Editorial: Normalising the Unacceptable
Jan 30, 2015 | Colin Rubenstein
The terror attack by Islamist extremists on the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, that killed 12 editors, cartoonists, staffers and police was an atrocity and an outrage.
So was the attack two days later on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in the city that claimed the lives of four Jewish shoppers.
The editors and cartoonists were singled out and killed for something they did – exercising their right to free expression – a right Islamist extremists reject. But the Hyper Cacher shoppers were killed simply for being Jews.
Millions marched through the streets of Paris in support of free speech, along with a global solidarity campaign proclaiming “Je suis Charlie”.Yet as historian Deborah Lipstadt notes in this edition, there is a general feeling among European Jews that the Hyper Cacher victims would have received relatively little attention if their murder had not coincided with the Charlie Hebdo attack. After all, nothing at all comparable happened when innocent Jews were targeted for murder by Islamist extremists in a Toulouse school in 2012 and in the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year.
The truth is that not only in France but throughout much of the European continent, it is becoming increasingly dangerous or uncomfortable to be a Jew. Worse still, this reality is largely being accepted as normal or inevitable.
Popular UK columnist Dan Hodges put it well, writing, “If we’re honest… those of us who are not part of the Jewish community have subconsciously – and shamefully – come to the view that being a target of terrorism is merely one of the occupational hazards of being a Jew.”
Jews make up less than 1% of French citizens, yet statistics suggest they are the victims of more than half of all racially motivated crimes there.
It is not just the high profile terror attacks and the need for constant security around Jewish schools, houses of worship and other institutions. It is dangerous to be visibly Jewish outside the tightly secured Jewish community institutions. One often risks not only insult but physical attack by wearing publicly visible signs of being a Jew, such as a yarmulke (religious skullcap).
It is even reportedly difficult to safely educate Jewish children at France’s public schools, according to the 2004 Olin report published by the French Education Ministry. At some schools, they have to be separated from the rest of the class, while at others their Jewishness is concealed from everyone but the principal for their own safety.
Is it any wonder French Jews are leaving the country in increasing numbers and large majorities say they are considering following suit?
Smaller Jewish communities in Belgium, Holland, Sweden and other parts of Europe are in a broadly similar situation to the large 500,000 strong community in France. Even in Britain, more than a quarter of Jews say they have considered leaving the country because of antisemitism, according to a recent poll.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, the suspicious death of the courageous AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman in mid-January is a reminder of the extent to which recent Argentinean governments have apparently been ready to play shameful political games with the Iranian regime in thwarting the pursuit of justice for the mass-murder of 85 people – most of them Jews killed for being Jewish.
Yet the majority of politicians, journalists, intellectuals and other opinion leaders seem to accept as more or less normal a stark reality in Europe – Jews are being targeted for murder simply for being Jews and it is becoming all but impossible to publicly express Jewishness except in tightly guarded institutions.
Even more offensive are the people who turn an antisemitic terror attack on its head and use it as an opportunity to sympathise with the perceived motives of the attacker, essentially making all Jews responsible for their own persecution.
This ugly trend was epitomised by BBC journalist Tim Willcox who notoriously responded to a French Jewish demonstrator demanding action against violent antisemitism in France with the jibe that “the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well” (he subsequently apologised).
Unfortunately, this sort of fraudulent moral equivalence and outrageous justification for terrorism has long been an undertone in international news coverage of Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.
Take, for example, the reaction to the slaughter perpetrated this past November by two axe-wielding Palestinian terrorists against ultra-Orthodox Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue in pre-1967 Israel filled with ultra-Orthodox Jews who were least likely to be Zionist and had never served in the army. Jewish worshippers were killed simply because the attackers wanted to kill Jews as Jews.
Yet what is more frightening than the actual act was the response across Palestinian society – especially in the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority (PA). The perpetrators were repeatedly praised as martyrs – as heroes to emulate – in official Palestinian Authority media, despite a perfunctory condemnation of their act by PA President Abbas for foreign consumption. This is the reception for virtually any Palestinian who kills any Jew, no matter what the circumstance, in Palestinian discourse.
Not only is there no media outrage, and very little reporting of this ugly reality and not only is it treated as understandable, but a reflection of this attitude appears to have spread to some in the West, as Willcox demonstrated.
Only once the world confronts terrorism against Jews both outside and inside Israel with fervour and resolve equal to that it reserves for terrorists who attack other targets, will it gain the upper hand in the war on terror. But more than this – are the leaders of Europe of all places, founded on the ashes of World War II, really prepared to accept a reality that even after the Holocaust, Jews cannot safely live and express their Jewishness in France and other European democracies?