This might just be the world’s worst hashtag — ever.
Hours after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 12 people on board a Tel Aviv bus, extremists took to social media to praise his actions with #JeSuisCouteau, which is French for “I am the knife.”
The hashtag, a clear play on the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag used around the world to express support for the people of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has the opposite effect: Instead of supporting the victims of violence, it supports the perpetrator.
“Palestine more damaged than Charlie,” one image states, linking together two separate issues and drawing a comparison that trivializes the deadly assault on Paris’s satirical newspaper. This profoundly misguided response is perhaps not surprising when we consider the cues given by people like Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Risheq, who praised today’s attack, saying, “The heroic stabbing incident against the Zionist in Tel Aviv is a daring and heroic act. It comes as a natural response to the terrorist occupation crimes against our people.”
Some tweets even seem to draw a visual connection between the Charlie Hebdo killing and the Tel Aviv attack. This cartoon, for example, says “10 stabs for those who don’t pray for the prophet.” Notice the bus in the background bearing the Star of David and that #40 — the bus line targeted by the terrorist, identified as 23-year-old Hamza Mohammed Hasan Matrouk, earlier today.
Still other tweets try to highlight a discrepancy between Western reactions to Israeli violence against Palestinians (see the cavalier response in panel #1) and Palestinian violence against Israelis (see the outraged response in panel #2).
The #JeSuisCouteau hashtag has been shared on social media almost 4000 times in the past few hours alone, according to the social media measuring site Topsy.
Probably lost on most of those social media users is the hashtag’s (unwitting?) allusion to French author Charles Baudelaire, who used the phrase “I am the knife” in his famous work, Fleurs du Mal: “Je suis la plaie,” he wrote, “et le couteau!”
Yesterday’s State of the Union address was a success for Obama. From ending the war in Afghanistan and helping to revive the economy, the president touted his accomplishments. The same accomplishments his fellow party members were reluctant to use to their advantage in the last elections.
So many stood up and applauded as he mentioned the most controversial topics and spoke frankly about them. Global warming — it’s real. Women — they’re not second-class citizens. Racism and discrimination — not in our home. Biden was beaming behind him like a guardian angel and John Boehner looked like his face was about to melt off in a giant frown.
There were a lot of good things for Jews to fist-pump over in last night’s address. Overwhelmingly, we care about women, care about the environment and care about education. But here are four things that made it especially good for us:
Even France was reluctant to say the recent attacks targeted Jews. And in a world where some are reluctant to use the “A” word, Obama said it loud and clear: “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened… It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”
Reading the article was wrenching.
It was a first-person offering, on the website Kveller, by the non-Orthodox mother of a young woman who had adopted Jewish observance and in the process (at least in her mother’s telling) had jettisoned all respect for — apparently, all feeling for — her parents.
The mother described how her daughter had been all but kidnapped and brainwashed by a “fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox sect,” and that she only begrudgingly allowed her parents to attend her wedding. Her daughter’s Judaism, the writer contends, was “deeply intolerant,” demanding not only that the younger woman “follow an infinite number of rules, but also disassociate from all who were different. Even from her own parents.”
Those parents, in the mother’s testimony, bent over backward to accommodate their daughter’s new life. They bought her special kitchenware and offered her an oven and dishwasher to facilitate her observance of kashrut. They drove her to the homes of others for Shabbat and even, the mother writes, made donations to their daughter’s rabbi. “We even invited him to our home to hold weekly classes for us and a group of our friends,” she recounts. Although the mother was “not always pleased” with her daughter’s path, “We wanted to learn about what had so inspired” her. Still, her daughter acted, the mother asserts, in obnoxious ways toward her parents.
“What kind of people,” the mother wondered, “teach that in order to have a meaningful life, you must shun those who love you most?” After some research, she discovered that the “fundamentalist” group was part of an “enterprise, known as kiruv, or ‘bringing close’.”
Kiruv, of course, is a multifaceted effort to, yes, bring Jews closer to their religious heritage. But it is educational and nurturing, not malevolent and destructive. No kiruv group teaches any newly observant Jew to reject his or her family, and no responsible “kiruv professional” would ever gratuitously counsel a Jew to shun his or her family.
