And what it should tell Washington about Israel and the Middle East.
With President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority next month, speculation proliferates as to whether Obama plans—once again—to push for “peace” between Israel and the PA, or has learned from his first term that such an outcome is hard to attain and still more effort in pursuit of it is not likely to be rewarded.
Meanwhile the French Jewish community reports a record rise of 58% in anti-Semitic incidents for 2012—a total of 614 compared to 389 in 2011. While seemingly not directly relevant to the question about Obama’s visit, the situation in France—and Western Europe generally—in fact tells much about the Middle East and Israel’s position in it.
Amid the general increase in anti-Semitic activity in France, then, there were almost twice as many physical attacks on Jews there in 2012 as in 2011, and 25% of those involved a weapon. Why the dramatic rise? While anti-Semitic behavior is known to burgeon during and after major Israeli military operations, 2012 saw only the eight-day-long Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza rocket fire in November.
Yet the incidents in France started to mount well before then—after an incident on March 22. In it a French Muslim of Algerian descent named Mohamed Merah murdered four Jews in a school in Toulouse. Merah had earlier murdered three off-duty French soldiers.
Merah’s victims at the school were a 30-year-old teacher-rabbi, his six-year-old and three-year-old sons, and an eight-year-old girl whom Merah chased, grabbed by the hair, and shot in the head.
Ever since, French Jewry has been reporting a rise in attacks. The above-linked report confirms it: “After the Toulouse attack, numerous anti-Semitic acts were committed and included support or identification to Merah and his act.”
In other words, there were many for whom the school massacre was an inspirational event, evoking not condemnation but emulation.
The report notes that “55% of racist violence in France in 2012 targeted Jews” and then gives this breakdown: “175 violent hate crimes have been recorded: 96 anti-Semitic acts, 70 racist and xenophobic acts, and 9 anti-Muslim acts.”
That imbalance is all the more magnified by the fact that the French Muslim community is about ten times the size of the French Jewish one. The report, however, never gets around to saying what French population group, if any, tends to be responsible for the attacks on Jews.
A report in Algemeiner last June was less circumspect, describing a brutal attack on three French Jewish youths by a Muslim gang and quoting French Jewish artist Ron Agam:
It is about time now for the French authorities to radically search for these Imams and put a stop to the brainwashing [of] tens of thousands of Muslim kids in France.
It is unacceptable that this culture of racism and antisemitism is being tolerated by a significant number of the Muslim community, this culture must stop.
An article this week by leading anti-Semitism scholar Manfred Gerstenfeld makes clear that the problem goes well beyond France and is widespread in Western Europe.
While “detailed data on Muslim anti-Semitism in Western Europe is very limited,” Gerstenfeld notes, “the few existing studies all point in one direction.”
One of them, in 2011, found that about 50% of Muslim second- and third-grade students in Dutch-language elementary schools in Brussels “could be considered anti-Semites, versus 10% of others.”
Another study that same year interviewed 117 “Muslim male youngsters (average age 19) in Berlin, Paris and London” and found that “the majority…voiced some, or strong anti-Semitic feelings. They expressed them openly and often aggressively.”
After citing some more findings in this vein, Gerstenfeld notes that “These projects and much anecdotal information reveal that anti-Semitism among substantial parts of European Muslim communities is much higher than in autochthonous populations”—however much, one might add, some in the French Jewish community find it impolitic to mention it.
Gerstenfeld, however, goes on to fault the authorities of those autochthonous populations for “allow[ing] immigrants into their countries in a non-selective way without taking into account the cultural differences…. They should have known that actively promoting anti-Semitism was part and parcel of the cultures these people came from.”
That observation, in turn, is easily substantiated by Pew Center polls of Middle Eastern and other Muslim-majority countries—like the one in 2009 that found 74% of Indonesians, 78% of Pakistanis, 97% of Jordanians, 98% of Lebanese, 95% of Egyptians, and—dare one say it—97% in the Palestinian territories expressing anti-Semitic attitudes.
Clearly, a hatred so powerful and categorical that it leads even Muslims in Western Europe to attack non-Israeli Jews in the streets, and identify with a deliberate child-murderer, is far removed from “criticism of Israeli policy” or longing for a two-state solution.
For Obama and Kerry in their visit, then, the better part of wisdom would be to avoid treating Israel and the 97%-anti-Semitic Palestinian Authority as equivalents and pressuring the former into concessions.
Indeed, the longstanding flaw in U.S. policy is a failure to treat Israel as what it is: a country radically different from the surrounding societies both in its democratic norms and in the degree of its high-tech and military prowess, making it an ideologically apposite and strategically valuable ally especially if strengthened rather than weakened.
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