Attacks on Jewish targets in Copenhagen and Paris are feeding emigration to Israel, explains Jean-Marc Dreyfus.
The terror attacks in Copenhagen targeted both a cultural centre – where a debate on freedom of speech and the caricatures of Muhammad was taking place – and the city’s central synagogue. Five weeks after the Paris attacks, security was already high – casualties were therefore limited; a blood bath was prevented.
Such a wave of terror is not unknown in post-war Europe: in the 1970s the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Action Directe group in France and the assassinations committed in Italy by both the far left and the far right were all examples of political violence. In the 1980s, France saw Palestinian terror groups and Algerian jihadists attack both symbols of the French state and Jews. The recent attacks in Denmark and France are clearly parts of a globalised war towards the Western world: towards countries perceived by armed terrorists as a unified civilisation.
Those attacks are part of a series of killings that started before September 11 and continued beyond New York, stretching from Oman to Marrakech, from Madrid to London.
They are also parts of the crisis that began 10 years ago with the provocative publication of caricatures by a Danish newspaper: this led to mass demonstrations in Muslim countries – some demonstrators died – a competition of caricatures on the Holocaust in Teheran; and attempted and successful assassinations of caricaturists. The attacks in Paris in January represented a peak of tensions (so far) in the French capital, to the point that the daily newspaper Le Monde made its headline afterwards ‘A French September 11’.
This double crisis – global jihadism and the caricatures – reveal the inner fractures of Western societies. Discussions in the media and academia continue to rage on the freedom of speech, religious freedom, Islam in the West, integration of immigrants, poverty in liberal societies, communitarianism, Islamophobia, circulation of weapons in depressed neighbourhoods, the rise of populist and far-right movements and political parties across Europe, the political and security responses to the terror – and more.
The radicalisation of young people – mostly of Muslim birth, but not exclusively given that 20% of the French jihadists in Syria and Iraq are converts – dramatically calls into question the Western system of education, social work and integration.
Comments on the attacks are often influenced by political leanings: left-leaning commentators provide a social explanation of poverty and neglect for radicalisation, while right wing journalists and academics offer a more political or cultural explanation. The role of the internet is also questioned. Is the World Wide Web responsible for radicalisation? So much hatred is conveyed on social networks, with almost no control.
Central, also, to those debates is anti-Semitism. Or, let us say, that it should be a central theme, as Jews are being targeted in Europe because they are Jews – and not for their individual political activities. 27 January 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, was widely commemorated all over Europe with wide press coverage. Many commentators linked Holocaust Memorial Day with the Paris terror attacks and the killing of Jews. The comparison seems both unreasonable and too easy. A handful of terrorists, even those who are well trained and armed by wealthy foreign organisations, do not make a state-led genocide.
The radicalised Islamic ideology that triggered the Paris and Copenhagen attacks (and others in Europe) can be described as totalitarian and its proponents may well be committing ethnic cleansing at present in Iraq.
Jews are placed at the centre of a multifaceted crisis from which they are otherwise disconnected and over which they have no control: the result is that fear has reappeared in European Jewish communities and the question of Aliyah (immigration of diaspora Jews to Israel) has recently become the subject of political attention and concern.
Seventy years after the Holocaust, 25 years after the fall of communism, Jews in Europe feel threatened. Emigration from France to Israel is on the rise; 7,000 (out of 550,000) Jews left in 2014, a figure that was previously attained only in 1968, after the Six Day War.
The role of the Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the most blurred factors of this terrorist crisis. For the terrorists, Jews are ‘natural’ targets. Debates on the conflict have been tense in recent years, with massive anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe during the conflicts between Israel and Gaza and that of Israel with Hezbollah. The constant criticism of the state of Israel among European leftist movements and parties contributes to the blurring of discussions.
This mix – actual targeted attacks, violent demonstrations at which anti- Semitic slogans are shouted and inflammatory rhetoric – has led to a perception by Jewish leaderships and by many Jews of this new (?) anti-Semitism as a unified phenomenon, with clear goals, stemming from a group that ranges from pro-Palestinian activists to Islamic terrorists. This perception may be biased, but it reflects a very real fear that European Jewish communities may have no future in Europe.
Since 2000 – with the outbreak of the second Intifada in the Israeli occupied territories – anti-Semitism has been on the rise in Europe, with mostly non-violent incidents. The number of these incidents is similar today in France and in the United Kingdom (about 1000 registered in each country in 2014) and the same fear and discussions about Aliyah can be heard among British, Belgian, Dutch and French Jews. It can be assumed, especially now, that this discussion is also taking place among Danish Jews.
On 9 February 2015, a man burned an Israeli flag in front of the Hyper Casher shop in Vincennes in which four Jews were killed a month before.