Parisians as the New Jews

The events of November 13 mark the Parisians as the new Jews, who swallow murderous hatred against them along with their morning croissant.

Avshalom Halutz
Avshalom Halutz
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A woman holds a sign reading 'Je suis Charlie, je suis Juive, je suis Musulmane, je suis Francaise' (I am Charlie, I am Jewish, I am a Muslim, I am French) during a rally in Paris, January 11, 2015.
A unity rally in Paris. The attacks have shaken up the French, making the scenario described in "Soumission" unlikely to unfold. Credit: AFP
Avshalom Halutz
Avshalom Halutz

Three months ago, vacance-deprived Parisians who were stuck in the city with tens of thousands of tourists had the opportunity to become Tel Avivians for a day, with an attraction dubbed “Tel Aviv on the Seine,” complete with sand, beach chairs, Israeli “matkot” paddle ball and heavy security. But since last week, the entire city, from the top of the Tour Montparnasse to the floor of the Metro, has been experiencing a comprehensive simulation of the ultimate Tel Aviv experience — modern urban living in the shadow of an ongoing terror threat.

It’s hard to ignore the similarity between the murderous attacks of November 13 in Paris (suicide terrorists; urban targets; total, unmitigated and not necessarily rational hatred) to the wave of attacks in Israel during the second intifada. Even the nightmarish images from Israel shown after the suicide attacks in the early 2000s, of mutilated people in the burned skeletons of buses and bloodied cafes, are now shared by the Israelis and French as pictures from the Bataclan massacre were posted.

The 9/11 attacks in the United States were primarily on symbolic targets — the World Trade Center, the Pentagon — centers of America’s power and strength. The deaths only embellished the monumental images of a bloody, painful tragedy. The recent events in Paris, like the attacks in Israel over the past decades, are aimed at life itself, at the entire populace, and their power stems from their human dimension and the fact that they were random and lack clear symbolism.

Precisely because the attacks in Paris echoed the bombings in Tel Aviv, but were aimed at non-Jews, they have provided us with an opportunity. To a large extent they released us, if only momentarily, from our regular role as victims and our umbilical connection to our enemies, which continue to define us. The murderous attacks in Paris enable us to see ourselves as Parisians who just want to eat pizza, sit in a café or watch a soccer match; not just Pavlovian victims who are fated to live under the eternal threat of disaster, but as those symbolizing normalcy confronting irrationality. They enable us to part with the exclusive rights over the constant enemy that appears in every generation, and share those rights with others.

It’s no surprise that media outlets in Israel and elsewhere rushed to find a Jewish hint among the ruins left by the terrorists in Paris, as part of the effort to digest the assault. To their great chagrin, there was no Jewish victim who could be brought up on the altar of proper order, in which the killing of Jews needn’t really be explained.

The shock the French are feeling stems from the discovery that, like the Jews, Frenchmen can be murdered just for being what they are. The French, who were shocked at the murders of cartoonists who mocked the prophet Mohammed, were not really shocked to the same degree by the attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket and the other attacks on Jews on their soil. Now they must cope with the opposite experience: While the events of November 13 can free us of our perception of our bitter fate and our own responsibility for it, they mark the Parisians, and to an extent all Europeans, as the new Jews, those forced to swallow murderous hatred against them along with their morning croissant.

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