Does the Wave of Muslim Refugees Threaten Europe's Jews?

Syrian migrants walk along a railway track after crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border into Hungary, near Roszke, August 26. German Jewish leaders are warning of “widespread anti-Semitism among Muslim youth” in Germany, as many refugees come from countries where Israel is an enemy. Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

Does the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees in Europe pose a threat to Jews who live there?

Prof. Daniel Byman (of Brookings and Georgetown) wrote recently that

If the refugees are treated as a short-term humanitarian problem rather than as a long-term integration challenge, then we are likely to see this problem worsen. Radicals will be among those who provide the religious, educational and social support for the refugees—creating a problem where none existed.

Indeed, the refugees need a comprehensive and long-term package that includes political rights, educational support and economic assistance as well as immediate humanitarian aid, particularly if they are admitted in large numbers. If they cannot be integrated into local communities, then they risk perpetuating, or even exacerbating, the tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Europe.

The non-Muslim communities most likely to feel the brunt of those tensions are Jewish communities.

German Jewish leaders explained the problem to Chancellor Merkel this week, warning of "widespread anti-Semitism among Muslim youth" in Germany and noting that "Many refugees come from countries where Israel is an enemy; this resentment is often transferred to Jews in general." There are also reports that Germany's security agencies have expressed the same warning.

It's a fact that the terrorist attacks against European Jews in recent years have been made by Muslims, all with North African backgrounds except for Amedy Coulibaly, who murdered four Jews at a kosher grocery in Paris in January; he was from a Malian Muslim family. So it's not a great surprise that the arrival of very many more immigrants from countries where hatred of Jews is rife would give rise to fears in Jewish communities.

It is difficult to know what should be done in the face of the risk of more and more anti-Semitic violence, which has already made Jewish life dangerous in many European cities. It was reported that the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister suggested in 2013 "that each refugee seeking asylum in the Netherlands should sign a declaration accepting the rights of women and homosexuals, and assertion that he would not tolerate any intolerance against atheists or people of other religions" because "the new refugees come from cultures where most people cannot accept equal rights for homosexuals, Jews, atheists and women."

But that was before the great waves of refugees in 2015.

The general position of Jewish communities over the decades has been pro-immigration, welcoming refugees. Today some of those communities are wondering whether they are going to see the dangers facing Jewish life increase. If Byman is right–that when refugees cannot be integrated well there is a great risk of exacerbating tensions with non-Muslim communities–the future will almost certainly be even more difficult for the Jews of Europe.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.