(JTA) — Remember that Hillary Clinton ad from 2008, the one where it’s 3 a.m. and the White House phone is ringing? The spot, an attempt to highlight Clinton’s superior experience compared to then Sen. Obama’s ostensible naivete, didn’t do much to save the Clinton campaign, which lost the Democratic primary that year.
But that hasn’t stopped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of his challengers from copying it.
Netanyahu is facing a strong challenge from the center-left alliance of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. In response, he’s telling voters that he’ll be dependable no matter what happens. But with two leaders at the helm, who knows?
One of his latest ads shows Herzog and Livni both avoiding a call from President Obama. Even if you don’t understand the Hebrew, the message is clear.
Herzog and Livni hit back with an ad telling Netanyahu, “The question isn’t who will answer the phone. The question is: Who’s going to call you?” A voiceover then mocks the prime minister for damaging relations with Europe and the United States and says, “Bibi no one in the world wants to talk to you anymore.”
But wait, there’s more!
Rabbi Abraham Skorka chats with Pope Francis during their visit to Holy Land last year. /Getty Images
(JTA) — Rabbi Abraham Skorka traveled from Buenos Aires to Washington to wax lyrical about his passion – interfaith dialogue – and intimate about his well-known pal, Pope Francis. Also to plug his movement, the Masorti movement, and its strides in Latin America.
Timing dictated that he also issue a plea to his government: Press ahead with the AMIA case in the wake of the suspicious death of its prosecutor.
Skorka’s appearance at the Argentinean embassy in Washington came Tuesday just hours after the news of the death by gunshot of Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
News of Nisman’s death came just hours before he was to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and foreign minister in a nefarious cover-up scheme.
“This is a moment of great sorrow, of great pain and consternation for all Argentineans, for all the people living in Argentina,” Skorka said, when I asked him to expand on comments he had made earlier, addressing diplomats and Conservative movement luminaries.
Now that Hasidic men are barred from pushing strollers, will they turn to other modes of baby transportation? / Illustration by Anya Ulinich
Baseball. Men’s briefs. Dogs. Hipster eyeglasses. Motorcycles. Neckties. English. Math. Men’s shoes any color besides black. Button-down shirts that flap left-over-right. Fixing your own car. Modern Hebrew.
That’s a partial list of “goyish” things Satmar Jews have successfully banned within their flock.
Pretty impressive, right? And yet, challenges remain. The Satmars have so far been unsuccessful at banning such blatantly goyish things as: Lexus cars, Bugaboo strollers, hipster neighbors, Jacadi stores, sex, pants, ghoulash, Brooklyn and Sol a Kokosh Mar. And they’ve only had partial success with bike lanes and Lipa Schmeltzer.
But there’s one particularly vile scourge the Satmars have yet to unscourge, and that is — men pushing baby strollers.
Unable to withstand such goyishness a second longer, they published the following notice in a recent issue of the Satmar advertising circular, D’var Yom B’Yomo:
With regard to the new custom among some men to push the baby carriage when walking on the street: The great Rabbi Nosson Yosef Meisels said in 1968, during a speech to grooms in the name of our holy rebbe [R. Joel Teitelbaum, the rebbe of Satmar], that one must not perform this practice, as it originates among the goyim.
Eliad Cohen is Israel’s top gay icon / Haaretz
Some people visit Israel for the holy sites. Some visit Israel as a political statement. Some visit Israel because they think Israelis are “hot.”
Disagree? Well, the Israeli Tourism Ministry and City of Tel Aviv do not. Recently, Israel’s economic capital held a Winter Gay Festival advertised using not just a sand-snowman, but also posters and videos replete with muscular Israeli men, armed with bursting biceps in tank tops. You could be forgiven for thinking Israel was advertising the virility of its menfolk, from both the posters and admiring European tourists on the city’s beaches this winter.
