At the end of a grim week last Friday, in the couple of hours between the breaking of the story of the hostage situation at a kosher supermarket in Paris and the start of Shabbat in Jerusalem – when I turn off the radio and try to tune out the news – the Israeli stations began playing songs in French interspersed among the updates. I noted that many of the songs were actually by Belgian singers, rather than sons of the République, and then I realized that when it comes to terrorism, it didn’t really matter.
The writing is on the wall in French, English, German, and many other European languages. The borders carefully blurred by the European Union are readily crossed and exploited by terrorists on their way to and from attacks on the heart of all the free world holds dear.
The shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels in March, in which three people were killed, was carried out by a terrorist who traveled there and back from France and had previously fought with the Islamic State in Syria.
The list of the victims’ names grows longer – each one the center of a universe of family and friends, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors and others whose lives they had touched.
Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 20, Philippe Braham, 40, and François-Michel Saada, 64, all died in the attack on Hyper Cacher. The world was preoccupied with the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in which 12 people were killed, apparently by jihadists affiliated to al-Qaida in Yemen.
The show of unity by world leaders marching arm-in-arm, a safe distance ahead of a million-plus crowd, fooled nobody. It didn’t make the world any more secure, it just made the free world feel a bit better about itself.
Journalists from places as far away as China asked me about the feeling in Israel “following the Charlie Hebdo attack.” Israel, by then, was already mourning the four Jews killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time: A Jewish store, buying last-minute purchases ahead of Shabbat.
As far as the world was concerned, the dead Jews were not the story. No matter how many times Israel has warned the West that the attacks by jihadists were inevitable.
We’ve been putting exclamation marks next to the writing on the wall for years. The response has been to accuse us of defacing public property and to quickly scrub out the words of warning. Maybe we should have drawn cartoon graffiti on the wall instead.
IN ISRAEL , in this pre-election period, attention zoomed in on the question of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to travel to Paris without an initial invitation to the leaders’ feel-good parade, and whether it was brilliant or inappropriate of him to maneuver himself from the second row to the first.
I wondered if anyone had suggested that President Reuven Rivlin, as non-political head of state, represent Israel, and by proxy the Jewish people, instead. Sources in the president’s office said they didn’t know of any such approach.
But the presence of the prime minister of Israel should not have been jarring. His absence would have signaled something far more sinister: That while Israel stands at the forefront of the war on terror, it is being sidelined in the world community – a double victim of both terrorism and delegitimization.
That President Barack Obama didn’t see fit to literally take a stand is more disconcerting than the fact that the Israeli prime minister dropped everything to rally against global jihad and at the same time offer comfort to the Jewish community in its hour of need.
French President François Hollande reportedly didn’t want to invite Netanyahu to avoid moving the focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s an appalling snub at a time when the Jewish victims of the Islamist terrorist attack had not yet been buried.
After nearly 67 years of sovereignty, Israel should be allowed to walk in its own right.
India became independent around the same time as Israel, as the British Commonwealth crumbled in the wake of World War II: Does the world condition everything relating to India’s standing on solving its issues with neighboring Pakistan? The rally led to some extraordinary statements that would be funny if they weren’t so tragic. Among those who condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack were Syria and Hamas, neither of whom it seems approve of killings they haven’t themselves initiated on Muslims or Jews.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the situation one step further, denouncing Netanyahu’s presence at the rally and declaring that “games are being played with the Islamic world.”
Why did the French intelligence services not follow the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack after their release from prison, asked Erdogan. The question itself is not unreasonable, although Erdogan seems to have reached the conclusion that it is part of an Islamophobic plot rather than incompetence or being overwhelmed by numbers.
We might ask a similar question of the Turkish president: How is it that your border with Syria is so porous when it comes to western jihadists crossing to join their murderous brethren? The world can pretend to be taking a strong stand on terror, but where was the rally for the victims of the Islamist terror in Nigeria (and I count among its victims the 10-yearold girls who were reportedly turned into suicide bombers)? How have we reached a stage when we see a video of a young Kazakh boy purportedly recruited by the Islamic State calmly shooting dead two suspected Russian agents and we think: “At least he didn’t behead them”? Where are the equivalent placards pronouncing “Je suis Asia Bibi”? In case her name is not familiar, she is a young woman sentenced to death in Pakistan because her Muslim village neighbors accused her of blasphemy. She has been on death row since November 2010, time enough for the Christian world to learn her name.
Why, instead of talking about Saudi Arabia as if it were a moderate force in the Middle East, is there not outrage at the sentence being meted out to blogger Raif Badawi, accused of insulting Islam?: 1,000 lashes; 50 lashes every Friday for 20 weeks, if he lives that long. The Saudis, however, did condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, so maybe they only object to freedom of expression when it takes place in their own kingdom.
ANOTHER QUESTION that dominated discussions in Israel was whether the country should be actively encouraging the Jews of France (and elsewhere) to move to the Jewish State. (A report by the Campaign Against Antisemitism released this week in Britain indicated that 45 percent of Jews there are worried that they have no future in the UK.) President Rivlin’s eulogy at the funeral in Jerusalem for the four supermarket victims struck just the right note: “This is not how we wanted you to arrive in the Land of Israel, this is not how we wanted to see you come home, to the State of Israel, and to Jerusalem, its capital. We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life,” he declared.
Yoav Hattab, son of the chief rabbi of Tunis, symbolized the tragedy. He had just returned to France following a Birthright trip to Israel.
Hattab had hoped to come back and make his home here. From choice. Hattab belongs to a generation that can move more easily than their elders, who worry about leaving established lives and careers and older family members.
Ironically, as terrorism hits around the globe from Australia to Europe, Israel with its ever-tense security situation becomes more attractive. It might not be safer than anywhere else, but it no longer represents so much of an added risk.
And it is home. Not just a refuge and sanctuary. Israel is not the place to run to, it’s the place to come home to roost. It’s the only place in the world where a Jew can feel so natural and comfortable, whether religious or not.
Here all the main supermarkets are kosher and a Friday afternoon is naturally a time of transition to a slower mode; where the radio programs include Shabbat- related content and recipes for family meals. It can be cloying, annoying and intense. But it’s the only place in the world where the greeting “Shabbat shalom” naturally trips off the tongue. May it be a peaceful Sabbath for all.