Thursday, September 08, 2016

France: On Its Way to Being a Jew-Free Nation?

During the past 15 years, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Jews have fled France.
Of these, approximately 40,000 have fled to Israel, according to Israeli figures. Many thousands of others have fled to Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. France is increasingly becoming a nation in which it is no longer safe to be openly Jewish.
To explain why so many Jews are leaving Europe, it helps to understand the increasingly toxic context developing in France for Jews.
Synagogues and Jewish schools across France are regularly guarded by police officers and soldiers. Jews in Europe see their holy sites and places of worship under threat.
In December 2015, 14 Jews were poisoned by a toxic substance which had been smeared on to the keypad to access a Paris synagogue. No one was killed by the poison, but "25 firemen rushed to the synagogue, where they treated congregants and traced their condition to the daubed lock."
Another Paris synagogue was vandalized and a window smashed. Synagogues seem to be one of the targets in a new wave of anti-Semitism rising across France and Europe.
On the way to a synagogue, a 13-year-old boy was called a "dirty Jew" and then seriously assaulted. The attackers are said to have attacked the boy because of he wore a skullcap. Only 71 years after the end of one of the darkest periods of European history, after which we pledged "never again," it seems to have become open season to hate and persecute Jews.
The terrorist attacks on Jews in France are the culmination of years of Jew-hatred tolerated with little official criticism. In 2014, supposed anti-Israel protesters attacked a Paris synagogue and trapped the congregants inside. The attackers' chants apparently included "Death to the Jews," "Murderous Israel," and "One Jew, Some Jews, All Jews are Terrorists."
It seems people who openly call for hatred against Jews, to the point of murder, can now claim to be just "anti-Israel," rather than anti-Semitic. Incitement to murder Jews was described by the French press as "mild mannered". When talk of racial murder is dismissed in such a way, is it any wonder that radical clerics continue to preach vicious dehumanising hatred that culminates in violence?
If the media were more accurate, it would describe these "anti-Israeli" protesters as "anti-Semitic" and "inciters of violence and genocide."
When swastikas are painted in one Paris' largest squares by those claiming to oppose Israel, and ISIS and Hamas banners and flags are flying, and groups pledge the genocide of the Jews with impunity, is it any wonder that individuals might support these groups? When chants of "Death to the Jews," ring out publicly, is it surprising that people might actually begin to think that killing Jews is just fine?
Both far-right Islamists and neo-Nazis joined forces in Paris during a "Day of Rage." More than 17,000 of them marched, chanting "Jew, France is not for you." Is it surprising that Jews are flee the country in increasing numbers?
When Islamists chant outside a central Paris synagogue, "Hitler was right," whilst some of his victims still walk this earth, is it surprising people in French society may start to emulate him, or at least aspire to?
Synagogues are not the only institutions facing serious threats. Jewish schools across France are under heavy guard by police and soldiers.
The tragedy is that we have allowed French and European societies to need these guards by tolerating those promoting injustice, prejudice and hatred.
Paul Fitoussi, principal of the Lucien de Hirsch Jewish school in Paris, summarises why France has become so toxic for Jews:
"People nowadays think it is dangerous to be Jewish in France because there was a series of events: The kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi ten years ago, the terror attack at the Jewish school in Toulouse four years ago, the stabbings in Marseille, last year's attack at Hyper Cacher market - there is a problem. For the French, worrying about security issues is new to them. I talk to the police but they do not know what to do. They brought armed soldiers to the schools, but I know that in the long term this is not a solution."
There seems to be a common thread running throughout the incidences above and attacks on Jews today. In the Ilan Halimi case, the victim was targeted on the basis of his race, and the perception that being a Jew made him wealthy. A similar attack was noted by a fifth-grader at the Lucien de Hirsh school. He said his attackers, foreign in origin, "asked if I was Jewish, I said yes, they said that the Jews are full of money, and if I did not give them my coat, they will kill me." It seems that stereotypes of Jewish wealth perpetuated often by Islamists and others now seem commonplace in French society, and individuals are increasingly threatened with murder, robbery and extortion.
Not even public transportation is safe for Jews; in December, 2015, a man on a train in Paris verbally abused a group of Jews, stating that he wished to kill them. "If only I had a grenade here," he said, "how do you call it, a fragmentation grenade, I would blow up this wagon with the fucking Jewish bastards."
There has also been, since 2000, a troublingly large increase in the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims in France. Multiple official figures have illustrated that in the last 20 years, the number of violent anti-Semitic acts has tripled. In France in 2014, there were 851 recorded anti-Semitic incidents, more than doubling the total from 2013.
Jews may represent less than 1% of France's expanding and diverse population, but they are the victim of 40%-50% of France's recorded racist attacks.
Jews are only the start of where Islamists begin to target people to whose existence they seem to object. Next, Islamists come for the LGBT, as seen in the Orlando shooting and with ISIS throwing gay people off buildings, and of course Christians, as we have seen in slaughtered in just one small example on a Libyan beach; and most frequently other Muslims, the majority victim of Islamists. Evidently no one is safe, and that includes all of us.
Perhaps it is best to finish on a note inspired from the work of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent Lutheran pastor and scathing critic of Adolf Hitler. Consequently, Niemöller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps, but had the fortune to survive.
His timeless poem does not need much transposing:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.


No comments: