In an article originally titled “Why Every Jewish Man, Woman, and Child in Europe Should Get a Gun,” Liel Leibovitz claims that European Jews need guns because they can’t trust their governments to protect them from anti-Semitic “savages.”
Leibovitz chides those trusting in “reasonable measures,” arguing instead that, “European Jews with guns can make a difference.” Kudos for correctly identifying guns as the opposite of reasonable measures — but every other element of this claim bears debunking.
“In Europe, Jews are seen at best as a foreign element exercising undue influence,” Leibovitz claims. Really? “At best”? He then contradictorily cites French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as genuinely caring about Jews — before slamming him for not doing enough for their security.
A woman holds a sign reading “I am Jewish from France” / Getty Images
(JTA) — Three weeks ago, my wife and I were shopping in a Parisian kosher butcher store several miles west of the supermarket where four Jews were murdered on Jan. 9. The shop in our neighborhood was well patronized, with lines stretching out to the sidewalk before Shabbat.
We were staying in an apartment in Paris’ 12th district while I promoted a new book about the treatment of Jews in France during World War II. During our stay, we spoke with dozens of our Parisian friends, including some who are Jewish, about whether the year 2015 evokes for them at least some of that dark anti-Semitic history. It was a time when a French government that became known as Vichy promulgated 200 anti-Semitic laws — with little German pressure — that eventually sent some 75,000 Jews “to the East” and almost certain death in the concentration camps.
In those weeks of what we now know was the “calm before the storm,” our friends confessed to some fears about a combined resurgence of both old and new forms of anti-Semitism in France. The far-right National Front party under Marine Le Pen barely hid its old-style anti-Semitism under the ugly mask of anti-Arab xenophobia. And the party was gaining strength in the polls.
Meanwhile, individual Jews were sporadically attacked, frequently by disaffected French Muslims. In some areas of Paris, one friend said, it might be unwise to wear a yarmulke outdoors. But in their own neighborhood, in the 15th district, they said they would have no such fears and did not counsel their nephew, an observant Jew in his 20s, against wearing a kippah.
In fact, a cross-section of my Parisian friends agreed that American talk of France having become anti-Semitic was grossly exaggerated. So in polite conversations back in the States, my wife (a French teacher in Manhattan) and I had already noted what we felt were overstatements, given our own experiences and observations during frequent visits in various parts of France. We chalked up some of the feverish American talk to the persistent Francophobia that too often marks political commentary about France in the United States. The French, after all, have long been targeted for American criticism.
We tried to curb this talk of French anti-Semitism, the supposed droves who were leaving for Israel — some 7,000 French Jews in a population of approximately 500,000 made the move last year, though some have since returned for economic and other reasons — and what we knew were exaggerated American images of French Jews living in constant fear. We did this, recognizing that Europe is perennially at some risk of returning to its traditional anti-Semitism — a risk I consider more fundamental even than Muslim extremism fueled by events in the Middle East.
My attitude about France has not changed even since the latest spate of deadly violence. There is nowhere in the world that is safe. But in many ways it is as safe for Jews in Paris as it is in Tel Aviv or Brooklyn, or Budapest.
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
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.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at kosher grocery store in Paris / Getty Images
Israelis are having a hilarious time mocking their prime minister’s visit to Paris, with ironic tweets and Hebrew Facebook statuses galore.
For those who haven’t been following the story, Netanyahu crashed the national solidarity event despite President Hollande’s explicit request that he stay at home. Then, after the VIP reception at the Elysee Palace, cameras for a local media outlet caught him elbowing aside a female French minister as he tried to jump the queue for the bus that would transport the group to the starting point of the march. Finding himself relegated to the second row at the march itself, he shoved aside the president of Mali and inserted himself in the front row, one down from Hollande himself and within eyesight of Angela Merkel.
Noy Alooshe, the Israeli journalist and musician who became a YouTube sensation with his 2011 remix of Zenga Zenga (spoofing Libya’s then-leader, Muammar Qaddafi), created a new clip spoofing Netanyahu’s Paris antics. Alooshe uses the theme song for Loony Tunes to accompany speeded-up footage of Bibi pushing aside the Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keitar, in order to insert himself in the front row. Perhaps the funniest part is when the Malian leader leaps away from Bibi’s touch as though the latter had a communicable disease. It wouldn’t do, presumably, for the violent Islamists in Mali to see images of the country’s president walking arm-in-arm with the prime minister of the “Zionist entity.”
