Leader of 1968 Student Revolt: Why Does France Create Monsters?

German-Jewish politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit expresses his fears about anti-Semitism and 'the return of barbarism' in France.

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People hold on January 10, 2015 placards with the names of the victims of the January 9 nearby hostage-taking drama at a kosher supermarket, Paris.
People hold on January 10, 2015 placards with the names of the victims of the January 9 nearby hostage-taking drama at a kosher supermarket, Paris.Credit: AFP

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, or “Danny the Red” — a leader of the 1968 student revolt in Paris — was shocked by the phrase that kept repeating Friday: “Four hostages were killed.” He wants the French media to say the attack on a kosher grocery in Paris was an anti-Semitic terrorist attack.

How did you feel on Friday when you learned that a kosher grocery had been attacked?

“On the one hand, there was a horrifying act, the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, and as a result of this massacre people identified with the idea of tolerance. The entire world said ‘freedom fighters’ and turned Charb’s [murdered cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier’s] words into a catchphrase: ‘I’d prefer to die on my feet rather than living on my knees.’

“We must fight for freedom, and Charlie is a symbol. These Jews died simply because they were Jews.”

In 1968 they said: “We are all German Jews,” and in 1980, after the attack on the synagogue on rue Copernic, Libération’s headline was: “We are all French Jews.”

Cohn-Bendit: 'This is a very concrete common feeling that this society is not for us.'Credit: Miki Kratsman

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s awful; I feel I’m returning 70 years into the past, when [Spanish writer and politician] Jorge Semprún talked about the distinction between the camps, between the Résistance, communists and Jews who fought, and the others. When the only reason they’re allowed to kill you is that you’re are a Jew, that’s the return of barbarism that’s impossible to express in words.

“Since [23-year-old French Jew] Ilan Halimi was murdered [in 2006], the press finds it difficult to say ‘crime of antisemitism.’ But President François Hollande said Friday — and Prime Minister Manuel Valls repeated his words Saturday — that this was ‘another attack against the Jews of France.’

“We must recognize that [left-wing feminist politician] Clémentine Autin was the first to write immediately on Twitter: ‘Today I am a Jew.’ The French press must say today that ‘four Jews were murdered.’

Daniel Cohen-Bendit in the 1968 demonstrations.Credit: AFP

“When German television wanted to interview me Friday evening so I could analyze the horrible events that had happened that day, the German journalist called me and asked: ‘Can you explain to me why there was no incredible mobilization after the murder of the Jewish children in Toulouse?’ Silence. I said ‘no comment.’

“On Friday, at Vincennes [the neighborhood of the kosher grocery] or at [Place de la] République [where a Charlie Hebdo vigil was held], no candles were placed, no demonstrations were held.”

The murderer at the Jewish Museum in Brussels also came from France.

“The transition is slippery from a legitimate argument on Israeli policy and anti-Semitism, and in the end acts of murder. It’s hard for me. At this moment I feel I’m a ‘Jew,’ while my entire life was not ‘Jewish.’ And this feeling, when I see today we’re returning to the same situation, is terrifying.

“Likewise, this picture, of Jews trapped with a baby in the freezer of the kosher market brings back a feeling of horror. The country must ask itself the question: Why does this country create monsters?”

A version of this interview has also published been published in Libération in French.

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