The Israeli cabinet green-lit a $46 million budget Sunday to encourage the emigration of Belgian, French and Ukrainian Jews to resettle in the state of Israel. The money is intended to alleviate the challenges of adjustment for new Israeli citizens, as well as contribute toward pro-emigration programs in each of those countries.
The program was announced shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest call for European Jews to make the aliyah — emigration to their ancestral homeland, which came in response to this weekend’s lone gunman attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” Netanyahu said on Sunday in Jerusalem. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.” He went on to promote the idea of a “mass immigration” to the Jewish state.
Encouraging the aliyah has always been a cornerstone of Israeli immigration policy. But Netanyahu’s comments in the wake of the Copenhagen attack, and others in France, seem more pointed and politicized than they have been in the past. To many observers, the change broadcasts a clear message that Netanyahu is politically pandering to the electoral base he’ll depend on for a successful re-election next month.
Approval ratings for Netanyahu in Israel reportedly fell from 82% to 38% in light of this summer’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza. While most observers believe that a lack of feasible alternative candidates will still translate to a Netanyahu victory, the premier’s recent dip in popularity is nonetheless troubling. For Netanyahu, posing as a would-be protector of Europe’s persecuted Jews is a no-brainer sign to voters that he is tough on threats from abroad. This is a particularly salient point given international tension over Iran’s nuclear program, which has Israel on the defense.
Beyond playing into his domestic political strategy, Netanyahu’s explicit skepticism regarding the security of European Jews also appears to be a jab at the E.U. After all, his contention that Jews are not safe in countries like France, Belgium and Denmark is a direct condemnation of those nations’ abilities to maintain order and manage domestic terrorism. For many Jewish officials, Netanyahu’s politicization of tragic attacks amounts to opportunism. Denmark’s chief rabbi criticized the remarks, telling the Associated Press that “People from Denmark should move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism, but not because of terrorism.”
Indeed, Netanyahu’s criticism comes at a moment of cooled relations with Western heads of state. The E.U. condemned the Israeli attacks on Gaza that left thousands dead, and voted to move toward a “qualified recognition” of the Palestinian state in December. The E.U. also voted to remove Hamas from its terrorist blacklist, a move which undermined Israel’s justification for launching Operation Protective Edge.
The rise of anti-semitism in Europe is unarguably worrying, especially in light of its genocidal recent history. But solutions exists. One example: the European Jewish Association’s appeal for greater protection of Jewish spaces — a practical counterpoint to Netanyahu’s assertion that anti-semitic acts cannot be stopped.