Toulouse terror and anti-Semitism: usual denial on both sides

Here we go, yet again. In the wake of last month’s kill-spree in southern France, lines across the blogosphere are drawn predictably, indicating the near-complete polarization and lack of any dialectical spark in contemporary thinking on the question of anti-Semitism. The right seeks to dismiss any legitimate Arab rage against Israel as a factor, while the “left” seeks to dismiss any role in the shooter’s psyche for good old-fashioned Jew-hatred. In case you missed it, here’s the basic facts, as summarized by The Economist March 24:

After a 32-hour siege, in which a heavily armed police squad surrounded his house in Toulouse, Mohammed Merah, who is suspected of killing four adults and three children in a series of terror attacks in south-west France, died when police stormed the building on March 22nd. The news capped days of drama that rocked the country and—temporarily—put its presidential election campaign on hold.

The 23-year-old French national, who is of Algerian origin, is suspected of a killing spree, fleeing each time aboard a motor scooter. In mid-March three paratroopers were shot dead, one in Toulouse, two others in Montauban, and a fourth was critically injured. All the dead were French of north African origin. And all came from parachute regiments that have served in Afghanistan. On March 19th the killer struck again: as parents dropped off children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, two young boys and their father, a Franco-Israeli rabbi, were shot dead, as was the daughter of the headmaster. The four bodies were flown to Israel for burial…

Details are emerging about Mr Merah. He has been known to the French security services “for a long time”, said Mr GuĂ©ant, and spent time in jihadist training camps in tribal areas on the Pakistani-Afghan border, as well as in prison in France for petty crime. He told police negotiators that he belonged to al-Qaeda, and wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and protest against French wars abroad, especially in Afghanistan, and the ban on the face-covering veils in public. He planned at least three more shootings.

It hasn’t made much prominent coverage, but raids were carried out in the wake of the killings, in which 19 followers of the Islamic group Forsane Alizza were rounded up—including the group’s leader Mohammed Achamlane. His lawyer denies the group has any links to Merah. (CNN, March 31)

“Jewish World Blogger” Joel Braunold has some valid gripes in a piece in Israel’s Ha’aretz, March 29, “Airbrushing anti-Semitism out of the Toulouse attack“:

Perhaps the most shocking piece written on the murders came from Oxford Professor and Islamic thinker Tariq Ramadan, who declared that Merah was a young man, “imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism.” He was merely attacking symbols, “the army and Jews.”

His analysis was joined by a piece on France 24 that his trigger was due to the loss of a job or a political act. The Guardian in their editorial worries about the politicization of the incident and the general threats to society of violent extremisms, but never mentions the term anti-Semitism…

The reduction of the French Jewish community to a mere symbol…demonstrates a dehumanization of Merah’s victims. How does the slaughter of a religious leader and three small children of a particular minority community merely become a symbol of attacking society in general? Do the victims’ identities mean nothing to these analysts except to demonstrate this was another disaffected immigrant angry at the West and demonstrating that anger in just any way he knew how?

As someone who was once the convener anti-racist, anti-fascist campaign for the National Student Movement in the UK, I understand the tinder box of inter community violence all too well. The desire for the far-right to have been the perpetrator, the boogie man that we can all agree to hate, is overwhelmingly strong. The last thing we want to do is exacerbate Jewish-Muslim tensions.

Yet this noble desire cannot mask the fact that this man’s victims were not random. They were Jews…

The inabilities of some to even mention anti-Semitism as a cause terrifies me. Call a spade a spade; the victims deserve labeling this an act of anti-Semitism.

Rachael Levy Slate, in a piece on Slate pessimistically entitled “Why You Can’t Be Both French and Jewish,” finds:

…the country’s nearly religious devotion to secularism is at least a partial explanation for the country’s latent racism and anti-Semitism. It also fosters an ignorance that likely contributed to the perverted mindset of the suspected Toulouse gunman. Mohammed Merah might have been a radical Islamist of Algerian background, but he’s also a French national who grew up in Toulouse.

Ironically, Islamists like Merah also link French secularism to their own oppression, as in the burqa ban.

Eric Leser responds in Slate, in a piece entitled “I Have No Trouble Being Both French and Jewish.” His kicker: “The Toulouse shootings were horrible. But don’t blame them on misguided notions of French anti-Semitism.” He charges: “Levy confuses historical anti-Semitism (both religious and political) which has permeated Europe for 2,000 years with anti-Judaism, which has arisen much more recently as a result of the creation of the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

We aren’t much interested in such subtle distinctions. As we wrote five years ago:

The incessant hair-splitting about “new” (Muslim, anti-Israel) and “old” (European, classical) anti-Semitism is almost always an attempt to portray the problem as “illusory.” There is a clear continuity between the two anti-Semitisms. The contemporary Islamist embrace of classical European anti-Semitism (in which Jews are all-powerful, corrupting, uniquely sinister) is a direct result of Zionism, and there is no contradiction between recognizing the phenomenon and the phenomenon that fuels it. It is also true that there really were rich Jewish bankers and industrialists in Weimar Germany. This didn’t make Nazism any less of a threat.

Such willful denial only weakens anti-Zionism. That charges of anti-Semitism are used, for instance, against calls for economic sanctions on Israel is predictable, and to be condemned. But equivocating on the reality of anti-Semitism undermines and even delegitimizes the condemnation.

We despair that the left is ever going to “get it” on this point.

See our last posts on France and the politics of anti-Semitism.

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  1. More non-existent anti-Semitism
    Tell us again how anti-Semitism is all in our paranoid imaginations. We keep forgetting. From the AP, Sept. 19:

    PARIS — A small package bomb exploded inside a kosher grocery store in a Paris suburb Wednesday, wounding at least one person, according to an agency that tracks anti-Semitic attacks in France.

    The reason for the attack was unclear, but it rattled nerves amid global tensions surrounding a U.S.-produced film insulting to Islam. The French grocery store attack came a few hours after a satirical French weekly published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting anger from French Muslim groups.

    The “reason for the attack was unclear.” Um, do you think it might have had a little something to do with anti-Semitism? Hey, just an idea.

    The Jewish Community Protection Service, set up to register anti-Semitic attacks in France, says on its website that two individuals dressed in black threw an explosive device inside a kosher supermarket in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles at lunchtime Wednesday. It says one person suffered small injuries, without elaborating.

    Yves Jannier, the state prosecutor in the Val d’Oise region where Sarcelles is located, cautioned that evidence was still being compiled and it was too early to draw any conclusions about motives behind the attack.

    “We’ll need to analyze, quantify and measure all these elements, such as to know perhaps the type of explosives used,” he said at a news conference. “But for now, we should avoid any extrapolation or hasty conclusions.”

    Right, no “hasty conclusions.” Maybe knowing the “type of explosives used” will somehow reveal that an attack on Jewish shopkeepers—during the High Holy Days—was motivated by something other than Jew-hatred.

    And, once again, why is it only right-wing Zionists like the Jewish Policy Center that are making these obvious points?

    It fills us with despair—not so much that such attacks are happening, but that they are met with such complete denial and cowardice, thereby loaning legitimacy to those who would exploit them for Islamophobic war propaganda…