(December 2, 2021 / JNS) Diaspora Jews have a collective history of constant migration. Ethnically cleansed hundreds of years ago from their ancient homeland in Israel, they wandered between continents that periodically persecuted them, threw them out or barred them altogether.
How, then, should Jews approach today’s phenomenon of the mass migration of peoples?
All over the world, millions are on the move from the impoverished and violent developing world to the West in search of a better and safer life.
On America’s border with Mexico, tens of thousands are trying to cross into the United States in order to live and work.
In Europe, an apparently unstoppable migratory tide of people is being manipulated by geopolitical power politics. Backed by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, who has perceived an opportunity to put Western Europe under intolerable demographic and cultural pressure, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been bringing such migrants into his country in order to funnel them into Western Europe.
For many such migrants, Britain is their destination of choice because of its open labor market, generous welfare provision and—crucially—the fact that its culture of adhering to international human-rights laws means such migrants will almost certainly be absorbed into British society even if they have no legal right to be there.
Thousands make their way to the French coast, where they are encamped in squalid and violent conditions as part of an illegal people-smuggling trade across the English Channel. Hundreds every week attempt to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, packed into mostly wholly unseaworthy craft.
Last month, at least 27 such migrants drowned when their flimsy inflatable boat sank in French waters. Such appalling consequences are all too predictable.
The reason Britain can’t just send these migrants back across the channel is a combination of international laws—under which any of them in danger of drowning has to be rescued by the responsible country—and the fact that the French, who are themselves overwhelmed by this human tide, want them gone.
The migrants are seeking to escape poverty, war or tyrannical regimes. Very few, however, meet the legal definition of a refugee as someone fleeing persecution that puts their own life in danger. Many are simply in search of a better way of life.
For those of us whose grandparents and great-grandparents fled pogroms and persecution in Eastern Europe, or those haunted by the memory of the world shutting its gates to the Jews of Nazi Germany who were then consumed in the Holocaust, the migrants tend to provoke a visceral sympathy and the belief that turning them away is inhumane.
This view is shared by most liberals. And indeed, many of the migrants’ stories are heartbreaking.
However, this is emphatically not the same story as in the past. This is not merely a matter of immigration or political persecution as understood by the international convention on refugees. The numbers wanting to move, and with potentially many more millions behind them, are on an unprecedented scale. Left unchecked, this would entail two baleful consequences for countries admitting such a tide.
The first is practical, in that the social infrastructure of housing and public services would become overwhelmed. The second, more explosive consequence is that such numbers would change the ethnic and cultural character of the nation—without the public ever having been consulted.
Of course, some incoming cultures are easier to assimilate than others because of their common values in language, religion and so on.
Muslim immigration, however, presents particular problems. Many Muslims genuinely sign up to Western bedrock values such as equality for women, and freedom of religion and expression. But many others, who are disproportionately represented in this movement of peoples, are not only unwilling to integrate but expect their host country to assimilate to Islamic precepts.
This has caused social tensions and problems as serious as they are deemed to be unsayable. Across Western Europe, large-scale Muslim immigration has fueled both physical and verbal attacks on Jewish communities. In France, the high level of anti-Semitism has resulted in many French Jews fleeing France for Israel.
The crisis in France caused by unassimilable Muslim culture is so grave it has resulted in Ḗric Zemmour, a sociologist with no political experience and with extremist and widely unpalatable views, emerging as a real contender to become president of France on a platform of rescuing its cultural identity.
For liberal universalists, however, the very idea that anyone should object to mass migration offends against their core belief in the brotherhood of man. For them, the concept of the Western nation is intrinsically exclusive and discriminatory, and so anyone wishing to defend its historic culture is to be damned as a racist.
To this liberal mindset, any hierarchy of values is illegitimate and unjust. Yet a moment’s thought surely tells one that this is an inhuman philosophy.
After all, do we not prefer our own children to those of others? Would we not save the lives of our family members before those of strangers? Loyalty to our people or our nation is an extension of the same principle—that we have a duty to privilege those closest to us.
Of course, there’s a moral duty to be compassionate to refugees and to welcome strangers. But there’s also a moral duty to safeguard the interests of those to whom we owe a primary loyalty and responsibility.
Moreover, it is only through a nation that we can defend ourselves against enemy invasion. If Britain and America hadn’t had a strong sense of themselves in the last century as nations defending precious historic principles, fascism and communism would have extinguished Western freedom.
But if there is no sense of a shared culture and common national purpose, there will be nothing that people want to defend.
The Jewish people in the land of Israel were the prototype nation, bound by a sense of a shared destiny forged through laws based on religion and connected to a particular land.
Jewish values are a paradox. Judaism’s core principles of compassion and justice are of universal application as the basis of a civilized society, but were brought to the world only by a highly particular culture.
The liberal world has internalized instead as a guiding principle the lyrics of “Imagine,” John Lennon’s hymn to universalism. As Lennon sang: “Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ and no religion, too/ Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace … .”
But that world would not be a world of peace at all, but one of tribalism, brutalization and a war of all against all.
As Ze’ev Maghen wrote in his book John Lennon and the Jews, to be human is to love; and to love is to be above all attached; and to be attached, you have to have something or someone distinctive or special to be attached to.
Universal, equal “love,” says Maghen, means, in fact, universal, equal indifference and worse. John Lennon’s imagined utopia leads straight to the barbarities of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. As Maghen observes, “Imagine” is “a requiem mass for the human race.”
Which is why to be attached to your nation, as to the Jewish people itself, is an act of love. And which is why indifference or active opposition to effective border control, without which a nation ceases to exist, is an attitude of destructive national self-loathing.
Of the Jewish people, Maghen aptly wrote: “We have perceived ourselves as an am, as a nation, as a commonly descended family and naturally-knitted tribal unit, for as far back as anyone can remember.”
Jews of all people should surely acknowledge that, along with compassion towards the refugee and the stranger, others have the right to uphold and defend their nation, too.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.
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