Are Jewish Victims Less Worthy Of Empathy?
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Are Jewish Victims Less Worthy Of Empathy?

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

The headline across the front page of The Jewish Week following the 9/11 terror attack read: “America: The New Israel,” and the tag line under it asked: “As fear and vulnerability grip U.S., will empathy with Israel increase?”

Some readers were deeply offended, later writing that our point of view was too narrow, too parochial.

But remember the context. Our words were written on the day of the shocking, massive assault on America and its way of life; one year into the horrific second intifada, with Palestinian suicide bombers detonating themselves almost daily in Israel; and only a few days after the conclusion of the infamous U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which branded Israel an “apartheid, racist” state and accused Jerusalem of “genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

The 9/11 tragedy suggested to us, and many others, a link between Islamic fanatics seeking to bring down Western culture and create a worldwide Muslim caliphate, and Arab militants aiming to destroy the State of Israel and establish a Judenrein Palestine. In both cases: hate-driven terrorism as a means of defeating democracy.

Now, more than 13 years later, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market killings in Paris this past week and the renewed terror attacks on Israeli citizens the last seven months, the question remains: Are these appalling acts of violence all part of the same assault by Islamic militants on democracy, freedom, human rights and freedom of speech — in truth, on Western civilization — or, in the eyes of the world, is the Arab-Israeli conflict a separate and distinct political battle, and therefore not subject to the same standards of solidarity and empathy?

Sadly, French reaction suggests there is a distinction being made. The common slogan as more than a million people marched through the streets of Paris on Sunday was “Je suis Charlie,” in unity with the slain cartoonists and editors of the French satirical publication. But banners proclaiming “Je suis Juif” (I am Jewish), honoring the four young hostages murdered at the kosher market, were mostly limited to demonstrators near the sight site of the killings. Of course the cause of freedom of the press is compelling, and deserving. But so is outrage at Jews being killed for being Jews.

According to Israeli news reports, French President Francois Hollande asked that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu not attend the massive march on Sunday “to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to Haaretz. It also reported that Hollande walked out of the Grand Paris Synagogue on Sunday evening just as Netanyahu came to the podium to speak.

Would a million French men and women have taken to the streets to decry terrorism if “only” the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket were the victims of Islamic terror last week? Elliott Abrams, a U.S. foreign policy expert, posed that question in his blog, Pressure Points, and noted that “in 2012, a terrorist murdered three schoolchildren and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. There was no million-citizen march.”

Are French Jews less French than their fellow countrymen?

Jews in France, numbering about 500,000, have faced a sharp increase in anti-Semitic violence of late, acknowledged by national leaders, despite government support and police protection, which has now been increased to 5,000. Last year, in the wake of angry protests against Israel during the Gaza war, about 7,000 French Jews made aliyah, more than twice the number of the previous year; for the first time, more Jews emigrated to Israel from France than from any other country. Estimates previous to last week’s violence predicted 10,000 new French immigrants to Israel in 2015, and those numbers may well rise. It is a sad statement when Jews are fearful living in their own democratic country, and it is ironic — yet inspiring — that they would choose Israel, under constant threat of violence, as a safe haven.

Abbas Out Of Step?

Looking at the now-iconic photo of world leaders marching together Sunday, I wondered how many others shared my sense of cynicism in seeing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas participating in the name of democracy and in condemnation of terror. Here, after all, was an autocrat who praises as martyrs those who murder Israeli children and accuses Jerusalem of genocide, walking arm in arm with other statesmen in support of human rights. Further proof that Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens is viewed internationally as less appalling than other instances of murderous attacks, perhaps even justified.

When rabbis at prayer in a synagogue in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem were slaughtered in the name of Allah two months ago, there was widespread revulsion at the terrible sight of prayer shawls drenched in blood, but no public protests outside of the Jewish community. The same applies to the murder of three Jewish teenage boys in Israel in June.

Was the blood of these innocents less worthy than that of the French cartoonists?

Too few appreciate that Jews and Israel are the canary in the coal mine, the initial target of haters in a world loathe to acknowledge that the toxic mix of Islamic militancy, anti-Semitism and bias toward, if not hatred of, Israel is threatening the future not only of the Jewish State, but of Jews in Europe, and of Western civilization.

‘Common Battle’

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this week sought to connect Israel and Europe as targets of fanatic Islamic hatred. “We understand we are in a common battle for our values and a common battle for our future,” he told the French ambassador to Israel,” adding: “Israel stands with Europe; Europe must stand with Israel.”

His clear message was that the French vote in the United Nations Security Council last week in favor of a resolution on Palestinian statehood was exactly the wrong message — abandoning Israel and its insistence on resolving the issue through direct negotiations — at a time when the Palestinians have ratcheted up their confrontational stance.

Netanyahu was renewing the case he made in September in his address to the UN General Assembly, asserting that “militant Islam is on the march,” with global ambitions and consisting of “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Those branches include Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Hamas, as well as the Islamic State, or ISIS, he said, with Iran the greatest threat of all to Western civilization.

On the Israeli left, Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, who often writes from Europe, asserts that Europeans don’t see the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a “struggle between Islam and the West; they see it as a kind of unjust occupation of Palestinian territory,” he told The New York Times. But French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a Socialist who speaks forthrightly about anti-Jewish attitudes of Muslims, insists “there is something more profound taking place now,” different from “the old anti-Semitism” of the extreme right. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, he said “this new anti-Semitism” comes from the large Muslim immigrant population that has “turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous.”

Valls distinguished this strain from legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. “This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic,” he told Goldberg. “There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”

In the end, whether or not Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza subscribe to the ISIS vision of worldwide domination is less important than the fact that terrorist acts simply cannot be justified or rationalized.

How sad that centuries later, Shylock’s “hath not a Jew eyes?” speech in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” still resonates: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? … If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge?”

This is not a call for revenge, though. This is about the need to turn the rhetoric of the moment, the French national motto, from a slogan into reality — not selectively but for all — starting today: “Liberty, equality, fraternity.”
 

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