On January 7, 2016, The U.S. Department of State issued a statement in which Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to recognize the victims of the Paris attacks of January 7, 8, 9, 2015. The statement was short and read as follows: “On the one-year anniversary of the January 7-9, 2015, attacks that took the lives of 17 people, we honor the victims of this tragedy and share the sadness of their loss. Their legacy endures as a challenge and inspiration to all of us. Charlie Hebdo continues to publish, and journalists around the world continue in their essential mission to tell the stories that people everywhere need to hear. No country knows better than France that freedom has a price, and that no rationale can justify attacks on innocent men, women, and children. But what was intended to sow fear and division has, in fact, brought us together. We must remain committed to protect each other and renew our determination to turn this moment of profound loss into a lasting commitment. Just as we tackle today’s most daunting challenges side by side, the United States and France will always stand together.”
At first glance, the statement appeared to be remembering the victims of the Paris triple terrorist attack that took place, and that’s good. But something is profoundly wrong with that statement, not so much in what it says but in what it failed to mention. This was a case when silence spoke louder than words!
Mr. Kerry is mentioning the 17 victims and how their tragic death united France and the United States, and continues to do so in our on-going fight against terrorism. But why is Mr. Kerry only mentioning the Charlie Hebdo magazine? The 17 victims were made of 3 groups: 12 victims from Charlie Hebdo, one police officer on the street and four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket. There is no mention of the police officer or the four Jewish victims. The whole tragedy is bundled under the Charlie Hebdo massacre. It is not my intention to belittle the magazine’s 12 deaths or the police officer’s death, but the attack was more than an attack against freedom of the press. It was also an attack against freedom of religion.
I have no doubt that if the terror attack of January 2015 in Paris had only been against the four Jewish shoppers, there would have not been a 4 million people march in France the following week-end. Similarly, outside of the French Jewish community, the Toulouse attack of 2012 by Mohammed Merah is mostly forgotten, yet it took the life of 7 people, including a rabbi and 3 Jewish day school children.
In the recent statement by John Kerry, I don’t believe that not making reference to the Jewish victims was an oversight. He, along with the vast majority of the current U.S. administration are no friends of Israel and the Jewish people. It would have gone a long way if the Jewish victims had been acknowledged along with the police officer and the magazine. Instead, a blanket statement was made, only connecting the event to the magazine.
After all, it was President Obama who right after the attack, described the Jewish victims shopping at the kosher supermarket a few hours before Shabbat as “a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris” who had been “randomly shot.” This is either a lack of sensitivity or a severe disconnect with reality. There is no doubt in everybody’s mind that the terrorist Amédy Coulibally picked the Hypercacher store on purpose. It was a Jewish store where Jewish people shopped for kosher food, especially on Friday afternoons before the Sabbath.
So for John Kerry not to mention the Jewish victim is a diplomatic faux pas at best and antisemitism by omission at worst. It would have been easy to say “12 members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, one police officer in the line of duty and four Jewish people shopping in a kosher Market.”
The world is used to antisemitism by commission when Jewish people are ostracized, demonized, persecuted and even murdered. This is a form of hatred that can be measured in a tangible way. A stabbed person, a defaced Jewish tombstone or a burned synagogue door are all visual witnesses of antisemitism by commission.
But when the Jewish people are categorized as regular folks after an antisemitism attack, re-labelled or totally ignored when they should be remembered as victims, it is antisemitism by omission. Most people already don’t care much about the devastation brought in by antisemitism by commission. They certainly will not pick-up on the subtle approach of antisemitism by omission.
Too bad Mr. Kerry. You had a simple opportunity to not only align the USA with France in the fight against terror but also reach out to the French Jewish community at a time when they don’t feel much friendship from most of the world. By generalizing your statement, you ignored the French Jewish victims and offended them. I wonder…. was there any other group you cared not to offend by leaving the Jews out of your statement?