Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Mireille Knoll seems to have come from a novel, or a theater piece. Saved from the Holocaust, murdered at age 85 in what French police (who are very good indeed) are calling an anti-Semitic crime, honored in a huge march, eulogized by the President of France, her life seems crafted by a dramatist. As if Destiny saved her from the Nazis only to deliver her to the latest generation of Jew-haters.
As the Passover Haggadah reminds us, in every generation the Jew-haters reemerge and try to destroy us. Again.
The police have arrested two men, one of whom was a neighbor. I wonder if Mireille thought he was a friend, or at least a potential friend, someone she should treat with respect and kindliness. After all, we all eventually have to get along, don’t we? In the event, another neighbor heard the killer cry “Allahu Akhbar” as he stabbed her repeatedly, and then set her home on fire. I keep scouring the French press online, but so far these details aren’t there.
To be sure, it often takes quite a while for the story to emerge. In the same days as the murder of Mrs. Knoll, a Parisian judge pronounced an earlier killing to have been an anti-Semitic act. An account of that killing now reads like an eery dry run:
After an outcry by Jewish groups and legal action by her family, the judge accepted prosecutors’ requests for the killing to be reclassified as religiously motivated instead of simply murder.
Kobili Traore, 28, is accused of murdering his neighbour Lucette Attal-Halimi, 65, an Orthodox Jewish woman known by her Hebrew name, Sarah Halimi, after breaking into her council flat in eastern Paris on the night of April 3.
Traore, who is of Malian descent, allegedly recited verses from the Koran while beating Ms Halimi before throwing her out of a third-floor window and shouting: “I’ve killed the Shaitan [devil in Arabic].”
The Knoll case has been treated as an anti-Semitic hate crime from the get-go. And French President Emanuel Macron decried the murder in those terms. She was killed, Macron said, because she was Jewish.
All of this is very familiar to me. I started my career as an historian of fascism half a century ago, plagued by the same questions that we ask today. Why so much Jew-hatred? Why didn’t the Jews fight back more forcefully?
The thing about Jew-hatred is that it cuts across so many dividing lines. Catholics and Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and atheists, lefties and righties have all tried to destroy the Jews. Some are talking about a “new” anti-Semitism, the radical Muslim sort. But I don’t think it is so much new as it is the same old stuff in the mouths of the followers of yet another mass movement. And self-proclaimed pundits, most definitely including lots of Jews, are loathe to recognize anti-Semitism in their own ranks. Lefties think it’s a right-wing phenomenon, even though left-wing anti-Semitism has flourished since the first hours of socialism. Talk to comrade Stalin about it. Conservatives see the leftist Jew-hatred, and the current radical Islamic variety very clearly, but are reluctant to see the swastika in the eyes of their brothers and sisters. You can be most anything and still hate the Jews.
Which brings us to the Jews themselves. Why didn’t they fight back with ferocity? Why, by and large, did they meekly get on the trains to the death camps? Sure, there was a bit of resistance, and in Italy it was led by two brilliant Jewish brothers, the Rossellis. But it wasn’t anything to brag about. In like manner, there aren’t many Jewish groups fighting the anti-Semites today, and those that do are invariably labeled ‘right wingers,’ and scorned by the major Jewish organizations. I think it’s due to two primary factors. First, the Jews thought of themselves, as they still do, as good and loyal citizens. So they were very late in realizing their peril. The two elderly Jewish women in Paris were murdered by their neighbors, and never realized their peril.
Second, modern Jews by and large seek to assimilate. They don’t want to organize as Jews, and fight their enemies. In France, with rare exceptions, Jewish groups rely primarily on the government for protection, so their survival is in Macron’s hands. So what happens? A modern Exodus, with a wave of French Jews leaving the country, primarily for Israel.
Compare this with the Italian Jews, who have no confidence in the ability or intention of their government to protect them. Beginning after the defeat of the fascists, Italian Jews, primarily in Rome, organized self-defense units, and have fought the Jew-haters in the streets. And they sound very different from their French correligionists, as you can see from this statement from Ruth Durughello, the president of the Rome Jewish Community, following the Knoll murder:
Antisemitism is an evil that still strikes and kills in Europe…In this and many other cases, there is an Islamic framework of prpfound hatred, and therefore we wish to be present and stronger, to say that we will not leave, as unfortunately so many French Jews are, but that this is unacceptable and cannot be admitted. We will never abandon our ideals or out symbols. We have never done that and we must not be afraid.
All too few American Jews speak like this, but they should. It’s hard to have full confidence in the state these days, and the targets of the Jew-haters had best prepare to defend themselves.