On Thursday July 14, an Islamic terrorist launched an attack in Nice during the Bastille Day fireworks. He did not only attack the people along Nice’s beach, nor did he only attack the city of Nice – he attacked the whole of France, for what it represents. A country of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” – the motto inscribed on all of our public buildings. “Liberty, equality and brotherhood,” which represents what we stand for. And what terror stands against.
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Just like in November 2015, when other Islamic terrorists attacked a rock concert and café terraces throughout Paris, they were aiming at our way of life. France and Europe are under pressure. We live in a country currently at war against Islamist terrorism and engaged in several military operations in Mali, Iraq and Syria. At the same time, some hesitate to name the evil. We need strength and fortitude in our world of uncertainty, worry and populism.
In this context, the situation of French Jews is disconcerting. We continue to be prime targets for terrorists as we continue to be the sentinels of democracy and freedom. We remember Ilan Halimi, the young man who was abducted, tortured and killed in Paris, in 2006, because he was Jewish. We remember Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two sons, Gavriel, 3, and Arieh, 6, as well as Myriam Monsonego, 8, killed point-blank by a jihadist at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012.
We remember Philippe Braham, 45, François-Michel Saada, 64, Yoav Hattab, 21, and Yohan Cohen, 20, killed last year only because they were preparing for Shabbat on a Friday morning at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, days after the jihadist attack targeting the Charlie Hebdo magazine and police officers. May their memory be a blessing.
Many of our children have left the public school system as security has become our primary issue. The French Republic protects us as authorities mobilize throughout the country, but our situation remains fragile due to France’s many priorities and limited resources. As Jews, we feel better understood because we are no longer the jihadists’ only target: The last attacks in Paris and Nice targeted the French population as a whole, especially those who want to enjoy liberty and freedom. More and more French people understand that bigotry may start with Jews, but does not end there.
As a new French society is emerging, often in pain, French Jews must fight for our country. The stakes are our future and the future of our children.
The number of anti-Semitic acts, which had been below 100 until 1999, jumped to more than 700 in 2000 and has since remained around this level, reaching 805 in 2015. Moreover, the anti-Semitic acts – which target less than 1 percent of the population – represent around 50 percent of all racist acts reported in France. Anti-Semitism is clearly an indicator of the health of French society as a whole.
I strongly believe that we will effectively fight anti-Semitism if and only if we fight all forms of hate and discrimination. And we will be successful only when we identify and correctly name the realities as they are, without excuse.
Young people, many of whom were radicalized young Islamists, have committed nearly all of the racist and anti-Semitic attacks over the past several years. It is essential to identify the sources of radicalization: in mosques, prisons and on the internet and social media. To effectively combat this phenomenon, the internet cannot be allowed to provide user manuals for terrorist activity.
Further, the French school system must fulfill its role in educating against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. Finally, we must never forget that words may cause deaths.
Whether these attacks are racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, xenophobic or homophobic, victims must know that they are not alone, that they can count on our support and solidarity to prevent forgetfulness and indifference settling into our collective memory. We Jews know how this duty of remembrance is a compelling need.
We must fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in all forms with strength and determination. The double standard used against Jews and against Israel is totally unacceptable and must be condemned. French society must not hold Israel to a different standard compared with the rest of the world. The delegitimization of the Jewish state plays a definite role in focusing the hatred of these young Islamists toward anti-Semitism, fanaticism and terrorism.
One cannot term the Paris or Nice attacks “terrorism,” while refusing to do the same for the attacks in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. French media must understand that an attack on Sarona Market in Tel Aviv means the very same thing as an attack on the beach of Nice. In Israel and France, the fanatics’ methods are the same, their objectives identical. Those who kill with a construction excavator in Jerusalem or by driving cars into a crowd in the West Bank are the same as the man who drove his truck into a crowd in Nice. Those who kill with knives in Jerusalem or Netanya are the same as the man who killed two police officers in front of their 3-year-old child in the suburbs of Paris last month. Those who kill with machine guns at Sarona Market are identical to those who killed with machine guns on café terraces in Paris or at the Bataclan.
We must somehow demystify the Jew to our French compatriots and explain what it means to be Jewish. They must understand that we are at the forefront of the battle, because we represent everything the terrorists are not.
We continue to work hard with Muslim leaders, developing new ways to act in solidarity in French society. Muslim leaders, however, must take part in the deradicalization process, in order to foster a French Islam compatible with French values.
I trust that my country, as we have many times before, will find the resources to fight the internal cancer of Islamic terrorism. We will play our part. But we expect our partners to do the same.
The writer is the 11th president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of Jewish institutions in France.