Panic Is Not the Way to Fight Islamist anti-Semitism in Europe

Netanyahu’s telling France’s Jews to move to Israel is in stark contrast to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ call to fight anti-Semitism.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
French President Francois Hollande, right, and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, speak with Jewish leaders after an attack at a kosher supermarket, Paris, Jan. 11, 2015.
French President Francois Hollande, right, and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, speak with Jewish leaders after an attack at a kosher supermarket, Paris, Jan. 11, 2015.Credit: AFP
Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

The events of January 7 and 9, 2015 in Paris are a watershed in European history. They will end the time in which Europe could criticize the United States for its indeed often very problematic ways of fighting Islamist terror after 9/11 without offering serious alternatives. Europe needs to squarely face the new scourge of Islamist anti-Semitism, a phenomenon that has been amply documented and steadily on the rise.

The first step is to develop a viable security strategy. The French authorities had ample evidence that Cherif Kouachi, one of the two brothers who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, had taken the path of radical Islamism, and had even been convicted to three years in prison for his activities. There he had met Amedy Coulibaly with whom he would later talk to known radical preachers. Said Kouachi travelled to Yemen a number of times and trained with the local branch of Al-Qaida, which has since claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo murders.

The information had been there – as indeed it had been before 9/11. But the authorities failed to act upon this information, because there was no clear policy about what to do.

Europe is now at the front line of Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism, and January 2015 will be remembered as a beginning rather the climax of Islamist terrorism in Europe. Thousands of youngsters are travelling to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other destinations where they are further radicalized, and they return as fully trained terrorists.

The phenomenon is too new to allow for precise predictions, but my recent participation in a conference at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at the University of Oxford, where initial research on mobilization of youngsters and their radicalization was presented, has led me to the conclusion that Europe is in for difficult times.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately reacted to the killings at the kosher supermarket in Vincennes by calling upon France’s Jews to move to Israel. French Jews feel insecure for good reasons: Anti-Semitic incidents including murder have increased in the last years. But Netanyahu’s call was misguided and counterproductive, as former Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has pointed out.

One need not go as far as Claude Lanzmann, director of the famed documentary “Shoah,” to say that if France’s Jews leave, we would give Hitler a belated victory. But calling upon French Jews to panic and leave to Israel is tantamount to caving in to terrorism, for it gives an unambiguous message to potential Islamist terrorists: Jews can be scared to run away, a message Netanyahu strongly opposes when it comes to Israel.

Netanyahu’s panicky and defeatist reaction is in stark contrast to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ moving address to the French National Assembly. Valls made clear that France hasn’t done enough to fight anti-Semitism in France in the last years. He also made clear that this anti-Semitism often hides behind the pretext of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He called for naming the scourge of anti-Semitism by its name and to fight it with all legitimate means, and went as far as to say that France would no longer be France if its Jews were to flee the country. After all, Valls pointed out, Jewish emancipation in Europe started in France, even though he made sure also to remind the National Assembly of France’s terrible record during World War II.

Listening to Valls’ speech, I was reminded of mile Zola’s uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism in the 1890s, both before and during the Dreyfus affair. Valls chose the one correct, decent, moral and courageous way to react to Islamist anti-Semitism: to assert the values of liberal democracy while declaring an uncompromising fight against both terrorism and anti-Semitism.

Europe must heed Valls’ call to fight Islamist anti-Semitism and terrorism anytime and anywhere. But it must do so without panic, and without sacrificing the values Islamist terrorism attacks: liberty, fraternity and equality.

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