Israel is a safe space

Lately there is a controversy in the US about demands by students for “safe spaces,” which apparently are places where like-minded folks can vent their prejudices without having to worry about hearing dissenting opinions. It made me think about a different kind of safe space, a place where a Jew doesn’t have to constantly look over his or her shoulder.

In California, where the Muslim population is less than 1%, the thought that my pro-Israel activities might endanger me or my family was never far from the surface. I was comforted by the thought that I was so ineffective in combating the anti-Israel propaganda flowing from multiple directions that they wouldn’t bother to beat me up, but I still always looked around carefully after pulling into my driveway. I don’t think I could have imagined what it is like for Jews today in France.

In France, Jew hatred is at unprecedented levels. Apart from the major terror attacks, many Jews have personal stories about harassment and beatings in the street, in schools, and elsewhere, which have increased “exponentially” since the attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in January. Although last week’s attacks didn’t specifically target Jews like the Ozar Hatorah or Hyper Cacher shootings, it would be natural for someone to think “if they can’t even protect themselves, how will they protect us?”

In Israel, despite the terrorism and constant threat of war, a Jew has a sense of security that exists nowhere else, even in the Jewish paradise of America.

It’s paradoxical. Here we are surrounded by Palestinian Arabs, presently in the middle of what has been called the 3rd intifada, and there are daily incidents of terrorism against Jews. From October 1 to November 13, 14 Israeli Jews have been murdered by Arab terrorists and 167 wounded.

Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets aimed at the country, and Hamas has tens of thousands. I have heard the booms of rockets blown up in the air over my head by Iron Dome, and when I go to Jerusalem or even Tel Aviv, I am very careful crossing the street or waiting at bus stops (probably a good idea in any event). And yet I’m less tense than I was in California.

One obvious reason is that Israel is much better prepared to deal with war and terrorism than the rest of the world. It has one of the world’s best air forces, and a nuclear deterrent with second strike capability. Security checks at the airports and bus and train stations are better. Even shopping malls have guards; every car trunk is looked into at the entrance to the parking lot. But it still doesn’t fully justify the feeling of safety.

Having done reserve duty, I know that the army is not always what it is cracked up to be. The police are like police anywhere, some competent, some not. Security guards, well, let’s just say that they tend not to be highly paid former commandos.

But there are psychological factors. Israel’s Jews mostly see themselves as in it together. They are each as much targets as the next one, and they look out for one another. It’s their state, their imperfect state with its imperfect army and imperfect police that is charged with protecting them. This is comforting in a way that similar institutions in the Diaspora cannot be.

When I lived in the US, the strenuous efforts of the Obama Administration to define Islamic terrorism as anything other than what it is created feelings of helplessness and frustration in those who saw themselves as possible targets of it. In France, there is the simple fact that, although they appear to be trying, the authorities are unable to get ahead of the rising tide of Jew hatred.

Here in Israel the government is taking strong action (see Naftali Bennett’s Facebook post) against incitement and terrorism, including destroying the houses of terrorist murderers, outlawing the Northern Branch of the Islamic movement (which has been responsible for promulgating the very dangerous lie that Israel intends to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque), and other steps. Perhaps a little late, but moving in the right direction. The latest wave of terrorism isn’t over, but it seems to have crested.

It’s possible for an Israeli to appear very cynical about the motivations of politicians and other officials. There is a small subset of the population that despises the whole enterprise, many of whom are media personalities, academics and journalists, that makes an outsize impression to observers outside of the country. But this segment is taken much less seriously by the people that live here. Most Israeli Jews do identify with the state and its institutions, especially the army. And that makes them feel secure.

On the other hand, news reports suggest that French Jews are made to feel more anxious rather than less by the armed police posted outside synagogues, because they are reminded that at any moment they could be under terrorist attack.

By far the greatest number of Western Europeans emigrating to Israel in recent years have come from France. In 2014, some 7,000 French Jews made aliyah to Israel, while 3-5,000 went to other places, like Canada. One of the reasons is that the immigration process to Canada is slower and more complicated. It’s not a simple decision, because professionals face difficulties getting comparable jobs in Israel, and housing is expensive here also.

But I suggest that European Jews who chose to leave Europe take into account not only their physical security – although it is likely to be as well-protected in Israel as anywhere else in the world – but the psychological security that comes from living in the Jewish state.

Israel will emphatically never be the kind of “safe space” that the American students are looking for, a place in which they will not have to listen to anyone that disagrees with them. The opposite is true; in Israel disagreements are ubiquitous and eloquent. But maybe it is the kind of safe space that European Jews need today.

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3 Responses to Israel is a safe space

  1. Robman says:

    Right now, Israel also has the distinction of being the lone Leader of the Free World. Netanyahu may not be Winston Churchill, but with all of his faults, he is the closest thing on the world stage of today to that man. No other currently serving leader of any other Western country comes even close.

    Being Leader of the Free World is a lot to ask of a country that is about one-fifth the size of Ohio, and has a population that is approximately that of greater metro Chicago. But there it is.

    It was a kind of ‘co-leadership’ shared with Canada. But with the replacement of Harper by that complete imbecile, Trudeau, you are now alone. Trudeau – who was materially backed in his campaign by Obama cronies – is just as craven a Moslem butt-kisser as Obama, and even less qualified to be leader of his country. That is saying a lot.

    For the time being, one might say that ‘America’ as it has been known, does not exist. It is in a coma, a kind of state of suspended animation. For now, over here, we are a strange, warped country that might as well be called “Obamistan”. Officially, in Obamistan, there is not Islamic terrorism, Israel is always wrong, and terrorists who happen to be Moslem (but their religion cannot be acknowledged) have “understandable” reasons for their actions. I don’t know when America will return to consciousness; we are all hoping this will at least happen fourteen months from now, but there is no guarantee. Since the utterly corrupt media here is vetting Hillary about as well as they did Obama, she’s got at least an even odds chance of being elected. Which means that Obamistan remains.

    There is no telling how any of this plays out. I try to be optimistic, but I am so used to things getting worse and worse here, that it is harder and harder for me to imagine things getting better. So far, I have been very fortunate, at a personal level, that I have not been personally impacted very much by Obama. I wonder all the time, how long my luck will hold out. I think there is a very good chance, in any of several scenarios, that we are going to have upheavals in this country that will verge on civil war, before we can recover from Obama, if we ever do.

    Russia is certainly not a part of the Free World. Compared with the U.S., life there stinks by nearly every measure. Russia is a sewer of AIDS, crime, drug addiction, poverty, and government thuggery. But there is at least one advantage to being a Russian, compared with living here in Obamistan. At least the average Russian knows that their leadership is really trying to defend the country. Here in Obamistan, more and more of us, every day, see clearly that President Zero is not on our side. There is no peace of mind here. I can tell you that this is not only the case for Jews, but for many rank-and-file gentile citizens.

    What a mess.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree with all you say. But now I want to disagree a little.
    1)No country in the world is threatened in so many ways as Israel
    2) No country in the world has so many fanatical hate- filled enemies as Israel
    3) No country in the world is as subject to as many terrorist attacks as Israel
    4) No country in the world is so lied about so defamed so so delegitimized as Israel
    5) No country in the world has so many citizens who would like to see the country’s destruction
    This is just a small taste of a list which could go on and on pointing out ways in which Israel is especially endangered.

  3. Shalom,
    All of those things are true. But despite all of that, Europe is not a safe place for a Jew. And neither is America, in a slightly longer timeframe.

    And then of course there is the psychological/spiritual kind of safety that I mentioned.

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