Conference: Religious Minorities' Self-Representations

Evelien Gans

Prof. dr. Evelien Gans
Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD)

‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About JEWS But Never Dared to Ask: About Changing Jewish Identities and Anti-Jewish Stereotypes’
Jews started as a people on the basis of a shared religion, permeated by national and cultural elements: Judaïsm. Their religion went through all kind of changes, when being driven from Palestine or having left voluntarily. They remained, however, a so-called Jewish nation within their respective countries of residence. After the Emancipation, on the contrary, they were confronted with the question – and with the liberty – in which way they wanted to remain Jewish: strictly religious, keeping some traditions and abolish other ones, or becoming secular. Though this was a slow process, integration and assimilation did progress. In the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century the Amsterdam rabbinate complained about the synagogues remaining empty for a large part, mostly only filling up during high holidays.
In my lecture I will emphasize the modern, multiple identity of Western, especially Dutch Jews, focusing not on religion but on cultural and political elements of postwar Jewish identity, on the effect of the Shoah or Holocaust and the foundation of Israel. One can state that these two events of enormous proportions both form new crucial building stones of this identity and have turned against ‘the Jew’. Actually, one could speak here of a mirror image. There is no (Western) Jew who is not, in one way or the other, affected by the Shoah, nor by the existence of Israel. At the same time there is, in society, something like Shoah fatigue and a growing distance and aversion to Israel, which has become a repressive state, in many aspects, especially towards the Palestinians. The equalisation of Israel and the Third Reich, accusing the Jewish state of genocide etc., however, is an antisemitic overreaction – not in the least among Muslims – as are the statements that ‘the Jew’ simply profits from or exaggerates, even invented the Shoah. I will also elaborate on how Geert Wilders and his Freedom party instrumentalise Jewry and Israel in their battle against Islam, on the Dutch debate on the ban on ritual slaughter which brought Jews and Muslims together, while the Jihadist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen – in the name of Islam – drove them apart again. Antisemitism and Islamophobia both seem to stimulate each other and, more generally: xenophobia.