Not condemning anti-Semitism only fuels extremism

Not condemning anti-Semitism only fuels extremism

The Drum – OPINION

By Glen Falkenstein
Wed 21 Jan 2015

Failure to condemn attacks and ongoing hatred as anti-Semitic will only make France’s Jews more fearful and accelerate the decline of the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, writes Glen Falkenstein.

“I went down to the freezer, I opened the door, there were several people who went in with me. I turned off the light and the freezer…I brought them inside and I told them to stay calm here, I’m going to go out”.

Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee of a kosher grocery store in Paris, saved several Jews from Amedy Coulibaly who murdered four men finishing their shopping before the Sabbath. Earlier that week, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who along with Coulibaly had sought to send radicalised French youths to Iraq, killed twelve people in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters.

Both attacks have been condemned by many governments and religious leaders, the first being labelled “barbaric and heinous” and the latter an “appalling anti-Semitic act”. Condemnations of the Charlie Hebdo massacre were accompanied by statements against incitement to Islamophobia and calls to solidarity with Muslim communities in France who are suffering from revenge attacks against local Mosques.

Some, however, not only failed to condemn forms of hatred, but used the attacks as an opportunity to espouse it. Founder of the far right Front National movement Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested that Israeli or American agents were behind the attack, seeking to ignite a war between Islam and the west. In Paris, a resident told a reporter, “It was a conspiracy designed by the Jews to make Muslims look bad”, another commenting that Jews were a “hybrid race of shape shifters”.

Protestors during last year’s Gaza conflict reportedly called out “Death to Jews” in a rally on the streets of Paris. For too long, many have not “reacted sufficiently” to anti-Semitism according to France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who stated that the “first question that has to be dealt with clearly is the struggle against anti-Semitism”.

I have written previously on worrying trends in racism and anti-Semitism and have observed a general failure in many sectors to condemn persistent and ongoing hatred. Other commentators have noted that while many readily condemn some forms of minority abuse, condemnations of anti-Semitism, including attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions during last year’s Gaza conflict, were not always forthcoming.

Following the assaults, the Paris Grand Synagogue did not hold a Sabbath evening Service for the first time since the Second World War. This follows a year of anti-Semitic violence within France, including an attack on a Synagogue during an “anti-Israel” rally referred to above, two French girls being arrested for plotting to blow up a Synagogue in Lyon and a Kosher restaurant being firebombed.

This past week, at least 54 people were arrested in France for hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism, including a comedian who compared himself to Coulibaly.

On Friday, it was reported that a record 15,000 Jews could be emigrating to Israel this year amid fears of rising anti-Semitism. Statistics indicate that a record number of 10,000 were already preparing to emigrate prior the recent attacks. This compared to 2014, when nearly 7,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel, with a poll indicating 74% of the local community have considered leaving.

More than 10,000 troops have been deployed to protect sensitive sites around France and religious institutions, including about 700 Jewish schools. In 2012, a terrorist opened fire outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a Rabbi and four children, in cold blood.

Failure to condemn attacks and ongoing hatred as anti-Semitic will only make France’s Jews more fearful and accelerate what could be the terminal decline of this long-standing community – the largest Jewish population in Western Europe.

Shots fired at Mosques and other violence, vandalism and abuse against France’s Muslim community and institutions over the past weeks must also be universally decried – incidents consistent with deplorable Islamophobia.

Extremism has affected Muslim and Jewish communities internationally. Muslims are sadly forced to explain that acts of extremism do not represent the broader Muslim community and are the result of a narrow, radical ideology. Both Jews and Muslims must contend with groups that seize on events to advance an intolerant or illiberal world-view.

For example, a spokesperson for the boycott, divestments and sanctions campaign against Israel claimed that:

Mossad just hit the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo in a clumsy false flag designed to damage the accord between Palestine and France…Here’s hoping the French police will be able to tell a well executed hit by a well trained Israeli intelligence service.

Meanwhile, activists on the radical right, in Europe and elsewhere, have used events in France to demand discriminatory immigration policies targeted against Muslims.

Jewish communities in France and around Europe are shrinking, with locals fearful to identify their religion in public, or even to wear the traditional head covering or yarmulke. There should be a choice to live in France, a choice becoming more difficult for French Jews with continued attacks and incitement. While France still has a large and vibrant Muslim population, many feel alienated and point to discrimination, including restrictions on Muslim traditional head coverings.

Lassana Bathily is seen as a hero following these attacks, while other courageous people have and continue to combat incitement against religious minorities. Bathily commented “We’re all brothers…it’s not a question of Jews, Christians or Muslims, we’re all in the same boat”.

Opportunities now exist for minority groups in France and Australia to work together to combat a particularly insidious and violent form of radicalism which our country is all too familiar with following the Lindt Cafe Siege – as well as other extremists who seize upon violence to push an illiberal agenda.

This will require the unequivocal condemnation of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism – and not being afraid to call it for what it is.

Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.