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Hypocrisy After the Paris Terror Attacks

Why won’t Europe acknowledge the grave threat to its Jews?

Deborah E. Lipstadt
January 16, 2015
People hold on placards with the names of the victims of the hostage-taking drama at a kosher supermarket at a rally on January 10, 2015. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold on placards with the names of the victims of the hostage-taking drama at a kosher supermarket at a rally on January 10, 2015. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

As thousands flooded the streets in France this week in a show of solidarity reflected across the world in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something hypocritical in this massive outpouring of unity and support. I know: how can I criticize such an inspiring public show of solidarity? It just seemed that throughout all the collective mourning, the Jews who were targeted and killed because they were Jews were an afterthought—and would always remain so.

While the Charlie Hebdo massacre horrified all people who value liberty, for Jews the siege on a kosher supermarket in Paris two days later cut closer. It was directed at us. I was perplexed when some people refused to see that. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked a reporter on the scene whether there was “anything to indicate that this was an anti-Semitic act.” Then CNN’s Chris Cuomo and another reporter agreed that because Muslims shop at the store too, it wasn’t necessarily an anti-Semitic attack. It took the killer’s own proclamation that he had chosen the kosher market in order to kill Jews to stifle that line of reporting.

Equally infuriating has been the attempt to separate the attacks from Islam. The day after the market massacre MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry suggested that the “anti-Semitism problem in France is not primarily a problem of anti-Semitism from French Muslims.” In no uncertain terms J.J. Goldberg, a guest on her show, disagreed. He recalled the case of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew who was kidnapped and tortured for 20 days by a group of French Muslims, dying shortly after he was found handcuffed near a railway line. He cited the murder of young children on the playground at the Toulouse Jewish school by a French Muslim. He observed that a French Muslim murdered four visitors at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May. He was not suggesting—and I fully echo this—that all French Muslims are responsible. Clearly not. But unless you name a problem you can’t solve it.

World leaders, including our own, have been decidedly reluctant to identify this problem. What needs to be said is that there is a problem in a segment of the Muslim world. It is extremism that justifies and celebrates killing individuals for angering them and Jews just for being Jews. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, however, insisted that the attacks had nothing to do with religion, characterizing them as “criminality.” If it was just criminality, then what happened at the Hyper Cacher supermarket was a hold-up, and not anti-Semitism.

By Sunday’s unity rally, an amazing outpouring of people into the streets of a shell shocked city, all the various victims—cartoonists, Jews, and police—had been linked. But my concerns weren’t nullified. Even though the march seemed like a much-needed “kumbaya” moment, almost henei ma tov u’ma nayim: how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to sit together, even if it is in sorrow. I should have been pleased, but something kept gnawing at me. The “Je suis Juif” signs felt hollow.

European Jews have been under attack for more than a decade. But there were no marches after Halimi’s death, the Brussels murders, and numerous other incidents. There were some protests after Toulouse, most likely due to the general horror at a killer deliberately targeting children, but nothing on the scale of this past week. Many French Jews felt that those protests were quite muted, given the horror of the event. More troubling, nowhere have I heard an acknowledgement that Europeans have failed to take seriously these attacks on Jews. Instead, people have explained away the attacks by suggesting they’re a response to Israel’s actions in the Middle East. That argument telegraphs the message that, while killing Jews was wrong, it was understandable. The BBC’s Tim Wilcox expressed precisely this sentiment when, during an interview with a Jewish woman at Sunday’s march in Paris, he interjected that “Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” (He’s since apologized.)

We’ve seen this attitude before. I have said it in these pages: Jewish blood is cheap. In 2012 the International Olympic Committee refused to set aside one minute—60 seconds—to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich games. The committee claimed that they didn’t want to mar the joy of the opening ceremony. What the committee didn’t admit was that a portion of the opening ceremony was to be devoted to those who had been killed in the London 7/7 bombings and those who had died in other circumstances. In other words, a commemoration was already scheduled but not for Jewish victims.

I feel a bit like a curmudgeon when I complain that the march’s wonderful joining of the victims of the attacks—journalists, polices, and Jews alike—felt hypocritical. But, given the silence at every other attack on Jews, it seems clear that the only reason the public at large paid attention was because of the Charlie Hebdo connection. I sadly predict that in the future, if only Jews are victims, people will just shake their heads and move on.

I stress: I am not asking for sympathy. I ask the general European population to recognize that these attacks directly threaten them and the liberal democratic society they treasure. It begins with the Jews but it never ends with them. They must realize that they ignore atrocities against Jews at their own—not just our—peril.

Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of Nextbook Press’ The Eichmann Trial, is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Her Twitter feed is @deborahlipstadt.