Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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France: Solidarity with Journalists, but not Jews

by Elliott Abrams
January 11, 2015


The massive march today in France is a wonderful sight in many ways, and represents France’s rejection of efforts to crush freedom of expression and especially to ban criticism of Islam.

But in addition to the ubiquitous “Je Suis Charlie” slogans it would have been nice to see more “Je Suis Juif” signs as well. After all, the journalists of Charlie Hebdo knew exactly what risks they were running. Their offices had already been bombed, and the constant presence of two police guards (both murdered by the terrorists last week) was a powerful reminder of the dangers. The French Jews who were murdered were just shoppers, preparing for the Sabbath. The journalists were killed for their deliberate actions–challenging and criticizing Islamic beliefs. The Jews were killed for being Jews.

Terrorism against French Jews is not new. In 2012 a terrorist murdered three schoolchildren and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. There was no million-citizen march. And suppose that last week’s terror attack in Paris had not aimed at Charlie Hebdo, but “only” killed four Jews–or eight or twelve, for that matter. Does anyone believe a million French citizens would be marching in Paris, with scores of world leaders joining them? One is reminded of the synagogue bombing on Rue Copernic in Paris in 1980, after which Prime Minister Raymond Barre publicly declared that “A bomb set for Jews killed four innocent Frenchmen.” That shocking lack of solidarity– that definition of Frenchmen to exclude the Jews– does not seem to have been cured, and the French today appear to feel more solidarity with the journalists who were killed than with the Jews who were killed.

This is not to denigrate the importance of today’s wonderful display of support for free journalism. In recent years far too many institutions and publications have followed Yale University Press and others into hiding, refusing to print cartoons or other material that “insulted” Islam. They hid behind “good taste” and “prudence” but their actions expressed cowardice.

Nor can we deny that France and many other European countries today face a deep and complex social problem due to their failure to integrate Muslim immigrant populations successfully. Slogans will not solve the problems they now face–but neither will looking away when Jews become the first victims. In too many European capitals today, one risks not only insult but physical attack by wearing visible signs of being a Jew, such as a head covering. As we learned from the very successful “broken windows” approach to policing in the United States, once such a cycle begins it is very hard to break. Perhaps today’s march in Paris will energize the French to break that cycle throughout France, making it clear that anti-Semitic acts will not be tolerated and ending the period when whole neighborhoods were virtually off limits to the police.

I’m not too optimistic, and expect the rise in “aliyah” to Israel by French Jews to continue. This week in Paris numerous synagogues did not hold Sabbath services, Jewish schools were closed, and community events were cancelled or postponed. Those that went ahead did so under very heavy police guard, and that guard will be maintained for a long time. French Jews and other European Jews may well decide that when they can live, work, and practice their religion only under the highest levels of protection, surrounded by special police brigades, it is time to leave. The brave journalists of Charlie Hebdo, after all, took risks with their lives–but not with the lives of their children.



Post a Comment 20 Comments

  • Posted by diana

    I received this email:
    “This attack only underscores the need for France to immediately engage in negotiations with French Muslims that will result in the creation of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security, with Paris as a shared capital…”

    If France isn’t willing or builds housing in the part the Muslims want, we will have to start a BDS movement against them.

  • Posted by Kenny Altman

    Antisemitism has been a part of France for quite some time and I fear is that it is growing. It is wonderful to see this showing of solidarity in Paris, but is it merely about free expression, or should it be about Islamic terrorism. I also find myself thinking lately of the fact that the Israelis are by far the only ones dealing with this issue on a realistic basis and yet they are being chastised as the human rights violators.

  • Posted by Dana Gordon

    At the rally there were at least a few dark-skinned people carrying signs that said, “Je suis Charlie, flic, Juif, Muselman, et Republicain.”

    That is, “I am CharlieHebdo, a cop, a Jew, a Muslim, and a loyal citizen of the French republic.”

  • Posted by Jon Steelman

    Mr. Abrams is right to be not too optimistic. It’s not what public opinion trumpets at the moment of strife, it’s what it does or it’s leaders do in response to an actual plan to to promote and protect free exchange of ideas and those who exercise it. France has a centuries old aspiration for the French to remain free; and have shared that ideal in a meaningful way. (i.e., the gift to America of the lady who watches over New York harbor.) Thus, precedence exists for meaningful action by the French; which could even extend to state sanctioned violence if it becomes necessary.

