Politically and emotionally, European Jews are all over the map in their reaction to President Bush’s re-election. Many European Jews share the vehement opposition to Bush and his aggressive foreign policy that is widespread in Europe.
But others applaud Bush for his staunch support of Israel against the Palestinians, his tough stand on terrorism and his administration’s role in making the fight against anti-Semitism a high-profile international issue.
While European Jews viewed the election from their own political and community perspectives, Barry Kosmin, executive director of the London-based Institution for Jewish Policy Research, said many Jews appeared to have put Bush’s foreign policy ahead of their otherwise liberal feelings.
“My impression is that there was a little more sympathy for Bush among Jews than gentiles of equivalent status and education,” Kosmin told JTA.
A Jewish relative summed it up best, Kosmin said: “If he were American he’d vote for Kerry on domestic issues, but since we, European Jews, are only really affected by foreign policy, then Bush was best since he was better for Israel and recognized the Islamic terrorist danger more clearly.”
Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, agreed that support for Israel influenced how European Jews viewed the election.
“Without entering into differences which may exist over Bush’s domestic policies, many European Jews see him as one of the best allies of Israel,” he said. “When you consider the unbalanced European position toward Israel, the U.S. administration has been a key element in allowing Israel to maintain its international position.”
In Italy, too, said Annie Sacerdoti, editor of the Milan Jewish monthly Il Bollettino, the generally liberal views of many Italian Jews were restrained somewhat by considerations linked to Bush’s pro-Israel policy.
“The fear of change, therefore, led to a somewhat favorable view of Bush’s re-election,” she told JTA.
But not everyone saw things that way. Claude Hampel, spokesman for the liberal Bernard Lazare Center in Paris, said he regretted that Kerry had lost, because “to move forward toward peace in the Middle East, we need someone who understands Europe and is more open to cooperation.”
And Hanno Loewy, a German Jew who directs the Jewish Museum in Hohenems, Austria, and teaches in Germany, criticized support for Bush that was based on a perception that “what is good for Israel is good for us.”
That attitude is misguided for two reasons, he told JTA: “Bush is not good for Israel, and what is good for Israel and its politics is by no means necessarily good for ‘us,’ ” Loewy said.
Jews in Germany, he added, “still don’t want to accept that they have to define their interests independently. Trapped by trauma, hypocrisy and the desire of adopting a self-image of strong ‘self-defense,’ there is still a lack of sense for a diasporic Jewish identity.”
Jonathan Joseph, president of the European Council of Jewish Communities, voiced concern that Bush’s victory could lead to a further estrangement between Europe and the United States that in turn would impact European Jewry.
“I believe that the election result will see the continuation of a gradual turning in on itself of American culture and regard for Europe,” Joseph told JTA. “The Bush victory will see a continuation of the fundamentalist, crusading foreign policy style that is unlikely to be sensitive to the subtleties of realpolitik in Europe, and particularly our relationship with the Muslim communities that are a part of the same societies in which we live.
“This leaves European Jewry with the formidable task of being strong and positive role models in the communities we live in,” he added. “We need to reach out to all our fellow Europeans and to pass to them all the best of our beliefs and practices toward a civil and humane society in Europe. I believe we will be positively surprised by the effect, over time, of our so doing.”
Rabbi Moshe Garelik, executive director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, a Brussels-based group of Chabad rabbis across Europe, said he was “confident that the days ahead will mark an enhanced U.S. relationship with Europe and its Jewish community, and the next few years are going to bring positive improvements.”
He said Bush’s “moral values” and “well-known affinity for the Jewish community” led him to give “special attention” to Jewish issues.
Some European Jews appeared surprised that American Jews had voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.
“The British Jewish community has individual preferences, but I do know that I have relatives in the U.S. who have been lifelong members of the Democratic party who all voted for Bush,” Flo Kaufmann, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told JTA. “I don’t believe the polls. All the American Jews I know supported Bush because of his stance on Israel.”
Given the attention European media pay to the supposed influence of a “Jewish lobby,” some European Jews appeared relieved at the American Jewish vote.
In France, where anti-Bush feeling is particularly strong, Jewish organizations were keen to play down supposed links between Bush and the American Jewish community, an issue that was widely covered in the French press ahead of the election.
Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, told the LCI radio station that with more than 70 percent of U.S. Jews voting for Kerry, “American Jews are not as influential as people here like to say they are.”
Pointing out that Bush had been demonized in France, Cukierman said that at least Americans had “sent a message that we have to continue the fight against international terrorism.”
Ariel Musicant, head of the Austrian Jewish community, said the Jewish view there was split, but that Europeans should not try to second-guess the American electorate.
“The American election is primarily important for the USA, but it also shows that Europe cannot wish who will be the president of America.” he told JTA.
The election, he said, “proves again that Europeans should stop their arrogant approach that they know what is better for America. It’s not up to Europe to tell Americans that they are stupid and naive. The U.S. saved us two times in the world wars and helped build Europe with the Marshall Plan.”
JTA Correspondents Toby Axelrod in Berlin and Philip Carmel in Paris contributed to this report.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.