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Europe’s Jew-Free Zones


Jewish life in many parts of the continent is retreating in the face of relentless anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred.

“I never knew we were Jewish.” I’ll never forget the day my mother’s best friend – a brilliant doctor, educated in France and Israel, and now practicing medicine in Chicago – told me about her childhood. She was such a poised, worldly woman, it seemed impossible that she never knew this central fact about her identity.

Her family lived in Romania, she explained, and even after the horrors of the Holocaust had come to light, Romania’s remaining Jews still lived in fear. For her safety, her parents had never mentioned their Jewish heritage. One day in the 1950s, they finally confided in their children they were Jews, and – like the vast majority of Romanian Jews who had survived the Holocaust – were about to immigrate to Israel.

For the few thousand remaining Jews who continue to call Romania home, a new survey has brought a painful reminder that, for many Romanians, Jews remain unwelcome. In August 2015, the Elie Wiesel National Institute for Holocaust Studies in Romania (where Mr. Wiesel grew up) released the results of a survey showing nearly a quarter of Romanians today would prefer no Jews to call their country home.

Fully 11% of Romanians characterize Jews as “a problem” for the nation, and 22% would like to see Jews as tourists – not citizens.

These negative opinions coincide with ignorance of or indifference to the Holocaust: while nearly three quarters of Romanians have heard of the Holocaust (a 12% rise since a previous survey in 2007), only about a third believed it happened in Romania (despite the fact that half of Romania’s then Jewish population of 750,000 were murdered in the Holocaust). A majority of Romanians surveyed characterize their wartime leader as a “patriot” today.

The survey’s shocking result – and the hostility towards Jewish citizens – made headlines around the world, but sadly, Romanians aren’t the only ones calling for countries or towns to become Jew-free.

Some nations’ anti-Jewish stances are well-known. In January 2015, for example, Saudi Arabian officials scrambled to deny media reports that they would begin allowing Jews to enter the country as guest workers. (The purported policy would only extend to non-Israeli Jews, initial reports speculated; it was always clear that Israeli Jews would never be allowed to work in the kingdom.) When the non-story broke, Saudi Arabia – which already forbids the building of houses of worship other than mosques on its soil – explained: official policy remained. No Jew can legally enter as a guest worker, and Saudi Arabia remains a virtually Jew-free zone.

Yet this poisonous attitude seems to be creeping into some European attitudes as well.

A landmark 2011 survey in Ireland found that 20% of Irish people would be in favor of banning Israelis from becoming citizens, and 11% would be in favor of stopping all Jews from becoming Irish citizens. (When questioned about their personal relationships, attitudes were even more stark: 46% wouldn’t want a Jew in their family, and 52% would be opposed to having an Israeli in their family.) Worryingly, the poll seemed to portend an increase in such anti-Semitic feelings. Anti-Jewish attitudes were highest among the younger generation, with 18-25 year olds holding the most extreme anti-Semitic views.)


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