Last Wednesday, early in the morning, I was on my way to a funeral in Jerusalem. I could already feel a knot forming in my stomach as I began to see the familiar faces of French and Israeli Jews gathering somberly.
As this was happening, speculation about the Toulouse shooter, a radical Muslim with al Qaeda ties, was already dominating the news. No matter what was being said, the horrific consequences of the tragedy were the same, lives taken away simply because the victims were Jewish.
A growing number of men and women began to reach the burial site, showing their support to family and friends as they approached. As the ceremony began, a long period of silence made me realize that I was experiencing, at its very core, the result of hatred and the violence against the Jewish people.
As a Jewish woman, born in France to a Jewish family that emigrated from North Africa, I am terrified by the Toulouse attacks.
Growing up in Marseille, my childhood was deeply rooted in Jewish traditions; attending services, working for Jewish organizations and participating in Israel advocacy. While living in France, the world’s third largest Jewish community after Israel and the USA, the fear of being Jewish, in universities or streets, was palpable. From my perch in Marseille, I could vividly see the dangers Jews face, largely due to negative images of Israel.
I live in Israel now because I have chosen to enhance my Jewish identity. Professionally I work to help educate reporters and leaders about Israel, so they can understand the real facts. The French press is not always accurate; the facts are often misinterpreted. In 2010, during flotilla incident, we all remember Libération newspaper despicable headline “Israël, Etat pirate” (“Israel, Pirate State”). Such a headline can only contribute to the delegitimization of the Jewish state. Furthermore, I know that there is a direct correlation between negative images in the media and violence against Jews in France and elsewhere.
The obvious lesson for me from these recent attacks is how important it is to have strong and viable Jewish communities throughout the world. The events in Toulouse might come from individual actors, but the attitudes that drove them to perpetrate this and other anti-Semitic attacks–arise from negatives images of Israel.
In Israel, I chose to live in a democracy, where 1.2 millions of Arabs coexist with Jews, where Israelis and Arabs even share bomb shelters during soccer games between teams as rockets from Islamic Jihad fly overhead. Yes, Israel, this democracy where we teach peace to our children in schools, where we have the strong desire to live in peace with our neighbors, side by side, where I suddenly, acknowledged from a far what was happening in France, it is unbearable.
Today, the Jewish community as a whole fears a new rise in anti-Semitism. Just this past weekend a Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Nice. And a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League illustrates that anti-Semitic attitudes are at the highest level in Europe in years. France is not spared, debuting first on the list.
Indeed, Jewish people have a homeland, a place to feel safe and secure from growing threats in the region. But it is important to remember that Jews all over the world can often be in danger. It can be American Jews facing hate crimes because of their heritage, or North African Jews being denied their basic civil rights, or even, yes, French Jews, including children attacked and killed.
While I chose to live in Israel, I am standing by my community in France, where Jews, other minorities, and in fact all people should feel and be safe.