Just a few leaders down the front row was Mahmoud Abbas, standing near King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan. Did he and Bibi exchange meaningful glances? After all, the Palestinian leader’s presence was salt in the wound for Netanyahu, who insisted on coming despite Hollande’s request that he stay home. But Bibi got his own back: in the photograph tweeted from his official account, all but Abbas’s right ear is cropped out of the frame.
I marched in one row with world leaders in order to unite against terrorism. Any terrorism must be fought to the end pic.twitter.com/X5oFg5r3cB— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) January 11, 2015
Relatives mourn during the funeral for Emanuel and Miriam Riva in Tel Aviv, Israel / Getty Images
I spent my weekend glued to the television. Even if I’d tried, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off the images of Paris: that kosher supermarket and that video of a policeman on the ground getting shot in cold blood that played over and over again on all the Israeli channels.
Perhaps the reason why it deeply touched me is because I work in television news and I live through such events way more intensely than other people. Or perhaps it’s because France is the country I grew up in from age 11 to 18. It’s where I got my elementary and high school education, and it’s the place I called home up until five years ago.
Since I moved back to my real homeland, Israel, I admit that I have distanced myself from France. Not all my memories from there were good. But still, much of who I am today I owe to France and French people. Seeing their sorrow, their horror and their pain made me feel close again.
Israelis have always felt misunderstood by the French, as far as I can tell. After September 11, many said that countries like France would only begin to understand what Israelis go through on a daily basis after something like that happened to them.
Well, many are now describing the events of the past week as France’s own September 11. But today, no Israeli thinks for a second that gaining that understanding was worth the cost of 17 lives.
Photo by Naomi Zeveloff
As a million people gathered in today’s Paris march, French Jewish immigrants stood in solidarity with their co-religionists abroad, first at a post-Sabbath rally outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv and then on Sunday at Jerusalem’s City Hall.
Hundreds of French Jews gathered in a conference room for the Jerusalem event, which began with a somber reading of the names of those killed in the attacks over the past week. Audience members held “Je Suis Charlie” signs as well as placards in Hebrew that read “Israel is Charlie” and, most creatively, “Tzar li,” a play on the name Charlie that means “I’m hurting.” The pun was a perfect way for Israelis to express empathy for French Jews and the painful experience they have just lived through.
As Israeli leaders made their way to Paris today to march in solidarity with the victims of last week’s attacks, the Jewish Agency was doing double duty by recruiting French Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Hundreds of Jews attended a Paris “aliyah fair” that had been planned before the attacks. About 1% of France’s Jewish population of 500,000 has already immigrated to Israel. Last year, 7,000 French Jews made aliyah, double the number that had come the previous year. After the attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to increase efforts to bring European Jews to Israel.
At the Jerusalem rally, French Jews in attendance felt mixed on the idea that French Jews should move to Israel for their own safety.
A Lubavitch Jew had passersby put on tefillin yards from the besieged kosher market / Twitter
(JTA) — Standing for hours behind that yellow police line Friday, many of us could feel our patience running out as we waited idly near the Porte de Vincennes metro station for news from the hostage situation that was going on just 100 yards away, at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.
The journalists among us were on the phone, setting up quality interviews for the next day about the drama we were prevented from approaching. An Islamist had taken more than 20 people hostage at a kosher supermarket, where five people died, including the assailant, before police secured the building.
The police officers preventing us from crossing were chatting among themselves, ignoring the crowd of curious passersby who paused to take pictures of the boulevard — normally a vibrant market which suddenly looked eerily empty because police had closed it to vehicular traffic.
Yet one of the people hanging around the barricade was having no downtime at all.
Holding his tefillin kit at the ready, a bearded follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was soliciting Jews who passed by to put on the leathery straps and pray for the safety of the Jews who were being held hostage less than 100 yards away at the Hyper Cacher kosher store.
People gather outside French embassy in Berlin to say #JeSuisCharlie / Twitter
Paris, my city, is under attack. All of France is shocked and shattered.
As of 11:00 this morning, French TV channels and radio stations have interrupted their regular programming to cover the story of the attack. On Twitter, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is now trending worldwide, unifying all those who reject terror of the kind we saw today.
Like all French citizens, my particular community — the Jewish community — is reeling from the news. Concerned as we have been for years about the spiraling communal tensions, the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and the steadily mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, this hits an especially raw nerve.
I’ve had a swirl of emotions in response to the attack on France’s satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, which has left 12 dead, including many of this generation’s greatest cartoonists. I’m raging at the brutality of the act and find myself utterly incapable of getting anywhere near an understanding of a worldview so insecure that it would prompt murder at the slightest sound of a giggle. But there’s another thought too: Would Charlie Hebdo have been so dangerous to these extremists if it had only existed online?