    The dichotomy is laid out in the article between public support of the rights of journalists to act and Jews just to exist, which are independent prospects a suggested in the article. But both are impacted by what is done or not done to promote the protection of the good people in France on the one hand, and hope for stability enough to render relocation of Jews unnecessary on the other.

    The millennial-old malignancy of antisemitism obviously not being in full remission at the present time, there’s an interesting parallel between this and the contemporary presence of “no go” zones on the outskirts of Paris where presumably some version of Shariah is practiced as a substitute to the traditional Code Napoleon. unless that same French citizenry that is in the streets of Paris today push forward in proactive fashion and/or their leaders grow a back bone against multicultural nonsense infecting the great French culture, nothing will change to the good. More Charlie Hebdo’s will fall and more Jews will be subject to attack.

    At least our president didn’t play golf today; at least not that we know about.

  • Posted by Adam

    An excellent article which hits the nail on the head.

    Except for one point, which the author should carefully note. The existence of muslim radicals in any western country is not a failure of integration. You can sell all the western values you like to the radicals but they are not buying, and they won’t ever be buying. They need to be kicked out as enemies of the state. Deported, jailed, silenced. There’s no pussyfooting around with these types.

    Is that Mccarthyist? Yes, perhaps, but democracy is too vulnerable to propaganda and populism by radicals to let these types remain within its borders. Hitler was democratically elected, and so was Morsi and Erdogan Democracy is vulnerable to these people. Learn the lesson of history.

  • Posted by John

    france when you are antisemetic you are acting like the terrorist

  • Posted by John

    france. When you act antisemetic you are like the terrorist

  • Posted by Gail Abramson

    Thoughtful, depressing, spot on. France’s long, deep history of antiSemitism practically guarantees that Jews will always be a target. And then the terrorists will go on to the next group. Actually they already have. Watch – Jews will be blamed for wanting to leave France. What a loss from all sides.

  • Posted by Rachel

    Everything you wrote is the truth but that’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
    I lived for several years in southern of France. I came from Israel following my spouse who lived there for many years.
    Every time I needed a government services and any paperwork, always they warned me that i should not do that.
    For example, at first I needed a course in French, they sent me back and forth for six months and did not agree to let me enter to a course provided by the Employment Service for all those who do not know French well enough.
    Finally, after my stubbornness to understand why they don’t accepting me, they answered me that all of the class consists of north Africans (Muslims) and i’m an Israelian …… Haaahhh … on the land of the state which supposed to be free and democratic … ???
    But it’s not the worst, every year I came to Israel to visit the family at least two or three times … the compound of the flights to Israel are far from the airport itself, for air travelers to Israel has no access to the general passenger hall way, and therefore no duty-free. Finally I asked why we can not go to the duty-free and fly through the normal passenger terminal, is it because you care about our safety, not to be attacked ??? …. I was so naive. ….One of the French police responded to me “No, it’s in order that if someone wants to attack you, he will not harm other innocent people on the airport “!!!
    This is France the free and democratic state !!!

  • Posted by Ian Morrison

    “Does anyone believe a million French citizens would be marching in Paris, with scores of world leaders joining them?”

    I suspect the world leaders would have been there under those circumstances. Certainly Cameron and Merkel would have been.

    But the millions of French citizens would have whittled down to a few thousands and far fewer would be talking of the atrocity as an attack on the core principles of the Republic.

  • Posted by Edna

    Two of the caricaturists were Jews. The march was to emphasize freedom of the press and western democratic values.

    As such, race and religion in a laïc country were not addressed to the dissatisfaction of many.

    However the tragedy of the four Jewish hero-victims who were murdered at the Kosher market was addressed, as it occurred immediately after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

    Segolene Royal and other high ranking French Government representatives attended the Jerusalem funeral.

    STOP nitpicking and finding fault. This is not conducive to “Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité”

    The unacceptable anti-Semitic murder of our four Jewish brethren has been acknowledged by the French Government!

    However. The march was about democracy and the UTMOST and absolute importance if Freedom of the Press!! A luxury that all those non western countries lack.

  • Posted by Peter Kubicek

    As a survivor of six German concentration camps in WWII, you can well imagine that I find the continuous attacks on Jews particularly painful and abhorrent.

    The 70th anniversary of my liberation is coming up on May 2 of this year, but freedom from anti-Semitism still did follow.

    Peter Kubicek
    Author of “Memories of Evil–Recalling a World War II Childhood”

  • Posted by Kathy Kaufman

    I agree with the arguments put forth in this article. For that matter, I have always thought that if our 9/11 attacks had, G-d forbid, killed the same number of Jews instead, I wonder who would have cared. As it is, none of our media covering the Paris murders have given any information about the four Jews killed in the kosher market, their ages, names, and who they were–mini bios. Doesn’t that say it all?