This trend is not just a one-time fluke. Witness the various posters and advertisements it has produced replete with the images of the strong, muscular, Israeli men of the IDF, or the beautiful women of Tel Aviv’s beaches. Of course, many countries use the attractive bodies of their citizens to invite tourists — but in many ways, this effort for Israel is political as well: it is sexy hasbara.
It is no secret that a certain type of hasbara operates below the belt buckles of Jews and Gentiles alike from Brooklyn to Birobidzhan. From the shirtless, muscular frat brothers in Birthright ads to the landscapes of bikini-clad female combat soldiers in the IDF, Israel not infrequently uses its sex appeal to garner support. The goal? Well, it seems to be that if enough people have “hot” associations with Israel, they will then support its government’s actions.
David Sookne, front left, and Bruce Hartford, third from right, register voters in 1965 / Courtesy
(JTA) — Since the nationwide release of “Selma” a week before the national holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I have wondered about the extent of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement. Was it just the Selma marches? Was our support also financial, in the voting booth? Or something more?
Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein concluded in their 1998 book “Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time” that “Jews served in the forefront of the fight to end racial segregation in education, public accommodations and voting.” But wanting to hear it from someone who was actually in the “forefront,” I spoke with a Jewish recruit in the fight.
David Sookne may not sound like someone who served on the front lines of our nation’s battle for civil rights. The semi-retired mathematician and computer programmer — a resident of suburban Los Angeles with whom I pray a couple of times a month — is exacting in speech and even tempered.
He’s also blessed with an excellent memory: Sookne can name the people in the Roosevelt administration down to the level of the undersecretary.
So he vividly recalls his seven weeks spent in Alabama’s rural Crenshaw County as a foot soldier in the voter registration campaign for blacks organized by King through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was the summer of 1965 — after the Selma marches but before the passage of the Voting Rights Act that would be one of their outcomes.
Sookne, then 22 and enrolled in a doctoral program in in theoretical mathematics at the University of Chicago, signed up after following the news stories about the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer — a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964 in which several supporters and volunteers were murdered, including two young Jewish men.
After first driving home to Silver Spring, Md. — his parents didn’t want him to go — he headed for Atlanta.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, right, marches with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders / Getty Images
(JTA) — The 50th anniversary of the 1965 march at Selma is being commemorated this year with the release of the film “Selma.” Regrettably, the film represents the march as many see it today, only as an act of political protest.
But for my father Abraham Joshua Heschel and for many participants, the march was both an act of political protest and a profoundly religious moment: an extraordinary gathering of nuns, priests, rabbis, black and white, a range of political views, from all over the United States.
Perhaps more an act of celebration of the success of the civil rights movement than of political protest, Selma affirmed that the movement had won the conscience of America.
President Lyndon Johnson had just declared, “We Shall Overcome,” and congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act would come quickly. Thanks to the religious beliefs and political convictions of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., coalitions had been built, religious differences overcome and visions articulated that meshed religious and political goals.
My father felt that the prophetic tradition of Judaism had come alive at Selma. He said that King told him it was the greatest day in his life, and my father said that he was reminded at Selma of walking with Hasidic rebbes in Europe. Such was the spiritual atmosphere of the day.
When he returned, he famously said, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan / Doron Matalon Instagram
Life sure is hard when you’re a contestant at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to wowing the judges with your swimsuit, your evening gown and your talent, you also have to be constantly on the lookout for quick-footed, iPhone-toting Israeli beauty queens who are dead-set on squeezing themselves into a selfie with you.
Or at least that’s what Miss Lebanon Saly Greige would have us believe.
The Lebanese contestant is accusing Miss Israel Doron Matalon of photobombing her, after a picture of the two beauty queens smiling side-by-side circulated on social media, causing an uproar in Lebanon. Because Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, some Lebanese saw the selfie as evidence that Greige was consorting with the enemy, and called for her to be stripped of her title. Here’s how Greige defended herself on Instagram:
“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.”
Did Miss Israel really photobomb Miss Lebanon, or is that just Greige’s excuse?
