“Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” is the title of the 11,000-word cover story in the latest issue of the Atlantic magazine written by the American Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. His answer? “Yes”. Why, while purporting to write out of concern for his fellow Jews in Europe and the antisemitism they are experiencing, he endorses the cries of the antisemites is a puzzle only he can explain. Meanwhile, in a piece on the American Al Jazeera website, ‘Jews in Europe don’t need Jeffrey Goldberg’s provocations’, I explain why he is patronising, contradictory, arrogant and wrong. With friends like Jeffrey Goldberg, we European Jews don’t need enemies.
Embedded in the article is a video discussion between Goldberg and the prominent American Jewish literary figure, formerly the literary editor of the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, moderated by the editor of the Atlantic, James Bennet. In it Wieseltier dismisses European Jewry as the “saving remnant” and he speaks of us as “the afterlife of he European Jewish community”. Goldberg acquiesces in these judgements. To him, we are totally powerless to influence our own fate:
[Jews in Europe] are not part of the larger drama; they just sit there and get it in the neck. . . . Jews are not in control of what happens to Jews in Europe and that is the best reason to think about an exit.
As if any Jewish community is in “control”. No doubt that’s the way he sees American Jewry, but however strong and influential it is, when events ‘turn on a dime’, control is an illusion. And anyway, a key reason for the success of American Jewry and the relative insignificance of antisemitism in American society is the way Jews have built horizontal alliances with other groups and organizations on such issues as working for social justice, combating racism, countering Islamophobia, maintaining strict separation of church and state and much more.
Goldberg doesn’t want to know about the extraordinary revival of Jewish life in Europe. He focuses on the very difficult situation facing French Jewry, but fails to understand its complexity. He constructs his story largely on the basis of the testimony of known pessimists.
The problem of antisemitism in Europe — which is ever-present; despite the horrors of the Holocaust, it never went away — has become more serious, but writing intelligently about it requires far more knowledge and understanding than Goldberg possesses. His piece is just another one of many written in recent months that feed fears, encourage panic and aggravate rather than help.