The large ghetto

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Let it be said plainly: there is a war in Western Europe, and it is being waged against the Jews.  It is not a rhetorical war, but an actual war, fought with explosives and assault rifles.  In terms of fatalities, it is still a little war, a guerrilla, but a war nonetheless.  What distinguishes it from all other wars is not the mere fact that it is one-sided and unprovoked; rather, what makes this war unique is that it is being fought in the wealthiest, most stable democracies of Western Europe, where, incredibly, the aggressors are winning.  Slowly but surely, the number of spaces where Jewish life can be practiced openly is dwindling, and the key to the success of the combatants is not just the active support of Muslim minorities, but the passivity of Gentile majorities who, conditioned by their own prejudices and preconceived hierarchies of victimhood, look on with a mixture of diffidence and indifference.

This war has been a long time in the making.  Well before the guns started speaking, street harassment of “identifiably” Jewish people became routine in almost every European capital.  For over a decade in Paris, the City of Lights, Jews have not been able to live in or enter certain suburbs, Jewish children cannot be educated in certain public schools, and Jews must live in constant apprehension of exhibiting signs of their religion in public.  And now the “years of lead” have arrived; Europe’s last four major terrorist attacks – Copenhagen in 2015, Paris in 2014, Brussels in 2014, and Toulouse in 2012 – all singled out Jews.  France’s Jewish population is one-tenth the size of its Muslim population, yet Jews were the victims of more than five times as many racially-motivated incidents in the first seven months of 2014, an increase of almost 100% year-on-year.  Just this February in Berlin, the Jewish community decided to mail its monthly magazine in a “neutral” envelope to avoid attracting attention, while the head of Germany’s Jewish federation warned against wearing the Jewish skullcap in “problem neighborhoods,” a fear that the president of the German Muslim community admitted was justified.


The staggering reality is that Jews are the only minority in Europe being systematically murdered solely for who they are, and the only minority for whom “no-go zones” exist.  And yet, following every offensive in this war on the Jews, the European Left has instead busied itself warning of Islamophobia, while the Right has lost no time inveighing against “Islamicization.”

Tellingly, while thousands gathered spontaneously to demonstrate immediately following the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, no such rallies took place outside the Hypercacher kosher supermarket after it was liberated.  Relatively small in number and well-integrated, Europe’s Jews, like its Asians, are a politically irrelevant “model minority,” lost between the single-minded ideological preoccupations of Left and Right.  But despite all the ink expended on the fraught relations of Europeans and their Muslim minorities, it is the Jews alone who continue to pay a price in blood for the failures of both sides.

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Of course, long before large-scale Muslim immigration, Europe was a continent where simply being of Jewish descent, irrespective of religiosity, was considered a dangerous and compromising detail.  The steady bourgeoisification of Europe since 1945 has made overt political anti-Semitism largely unpalatable to the mainstream, but the underlying reservoir of suspicion and paranoia has never been drained.  Every European has been to a cocktail party where conversation has veered surrealistically into discussions of how “no Jews” died on 9/11, or has been pulled aside to receive in whispered confidence the startling news that such-and-such a person is Jewish, or has heard offhand remarks from people who would never otherwise describe themselves as anti-Semites about how Jews control global finance.  These are the nuances rarely captured by scientific surveys of European anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become Europe’s single greatest foreign affairs cause célèbre, uniting the Left and Muslim minorities, while the traditional belief in Jewish world domination has merged with anti-Americanism, providing common cause to all in Europe who chafe at American hegemony.  According to the logic of the popular discourse, Jews, as agents of Zionism and American capitalism, can only be aggressors and string-pullers, never victims; that role is reserved for the post-colonial “subalterns.”  In attacking the Jews, the European jihadists, products of two cultures, are ultimately expressing not just Muslim rage, but a diffuse European discontent with globalization, of which the Jews remain the eternal symbol.


In Nazi-occupied Warsaw during the Second World War, the ghetto in which Jews were forced to live under punishment of death was divided into “large” and “small” halves.  Europe today is a very large ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless, in which Jews must circumscribe their presence and appearance in even the richest and most progressive cities, or risk harassment, physical assault, and, in the most extreme instances, death.  With each new attack – and there will be more – the boundaries of the ghetto are drawn ever tighter.  In the meantime, the Europeans continue to scratch their heads and trade accusations over their inability to properly integrate their Muslim citizens, never stopping to consider how they can possibly accomplish that task when, despite more than a thousand years of co-existence, Europe still cannot bring itself to fully accept its Jews, or even acknowledge that they are the real victims of Europe’s longest-running undeclared war.

Andrew Kornbluth is a doctoral student in Holocaust history at the University of California, Berkeley, and a native of Montgomery County.

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