Michael Douglas poses with Michael Bloomberg after winning the $1M Genesis Prize. / Getty Images
When Michael Bloomberg was named the first recipient of the Genesis Prize last year, I wasn’t alone in wondering why a billionaire businessman and politician whose Jewishness was mostly hidden and whose ties to Israel were tenuous at best was given such an award. But considering the noble intent of the prize, the money it offered — a million dollars! — and the stellar reputations of some of the organizers, I tried really hard to understand the selection.
I ended a column in the Forward saying I’d give it another year.
Time’s up. A new winner was announced today. He makes Bloomberg looks like a combination of Golda Meir, Louis Brandeis and, hell, even Moses in his public devotion to the Jewish people.
Michael Douglas. Really?
Yair Lapid (Getty Images); Moshe Kahlon (Facebook
When Yair Lapid skyrocketed to the top of Israeli politics during the last election campaign in 2013, he did it by positioning himself as the most “hevrati” (socio-economically conscious) candidate. He and his party, Yesh Atid, capitalized on the momentum of the “tent protests” that brought half a million Israelis to the streets to fight the rising cost of living. By speaking to this middle-class frustration, Yesh Atid wound up with 19 seats and the Finance, Education, Welfare and Health portfolios.
Now, less than two years later, Yesh Atid has fallen from both grace and the governing coalition, and Israel’s exhausted middle-class has understood that its hope was misplaced. But while Israel’s socio-economic problems are worse than ever, Israelis still want someone to hope with — and this time around, it’s Moshe Kahlon.
Born into a Mizrahi family in a working-class neighborhood in Hadera, Kahlon rose to fame as communications, and later as welfare, minister in Bibi Netanyahu’s second term when he successfully broke the Israeli cell phone cartel, slashing prices by up to 90%. He surprised many by bowing out of politics in late 2012, though there was widespread speculation that he was planning an electoral bid. While Kahlon wound up sitting out the last round of elections, he finally founded his new party, Kulanu (All of Us), last year.
Kulanu’s campaign is heavily based on Kahlon’s reputation as both “social-friendly” and untarnished by the corruption scandals that regularly sweep Israeli politics. According to a recent survey of the Israeli public by the Jerusalem Post and Maariv, Kahlon is the “least corrupt” of the major candidates and best at handling socioeconomic issues. It comes as no surprise, then, that Kulanu is quickly becoming the Yesh Atid of 2015.
But the reality of Kahlon’s record tells quite a different story.
British Jewish demand “Zero Tolerance for Anti-Semitism” at a London rally / Getty Images
There it was on Wednesday, on the front page of The Independent. “The new anti-Semitism,” the headline read, and beneath it: “Majority of British Jews feel they have no future in the UK.”
My interest was immediately piqued, not least because the idea that a majority of British Jews are without hope bears no relation to my own experience of Jewish life in this country.
It turned out that the source of this headline statistic was a poll conducted by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a pressure group which, tapping into communal discontent with established institutions, staged a very successful, cross-communal rally promoting zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism last summer in London. Their report did indeed conclude that, from a sample of 2,230 British Jews, 45% are concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain.
Not to dismiss the concerns of those respondents, but there’s good reason to question the findings of the specific section of the poll that surveyed members of the Jewish community in Britain. Mostly, that’s because of the methodology used by the CAA, which conducted the poll independently without help from a recognized polling organization:
Since the Paris attacks, the internet has been overflowing with support for the victims and calls for freedom of expression. But, alarmingly and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also been full of demands for Muslims to “take responsibility” and “condemn” the heinous acts — as if somehow all Muslims universally bear responsibility for every single deranged or vile act committed by any Muslim, anywhere. You can find these enlightening cries everywhere from the New York Times op-ed page to Rupert Murdoch’s delightful Twitter feed.
Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 10, 2015
Muslim media outlet MuslimMatters.Org rose to the occasion and came up with an idea for a start-up called the “iCondemn” app. They even created a mock-up for the app, which would allow Muslims to condemn every awful Muslim action in the world, big or small, with a single click.
The app would even allow Muslims to issue condemnations “of events in the past, like the source of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and British imperialism.”
