At dinner Friday night, about a month ago, when I asked one of the guests from the Ukraine how Jewish life in her home country was, she replied immediately “Better than in France.” A heavy silence followed as we all thought about the kosher grocery store that was attacked by an Islamic fundamentalist, a few hours earlier in Paris. The Islamic terrorist targeted a Jewish grocery store and killed four French Jews in the name of Al-Qaeda, two days after his teammates murdered the Charlie Hebdo journalists. Again, three years after Toulouse, the same type of individual goes to a Jewish place to kill Jews, in France, in 2015. Around the table, the guests were all coming from different countries but the image they have of France is now the same. The France of 2015 is not famous for The Declaration of Human Rights. It is the only country in Europe today where Jews are murdered in cold blood because they are Jews.
A few days later, I was listening to Ségolène Royal paying tribute to the victims of the slaughter at the kosher supermarket and talking about the measures taken by the government to protect the Jewish community in France. To the compact crowd who was standing still at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem, she said that “France without Jews is not France,” echoing the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s words. But the reactions and comments on social networks following that declaration made me uncomfortable, and again raise the question of the discrepancy between the body politic and the people of France. “Why are we talking about the Jews in particular?” And others add that we’ve been speaking too much about the Jews – other people were killed, it is so disproportionate.
I praise the crowd who gathered on the streets to protest against terror on Sunday, January 11. That was an historic time and I’m still amazed that it brought together so many people and international leaders. It was a Republican rally, so French too – that made me proud of my identity and of my French culture. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if those words and symbols are sufficient. I wonder even more about the differences between what political elites and the average French people are saying. Particularly about Antisemitism.
I remember how political leaders, one after the other, denounced the horror in the aftermath of the attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse. But I also remember that French people did not go to the streets by millions to condemn jihadist terrorism at that time. Maybe because they didn’t relate enough to the victims? Have the attacks against Charlie Hebdo now led to a general awareness of the situation or did people “only” protest for freedom of expression? How many of them have realized how the rise of Antisemitism and attacks against our freedom are linked?
The French government has found the right words to condemn terrorism that kills its Jewish citizens. Manuel Valls, in a beautiful speech in front of the French Congress said: “History has shown us that the rise of Antisemitism is a sign that Democracy is failing, that the Republic is failing. It is for this reason that we must respond to it with force.”
Following the attack in Toulouse, facing the rise of Antisemitic acts, I think the Jewish community in France has been realizing for quite some time how dangerous Islamic terrorism is and how it can hit France. History has shown us that unfortunately we’re paranoid for good reasons. If the Jews are attacked, it is a matter of time before the Republic, freedoms and society’s intellectuals are attacked too. Standing up to condemn the demonstrators who shout “Death to the Jews” is defending the Republic and its values.
Please let’s stop talking about victims in general. Yes, men from different faiths lost their lives; yet, they were not murdered because of their religion, but only because terror ends up causing more bloodshed than just the targeted victims. Generalizations are blind. They are not helpful. Let’s be accurate to refer to the problems that our society is facing. Naming our battles is a necessary first step to concretely defending our values and our democracies.
After people find clear words to condemn Antisemitism, they might be able to understand its origins. Because hatred was not built in a day. Importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to France and Europe has fueled the hatred against Jews. And then it has been magnified by social networks. Ha, social networks… They aim to make the world more open and connected but can’t help feeding the masses with misleading shortcuts, and bad articles going viral with sensational headlines meant to attract as many readers as possible and maximize publications’ CPM (cost per thousand).
We can disagree with the Israeli policy but still realize the unhealthy nature of anti-Zionism, especially when anti-Israel demonstrations bring together hundreds of thousands in the streets of Paris, and are followed by people attacking Jewish stores and synagogues.
I can’t help but think again about Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem – it is still valid today. His last verse reminds us of the importance of defending the freedoms of others since it is only a matter of time before our own are attacked. “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I’m writing these words to my friends from University and Business School. To the ones I’ve had the opportunity to meet outside of the Jewish community and whom I’m grateful to for their friendship. I’m writing to my European friends that I met on exchange programs. To my theater buddies. To my former colleagues in Paris and the US. We cannot turn a blind eye or place our responsibilities on other peoples’ shoulders. Each one of us has to systematically condemn Antisemitism and its early signs.
It’s a duty.
To guarantee our rights.