Following Hamas’ categorical rejection of a unilateral Israeli cease-fire, Operation Protective Edge enters its second week with no clear end in sight. Cities across Israel continue to suffer indiscriminate rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and the IDF continues to use every means at its disposal to defend its citizens and restore calm to the region, and rightly so.
Outside of Israel, the international community witnesses an all-too-familiar scenario playing out, knowing that it would simply take Hamas and affiliated terror groups stopping their attacks on Israel in order to end this deadly round of violence. No one desires a situation in which Israel has to choose between destroying Hamas completely and the ground invasion that would likely involve, and exercising restraint at the risk of further endangering its citizens.
This intensified escalation between Israel and Gaza has drawn the attention of many global leaders, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said this week that he “cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to operate a cease-fire.”
Unfortunately, the response toward Israel and its supporters during these tense days from elsewhere in the world – and especially in Europe – has been rife with virulent anti-Jewish sentiments, chilling episodes of violence and an overall level hatred that goes beyond political passion.
This past weekend, the Jewish community in France was placed on the frontlines of a different conflict, one motivated by efforts to delegitimize Israeli measures to defend itself against Hamas. On Sunday, a violent group of French pro-Palestinian protesters diverged from a demonstration and targeted two Parisian synagogues, using bats and chairs to attempt to force their way into the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue while 150 helpless worshipers were trapped inside. Eventually, more security arrived and after two hours, the people stuck inside the synagogue were able to leave safely.
Unfortunately, this is scene is not unique to Paris.
The past two weeks have brought a much different kind of violence into Jewish communities. From the streets of Berlin to Los Angeles, the conflict in Gaza is spilling into local neighborhoods in a deeply troubling fashion. In Belgium’s second largest city of Antwerp, “Slaughter the Jews!” was screamed into a megaphone at an anti-Israel demonstration; a Jewish man in Melbourne was ambushed, beaten and called a “Jewish dog” for wearing an Israel Defense Forces T-shirt; and a 67-year old man in Berlin was punched repeatedly for wearing a Star of David necklace. Even in Los Angeles, a federal officer had to use his firearm to disperse a violent confrontation between Palestinian men and individuals participating at a pro-Israel rally.
The border between what constitutes anti-Israel versus anti-Semitic is often a nuanced one, but the violence and hatred we’re seeing right now crosses that line and it cannot be tolerated. The streets of Berlin and Antwerp are not battlefields, yet innocent Jews are being targeted and subjected to hateful attacks. Political beliefs, no matter how strong, are not an excuse for violently besieging innocent families in a house of worship. That type of violence has no place in any free and open society, especially in France, where they have worked tirelessly as a society to foster a climate of ethnic and religious coexistence.
The French government, including President Francois Hollande, was quick and forceful in its condemnation of the recent attacks in Paris. They thankfully banned future pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris and other cities, knowing full well the venomous attacks they would bring against the local Jewish population.
But unless local leaders and public officials continue to denounce these crimes against Jews wherever they flare up, I fear that they won’t stop.
We hope that the violence between Israel and Hamas comes to an end with a long-term cease-fire put in place as soon as possible. Our overall hope is that one day we can have a lasting peace in the region. But we have no control over the duration of the current conflict – only Hamas does. As long as they continue to fire rockets at civilian population centers in Israel, the Israeli government will continue to defend its citizens.
In the meantime, we urge pro-Palestinian demonstrators everywhere to not let their political views become a pretext for hate crimes against Jews. It is also up to political leaders to speak up and speak out against such crimes whenever and wherever they occur. No matter what your beliefs are about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they do not justify anti-Semitic outbreaks like the ones we’ve seen over the last two weeks, which only divide us and drive us further away from the elusive calm which we all desire.
The author is the president of American Jewish Congress and chairman of American Council for World Jewry.