Plus, “with a $4.99 upgrade, the app comes with the Guilt-O-Meter®, which accurately gauges how nervous Western Muslims are feeling right about now.”
The app is a joke, of course. But Muslims all over the media have been taking these demands for condemnations very seriously.
And you do have to wonder about the double standard set by the public’s outcry for Muslim condemnations. Why aren’t Jews asked to condemn all racist comments, crimes and murders committed by Jews? Where is the “Not in my name, Son of Sam” meme? Do we need an iCondemn app for every racist or sexist comment made by a prominent Jewish figure?
Shouldn’t it be obvious that the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris have nothing to do with the majority of Muslim people? As our hero J. K. Rowling tweeted in reply to the aforementioned Rupert Murdoch tweet:
I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I'll auto-excommunicate. http://t.co/Atw1wNk8UX— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 11, 2015
Or as Muslim comedian Aziz Ansari put it:
Anytime a Christian person rear ended your car. #RupertsFault— Aziz Ansari (@azizansari) January 12, 2015
One week ago when I heard the chilling news from Paris. I knew exactly that I couldn’t know how it felt to be in the shoes of those cartoonists.
I work in a weekly newspaper with a constant electronic presence just like Charlie Hebdo. And just like the small staff of Charlie we 20 also gather on Wednesday to finish off our paper and send it to the printers. We swipe entry cards over the door locks and pay lip service to the security arrangements. And I know exactly that I cannot fathom how it would feel to have someone point a gun at the back of my head and force me to swipe in an armed stranger to kill my colleagues.
I’ve worked on the staff of lampoons and satires where we knew our intended and actual audiences would disagree with our target and line of attack vehemently and sometimes vitriolically. I’ve been in meetings where we discuss the limits of offense that we can, and should give and the financial, legal and physical threats we would have to withstand as a result of our decision. And yet I know that I have no comprehension of what it would feel like to suddenly see a nightmare caricature of my worst enemies burst into that meeting with an automatic weapon pointed at me and my friends.
But still I know enough. #jesuischarlie It’s enough to identify. To say we feel their pain.
Jewish children wave French flags as the interior minister vowed to step up security after the kosher grocery terror attack./Getty Images
Je suis Charlie, je suis Juif.
That’s why I fly to Paris – to let my fellow and sister Jews know they are not alone, that Jews around the world care deeply about the assaults so recently befallen them.
My wife, Toby, and I had been in Israel celebrating the bar mitzvah of our grandson Noam when we heard of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris – at Charlie Hebdo and at the Jewish kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher.
I’ve always felt a pull to go where I might be able to provide some comfort – though now that I’m past 70 these decisions don’t come easily. But at the El Al counter in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, heading home to New York, I spontaneously blurt my wish to stop in Paris en route – to the resigned but understanding concerns of my supportive wife, Toby.
As I write these words my flight is landing in Paris. I speak no French, and have a wary relationship with modern technology. I have only names of French rabbis and Parisian leaders. God willing I’ll be joined tomorrow by Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, of New York University, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, and Rabbi Adam Scheier, a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Rabbi of Congregation Shaar HaShomayim in Montreal.
(JTA) — The deadly hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris has French Jews (and some non-Jews) proclaiming “Je suis juif,” or “I am Jewish,” in solidarity with the four people killed in the attack.
Who are the Jews of France? Here’s a primer.
About 500,000, the most of any European nation and more than any other country in the world except for Israel and the United States.
France is home to some 66 million people; about 80 percent of them are Catholic. There are also between 5 million and 6 million Muslims, with many tracing their roots back to the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey.
Rabbi Benjamin Hattab and Latifa Ibn Ziaten / France 2 screenshot
Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, we’ve been hearing a lot about rising Muslim anti-Semitism and the precarious situation of Jews in France. But amidst all the fear, there was a moment of true connection when a Jewish man and a Muslim woman mourned side-by-side for their murdered loved ones, and hoped for a better future — together.
Tunis Chief Rabbi Benjamin Hattab appeared in a France 2 television interview alongside Latifa Ibn Ziaten, whose son was murdered by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse in 2011. Hattab was there to talk about his own son, Yoav, one of the four Jews who lost their lives as they shopped for their Shabbat meals on January 9. His voice weighed down by fresh grief, the rabbi spoke touchingly about Jewish life in Tunisia.