If you’ve worked as a journalist or editor at a print publication over the past few years, you understand a certain unavoidable feeling of irrelevance. One question — “But who’s reading it? — very often gets plunked down in newsrooms or over drinks after the paper has been put to bed (remember that expression?). It’s not just that analytics allows us to see, literally, who is reading us online, whereas print doesn’t afford the same precise insight. It’s also the sense that fewer and fewer people are actually sitting down with a newspaper or magazine in physical form.
I’m not engaging in simple nostalgia. There are wonderful reasons that I don’t need to enumerate here — online! — for why the new means of communicating news and opinion are an improvement. But when I think about what is lost by going online, it’s the sense of presence that print provides, of being right in front of your face with no chance at clicking elsewhere. Charlie Hebdo in its oversized format and its huge cartoon covers revels in print. In its aesthetics I can’t think of any American publication quite like it in the last twenty years — not since magazines like Life or Andy Warhol’s Interview ceased printing at such gargantuan dimensions.
Would its depictions of Mohammed have rankled so many in the Muslim world if they had been only online? I don’t really know. But it’s certainly true that the troubles for cartoonists over the last few years, beginning in 2005 with the printing of caricatures of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, seem to have begun when the cartoons appeared on paper. And Charlie Hebdo, as I remember the magazine from my days living in Paris almost two decades ago, is a sort of advertisement for itself, with the cover caricature so large that it’s unavoidable as you walk past any newsstand.
That quality of print, always a cousin to the book, in all its solidity and self-importance, in this case resulted in these horrific deaths. We should remember that power today. The medium still distinguishes itself from online journalism by not seeming ephemeral, by looking and feeling like something that was made to last, to shock, to be looked at and — as the French would say — digested. Sadly, it’s also a medium that, when upsetting the hair-trigger sensitivities of zealots, can lead to a massacre.
Protesters took to the streets of Paris this summer to demonstrate against Israel / Getty Images
(JTA) — Each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we recall the opening salvo of the violent assault on Jews that foreshadowed the Holocaust and ask ourselves what should have been done at that moment.
In thinking about Kristallnacht, we should also consider the outpouring of violence against Jewish communities in Europe this summer and draw the right lessons for today.
It is rightly said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers but with words. The significance of Kristallnacht in the history of the Holocaust is the passage from anti-Jewish legislation and anti-Semitic rhetoric to violence against Jews. And therein lies the lesson for today.
To be clear, in today’s democratic Europe, there is no risk of a new Holocaust. Invoking such a possibility obscures rather than illuminates the serious situation of European Jewry. Comparisons to Kristallnacht, however, are apt.
This summer we saw in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, anti-Semitic rhetoric followed by assaults on Jews and attacks on synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and other Jewish institutions. The differences with Kristallnacht are stark and significant, but the similarities cannot be ignored. Not on this anniversary — not at a time of great insecurity among Jewish communities in Europe.
People stand outside the ‘As du Fallafel’ shop in the Marais district in Paris / Getty Images
The news from France is bleak: anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise, violent incidents are piling up, and Jews are packing up and leaving for Israel.
Recently, I learned that one of my cousins, tired of feeling marginalized, was planning such a move. That got me thinking.
I lived in Paris for a three-month period in the summer of 2013. Even then, I felt that being Jewish in France was a whole other ballgame than my experience as a Jew in Montreal or New York. French Jews were either French people who happened to practice Judaism, or Jews who happened to be French. I felt that there was no, or little, French cultural Judaism such as the Woody Allen/bagel-and-schmear combo we’re used to. At the same time, I felt more kinship with the Jews in France than I do with most New York Jews — because Jewish culture in France is Sephardic and, well, incredibly French.
There is certainly cause for alarm when stores close their doors for fear of attack; when shul-goers need to hide from an angry mob like the recent events on Rue de La Roquette; and when Jews like my family, who have been proud French citizens for decades, feel the need to leave their homes. But in all that panic, it’s easy (and dangerous) to forget what a strong impact Jews have had, and continue to have, on French culture. Here are a couple of examples:
Given the amount of street style snaps and runway shots invading my Facebook and Instagram feeds, fashion seems like a good place to start. French Jews have always been involved in fashion. In fact, the cult classic “La Verite Si Je Mens” revolves around a non-Jew trying to pass himself off as an Ashkenazi Jew in “Le Sentier,” Paris’ garment district — which is inherently funny because, duh, everyone there is Jewish (and Sephardi, but more on that later).
