History, Politics Drive Israeli Calls to Europe's Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for Jewish emigration after anti-Semitic attacks have riled European leaders but come as no surprise given Israel's history as a refuge and a looming election, analysts say.

Netanyahu seized on the killing of a Jewish man in Denmark on Sunday to urge mass migration to the Jewish state.

"To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms," he said in a statement.

He said his government would adopt a $45 million (39.5 million euro) plan "to encourage the absorption of immigrants from France, Belgium and Ukraine".

"Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe," Netanyahu said.

A month earlier he made similar calls in Paris after an Islamist gunman shot dead four Jews at a kosher supermarket.

Europe's leaders have reacted with a mixture of outrage and efforts to reassure their Jewish populations.

French President Francois Hollande said he would no longer accept calls which could "make people think Jews no longer have a place in Europe."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Israel's upcoming election campaign did not give Netanyahu carte blanche to "make just any statement."

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Denmark "wouldn't be the same without the Jewish community," and Netanyahu's comments did not go down well in Germany and Austria either.

But despite the offense caused in Europe, the Israeli premier's position is nothing new and should come as no surprise, foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP.

"Netanyahu is leader of a country which sees itself as the nation state of the Jewish people, and which is essentially built as a refuge, most recently for Jews of the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia," he said.

"We urge Jews the world over to come, but it must be a personal choice," he said.

He said there was renewed urgency because "it has never been so difficult to be a Jew in France" or the rest of Europe since 1945, with figures showing that anti-Semitic acts in France have doubled over the past year.

"Aliya" -- Jewish immigration to Israel -- enabled the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 although it stretched back more than half a century before that.

Roughly three million Jews have emigrated to the state of Israel to avoid persecution or in the name of Zionism.

The French and the Danish, therefore, "shouldn't be shocked," said Esther Schely-Newman of Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

"Israel opening its arms to the world's Jews basically explains our existence. But should Jews come now? That's another question," she said.

In 2004, then prime minister Ariel Sharon riled Paris by calling French Jews to emigrate "immediately" because of what he called "rampant anti-Semitism".

Israel-based politics professor Denis Charbit said the same message had been conveyed to Jews of the Soviet Union, Syria or Iran.

It is not a question of politics, he said.

"Both left and right share the Zionist belief that Jews have the right to return to their homeland. The right is simply just a little more assertive" in its calls for immigration.

Former Israeli diplomat and Labour party lawmaker Colette Avital attributes Netanyahu's timing to a general election scheduled for March 17.

"I'm not sure Israel can offer all the security in the world" to Jews, she said.

"Normally, Netanyahu might have been more diplomatic. But in this electoral period, he is projecting the image of a strong man, that of 'Mr. Security'."

Source: Agence France Presse

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