No time is a good time for an epic humanitarian crisis. But Europe today seems woefully unprepared for the human wave from the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa and reaching all the way to Afghanistan.
I was overseas for much of the last few weeks and had a chance to watch Al Jazeera and BBC coverage. In the early phase of this mass movement of people, great pains were made to depict them as migrants, not refugees, who had the legal right to relocate to Europe.
All that changed with the horrific revelations of dozens of these ‘migrants’ found suffocated in a truck in Austria, hundreds more perishing at sea, and the photo of a dead boy from Syria, who drowned along with his mother.
Tragically, the policies of “leading from behind” and “no boots on the ground,” may mean less Americans in harm’s way in the Middle East, but the leadership vacuum has left millions of innocent people to fend for themselves.
It is not only the huge numbers that cause the crisis, although the mention by Chancellor Merkel of 800,000 potential refugees being absorbed into Germany, sent shockwaves across the political and social landscape across the continent.
It is not only security concerns, though European Intelligence agencies must be alarmed at the thought of taking in thousands of unvetted refugees from the ground zero of terrorism and sectarian violence, when they are already staggering under the burden of some 8,000 European citizens trained by al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East who returned home poised to unleash more terrorist attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.
It is not only about the lack of political will and social cohesion. For even as French, British, and German leaders talk about evenly distributing the burden others like the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, have made it brutally clear, they want no part of the migrant/refugee wave; the simply want them gone. If it means constructing barbed wire fences, posting a phalanx of police at the Central train station in Budapest, and duping refugees to board trains to camps, so be it.
Of course, when we see people so desperate to escape their homes that they knowingly put themselves and their children in harm’s way, when we see the lifeless body of a drowned child, we Jews are reminded of another era in Europe.
Why then is Europe so unprepared for this challenge?
It is precisely because the EU has failed to evolve into a true “union.”
It has failed to articulate what 21st Century European social values are.
It has never addressed the failure to integrate the millions of Muslims already living in Europe.
Its foreign policy has failed to stem the killings and dislocation of Assad’s Syria. It has failed to stop ISIS.
It attempted to stem Libyans from leaving their country by removing Khadafy. The results? The disintegration of a country and even more boat people perishing in the Mediterranean.
But are Europeans exclusively to blame for all this? What about the United States? Tragically, the policies of “leading from behind” and “no boots on the ground,” may mean less Americans in harm’s way in the Middle East, but the leadership vacuum has left millions of innocent people to fend for themselves with corrupt and dangerous governments who can’t even pick up the garbage.
There is one other gaping hole in the leadership of the EU. 70 years after the Shoah, rabid anti-Semitism and hate for the Jewish state infect an estimated 150 million Europeans. Seven decades after the defeat of Nazism, European governments and NGOs have been silent over the ethnic cleansing, murder and serial rape of tens of thousands of Christians and other minorities across the Middle East.
It seems that Europe’s elite may have learned to mark their calendar to remember dead Jews one day a year, but too many have failed to internalize or apply any lessons from the Nazi era as to how to treat live Jews and other minorities.
We offer no easy solutions to this crisis but as Jews who come to pray for the wellbeing and safety of the entire world on Rosh Hashanah, we must find ways to do our share to help all legitimate refugees, be they Christian, Muslims or Yazidis.