A Fresh Perspective: First they came for the Jews

The attack on the French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was an attack on Western values, but it was preceded by many anti- Semitic attacks that few paid attention to.

Demonstrators make a salute called "quenelle". (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators make a salute called "quenelle".
(photo credit: REUTERS)
J’accuse! The indifference of the French community to the wave of anti-Semitic attacks seen in France in the past decade is the precursor to the violent attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
In 2006, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was working in a cellphone store when an attractive young lady came in as a customer. After finishing her purchases, the customer asked for Ilan’s phone number. Ilan gave it to her and they agreed to meet later on. The bait was set.
When Halimi met with his date, what awaited him was nothing less than horror. He was kidnapped, held prisoner in an apartment in Paris for 24 days while being violently tortured. Reports speak of people in the neighborhood coming to that apartment to participate in his torture, as though it were a pleasant pastime. After over three weeks of horrible torture, Ilan Halimi was abandoned in a nearby forest. When he was found, he had burns on over 80 percent of his body.
“Even an animal isn’t treated that way,” the police would later say.
His crime? He was Jewish. Period.
On March 19, 2012, after several attacks against uniformed soldiers, the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse was attacked by a terrorist. The terrorist came around eight in the morning on a motorcycle and opened fire towards the schoolyard. The first victims were a rabbi who taught at the school and his two children. One of the children did not die immediately and tried crawling away. The terrorist shot at him as he was fighting for his life. He then went into the schoolyard, grabbed an eight-year-old girl and tried shooting her at close range. His gun jammed at that moment. However, the terrorist did not quit. He switched guns and shot this little girl point blank. The terrorist aimed his previous attacks at military personnel for what he believed to be war crimes, but what were the claimed crimes of these victims? Once again, their only crime was to be Jewish.
From anti-Semitism to indiscriminate terrorism
A famous quote, attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller, describes the inaction of the German population to the rise of Nazism in Germany.
In one of its versions, it says: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
It seems that history is repeating itself. Just as German society failed to act against Nazism, so too is French society failing to act against radical Islam-inspired anti-Semitism.
As violent and shocking acts of anti-Semitism began becoming a part of regular life in France, French society continued to embrace some very disturbing behavior.
For example, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a French comedian and actor, has only risen in popularity since expressing his anti-Semitism. His recent campaigns included using a Nazi-inspired salute, the quenelle gesture, as a “protest” sign with obvious anti-Semitic undertones. Thousands of online supporters took pictures of themselves while demonstrating the quenelle in various locations, including the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dieudonné wrote a song making fun of the Holocaust, “Shoananas,” which thousands of fans sing with him in all of his shows. These people saluting the quenelle or singing “Shoananas” are not just radical Islamic elements of France. Anti-Semitism has once again become a part of French culture, and it is becoming more and more popular.
As can be expected, when a group uses violence against Jews, it is not long before it will start using violence against other values dear to the Western world. This latest wave of anti-Semitism has recently translated into a wave of anti-Western attacks, with the attack on the popular magazine Charlie Hebdo. The attack against Charlie Hebdo has been described by many as an eye-opener – the September 11 of France. World leaders came to support France in a huge march in protest against these attacks.
A magazine being attacked is a blatant siege against the bedrock of Western tradition: freedom of expression. It is an attack on the most basic French values: “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” The personal tragedy of the families is unbearable and the national tragedy at this symbol being attacked is also great.
However, one cannot help but wonder why the attack on Ilan Halimi or the attack on a school in Toulouse were not enough in order to wake up the French.
Why were these attacks not “eye-openers?” Why did they need another “September 11” moment to get rid of their naivety and innocence? Why did world leaders not come to march in protest? Even more so, why was the focus of the huge march the attack on the Charlie Hebdo and not the anti-Semitic attack on the Jewish supermarket, Hyper Casher, that followed? The sad truth is that an attack on Jewish children is less shocking to France than an attack on a magazine.
The diplomatic implications of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attack
It is quite symbolic that the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine occurred one week after a groundbreaking UN vote on a Palestinian resolution against Israel. In that resolution, the Western world was united for Israel, with the exception of France, which sided with the Palestinians.
It is time for France to wake up. The fight against Islamic terrorism is the same fight whether it is against Palestinian Islamic terrorists, Islamic State terrorists, al-Qaida or French Islamic terrorists. It is a fight between freedom and tyranny, between democracy and terrorism, between hope and hatred. In this fight, the Western free world needs to be united. The Western world must stand with Israel.
By siding with Palestinians against Israel, France painted the Western world as weak and divided. It is time for Israel and France to work together with Australia, Canada, the UK, Spain, the United States and all other Western countries that were attacked or are threatened by Islamic terrorists in order to defeat this threat that wants to bring our civilization back to the Middle Ages.
Will they do so? The way the French government handled the huge protest that occurred following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo is not an encouraging sign.
While all Western world leaders were invited, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked not to come.
Only after insisting he wanted to stand with Western values of freedom and democracy, as well as with French Jewry in this time of crisis, was he allowed.
However, this was done only after inviting Holocaust- denying PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who sits in a coalition government with the Hamas terrorist group. Is it logical that the leader of a Western democracy, Netanyahu, only be invited to a march in support of Western democratic values and against terrorism, after a Holocaust-denying dictator that cooperates with terrorists, Abbas, was confirmed attending?
French Jews, come home!
Immigration to Israel has almost doubled in the past year, from 3,400 to 7,000 people. France has become the No. 1 country from which Jews immigrate.
However, for the third-largest Jewish community in the world, after the United States and Israel, with over half-a-million Jews, this rise in numbers cannot yet be considered a true “wave.”
The right to the Land of Israel has nothing to do with anti-Semitism in other parts of the world. Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the place in which King David ruled and the Maccabees fought off the nation’s enemies. The return to Zion is justified even without the cause of anti-Semitism.
However, anti-Semitism is definitely a reason, albeit a truly unfortunate one, for Jews to consider exercising this existing right.
The new wave of attacks in France will surely make the number of Jews leaving France rise once again. Instead of looking at Canada or the United States, these Jews should simply come home to Israel and end a 2,000-year history of exile. Here in Israel, unlike in any other country in the world, when Jews are attacked violently – as often happens – Jews can put on the uniform of the IDF and fight back to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Is there hope?
The implications of the latest terrorist attacks can be numerous: from a more mature French society that will know to fight radical Islam, to more mature French diplomats that will know how to better treat their allies in the war on radical Islam and even to a French Jewish community that will bring to an end, for that community, a 2,000-year-old exile from Israel.
However, unfortunately, the initial reaction of the French population unfortunately leaves little room for hope. Will this change or is it already too late? 
The writer is an attorney and a former legislative adviser to Knesset’s coalition chairman; he previously served in a legal capacity at the Foreign Ministry. He is a graduate of McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s master’s program in public policy.