More recently, Jews have left the shmatte for high-end luxury. French brands like Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot have fashionista followings from London to New York. You may not know, however, that all three brands are owned by Jews — sisters, in fact. Judith Milgrom and Evelyne Chetrit were born in Morocco, and moved to France with their parents when they were kids, mirroring the experience of many French Sephardic Jews, who now outnumber the older Ashkenazi community. Both are vocal about their Jewish heritage. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2012, Milgrom even talked about not working on Shabbat: “About 20 years ago, I started to observe the Jewish Sabbath really seriously. From dusk on Friday until dusk on Saturday, I don’t do any work, don’t shop or look at my email or phone. It’s unbelievably therapeutic.”
On the more kitschy side of things, let’s not forget Yiddish Mama. As Laurent David Samama over at the Daily Beast shows, young Parisian designer Camille Vizioz-Brami is doing for French Yiddish culture what Mile End did for the New York deli. Boasting slogans like “Power Yiddish Mamma,” “Super Mensch” or “Chepselleh,” her apparel makes quite a statement in a time where Jews may feel compelled to mask their identity for fear of anti-Semitic reprisals.
Jewish and Muslim demonstrators advocate peace at a rally in Paris / Getty Images
Is it the spike in anti-Semitic acts or rather their growing banality that drives Jews in Paris, Lyon and Marseille to seriously consider emigration?
Maybe both. Caught between the rise of far-right movements like the Front National and the tide of anti-Semitism preached by Islamists, French Jews today look like they are once again stuck in an age-old historical trap.
After WWII and the massive trauma of the Holocaust, my country — France — tried to build a society free of anti-Semitism. Over the years, various pieces of legislation have prohibited Holocaust denial and racist acts in general. Several associations (SOS Racisme, MRAP and LICRA) have worked hard to erase differences between French citizens. Now, for the French Republic, you are neither Black, nor Asian, nor or Caucasian. You’re not Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. You are French. I grew up with this wonderful principle along with the Republican motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” But our society is not equal to these principles and, sadly, it has taken only four decades for anti-Semitism to return to my country.
The result? My family is a good example. My Tunisia-born grandparents came to France in the late 1950s and had two sons; my father then had three. One of them now lives in New York with no plans of coming back to Paris, the other one studies in Spain and Sweden, and the last one is writing down these lines. Within months, I silently bore witness as a large part of my entourage made aliyah — including some of my friends and all of my girlfriend’s family. It was quite a strange feeling. I wouldn’t say that I felt abandoned, but I was definitely disappointed by all those people choosing to live a different life abroad.
A man demonstrates at a Hong Kong rally calling for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza / Getty Images
Since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza, other countries are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks. In France, synagogues are being firebombed. In Belgium, coffee shops are barring Jews from entry. In Chicago, leaflets threatening the Jewish community are being discovered on parked cars. In India, Jewish sites are being threatened with terrorist attacks. And all around the world, protests that start out as “pro-Gaza” or “pro-Palestine” or “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist” are quickly devolving into pure, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
For many American Jewish liberals, this trend is deeply dispiriting — and confusing. They’ve spent years arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two different things, that the former isn’t necessarily rooted in the latter. But now, they complain, that argument is becoming harder and harder to sustain. The lines are getting blurry. If these protesters don’t actually hate Jews, they ask, then why do they keep conflating Jews and the Israeli government? Why are they resorting to this anti-Jewish — and not simply anti-Israel — rhetoric?
Or, in the words of recent Forward contributor Tova Ross:
When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
My response to that question is: Of course the two have something to do with one another — of course they’re uncomfortably intertwined — and are you really so shocked by that?
Is it really so hard to understand why — after Jews have spent decades telling every Jewish child that they are owed a free trip to Israel, citizenship in Israel, life and land in Israel purely by virtue of being Jewish — the world is slow to distinguish between Jews and Israel?
It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune.
I guess on the whole Israel thing, I used to be kind of pareve. Not so much on the country’s scenic landscape or its culture, which I loved and deeply appreciated: its vibrancy and sheer chutzpah; its gorgeous men who looked nothing like the pimply boys in my hometown of Flatbush, whether they were in uniform or not; its falafel. But on the whole ardent Zionist devotion to the Jewish homeland that characterized the majority of my Israeli relatives, both sabras and American olim, I hesitated to commit similarly.
