In part one of “Radical Islamism’s War Against the Jews: Who Cares?” Michael C. Kotzin wrote about radical Islam and the Jewish community. Today read part two of this two-part series and check back on Friday for Kotzin’s final post for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
The Houthi rebels of Yemen have been receiving considerable media notice since their rebellion against that country’s government caught fire. Yet their slogan – “Death to America, Death to Israel, Damnation to the Jews” – has attracted relatively little attention. That may be understandable since their main current activity is as a key player in Yemen’s Civil War, in which they have been linked to Iran even as the Saudis have been increasingly involved on the other side. Still, there is something revealing and typical in the fact that we have now been introduced to one more group of Islamist fighters for whom hatred of Israel and of the Jewish people is a central tenet, and in the fact that the Western media pays little attention to that reality.
On January 17, the New York Times ran a lengthy story on “Chérif and Saïd Kouachi’s Path to Paris Attack at Charlie Hebdo” which traced the jihadist radicalization of these two brothers and went on to talk about their connections with Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a French police officer the following day and then murdered four Jewish shoppers at the Hyper Cache Market the day after that.
The article tells its readers that a court transcript on another charge revealed that as early as September and October of 2004, “Chérif never stopped talking about the Jewish shops, of attacking them in the street in order to kill them.” Never in this lengthy article did the Times try to answer the question as to where such violent hatred of Jews came from. Was it part of the culture of the community in which Chérif grew up and lived? Was it taught by the jihadist mentor he had first learned from? Did he pick it up from the Internet or from satellite broadcasts emanating from the Muslim world? Why would Chérif and others be so receptive to such messages?
Clearly the attitudes are not unique to these brothers. Indeed, it was Coulibaly who, as he said in a recorded message released after he was killed, “went after the Jews” during the three-day terrorist spree. As has been reported in a piece in Tablet, last August Coulibaly and Hayat Boumedienne were recorded by a surveillance camera in front of a Jewish school, and after they had entered the school, he asked a security guard if “it was true that there were Jews inside of the building.”
On the day of the supermarket incident, the car he was driving had maps marked to show the designations of various Jewish schools in Paris, one of which was said to be near the spot where he killed a police officer on Thursday of that bloody week, leading to speculation, recently verified, that such a school was his intended target that day. It has also been speculated that he may also have been looking for a Jewish school on the following day, with the Hyper Cache, identifiably Jewish as a kosher market, then emerging as a target of opportunity. In any event, it clearly was living Jews, such as those he murdered and wounded in the market, not the building per se, that Coulibaly was after.
There have been a string of lethal Islamism-linked attacks on Jewish sites around the world in recent years. Those include the murderous shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, two years before the Paris attack; the murders at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May; and more recently, the Copenhagen killings that included a Jewish civilian security guard outside of a synagogue where a Bat Mitzvah was being celebrated. These targets were not chosen by accident, nor was the motivation of the killers unrelated to the Islamist ideology of hate.
For all of that, little has been said to account for or even acknowledge the anti-Semitic loathing behind such activity, even as Islamist violence in general has garnered increased attention since the Paris incidents. Indeed, even regarding that case there were many in the Jewish community who doubted that the Hyper Cache killings would have evoked nearly as much of a response if they hadn’t been linked to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which certainly got the lion’s share of the attention during the subsequent massive unity march in Paris. And while governments in several Western European countries have stepped up protection for Jewish institutions, neither their spokesmen nor community leaders have demonstrated full comprehension of this element of the problem.
Is there simply an understood expectation that the Jewish people, persecuted by so many through the ages, are an inevitable and natural target of today’s hatred and violence? Might there even be, in some quarters, an underlying assumption that the Jews have it coming?
While some commentators may automatically link anti-Jewish sentiment and behavior to feelings about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and while that might be an aggravating circumstance in some cases, it is a far too easy and superficial way to account for all of what is happening.
Not that there is no connection with Israel. Surely the establishment of a Jewish, democratic, Western-style state in what they regard as the heart of “their” territory is an affront that many Arabs and Muslims have never gotten over, and the Jews of the world by extension are identified as the enemy. But the hatred I am talking about preceded the establishment of the State of Israel and transcends it. Indeed, the attribution of today’s anti-Semitism to the existence of Israel and whatever acts it may carry out might in many cases be seen as an excuse for that hatred rather than a reason for it.
In a 1950 autobiography called In Search the Chicago-born author Meyer Levin wrote about the Arab riots that took place in Palestine in 1929, when he was there living on a kibbutz. He noted that the Jewish victims of the Hebron massacre of that time were not recently-arrived nationalistic pioneers but religious scholars who had been there for generations, and he observed that the murderers had been provoked by incendiary sermons in their local mosques.
As relative disinterest in the implications of the singling out of the Jews by radical Islam continues even while the global thrust and threat of that danger grows, it becomes increasingly difficult not to think that there may be a willful blindness at work, something that perhaps itself reflects a residue of anti-Semitism. Where else can refusal to face the facts come from? Might it all go back to an urge to get free from lingering guilt about the Holocaust, which come to think of it was pretty much played down in its own time?
Could it be that to acknowledge what is happening and what it echoes would upend the belief that many hold about who currently wears the mantle of victimhood – at a time and in an ideological culture where the title of chief victim is coveted? In any event, the degree of silence that exists about the verbal and physical targeting of the Jews by today’s violent Islamist extremists says more about western society and its media than it does about the Jews. And that can’t be a healthy matter.
Michael C. Kotzin is a longtime Jewish communal professional and former professor of English Literature at Tel Aviv University. He has been an executive at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago since 1988 and is the author of the recently published On the Front Lines in a Changing Jewish World: Collected Writings 1988 – 2013.On the front lines in a changing Jewish world: collected writings, 1988 – 2013
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Michael C. Kotzin is a longtime Jewish communal professional and former professor of English Literature at Tel Aviv University. He has been an executive at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago since 1988 and is the author of the recently published On the Front Lines in a Changing Jewish World: Collected Writings 1988 – 2013.