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The Massacre in France, One Day Later

French police suspect ultra-right attacker; meanwhile, election is affected

Marc Tracy
March 20, 2012
Students marching last night in Paris.(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
Students marching last night in Paris.(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: A day later, and we know the likely killer is in fact a Muslim man motivated in part by jihadism and specifically anti-Israel hatred. I still stand by much of this post: not all anti-Semitic attacks are motivated by Israel’s actions; Israel’s actions may provoke anti-Semitic attacks, and while it’s fair to consider that likelihood, that by nomeans makes them Israel’s responsibility; Ashton needs to apologize or resign.

French police were reportedly searching for three soldiers kicked out of the army in 2008 over their neo-Nazi sympathies as suspects in yesterday’s dreadful shooting at a Jewish high school in Toulouse, which killed four Jews, including a father—a rabbi and teacher at the school—and two of his children. However, apparently those soldiers are now off the hook. Suspicions remain, however, that the killer was motivated by right-wing politics: The gun used is tied to the nearby murders last week of two dark-skinned, Muslim paratroopers. Given the likely ultra-right provenance of the attack, one wonders if it is a coincidence, as someone suggested on Twitter, that yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence. Here are brief biographies of the victims, including the paratroopers (there was a third killed in a third incident).

At least one commentator sought to make this about Israel. Citing, literally, a few horrible, anonymous Internet commenters, D.G. Myers argued, “The fact that commentators were quick to draw a connection to Israel—Arab commentators on the Jerusalem Post story did the same—reveals an undeniable truth: Anti-Zionism is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism, precisely because all Jews are identified with Israel, for better or worse.” Actually, the undeniable truth it reveals are that some anonymous Internet commenters are horrible.

And some European foreign-policy chiefs. If Catherine Ashton were more naive, she might deserve a pass for her comparison of “young people killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances,” whether it be Toulouse, Syria, or, yes, Gaza. But she’s literally a diplomat. She needs to apologize or resign.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who accepted the dead’s wishes that they be buried in Israel (the family came from Israel, though the father had French citizenship), appropriately cast the incident as a “despicable anti-Semitic murder,” even if he couldn’t also resist noting that the U.N. Human Rights Council was then hosting a Hamas member—not true—and that the U.N. had yet to condemn the attack—it since has.

I’m aware that anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe ticked up during Operation Cast Lead, and if they were also to do so, say, following an attack on Iran, then that would be evidence of anti-Israel animus playing a role in anti-Semitism. (It’s tricky deciding whether that should count against an Iran attack. I find it extraordinarily distasteful to alter my calculus for the whims of anti-Semitic murderers, but on the other hand, Israel was created in part to deny anti-Semitic murderers, and if the potential for anti-Semitic murder is allowed to factor in favor of a strike, I don’t see why it shouldn’t also be allowed to factor against one.) But not all anti-Semitism is anti-Israel. In fact, if the alleged right-wing shooters are anything like Oslo’s Anders Breivik, they are extremely twisted and evil supporters of the Jewish state.

I think the point was best put by Myers’ colleague John Podhoretz: “Jews are being hunted.” And not in the boonies: France has the largest Jewish population in Europe; Toulouse’s Jewish community is apparently 20,000-strong; and I noted from one photo caption that the city’s mayor is named Pierre Cohen.

Meanwhile, Israeli and French leaders expressed outrage and horror.

Oh yes, and France’s presidential election is in a month, and one of the parties has not-so-distant anti-Semitic pedigree. The Socialist Francois Hollande suspended his campaign, while Marine Le Pen, of the aforementioned Front National, requested the cancellation of an upcoming televised debate. I’ll bet she did. It was left to President Nicolas Sarkozy to address the nation. He spoke beside a memorial to members of the Resistance killed in 1944.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.