Jews from Islamic lands to flee Europe next?

 Are Jews in Europe going through another golden age, or is the writing on the wall? Many European Jews are themselves refugees from Arab and Islamic antisemitism, but will the next generation have to move again? Astute and incisive article, ‘You only live twice’, in Mosaic magazine by Michel Gurfinkiel (pictured). Read the whole thing! (With thanks: Lily, Michelle and Mira)

For many European Jews, there is indeed a déjà vu quality
to the present situation. Like Israelis, but unlike most American Jews,
today’s European Jews are survivors, or children of survivors, either
of the Holocaust or of the near-complete expulsion of Jews from Islamic
countries that took place in the second half of the 20th century. They
know, from personal experience or from the testimony of direct and
irrefutable witnesses, how things unfolded in the not too distant past,
and how a seemingly normal Jewish life could be destroyed overnight.
When anti-Semitic incidents or other problems accumulate, they can’t
help asking whether history is repeating itself.

“Call it the yogurt’s-expiration-date syndrome,” an elderly, Moroccan-born Frenchman recently said to me. He elaborated:

Right after Morocco won its independence
from France in 1956, my family joined the country’s ruling elite. My
father, a close friend of King Mohammed V, had access to everybody in
the government. It went on like that for two or three years. Then one
day, out of the blue, Father told us we were leaving. We children asked
why. “We’ve passed the yogurt’s expiration date,” he said. “We have no
future in Morocco; as long as we’re free to go, we must go.” So we left,
leaving behind most of our money and belongings. Ever since then,
wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been on the lookout for the yogurt’s
expiration date. In France, I think it’s close.

To contemporary European Jews like this one, today’s anxieties thus
also recall the crucial choice they or their parents made some 30 or 50
or 70 years ago when, having survived the Holocaust, they resolved to
stay in Europe—more accurately, in Western Europe, under the American
umbrella—or, having been forced out of Islamic countries, to flee to
Europe. Was this the right choice, after all? Hadn’t a majority both of
the surviving European Jews and of the refugees from the Arab world
decided otherwise?

Yes, they had; and here too a little history is helpful. Back in the
early 1930s, there were about 10 million self-identified Jews in Europe
(including the USSR). There were also others—estimates range from one to
three million—who for one reason or another had converted to
Christianity but retained a consciousness of their Jewish identity or
who had intermarried or otherwise assimilated into Gentile society
without converting.

Half of this prewar European population perished in the Holocaust. Of
the five to seven million survivors, about 1.5 million emigrated to the
newborn state of Israel throughout the late 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
Another half-million made it to the United States—a number that would
surely have been higher had the restrictive quota system introduced in
the 1920’s not still been in place. About 200,000 wound up in Canada,
the Caribbean, Central and South America, South Africa, and Australia/
New Zealand. As for the roughly 2.5 million locked up in the Soviet
Union and Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, most made their way to Israel
or the United States whenever the opportunity presented itself.

All in all, then, about two-thirds of post-Holocaust European Jews
left Europe, and only one third remained. And the same is true of the
more than one million Jewish refugees from Islamic countries. Upon being
expelled or encouraged to leave, two-thirds headed to Israel and one
third to Europe (or, in a few cases, to the United States or Canada).
The proportion might vary according to country of origin—90 percent of
Iraqi and Yemeni Jews emigrated to Israel, versus just 30 percent of
Egyptian Jews— but the total ratio remained two-to-one against the

What then motivated the minority that either stayed in or opted for
Europe? For the most part, Jews who before the war had been citizens of
Western European countries were eager, once their rights and property
were restored, to resume their former life as soon and as completely as
possible, even at the price of a certain selective amnesia about their
country’s wartime behavior. What the researcher Guri Schwarz observes
about postwar Italian Jews can be generalized to others:

What emerges from the Jewish press, from
memoirs, and from diaries as well as from declarations of community
leaders is the marked inclination to deny Italian responsibility in the
origin and implementation of persecution for the period 1938-1943 as
well as for the period of mass murder and deportation that followed the
[1943] armistice with the Allied forces. This behavior, in many ways
similar to that adopted by Jews in other Western countries—such as
France, Holland, and Belgium—can be understood if we consider the
intense desire to reintegrate into society and the conviction that such a
process would be easier if [Jews] avoided attracting too much attention
to their specific tragedy.

Another factor here was that many refugees from Islamic countries
were technically also West European citizens, and entitled as such to
resettlement in the “mother country” with full rights and benefits. This
was true of Algerian Jews, who as a group had been granted French
citizenship in 1870; of many Tunisian or Moroccan Jews who had opted for
French citizenship under France’s protectorate; and of some Jews from
Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria who were registered as Europeans under the
terms of longstanding contracts between the European powers and the
Ottoman Empire. Libyan Jews, as former Italian colonial subjects, were
admitted to Italy, and residents of the former Spanish protectorate in
northern Morocco to Spain.

As for refugees with no claim to citizenship in a West European
nation, they might enter first as asylum seekers and then apply for
permanent status. In The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, her
poignant memoir of her family’s “riches-to-rags” expulsion from Egypt in
1956, Lucette Lagnado recalls the “relatively efficient, coordinated
system of social services and relief agencies dedicated to helping
refugees” in Paris:

Funded by private philanthropists like
the Rothschilds, as well as by deep-pocketed American Jewish
organizations, the French groups tried to lessen the trauma. Refugees
were immediately given a free place to live—typically a room or two in
an inexpensive hotel—along with subsidized meals. They were put in
contact with officials who would help them find them a permanent home
somewhere in the world.

In the end, the Lagnados secured American visas, but many other
Egyptian refugees in Paris would strike roots in the “narrow, winding
streets” around the relief agencies and the Great Synagogue in the ninth
arrondissement, just like previous waves of refugees from Eastern and
Central Europe, “old furriers who still spoke German, and Polish, and

Culturally speaking, many of these new outsiders felt at home in
Western Europe. Before the war, the Jewish upper and upper-middle
classes in Central and Eastern Europe had learned French and English
along with German and Russian and had imbibed bourgeois Western European
values. The Jewish elites in Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Iran
had also been formed in French, German, or Anglo-Saxon schools. While in
Paris, Lucette Lagnado’s French-educated mother, otherwise very Jewish
and strictly kosher, would take her regularly to Parc Monceau to remind
her that “this was Marcel Proust’s playground. . . . And she said it
with so much feeling and intensity that I knew I was expected to absorb
the magic.”

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