Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5760 - November 3, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Unwise Tactics in the Service of Just Demands

The demand that is made these days to return Jewish property left in Europe from before the Holocaust is just. However it is being pressed in ways that indicate that those who are doing the demanding - - and they include major secular leaders as well as more pecuniary-minded lawyers in addition to many genuinely poor and deserving victims -- have forgotten that the causes of that tragedy were not erased by the defeat of Nazi Germany. A deep undercurrent of racism is still present in Europe, as is shown clearly by recent election results in Switzerland and Austria -- both countries that are prominent targets of the just Jewish demands.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of the demands are just. In many cases they refer to property that is still owned by Jews, as it was taken by hook and by crook. Many of the countries behaved in less-than-honorable ways during and after the war, and never before even acknowledged that they benefited from property that was stolen from Nazi victims.

Moreover, time is running out for most of the survivors. Many struggle to live out their remaining years in dignity, and merely restoring what is rightfully theirs can go a long way to help them.

Yet there is another, important, side to these bloody old coins. Demands are made in power plays, forcing the European countries to accede to them even when they believe that they are exaggerated. The threats of state officials across the United States are too strong to ignore. The Europeans feel that they are being brought to their knees and humiliated. The way that the secular Jewish leaders threaten and posture in the international press also arouses resentment and even the latent hatred in the European peoples for Jews.

This is no longer speculation. The clear and surprising victories of the political right in Switzerland and Austria, only a month apart, are certainly in part due to a backlash against the struggle for Jewish property restitution in those countries.

European Jewish leaders have been quietly warning against a rise in antisemitism due to the strident demands and the way they were made. The executive director of the French Jewish organization CRIF, referring to the efforts to restore Jewish property to its rightful owners over the past several years, said, "In the first stages of the campaign, popular feeling in Switzerland was very favorably disposed to the demands of the World Jewish Congress. Afterwards, when the campaign became more extreme and sanctions were endorsed, this trend reversed itself. It is impossible to deny that in parallel [with the sanctions] there was a rise in Swiss antisemitism. Even more serious is the fact that there was a very dramatic rise in the willingness to give free vent to this antisemitism. Swiss newspapers began to freely fill their letters columns with letters that were full of classical antisemitic complaints and arguments. Did all this contribute to the rise of the extreme right?"

The humiliation that the Swiss felt they suffered from the American-backed Jewish demands broke all the postwar taboos against open antisemitism. Who knows where it will lead? Was it worth it?

If concern for the poor victims were paramount, the many talented fundraisers could raise substantial sums for them, and they would almost certainly be available much faster than the resources wrenched from unwilling Europeans through legal wrangling.

Our tradition from age-old experience and the wisdom of the Torah is that loud threats and aggressive pressure tactics against the peoples of the non-Jewish world are inappropriate and out of character in our long golus. We work for Moshiach with prayer, Torah and mitzvos, may he come soon.

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