In 2015, almost 10,000 Jews — the highest annual number ever — fled to Israel to escape the escalating terrorist attacks in western Europe. The exodus is double the number of Jews who left just two years ago, and nearly 8,000 of them were from France.
France has the third largest Jewish population in the world, approximately 500,000. However, nearly 800 Jews also left Britain last year, and large numbers also moved out of Italy and Belgium.
France has of late been the prime target of terrorists, such as the attacks in Paris on November 13, which killed 130 people on the one-year anniversary of the murders of a dozen employees at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The killings at the magazine office were presumably in response to several satirical cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet Muhammad — actions considered blasphemous by Muslims.
Following those attacks, a self-proclaimed Islamic terrorist also killed four customers at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris. Hundreds of French soldiers then began patrolling Jewish neighborhoods, and continue to do so until this day. French officials cite sobering statistics that more than half of all the reported attacks have been directed at Jews, although Jews make up less than one percent of the population.
In Marseille this past week, a Jewish teacher was assaulted with a machete by a teenager from Turkey. After police arrested the young man, he proclaimed that he had acted in the name of ISIS. This latest attack has prompted a local Jewish leader, Zvi Ammar, to advise fellow Jews to refrain from wearing their traditional skullcaps (known as kippas), at least until there are “better days.” However, other Jews and French officials fear that such a reaction would be seen as giving in to the terrorists.
A July 2014 march in Paris, announced as an event to support the cause of the Palestinians, turned instead toward the looting of Jewish businesses, while perpetrators shouted anti-Israeli slogans.
The well-known member of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, now deceased, was asked a few years ago what the Jews in Israel should do. She responded, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” When asked where they should then go, Thomas advised them that Germany and Poland were their “homes.”
“That a record number of European Jews feel that Europe is no longer their home should alarm European leaders and serve as a wake-up call for all who are concerned about the future of Europe,” declared Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician and chairman of the Jewish Agency, which advocates for Jews worldwide, and works closely with the government of Israel. “At the same time," he added, "the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for European Jews seeking to build a better future elsewhere is a tribute to the appeal of life in Israel and the values the Jewish state represents.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly invited Jews in France and in the rest of Europe to emigrate to Israel. “Every Jew everywhere should know that they have a home in Israel,” he asserted, also commending several European governments for taking steps to protect Jews from Islamic terror attacks.
French authorities have expressed concern that the exodus could continue until all Jews have left the country.
In the 1930s, many Jews did not feel welcome in Europe — especially in Germany and Austria. In November 1939, Nazi storm troopers in Germany, along with many German civilians, erupted in what historians call “Kristallnacht,” or in English, “Crystal Night.” As the German “authorities” looked on with disinterest, Jewish businesses and synagogues were attacked across Germany. So many windows were broken that it gave the pogrom its name of the "Night of the Broken Glass." Hundreds of Jews were murdered, over 1,000 synagogues were burned (some centuries old), and over 7,000 businesses were damaged.
The horrors of the Holocaust, in which millions of European Jews were slaughtered, caused hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee Europe and settle in Palestine after World War II, eventually leading to the creation of the modern state of Israel in May of 1948. Not surprisingly, the new state was met with great hostility by neighboring Arab nations. The push for the recreation of the nation of Israel in the Middle East, has led to violent disputes over the displacement of alleged indigenous Palestinians from their homes. The region has seen turmoil, with wars and rumors of wars ever since.
For some, the solution, as Helen Thomas strongly suggested, is for the Jews to go “home” to Europe. That is the solution publicly favored by many Arab governments; however, it raises an interesting question. If the Arabs truly want the Jews to leave Israel, then why are Islamic terrorists targeting them in Europe?
Not wishing to place themselves in the boiling cauldron of Middle Eastern conflicts, most Jews have decided to stay in France — for now. One year after the attack at the kosher grocery Hyper Cacher, many have expressed gratitude at the increased security and have decided to “get on with their lives.” However, their lives, and the lives of their non-Jewish countrymen, would be much safer, and their liberty would be more secure, if large numbers of them were armed. Tragically, that was not the case during the Holocaust, and it is not the case in France today, where restrictive gun laws have largely disarmed the civilian population.
It is interesting to note that before Hitler commenced the “Final Solution,” he used the gun registration laws, implemented before he came to power by the previous Weimar government, to confiscate firearms from the Jews. The lesson for today is clear: While there is no perfect solution to the problem of terror attacks upon the civilian population, in France or in the United States, an armed populace would without doubt stop many such attacks.
Soldiers cannot be everywhere at all times — and indeed, no liberty-minded individuals in any country would wish that they were.
Steve Byas is a professor of history at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore, Oklahoma. His book, History’s Greatest Libels, is a challenge to some of the great lies of history about such individuals as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus, and Joseph McCarthy.