BERLIN — While waiting for my flight to Germany, somebody asked me if I was scared to visit here. Afraid, in Europe? “Yes, with all the Arabs there. After all, Europe is becoming Muslim.”
Years of brainwashing by the media and a hefty dose of racism at home have gotten Israelis to embrace the positions of fascist movements across the Continent, creating a discourse of hatred of the liberal Europe that dares welcome migrants. There is nothing more revolting: Jews preaching to Germans on why they should close their doors and throw out the migrants.
As Jews, we should be the first to rejoice that Germany has changed, that it really is different – and is now the leader in protecting human rights. Is there any deeper learning of the lessons of the Holocaust, of the murder inflicted on our people?
But many Israelis deride this liberalism. The fact that Europe is experiencing its most prosperous period in history doesn’t convince them. They’re eager to obtain a European passport, they celebrate the Eurovision Song Contest, they pop over to Europe at every opportunity yet refuse to understand that this bounty stems from tolerance, democracy, open borders, a feisty media, a thriving cultural life and everything else that makes Israelis snort in contempt while drooling with envy.
Israel hates Europe yet yearns for it. “Members of the Mizrahi community, you too deserve a European passport!” – Jews with roots in North Africa and the wider Middle East. Israel is apparently the country with the highest percentage of people acquiring dual citizenship. If in the past it was mainly Ashkenazi Jews, with the new laws passed in Spain and Portugal it has become more of an all-Israel affair, exciting Israelis of so many origins. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now citizens of European countries.
So is everything rosy in Europe? Of course not. The migration waves have created great problems. Extremist pockets do exist in Muslim communities. There are tensions, acts of violence and even terror attacks, but the numbers are far from the fake news presented in the media. Six percent of Germany is Muslim, and no, the country isn’t turning Muslim. Incidentally, the number of Muslims in Poland and Hungary is minuscule, a fact that doesn’t prevent the sowing of fear of imaginary migrant hordes.
The real reason migrants come to Europe isn’t Angela Merkel’s liberalism but the fact that they’re needed. The low birthrates and aging population require someone to look after the elderly, pave the roads and work the kitchens and all the other hard jobs we don’t like doing, certainly not for the low wages migrants are paid. They’re needed and that’s why they’re here. Instead of seeing them as a curse or threat, today’s Germany sees migrants as people. How strange.
I’m sitting in a Berlin schoolyard. There’s a colorful fair here, with stands selling cakes, others offering games, and the whole neighborhood is invited. Children of all colors with parents in a multitude of attires. Does it annoy anyone? Is it not sufficiently German?
What exactly is “German”? Until recently, a hundred yards away there was a wall with snipers, and any German moving from that Germany to this one was shot dead. The neighborhood was shabby, the city was bleeding. And today? People come here from around the world to study, work and go on vacation. Berlin is flourishing because of its openness, its left-wing mayors and its social-environmental politics.
It’s not certain that things will remain this way. All across Europe there are forces exploiting the natural recoil at migrants, promising “to return the country to its greatness.”
This is a pathetic fantasy about an imaginary past. There never was a “pure Europe.” The entire continent has a history of migration waves, and horrific violence was here long before Muslim migrants arrived. This is entirely a political issue: “The foreigners,” “the others” are always scapegoats in the politics of repression. Now this hatred is lurking around the corner, waiting to sink its teeth into liberal Europe, returning it to darker periods.
Published in Ha'aretz.