France rallied on Sunday like its life depended on it. Three and a half million people took to the streets in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the 17 victims murdered by three Islamist gunmen last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. “I am Charlie,” “I am a police officer,” “I am a Jew,” their placards asserted, identifying in turn with each category of victim — the journalists, the cops, the Jews. “We will not be divided,” “We will not be terrorized,” “We will not give up our freedom,” they declared.
We will fight Islamist terrorism with every sinew of our being, in order to ensure the protection of the freedoms that we cherish and that it seeks to destroy? That, they didn’t say.
Within France’s large Jewish community, emotions were mixed. Shaken as never before since World War II by the accumulation of murderous and violent attacks in recent years, some were cynical about the display of French public will. Millions would not have marched in France had only the Paris kosher supermarket been targeted, and only the Jews killed, they said. There was no such vast outpouring of concern and empathy, for instance, after precious Jewish children were murdered in Toulouse three years ago, they noted. Look how few “I am a Jew” posters were on display, they pointed out, as compared to all those “I am Charlie” signs.
Increasing numbers of French Jews had decided even before Friday that if you’re going to be targeted by Islamist terrorists, you might as well be targeted in a country where you can at least keep your kippa on
But others were impressed and genuinely moved by what proved to be a far larger show of force than anticipated in Paris and nationwide, and by the dignity and the determination on display. Maybe the decent people of France are concerned for their Jews after all, some concluded. Maybe there’s a future for the community yet.
Viewed from Israel, the weight of discussion divided into two areas: Would French Jewry now further accelerate its relocation to the Jewish state, and had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handled his participation in the day’s events appropriately.
As regards immigration, clearly the figures — already at record levels — are going to keep rising. Increasing numbers of French Jews had decided even before Friday that if you’re going to be targeted by Islamist terrorists, you might as well be targeted in a country where you can at least keep your kippa and your Magen David on. Being deliberately picked out again on Friday, by a gunman who had apparently also plotted to attack one or more Jewish elementary schools, can only have persuaded more French Jews to make the move.
Not all French Jews are financially comfortable, and they need jobs and affordable housing — neither of which are in plentiful supply in the Jewish homeland
“We shouldn’t flee, but we should calmly prepare to leave,” a lady named Lorine said in an Army Radio interview on Monday morning. It’s not as though there are gangs of murderers on every street corner, another interviewee clarified on the same show, but the norm is that men are not comfortable wearing kippot in public and you don’t read Hebrew on the Metro. Intermittently synagogues and Jewish institutions and stores are attacked. And then, every now and again, come the acts of murderous terrorism.
A major obstacle to immigration, members of the community have been noting, is simple economics. This may not be an impoverished refugee community helplessly seeking salvation, but not all its members are financially comfortable, and they need jobs and affordable housing — neither of which are in plentiful supply in the Jewish homeland whose leaders have been so blithely exhorting them in recent days to relocate. Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman walked the solidarity walk in Paris on Sunday, and then talked the aliya talk. But there’s real preparatory work to be done if the current thousands of annual French immigrants are to swell to tens of thousands of successfully absorbed new arrivals.
Given that Israel is barely two months from general elections, many Israeli commentators have been obsessing over the prime minister’s actions in France. However improbable this may sound, it seems clear that French President Francois Hollande did not want the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state to attend a rally organized in at least partial solidarity with a Jewish community that had just seen four of its members gunned down. While the Prime Minister’s Office is, unsurprisingly, not formally confirming that this was the case, details of the exchanges Saturday between Hollande’s National Security Adviser Jacques Audibert and his Israeli counterpart Yossi Cohen have been leaked — and not from Paris — and they tell a sorry tale. Hollande feared that Netanyahu’s presence would be divisive, shifting focus from solidarity in and with France to such complex issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wider Jewish-Muslim relations. Far better for both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to keep away. Hollande also apparently feared that Netanyahu would seek to utilize the day’s ceremonies to bolster his election campaign, as the French president is said to have complained Netanyahu did in Toulouse in 2012.
Netanyahu apparently acceded initially to the request to stay at home, but changed his mind when he realized domestic rivals Liberman and Naftali Bennett would be attending — a volte face that infuriated the French, who threatened dark consequences. (Presumably they’ll vote in favor of a Palestinian resolution at the UN Security Council seeking to impose a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.)