  • Posted by I. Shhiffman

    Type your comment in here…France will. Be the loser when so many brilliant and talented people leave to take up residence in Israel. France’s loss is israel’s gain. I will not be vacationing in France as I have done, anytime soon.
    France has lost its virginity now we shall see what happens.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    “Solidarity with Journalists, but not Jews…The Jews were killed for being Jews.”

    Mr. Abrams, the European societies rarely stand with Jews, unlike Americans and Australians for instance. Jews have always been the victims of complicity policies in Europe. The societies of the old continent are still suffer the virulent disease, called (anti-Semitism). Recently we have noticed that French did not want Prime Minister Netanyahu to attend the mammoth march in Paris!?

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    “In recent years far too many institutions and publications have followed Yale University Press and others into hiding, refusing to print cartoons or other material that “insulted” Islam. They hid behind “good taste” and “prudence” but their actions expressed cowardice.”

    It is not surprising that such cowardice and complicity comes from an ancient and deep-rooted institutions such as “Yale”. These important places often is forbid the discussion of high-risk international issues. We remember a highly respected university like “Columbia” when welcomed the contributions of a master terrorist such as Ahmadinejad.

    “Nor can we deny that France and many other European countries today face a deep and complex social problem due to their failure to integrate Muslim immigrant populations successfully.”

    Yes the big serious problem is outcome of the aliens flow to Western Europe. For example, the human rights watch organization and the Euro offices of repatriation and aliens for refugee status became safe haven for Arab extremist nationalists and muslim terrorists from Africa and Asia and also good haven for criminals lusts from south and east of Europe who later would join organized crime.

    Anyway the presence of Islamic fundamentalists within Europe borders, largely the result of change to immigration laws in Europe toward immigrants. The islamic fundamentalism became invades the old continent, where has become overwhelms by islamic immigration and culture, and due to the very easy conditions to get to America from Western Europe, Europe has become a GOOD LINK between the Mujahideen and America, so I recommend to put an some difficult conditions to get visa. Add to this, the US government and the rest of the western world MUST take back the citizenship and seize the passports of their citizens, not only who have joined the jihad, but everyone who encourages violence and hatred against the West.

  • Posted by Irving X. Burg

    Your comments are profoundly correct. Until all people in the country legally are treated equality in every aspect of the country’s laws; there will always be individual uncertainty about belonging to that country; or the willingness to sacrifice your self for the country’s survival.

  • Posted by sheila kirche

    There were no signs “Je suis Juif” because they do not value the fact that Jews are Jews and are just killed for being such. Neither did they say we are Pakistani children who were killed for merely obtaining an education. Where were the placards for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Are their lives any less of value because they were not “European”? The West must examine its appeasement of Islam whilst it still can, or the situation will certainly get a lot worse. .

  • Posted by EMT

    Charlie Hebdo
    As a Frenchman, who was born in an Arab country, grew up among Arabs, lived with them and played with them until the age of 14, I believe that what Charlie Hebdo did shows that despite all our culture, neither the Europeans nor the Americans know the Arabs, understand their mentality and their history.

    Although everyone talks about freedom of expression, we should not forget that the Arab world was not able to develop like the Christian world or the Jewish world after their defeat. They are still grieving about it after centuries. We should not forget for one minute that the Occident, and primarily Europe, has fought against the Arabs and expelled them from Spain, where they were much more advanced in many fields of science and humanities than the Europeans at that time.

    Eventually they were colonized and squeezed by the Ottomans and later by the European powers, which kept them ignorant. I am not amazed that the Arabs hold on to their past and to their religion. The majority of Arabs don’t have any other foundation and even the intellectuals are shackled by the religious. Of course today there is a good intellectual minority, which is on the same level as the Europeans.

    Although the freedom of expression is one of the postulates of the Occident, respect and consideration is a postulate of the Orient. When these two civilizations clash, bad things happen. There is no simple solution.

    Although I do not agree with our president on most of the issues, I believe that he has some understanding of Muslim culture, although he is at a loss when it comes to dealing with the Arab states. This is why his endeavors to change the governments in North Africa have failed and he sided with Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood), without even being aware of it.

  • Posted by evelyn

    The French government has not stood with their Jewish population. How many times can be cited? Dryfus Affair, Nazism, Arab terrorists….

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