The Meaning of Fraternité: Every attack on Jews is an attack on us all



Joseph Weissman is Media Analyst at the Embassy of Israel


Immediate lessons have been drawn from last week’s terror attacks in Paris, as France has bolstered its security by calling up thousands of troops to protect sensitive sites across the capital. Half of these protected sites are Jewish, following the murder of four Jews in the kosher bakery Hypercasher last week. At such a difficult time, France’s Jews need to hear a clear message from Europe that any attack on them is an attack on every European.

Also last week, staff were gunned down at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, shocking the nation to its core. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was a double blow to France. It was firstly horrific to read of terrorists butchering twelve innocent citizens with Kalashnikovs. Yet the murdered men were some of France’s finest satirists, belonging to a proud satirical tradition dating back to Voltaire. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was also intended to intimidate other publishers into practising self-censorship, or they might be next.

Yet people implicitly realised that once a certain idea cannot be expressed, then freedom of speech is itself threatened. Either there is freedom of speech, or there isn’t: it cannot be compromised. And so, the hashtag #jesuischarlie became hugely popular, with cartoonists, campaigners, world leaders, journalists, activists and ordinary people across the world participating. Yet there was markedly less hashtag activism two days later, when four Jews were gunned down in a supermarket.

Whilst jihadists slaughtered Charlie’s cartoonists for what they published, a jihadist slaughtered Parisian Jews simply for breathing. Hypercasher was the latest in a sorry string of deadly attacks against Jews in recent years. In 2006, a young man named Ilan Halimi was brutally murdered by a French gang. In 2012, Mohamed Merah gunned down four people (three of whom were children) in a Jewish day school in Toulouse. During protests against Israel last summer, a synagogue was firebombed whilst Jews were trapped inside, as antisemitic incidents rose sharply in the French capital.

For too long, French Jews have been victims of an ongoing campaign to deny them their freedom of existence. It is vital for them to know that they do not stand alone, but France and Europe as a whole stand side-by-side with them. There will be French Jews who look at the current situation and opt for Aliyah; equally there are French Jews who wish to stay and enjoy their lives in their home countries, and they must be made to feel secure too, in Europe.

We would instinctively cry “Je suis Charlie”, in order to affirm Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish what it likes, without fear of being murdered. Similarly, we should all say loudly and proudly “Je suis juif”, affirming that in a democracy no one should fear being killed for their ethnicity or religion.

Indeed, we should treat every attack on the Jewish communities of Europe, who feel especially vulnerable at this time, as an attack on us all; just like we consider the attacks on Charlie Hebdo to be an attack on our collective freedom of speech. Indeed, this is the true meaning of fraternité for us today.

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