Saturday 20 December 2014

Europe may be empty of Jews by end of the century

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan.
Illustration by Jim Cogan.

Regular readers respond strongly, and surprisingly positively, to two topics which feature fairly regularly in this column: Protestants and Jews. To be specific, the historical experience of Southern Protestants and European Jews. Northern Protestants and Israeli Jews are strong enough not to need my support.

Now, of course, there is no comparison between the enforced exodus of thousands of Southern Protestants during the Troubles of 1918-23 and the mass murder of European Jews. But when we examine the period that followed their respective traumas we find faint echoes of each other's post-war experience.

Both communities continued to decline for the same two reasons. They either assimilated into the majority community by marriage or they emigrated following a feeling of not being welcome in their own country. Or what I called, in another context, "a cold house of Catholics."

But there the comparison ends. Southern Protestant numbers have stabilised. The community will not cease to exist except by its own choice. But for the past 25 years, European Jews have faced a third threat from Muslim immigrants whose anti-Israeli anger has aroused dormant anti- Jewish prejudices across Europe.

As a result, the one million descendants of the Jews who somehow survived Hitler's plan to make Europe "Judenfrei", free of Jews, no longer feel welcome or safe. The largest number, nearly 80pc, live in France Their numbers are dropping fast, from 535,000 in 1980 to some 500,000 in just two decades, and that decrease is being accelerated by events like the Toulouse murder of a Rabbi and his three children.

Many observers believe Europe may be effectively empty of Jews by the end of this century. French Jews are already emigrating in significant numbers, prodded by Muslim hostility and the feeling of exclusion prompted by the current campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) which is now gaining strength in Ireland.

Irish advocates of the boycott claim that such a campaign is aimed at Israel and must not be seen as a boycott of Jews. But if you were Irish and drinking with your British mates in a Birmingham pub after a Provo bombing atrocity came on the television, and everybody around you in the pub started to shout "murdering Irish bastards" you would soon feel under personal attack and if they continued you might want to change country.

The current boycott campaign is further blurring fine distinctions. Tommy McGuigan, the Tyrone footballer, tweeted: "If you are lucky enough to know or work with a Jew, punch him right on the nose tomorrow". He added a hashtag and the word c-ts. He has since said sorry but it left a shadow.

So did the pulling down of a plaque in Belfast in honour of Chaim Herzog who was educated in Dublin, and became President of Israel. So did Sinn Fein calls for a boycott of Israeli goods in Newry. So does the Kinvara campaign against Israeli produce.

Do these campaigners ever look at their stance through the eyes of an Irish or a European Jew who knows that the first Nazi laws of April 1933 boycotted Jewish businesses? That duty of empathy devolves even more deeply on highly educated academics. At least one has stepped up to the plate.

Last week, Dr Kevin McCarthy, a UCC lecturer, having visited a Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, wrote to the Irish Times about "the early Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses as a central and essential causational tool in the exclusion of Jews from German society."

But another academic, Dr John Reynolds, a lecturer in International Law in Maynooth, is more typical of academe. In an article in Journal.ie he advocated BDS, But in doing so he followed the fashionable but factually false habit of treating Gaza as if it were a colony and Israel as if it were an occupying colonial power.

The words "colony", "colonial", "occupy" and "occupation" occur repeatedly throughout his polemic. But surely a lecturer in international law should know that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005? Has Dr Reynolds forgotten the television pictures of 14,000 IDF troops forcibly clearing hundreds of sobbing Jewish settlers?

Far from wanting to act as a colonial power, Israel's attitude to Gaza is closer to that of Britain's to Northern Ireland. Britain had no wish to be an occupying power. Same with Israel. But like the IRA for 30 years, Hamas wants this running wound so it continues to fire rockets.

France has so far failed to convince French Jews their future is safe. But that failure may bring its own bitter retribution. Losing half a million French Jews and replacing them with radicalised Muslims would make France's future look even bleaker than that of European Jews.

* * *

Europe without Jews will be empty of everything that gives meaning to its Judaeo-Christian civilisation. So we must hope they show the same resilience as West Cork Protestants like the family of Canon Salter whom the IRA intimidated into leaving the Dunmanway area, but who soon returned to farm happily at Castletownshend.

Recently in Field's coffee shop in Skibbereen I met Peg Keohane from Castletownshend, 60 years married in England, and home on her annual holiday. She recalled the relaxed relations between Roman Catholics like herself and local Protestants of all classes; how Edith Somerville gave local children the run of the gardens at Drishane House, and Peg played in summer fields with the Salter children.

Peg told me proudly that Rosemary Townsend, a legendary pastry cook, said her mother made the best tea bread in West Cork. I duly filed the fact that it was called tea bread, not tea brack, in my mental memory stick of West Cork folklore.

* * *

Last Tuesday, while the unfunny Tommy Tiernan was effing and blinding at a gig in Baltimore, I went in search of something more stimulating. And found it at a modest evangelical gospel meeting at Tim and Pat McKnight's barn on Ringarogy Island, which is linked to the mainland by tiny Lag Bridge just outside Baltimore.

As the sun set over Roaringwater Bay beyond, local evangelicals gathered at the barn, just as their ancestors had assembled without benefit of church buildings, to hear John Wesley preach on his many missions across Ireland. Arriving in Dublin, he would make his way on horseback from Dublin to Limerick to preach to the Palatines and then travel south to speak to the artisans of Bandon and miners on the Mizen Head.

Apart from meeting some fine West Cork people, the barn service gave me a chance to study the rhetorical techniques of a properly trained preacher from Northern Ireland. Rev Eric Stewart, originally from Omagh, hardly raised his voice, yet it rang from the barn rafters. But at one point he paused to praise the new-looking wooden lectern on which he leaned.

The minute the meeting was over I turned to Tim McKnight: "I bet Teddy O'Driscoll's workshop built that lectern!" Tim was gratifyingly impressed with my good guess. But only Teddy, a carpenter-joiner with high standards, would have created a functionally beautiful lectern from solid iroko wood that will not slide about.

Then came my initiation ceremony. A circle of ladies presented me with a plate of buttered confections and waited to find out if I was a blow-in. So I munched for a while, milking the moment, before going for the adulation reserved for those who remember the right word even if they are weak on the right Word. "Ladies, that is lovely tea bread."

Sunday Independent

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