We took hope at the sight of French President Francoise Hollande marching in solidarity with dozens of world leaders to denounce the Islamist massacres of Charlie Hebdo journalists and Jewish shoppers in Paris.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas marched in the front row, so maybe Hollande could have taken this rare occasion of accord to play the diplomat and further Middle East peace.
But hope became disappointment when it was reported that Hollande, in fact, had informed Israel that he did not want Netanyahu or Abbas at the event. He was particularly angry when Netanyahu decided to come anyway. The French then made sure that Abbas was there as well. When Hollande walked out of the Paris Grand Synagogue when Netanyahu got up to speak at a unity service, he seemed to snub the Israeli leader.
Hollande’s supposed motive for wanting to bar Netanyahu and Abbas was to keep the focus of the solidarity events on France and not introduce distractions from the Israel-Arab and Jewish-Muslim conflicts. But Islamists committed the carnage in Paris, targeting Jews in the process. Returning to Israel along with Netanyahu were the bodies of these victims, who have since been buried in Jerusalem. And Israel is a principal target of Islamist terrorism.
A rally of three million individuals and over 40 world leaders to protest political murders becomes a shallow exercise when those leaders, especially Hollande, bend over backwards to ignore the Islamic roots of the crime.
Under the influence of the Enlightenment, Western European Jews in nineteenth century were gaining civil liberties such as the right to vote and equality before the law, rights that had been denied them in nearly two millennia of ghettos, oppression, expulsions, and pogroms. Many Jews thought they could assimilate into the wider world.
But in 1894 French military officer Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, was wrongly convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island. During the trial, writer-journalist Theodor Herzl witnessed massive anti-Semitic demonstrations in Paris. He concluded that assimilation and the law could not protect Jews from persecution, and that the only way Jews might live and flourish would be by establishing their own homeland . So began Zionism and the aliyahs, the waves of immigrants to Palestine.
Most European Jews who made their way to Palestine in the following half century survived the Holocaust (America was the first choice of many, but it was closing to immigrants); most who stayed in Europe did not. The day after the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the armies of five Arab countries attacked with the goal of finishing the job Hitler had started. They lost, and Israel has survived as a place of refuge for Jews around the world.
And such a place of sanctuary might especially be needed again today. In Europe anti-Semitism is on the rise, principally because of the influx of Muslim immigrants, with attacks on Jews becoming more frequent including in France.
In Paris, after the unity rally that the French did not want Netanyahu to attend, Israel’s Prime Minister visited the site where Jews were murdered and declared that “A direct line leads between the attacks of extremist Islam around the world to the attack that took place here at a kosher supermarket in the heart of Paris. … I expect all of the leaders, with whom we marched in the streets of Paris yesterday, to fight terrorism wherever it is, also when it is directed against Israel and Jews.”
He then said "To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home," and he invited them to migrate, as so many first did over a century ago.
Let’s grant that there has been progress over the past century. At least the throngs in the street on this occasion were opposing violence rather than shouting “Kill the Jews” as the Parisians did during the Dreyfus affair. But such shouts can be heard from Muslims in Europe. And perhaps Hollande himself doesn't understand that by seemingly snubbing Netanyahu rather than reaching out to him in the face of Jews murdered in France, he was proving the need for an Israel as a sanctuary for Jews and as a strong force against terrorism today just as the Dreyfus affair demonstrated the need for the establishment of an Israel long ago.
But the need for Islam to reform itself, to adopt Enlightenment principles, and to clean up its own ranks is not lost now on many, now including Muslims. Many Muslims did, indeed, denounce the Charlie Hebdo murders. But others still endorsed those atrocities. And many Westerners, including Pope Francis , suggested that individuals bring such fates on themselves when they don’t censor themselves.
The only way Europe, the Middle East, and the world can survive in peace and prosperity is for the Enlightenment principles of reason and individual liberty to be promoted clearly and unapologetically, especially by those in Europe and America who are the most direct heirs to those principles.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society. Posted on January 16, 2015.
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Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.