On Friday, Hollande asserted in an address to the nation that ‘these terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.’ It would be nice to think that they didn’t. But it is their perverted interpretation of obligation to that religion that they invoke in carrying out their acts of terror and fanaticism
Whatever had gone on behind the scenes, what the world saw on Sunday was Netanyahu elbowing his way out of the second row of notables in the arms-linked solidarity march and into the front line, with only Mali’s president between him and Hollande, and Abbas just a little further along. It saw Netanyahu waving to the crowds, when other statesmen (and Angela Merkel) had been refraining from doing so. It saw Hollande and other French notables exit the Grand Synagogue before the prime minister’s speech later Sunday. It saw Netanyahu encourage French Jews to consider emigration, though in mild language, evidently designed not to further ruffle French government and French Jewish leadership feathers. And it saw him conclude with the declaration that “Am Yisrael Chai” — The People of Israel Lives — a formulation that Hollande reportedly considered inappropriate when he encountered it in Toulouse.
The obsession with Netanyahu’s words and deeds in Paris, and with what Hollande did or didn’t want, might seem trivial in the context of the day’s great exhibition of determined resistance to terrorism. The question of whether France would have mobilized in the way it did solely for Jewish victims might seem jaundiced and small-minded after a day of such grand display.
But now that the 3.5 million marchers have all gone home, we are left with the question: What are the French actually going to do about the mounting challenge of Islamist terrorism? More security? Evidently so. More vigilance? Doubtless, at least for a while. More substantive action, truly designed to eliminate the danger? Don’t bet on that.
France promised the world to its Jewish community after the murderous Toulouse attacks. Hollande vowed time and again that France would do everything to counter anti-Semitism, to fight hatred, “to tear off all the masks, all the pretexts.” This time, too, he pledged unity and vigilance in the battles against racism and anti-Semitism. What he didn’t explicitly promise, then or now, however, was to tackle violent Islamic extremism. On Friday, indeed, he asserted in an address to the nation that “these terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Islamic religion.”
Are France and the rest of Europe about to introduce passenger profiling at EU entry points, in the way that Israel does? Not terribly likely, is it?
It would be nice to think that they didn’t. But it is their perverted interpretation of obligation to that religion that they invoke in carrying out their acts of terror and fanaticism. And it is the growing brutal resonance of their kill-and-be-killed ideology, and the failure of mainstream Islam to effectively challenge it, that led Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to appeal to Muslim clerics in a remarkable speech on January 1 to promote a more “enlightened” interpretation of Islamic texts. As things stand, el-Sissi warned, the Islamic world is “making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people (in the Muslim world) will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible … We need a religious revolution.”
Islamist jihad cannot and will not be defeated if it is not honestly acknowledged. The enemies of freedom will not be picked out at border crossings, tracked on the internet, targeted, thwarted and ultimately marginalized if insistent self-defeating political correctness means those enemies are not even named.
Does anybody seriously believe, for instance, that France is about to launch a crackdown on Islamist groupings at its higher-education institutions, or devote serious resources to investigating potential incitement at local mosques? Are France and the rest of Europe about to introduce passenger profiling at EU entry points, in the way that Israel does? Is the EU set to sanction Turkey for facilitating the flow of radicalized European Muslims to and from the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq?
Not terribly likely, is it, when the French president declares that “these terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Islamic religion”? Not terribly likely, is it, when the French president, reportedly, didn’t want his day of dignified identification with the victims of terrorism spoiled by the presence of those, like Netanyahu, who might distract from the solemn harmony and focus furious attention, instead, on the specific cause, that great big elephant stuck in among the masses in central Paris: Islamic extremism?
Three and a half million people took to the streets of France on Sunday in a show of solidarity for the latest fatalities of a ruthless ideology. But they couldn’t bring themselves to call that death-cult by its name.
Do the last few days of Islamist murder in France constitute a watershed moment for one of the Diaspora’s largest communities? The beginning of the end? I rather think so.
A watershed moment in the Western battle against Islamic extremism? I fear not.