“I live in Tunisia, and I see that there, Jews are respected by the state and by the people. We had no problems either before or after the revolution. The Arabs are kind. We grew up together.”
But the most touching interaction came when Ibn Ziaten gave her condolences to the grieving father and commended him on his bravery.
“It was the same with my son,” she said. “He died standing up, because he was a soldier of the [French] republic. Today, I am standing up too, reaching out to those who caused my suffering, making the rounds in every French town, in schools, in juvenile detention centers. Even if we pay the highest price, we have to stay standing. France is a strong country. I am very proud to be French.”
Addressing Hattab directly, Ibn Ziaten added: “I wish you a lot of courage, because it’s been three years [since my son died] and I will never stop mourning.”
He thanked her, murmuring, “May God rest his soul.”
The point Ibn Ziaten drove home is that in the face of such violence, every French citizen must do his or her part — and that starts with talking to the disenfranchised, especially the youth, because that’s the best hope of cutting down extremism at its root.
“We have to protect our country, because we love it,” she said. “And there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”
BBC journalist Tim Willcox / Screenshot
Tim Willcox’s question was heinous in and of itself. In the midst of a BBC interview with an Israeli resident of Paris and daughter of Holocaust survivors, who had been talking about Jewish suffering in Europe, the journalist ventured: “But many critics of Israel’s policy would say that the Palestinians have suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” This, before the bodies of the four innocents killed in the terror attacks on a kosher market in Paris had even been buried.
Why did Willcox feel the need to ask this question, to bring Israel into the discussion and at the same time invoke the canard of Jewish collective responsibility for actions of the Israeli state? Political commentators and Israeli watchdog organizations have pointed out that Willcox has a record of missteps when it comes the Jewish question. Discussing a story on the BBC News channel on Jewish donors to the Labour Party, while guests talked about “the Jewish lobby,” Willcox suggested unprompted that “a lot of these prominent Jewish faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”
More convincingly, in a widely shared article in The Spectator, Nick Cohen deems the notion that “Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined” to be “the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice.”
Ignorance is certainly a contributing factor — people seem to have short memories (actually, no memory at all) when it comes to Jewish history — but it’s not the predominant one. What Willcox seemed to be trying to do was provide, in a crass, idiotic, and insensitive way, balance in a situation where none was required. In doing so, and in particular by mentioning Israel, he unintentionally highlighted what can be a problem with the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at the Grand Synagogue in Paris / Getty Images
I’ve got two immediate and possibly contradictory takeaways from the news that French President Francois Hollande asked Benjamin Netanyahu not to appear at the unity rally that took place in Paris on Sunday.
Let’s first look at the reasons Hollande reportedly gave. The French president, according to Haaretz (with information that has now been confirmed by the prime minister’s office), wanted the march to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and hoped to avoid anything that might distract from that message, “like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Bibi apparently embodied that distraction.
So it’s come to this, all Israel’s PR efforts notwithstanding. The Israeli prime minister can no longer represent anything in Europe other than conflict — as opposed to being just another head of state, he stands for discord, his presence a provocation. If they didn’t already have confirmation of this fact, Israelis can truly say goodbye to that Zionist objective of being a normal people in a normal country.
That’s the first lesson. Whether you think Israel has brought this upon itself or that it is being judged by a grossly unfair double standard, when the Israeli prime minister is asked not to attend a march celebrating solidarity with Western values because his presence would be an irritant, there’s a problem.
The other lesson, though, is: So what?
Hollande was wrong not to invite Bibi because, for one thing, it’s at crisis moments like these that attitudes can shift. Bibi needs to see that he has more to gain from celebrating these Western values, joining the international community and not grasping an excuse to simply skulk off and declare himself and Israel the victim once again. Hollande made the same mistake by not inviting Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, who was able to gain even more political capital out of this victim status, and in the long run hurt Hollande’s vaunted cause of “unity.”