I admit that this was largely due to my rebellious nature, which had me instinctively buck any familial trend. I relished my role as the token liberal in an almost-uniformly Republican family. I liked looking beyond my immediate circle and empathizing with people who weren’t necessarily Jewish, white, or upper-middle class. And when I made friends at age 16 with a left-leaning socialist who saw clearly the persecution of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, I only grew more daring in my critiques of the Jewish state. The discussions with my father grew more heated.
“Tova, one of these days you’re going to grow up and realize that Israel is all the Jews have,” he said to me, banging the table for emphasis. I sneered at his naiveté. This was America, for God’s sake. It was 2004. Being a Jew was more than acceptable: It was cool. And I continued to routinely call Israel’s policies into question, because I was a good little liberal.
But, alarmingly, my father seems to have been right. Everywhere I look, there’s news of anti-Israel demonstrations that regularly devolve into openly anti-Jewish sentiment, weakening the position — which I once held — that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate entities. The line between the two is growing blurrier, and fast. When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
French far-right Front National party leader Marine Le Pen / Getty Images
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing Front National party, is well known for her Islamophobic statements. This is a woman who has compared the presence of four million Muslims in her country to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.
And yet, fully one third of the French population says it supports her ideas. Front National is expected to do very well in municipal elections this month and in EU parliamentary elections in May.
But what’s most worrying in all of this is that a growing number of French citizens see Le Pen’s ideas as acceptable, even if they don’t support the Front National. According to a poll released last month by Le Monde newspaper, 46% of the French population views the Front National as “the face of patriotic conservatives, with traditional values,” rather than as a party of the “nationalistic, xenophobic extreme right.” Only half the population thinks the party “poses a threat to French democracy,” while in the 1990s as much as 75% thought it did.
Le Pen’s party is now considered part of the democratic landscape; she has, in Le Monde’s words, a “normalized image.” Of course, what this really means is that Islamophobia is going mainstream. And that is — or should be — very disturbing from a Jewish perspective.
A still from the Woody Allen film “Annie Hall” represents a fading paradigm of intermarriage.
These days, more American Jewish women than men are marrying out, as the Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis recently reported. The story’s headline, “Jewish Woman Is New Face of Intermarriage, Pew Study Data Reveals,” led me to wonder: If Jewish women have become the demographic “face” of the phenomenon, will we soon become its cultural face as well? Will “intermarriage” now imply a Jewish bride? Will we be hearing from Alexandra Portnoy?
As it stands, there’s no cultural stereotype about Jewish women intermarrying. We find individual representations, but no consistent script. We might think of the cringe-inducing plot line in “The Brothers McMullan,” involving an Irish-Catholic man’s broken engagement to a rich Jewish woman. And, if we go back further to “The Way We Were,” there’s Barbra Streisand falling for Robert Redford, as one does, and marrying him, as one does if presented with the opportunity. “The Nanny” comes to mind. Also “Rhoda.” But there are too few examples for a cliché to have formed.
Stereotypes of Jewish women — and there are plenty — have historically related to how (some) Jewish men see Jewish women, rather than how Jewish women are seen more broadly. The general culture doesn’t seem all that curious about what, if anything, goes on between Jewish women and non-Jewish men.
“Intermarriage,” unless otherwise specified, refers to men marrying out. A 2012 New York Times article about Jewish-Asian intermarriage mentioned seven such couples, all Jewish men married to Asian women, yet made no reference to gender. For those of us who grew up with Philip Roth, Woody Allen, and “Seinfeld,” this default can feel eternal.
Things weren’t always this way. In 19th-century France, depictions of Jewish intermarriage typically involved Jewish women. Jewish wives or fiancées appear in countless works, often with “juive” in the title: plays like Théophile Gautier and Noël Parfait’s 1846 La Juive de Constantine and Hippolyte Lucas’s 1849 Rachel ou la belle Juive, and fiction including Petrus Borel’s 1833 Dina, la belle juive.
Anti-Semitism in Europe is, once again, making headlines. In Paris, crowds sang, “Jews, France is not yours” at an anti-government protest last month. In Rome, a right-wing extremist mailed three pig heads to major Jewish sites, and Italy had its own anti-government protest — complete with anti-Semitic slogans — a couple of months ago. Plus, a recently released survey conducted in seven EU countries suggests that the perception of anti-Semitism is on the rise among European Jews.
As anti-Jewish hatred gains ground, some Jewish communities are growing more insular in response. In certain Jewish circles, there’s a growing perception of living “under attack” — a siege mentality that results at times in self-segregation. But resorting to self-segregation may just be another way of falling victim to anti-Semitism.