitation for European aliyah, or Jewish emigration to Israel, is irresponsible.

Firstly, Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel is the rightful home for the Jewish people undermines European efforts for peaceful coexistence. The European Union, according to its Charter’s Preamble, was founded on, “indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity”.[7] To regard that anti-Semitism in Europe is an inevitable rising tide, threatening to wash away seventy years of continent-wide efforts, is to deny the agency of citizens and politicians alike. There is nothing deterministic about the presence of bigotry and violence in European countries that precludes religious coexistence. Paradoxically, Netanyahu’s rejection of the European-ness of European Jewish people is reminiscent of the anti-Semitic far right who decry multi-ethnic societies. Are the implications of Netanyahu’s remarks that if European Jewish people don’t take up their rightful place in Israel, they accept responsibility for persecution in their home countries? There simply must be a future for Jewish people in non-Jewish states, as less than half of the world’s Jewish people currently reside in Israel and are universally entitled to the same rights as their fellow citizens.[8] The maintenance of a Jewish population in European countries is beneficial for the continuance of a centuries-long heritage in those countries, as well as the promotion of much-needed education and understanding.

Secondly, Netanyahu’s prescription is bad international public policy. Responding to terrorism with fearmongering and calls for ‘terror migration’ misunderstands the root causes of terrorism. The University of St Andrews’ very own Louise Richardson aptly categorized the motives of terrorists in her book What Terrorists Want as the three R’s: revenge, renown, reaction. The political aims and societal conditions of terrorists worldwide are incredibly diverse, so not only would the mass movement of Jews not eliminate the use of terrorism as a tactic, it could actually just cause further problems. A movement of populations or a further provincialisation of the world would not affect the use of this form of political violence by those who think it will be effective. If anything, this kind of overreaction could prove that the acts of a few individuals actually can upset international stability.

Not only is the Prime Minister’s advocacy not an effective strategy of counterterrorism because it does not harmonize with terrorism’s causes, but it could actually create further strife closer to home. Netanyahu added, “We are preparing for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe, and we call on the absorption of mass immigration from Europe.”[9] However, if his calls are to be heeded, Israel’s absorption of these would-be ‘terror refugees’ could actually aggravate the ongoing conflict surrounding Israel’s borders. The Prime Minister’s half-baked policy solution for combating terrorism in Europe would affect the situation in the Middle East by overloading the demographic capability of Israel, a stretch of land not much larger than New Jersey.[10]

Ironically, though mass movement of peoples is almost always framed as a threat to state sovereignty and borders, the encouragement of Jewish emigration is the very underpinning of the state of Israel that continues to shape its sense of itself, and furthermore, its foreign policy.  Though Israel’s 1950 Law of Return gives all Jews the right to live in Israel and gain citizenship, the world’s nearly 14 million Jews converging on Israel would more than double the country’s population and severely strain a state with contested borders and a plethora of disputes with its neighbours, to put it lightly. Settlement construction, especially beyond the 1967 Green Line, continues to be one of the most volatile issues at the heart of the regional conflict, which sharply divides opinion both inside Israel and internationally. The reported 40% increase in settlement construction in the West Bank in 2014, which constituted a 10-year high, was denounced by the US State Department as “illegitimate and counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome”, and that an influx of residents could worsen the status quo.[11]

So if the mass migration of Jewish people from around the world to Israel is not logistically feasible, how can Israel maintain its foreign policy niche as the protector of Jewish people? Though Jewish immigration and Israel have gone hand in hand since the state’s founding, if Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders want to profess to be a world Jewish voice in addition to a national politician, there must be a contribution to the dialogue of coexistence besides “move”.

Though I don’t profess to have the solution to the hate-fuelled violence we witnessed in Copenhagen and Paris, I suggest we rule out Netanyahu’s approach. It is not productive to succumb to fear and to merely brace ourselves for the onslaught of intolerance. The worst response to terrorism would be to give up on the ideal of multi-confessional societies in multi-ethnic states in which different expressions of speech and worship are free and peaceful. Though it may be easy—or politically convenient—to suggest that “running” from terrorism is the only option, these actions are only as powerful as the reactions they inspire.


[2] Ibid.



[5] Ibid.







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