NEWS European Attacks and the Right to Choose Aliyah

copenhagenBy Daniela Gross

Should we stay or should we go? The murders in Copenhagen, the bloody attacks in Paris, and the vandalizing of graves in Northern France, fueled an international debate about the right choice for the European Jews. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called them to move to Israel. “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” he said. “I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew.”

His declarations ignited a wide reaction. “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” replied Jair Melchior, Denmark’s chief rabbi, adding that he was “disappointed” by Netanyahu’s comment. “Terror is a perfect reason to move to Israel,” retorted Shmuel Rosner on the Jewish Journal. What happened in Europe in the last months, he affirmed, “is a stark reminder that Israel is still the only place in which Jews have some control over their future, and is a stark reminder that the question of the safety of Jews — the naked, brutal question of the physical safety of Jews — is still a highly significant one.”

And what about Italy? The president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna said that Jews should not be “forced by fear” to emigrate. “Staying or leaving should be a free choice,” for Jews, a right “as for all other citizens,” he added. As Mr. Gattegna pointed out, Italian Jews have lived in the country “for 2,200 years,” and intend to remain a part of Italy.

“These are terrible hours of indignation and mourning,” he declared after the murders in Copenhagen. “But the supporters of hate and the enemies of freedom of speech are mistaken if they think they will succeed in their intent, because we, the Jews of Europe, will not surrender. We will continue to live our lives and to defend the strong fundamental values which are shared by all the people of democratic Europe, which were built on the ashes of the worst crimes ever committed by man against fellow man and on the ideals of those who fought for liberty from hatred and tyranny.”

However, the aliyah from Italy is increasing, remarked Sergio Della Pergola, demographer, statistician and professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We are talking, anyway, about small numbers, not more than the 1 per cent of the European Jewish population, “not enough to talk about an exodus”.

During 2014, 323 Italian Jews left Italy for Israel. It is a high number, if one considers that the Italian olim have been about 2 thousands in the last decade, and that the Italian Jewish population is not very large. Among the reason for this immigration, said Professor Della Pergola, there are “the economic crisis that involves all Italy, and the anti-Semitism of communication media, of the Internet, and of large political areas”. Anyway, he added, the situation in Italy is not comparable to the French. “In Italy the attacks are nearly non existent, but there is a discomfort”.

In 2014, there were 6,658 Jews who left Europe for Israel, more than double the previous year. In January 2015 alone, 1,835 people emigrated – mostly from France, that is home to the largest European Jewish Community.