Last night, when they were needed most, the synagogues of Paris were closed on the Sabbath for the first time since World War II.
Jewish neighborhoods in the Marais and on the edge of the city had been in police-ordered shutdown after a comrade of the Kouachi brothers – the Charlie Hebdo magazine killers – took hostages in a Kosher supermarket near Port de Vincennes, killing four.
But after Wednesday’s satirical magazine massacre by Islamist terrorists resulted in the death of 12, France and the world turned to the likelihood that Muslims would become scapegoats.
Media and political debate focused squarely on the risk that the terrorists’ aim of sowing hate and discord and thus isolating France’s Muslim minority – Europe’s largest with estimates of between 6 and 8 million – would come to fruition.
A backlash has begun and it is to be condemned as mosques and prayer halls are attacked and Muslims singled out in an alarming escalation of anti-Islam feeling and action.
It turns out that for all the well-founded anxiety about rising Islamophobia, France’s Jews, already under siege in their synagogues and shops and homes, were first in the frontline.
They had much to fear – they had to fear for their lives, at the hands of French-born, French-educated, and French-raised men. Muslims, they had adopted the anti-Semitic prejudices flourishing today in France’s cities and suburbs, fell into crime, and were lured by the appeal of jihadist ideology, nourished by a hatred of Jews and Israel.
Now four people who happened to be in a supermarket that sold Kosher products lie dead. Because they were Jews. And they were the next targets of the terrorists, after the killing of Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent, often offensive cartoonists and staff, and three police officers.
The Kosher market shoppers are the innocent victims of an Islamofascist ideology that when imported to countries with a long history of anti-Semitism like France, places Jews and Israel at the apex of a hate scale. This includes Westerners or ‘kaffir’ of all types: writers, caricaturists, artists, all who fight for freedom of speech, democracy and sexual equality and those who simply live in liberty.
France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated to be about 600,000, a fact that never escapes the propaganda spinners of Islamic State and Al-Qaida,who have specifically urged their followers to kill Jews.
Jacques Chirac transformed history in 1997 when he became the first president to recognize and apologize for France’s collaboration in sending 80,000 Jews to the gas chambers. Today, however Jews in France must fear being beaten up, tortured and yes murdered.
According to official figures anti-Semitic attacks have surged 91% over the past year. Jews make up less than 1% of France’s population yet almost half of all acts of racist violence are visited upon them.
The death toll for French Jews over the past decade reveals that those acts are more frequently of a murderous nature.
In 2006 Ilan Halimi was kidnapped in Paris, then tortured for weeks in a suburban apartment block before being murdered by the ‘gang of barbarians’ who specifically hunted him down because he was Jewish.
Mohammed Merah in 2012 killed three children and an adult at an orthodox Jewish school in Toulouse (He also killed a Muslim French soldier along with two others). Last year Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche shot two people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Over the summer during the anti-Gaza marches, Jewish shops and synagogues were attacked. Pro-Palestinian marchers called out ‘death to the Jews’, while some protestors knelt down and prayed to Allah in demonstrations that shocked for their blatant anti-Semitism.
Amid the threats and violence, France’s Jews are perhaps unsurprisingly emigrating to Israel in record numbers.
The disturbing reality as revealed in a series of surveys notably Fondapol’s study of anti-Semitism published late last year, is that the ‘‘new anti-Semitism’’ in a nation that has a long history of it, is growing in Muslim communities.
‘‘Muslims are two to three times more likely than the average to hold prejudices against Jews,’’ Fondapol’s director, the political scientist Dominique Reynié said.
Prejudice towards Jews remains very high as it has historically been among supporters of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, and also among the smaller numbers of backers of the extreme left.
The survey results do not incriminate French Muslims en masse for anti-Semitic violence, but they do show that a normalization of anti-Jewishness is taking place.
The Kouachi brothers and their ally Amédy Coulibaly appeard to carry a form of anti-Semitism in their hearts that was both of the foreign jihadist variety and at the same time very French, melding anti-Israel hatred with classic tropes about Jews being too rich and powerful.
There is no hierarchy of pain or oppression here. Intolerance, racism and hatred must be acknowledged and combated.
France’s Muslims, who understand so well how it feels to be targets of suspicion and intolerance, therefore need to join hands with Jews, their fellow people of the Abrahamic faith, and say that there is nothing right about killing people because they are Jewish. Will the hashtag #JeSuisJuif also take hold of Twitter as #JeSuisCharlie did ?
At the same time French citizens, politicians and Europeans need to be vigilant in fighting all forms of anti-Muslim sentiment and action, be it the defacement of mosques or harassment women wearing veils and children of Muslim confession.
Yes Muslims who have nothing to do with the Paris terrorist atrocities are suffering the blowback as some of their bigoted, fearful compatriots and extreme right demagogues try to finger them for the violence.
A Muslim French police officer, Ahmed Merabet was killed in the Charlie Hebdo carnage, prompting the popular Twitter hashtag #JeSuisAhmed. One of the murdered magazine writers killed, Mustapha Ourrad, was a Frenchman of Algerian background, and he also got his hashtag #JeSuisMustapha.
France’s Muslims braced themselves for reprisals after Wednesday’s assassinations.
And they came, no doubt to the pleasure of the Kouachi brothers, their allied killer Amédy Coulibaly at the Porte de Vincennes Kosher market, and their Al Quaida and ISIS puppet masters who want to divide Muslims and others living in secular nations like France.
French Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun rightly described the Charlie Hebdo attackers as also attacking Islam and Muslims because they were declaring war on secular democracy.
‘‘This is not just about a few vengeful thugs, but a ferocious and radical willingness to stop Muslims being able to live their religion in a secular land, in respect of the laws of the Republic, and to isolate them and turn them into France’s enemies. This is why we must all resist because we are all concerned.’’
Ben Jelloun was perfectly right. Still, he along with countless other intellectuals, political leaders and Muslim activists could have had a word for their Jewish brothers and sisters, who in the end lost their lives at the hands of these same killers before police shot them.
Jews are special targets in these terrorist horrors, and we all need to step up to protect them.
That includes tackling the cancer of anti-Semitism that finds fertile ground along some of France’s intellectual elite, particularly in anti-Zionist rhetoric. It is rife in France’s cities and immigrant suburbs, where it is fueled by Jew haters and conspiracy theorists like the comedian Dieudonné, whose anti-Semitic shows have been banned.
While the Vincennes hostage siege was taking place and Paris resembled a war zone, some were comparing the panic to Kristallnacht. This was the night of broken glass in 1938 when the Nazis ordered attacks on Jewish properties and establishments across Germany and Austria.
Let’s hope, as European leaders like Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Matteo Renzi come to Paris for tomorrow’s republican march for unity and peace, that Muslims and Jews can unite as French citizens mindful of the continent’s terrible twentieth century history. And determined to never let it happen again.
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