The last time Islamic State terrorists rampaged through Paris back in January, one of their principal targets was the Jews. The other two parties attacked, Charlie Hebdo and the police, may have instantiated, respectively, unbridled free expression and the law upon which Western civilization relies, but the Jews, who were attacked in the mundanity of a kosher supermarket, represented something just as profound.
The prosperity of the Jews is taken as an affront to radical Islam, as it was to Christianity in bygone eras. But the Jews represent something to Europe, too. Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, acknowledged this when he declared in an impassioned speech in Parliament following the attacks that “when the Jews of France are attacked, France is attacked, the conscience of humanity is attacked.” And in an interview just prior to the attacks, he already declaimed that if the Jews leave, “France will no longer be France.”
Some Europeans may disagree with Valls and find themselves not hugely bothered that the Jews are attacked for being Jews. But, following the attacks in Paris last week, it should at least be obvious to them that the Jews are in one respect just being attacked first: European Jews are the canary in the coal mine. Years of anti-Semitic assaults in France – leading to the exodus of French Jewry to which Valls was referring in the interview – preceded the January attacks. But whereas those January attacks deliberately targeted the Jews and, with the exception of Charlie Hebdo and the police, largely ignored everyone else, the attacks in Paris this past Friday did not discriminate. The terrorists, so far as we know, were not after free speech or authority as such, but everyone. Europeans should, therefore, be more concerned when their Jews are attacked, because first they come for the Jews, and then they come for everybody else.
However, as the dust settles on the atrocities of last week, it has emerged that there may have been an exception to the terrorists’ otherwise indiscriminate policy: the massacre at the Bataclan Theatre. The Bataclan Theatre, where the overwhelming majority of victims were killed, was, until this past September, owned by two Jewish brothers, who had often employed it as a venue for pro-Israel and other Jewish events. This was widely known, such that the place had previously been targeted by Islamist mobs, who, on a recent march on the venue to verbally harass the staff, ominously warned that the next visit wouldn’t be for talking.
If the terrorists were unaware that the brothers had sold the theatre, it may well have been deliberately targeted because of its Jewish ownership and history of hosting pro-Israel events. But even if the terrorists did know the theatre had been sold, they may have purposely attacked it anyway in order to discourage others from buying from Jews or indeed anybody from using any venue for pro-Israel or Jewish events. Either way, since the theatre’s erstwhile Jewish ownership was well known, it cannot be ruled out at this time that this in some way motivated the choice to attack it. First they come for the Jews, and then they come for the Jews again.
With France’s leadership now acknowledging that the country is at war, the Jews’ role as canary has been fulfilled. But it appears the Jews are still specific targets, and in this regard the “conscience of humanity”, as Valls put it, remains at stake, as does the character of his nation. (Indeed, the apparent reason the theatre was sold was because one of its owners was emigrating to Israel – part of the massive exodus of French Jewry that Valls feared.) Part of France’s “war” must, therefore, be to institute zero tolerance of anti-Semitism – and that includes vilification of Israel (even within the government).
Zero tolerance means combatting even seemingly petty manifestations of anti-Semitism. The Bataclan Theatre was for years the target of BDS boycott efforts, and the American band playing on Friday night (all of the members of which escaped unharmed) had just performed in Israel over the summer. That such seemingly trivial BDS protests can lead to riots and eventually metastasize into full-blown massacres is not at all surprising to those who monitor them. Unless all of these manifestations of anti-Semitism are urgently opposed, then “France will no longer be France.”