JPR News archive
Is Europe good for the Jews? Jews and the pluralist tradition in historical perspective
Tuesday 22 Apr 2008
Is Europe today uniquely favourable or uniquely threatening to Jews? This was the question examined by a seminar held in April to launch Dr Steven Beller’s JPR policy debate paper, entitled Is Europe good for the Jews? Jews and the pluralist tradition in historical perspective. At the seminar Dr Beller  presented some of the arguments he outlined in his paper, and a response was given by Dr Diana Pinto . The discussion was chaired by Antony Lerman, JPR’s Executive Director. The seminar was attended by a wide range of academics, Jewish communal professionals and rabbis.
Over the past few years there has been a growing trend within Jewish communities to raise the alarm about Europe and the rise of the ‘new antisemitism’. A range of phenomena, from an increase in attacks on Jewish individuals and institutional buildings to a perceived anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian bias has led to the notion that Europe is no longer so good for the Jews.
However, Steven Beller argued that the impulse to sound the alarm was misplaced, especially when aimed at ‘Europe’ itself. Modern-day Europe and the emerging institutions of the European Union are very good for the Jews. Indeed the EU was born and continues to develop in the great European tradition of pluralism that Jews have done so much to foster. Dr Beller believes the way forward lies in the recognition of the need for mutual respect and co-existence among Europe’s many cultures and communities, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.
He explained that many of the countries which were most welcoming to Jews throughout history were heterogeneous nation states, such as Britain or the Netherlands, or civic nation states such as France, not ethno-national states. Nation states enabled Jews to be Jews and members of a national polity and cultural ethnic group; they were allowed to be whatever they wanted, at least in theory. Today the EU once again allows Jews to be pluralist, unlike the problematic exclusive nationalism of the past.
Dr Beller pointed to an apparent conflict between the pluralist tradition of Europe and European Jewry and the ethno-nationalism behind the state of Israel. However, he claimed this conflict was not absolute. One does not have to be a complete supporter of Israel, believing all Jews should live there on the one hand, or believe in the diasporic tradition on the other. Both sides represent part of the whole of Jewish tradition in the modern world.
In her response, Dr Diana Pinto called for Jews to act as a bridge between Europe and the wider Jewish world. She said that while the EU was built on national reconciliation, Jews still felt that Europe had still not taken into account sufficiently what Europe had inflicted on them.
While the EU is based on subsidiarity, rock bottom issues still depend on states and Europe’s Jews do not have a state within Europe.
For most European citizens, she claimed, Europe was less than the cumulative qualities of its member states.
She deeply regretted that Europe does not understand the value of its own Jews. The only Jews who seem to count are those living in the United States or Israel. Jews should be regarded as a positive influence in Europe and must also see themselves in this light. She also claimed that the vast majority of European Jews did not have any visceral sense of identity with their own country. She attributed this partly to their fear of antisemitism. She highlighted the example of the younger generation of French Jews, whom she described as ‘disintegrating’; they no longer feel French, but primarily Jewish.
Dr Pinto claimed that the impact of the commemoration of the Holocaust had not yet been properly evaluated. It had created many new tensions and stigmata, and had become a divisive issue. Some groups use the Holocaust for their own ends, which inevitably creates misunderstanding. She argued that everyone, including the Jewish world, needed to move beyond the Holocaust.
Dr Beller concluded that Europe provides a forum that allows everyone to coexist in a way that the nation state never did. However, Jews should be more open and inclusive in the way they think.
 Dr Steven Beller has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a visiting scholar at George Washington University. He has written widely on modern Jewish and Central European history. His books include Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938, A Cultural History, Herzl and Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction.
 Dr Diana Pinto is an intellectual historian and writer living in Paris. She is a Senior Fellow at JPR and the Director of JPR’s Voices for the Res Publica: Re-discovering the Common Good project. The author of Entre deux mondes, she has lectured widely on Jewish life in contemporary Europe. Her articles on post-1989 European Jewry have been published across the continent.
Media contacts at JPR
All media enquiries should be directed to:
020 7436 1553