#51 / Editorial


Russia’s assault on Ukraine has reintroduced war to the heart of Europe. No one can predict how long the conflict will last or what its full extent will be. But, in this instance at least, Europe has acted as one, speaking in unison to condemn the aggressor, aid the aggressed and push for an end to hostilities. Some have seen in this moment the reassertion of a European identity, breaking with the crisis of the past decades. (A sense of this crisis, and European nations’ consequent inability to combat resurgent antisemitism, is what motivated us to found K.) Questions of collective identity, however, remain elusive, and often become the sources of illusion. Europe, in rushing to the aid of a nation overcome by adversity, in accepting that this solidarity has a price, declares in no uncertain terms what it is not, what it absolutely rejects: neo-imperial authoritarian nationalism trampling the freedoms of the continent’s peoples. But saying what one is not does not amount to saying what one wants to be. The trials of this latest conflict certainly give rise to the feeling that Europe is indeed something. But one must ultimately formulate that identity in clear terms. And this is a task that can only begin in earnest when the war has ended.

We draw the lesson from this ordeal that we must redouble our drive to understand the dilemmas of the European consciousness, through the prism that is ours, one that is constitutive of the European space’s identity: “the Jewish question.” We continue that inquiry in this week’s edition of K., first in Austria, where we meet the nation’s Jewish students. We speak with members of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students (JÖH), and learn about their political stances and activism.

This week’s second article takes us to Israel, where European calculations of the nation’s politics have been upended by a new governing coalition that includes religious Zionists and an Islamist party. The impetus for this inquiry was an explosive statement pronounced by the leader of this Islamist party, Mansour Abbas, an Arab deputy in the Knesset who now holds a portfolio in the new government. He said, on 22 December 2021, words that will resonate for a long time: Israel was born as a Jewish state. And that was the decision of the Jewish people, to establish a Jewish state,” he said. “That’s how the state was born, and so it will remain. The question is not about the state’s identity, but about the status of its Arab citizens.” Noémie Issan-Benchimol and Elie Beressi assess this turning point in the political history of Israel and place this event in a context where minorities and majorities, despite European conceptions of ideology, can find common ground.

We are lastly running a short story written in Yiddish by Ber Ber Kotlerman, a literature professor at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University (the story can be read in English, French and of course Yiddish). The tale plays with the idea of an ephemeral Jewish presence in today’s European cities, in this case Rothenburg. Kotlerman has received the Hirsh and Dvora Rosenfeld Prize for Yiddish literature for a collection of short stories titled The Secret of Polar Bears (Der sod fun vayse bern, Tel Aviv, 2017), from which the story we run today has been excerpted.

A Jewish student organization, generation after generation, has become an important voice in the Austrian national public debate, even to the point of swaying governments. Tracing the activism of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students (JÖH) from its start to its latest iterations, Liam Hoare’s article tells how their activism confronts the reality of Austrian history and how it challenges the national narrative, recalling the memory of the victims of Nazi crimes and the responsibilities of those who committed them.

“Israel was born a Jewish state, that was the decision of the people, and the question is not what is the identity of the state — it was born this way and it will remain this way.” This little sentence was said on December 22, 2021 by Mansour Abbas, an Arab member of parliament of an Islamist party and Minister Delegate in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. Noémie Issan-Benchimol and Elie Beressi give us the context and analyze it as a watershed moment in the history of Israeli political life.

“Rothenburg’s multiple roofs and towers, encircled by a wide serrated wall, presented an architectural ensemble of harmonious perfection, attractive even from a distance.  The first rays of the rising sun, illuminating the town from the east, blazed like a giant red bonfire from which exploded, here and there, long flaming tongues of cupolas and towers. The nearer the fire, the more intensely it blazed.  Occupying more and more space, it eventually permeated heaven and earth before suddenly breaking apart into distinct architectural elements – balconies, windows, cornices, eaves ….”

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.