When Attacks on Jews are Ignored

There was an interesting article in the Tablet, “an American Jewish general interest online magazine.” Liel Leibowitz gives examples of terrorist attacks on Jews by individuals connected to groups that later perpetrated attacks on others who were not Jewish. There is a possibility, he asserts, that had the individuals been investigated more thoroughly, the later attacks might have been prevented.

The first example he gives is the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels perpetrated by Mehdi Nemmouche. Nemmouche was part of the network that included Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is “suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have participated in the November 2015 Paris attacks.”

Would a more aggressive investigation of Nemmouche have led to his operator and saved the lives of all those slain in the 11th arrondisement? It’s hard to tell for certain without access to the investigation’s files, but if you’re pondering the mindset of the Belgian authorities, consider the following statement by the country’s Justice Minister Koen Geens. The Paris attacks, Geens said a few days after the massacre there, proved that terrorists were now after different targets: “It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums,” he said, “it’s mass gatherings and public places.”

You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to realize that a justice system headed by a man who doesn’t consider synagogue attendance as a gathering or Jewish museums as public places isn’t going to try especially hard to pursue justice when the victims are Jews.

As it happens, on my first trip to Europe, I visited the Jewish Museum Vienna. During my last trip, I went to an exhibit at the Institut du Monde Arabe. My very last museum visit was to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History. Most museums are public places meant for a wide variety of visitors, not only people with a genetic connection to the primary subject. Still, although I might see an attack on the Jewish museum as an attack on the general public, I’m afraid Leibowitz does have a point.

The next example he gives is the murder of Meir Kahane. Kahane was a hateful individual. He was convicted of domestic terrorism in incidents from the early seventies. He later moved to Israel and ran for office there. “Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for racism.” In 1990, he was in New York City to give a speech. After the speech, he was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair.

Nosair, authorities soon learned, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik. So great was the jury’s contempt for Kahane, that they acquitted Nosair of murder and convicted him only of assault and possession of an illegal firearm, a decision that the trial’s judge, Justice Alvin Schlesinger, lamented went “against the overwhelming weight of evidence and was devoid of common sense and logic.” Nosair’s legal defense was paid by a wealthy supporter of Abdel-Rahman, one Osama Bin Laden. Three years later, several of Abdel-Rahman’s other disciples were arrested for attempting to blow up the World Trade Center.

The case for antisemitism is harder to make in this incident because Kahane himself was so widely hated. However, there is a good argument to be made that murder and assassination should not be treated lightly simply because its target is someone you don’t like, or perhaps even hate. The perpetrator’s willingness to solve political arguments through violence may be far more indicative of his orientation than his choice of opponent.

Leibowitz then quotes current Secretary of State John Kerry regarding a highly disturbing statement he made after last month’s attacks in Paris. The longer quote, which I’ve taken from the Washington Post, is:

There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.”

Leibowitz describes Kerry’s logic as being that of “deluded men and women who are trying to organize a chaotic world into rational patterns.”

To that crowd, the murder of a Jew is deplorable but rarely surprising; real shock is expressed only when the very same terrorists, literally speaking, who have orchestrated the killing of Jews turn their guns on other Belgians or Parisians or New Yorkers.

To the many—in government, in the media, in academia—who still hold this morally repugnant worldview, to those who endanger the well-being of us all by failing to seriously investigate and prosecute attacks on Jews because these can somehow be explained away by some imaginary rationale, it’s time to say no more. Understand this: The very same people who are coming for the Jews will soon come for you, too.

Although, I agree with Leibowitz that we ignore the murders of Jews at our own peril, I don’t agree with his implication that the problem is random, “chaotic” or contains no “rational patterns.”

Going back to the Washington Post opinion piece in which I found the Kerry quote, Sonny Bunch

Even if you leave that aside, however, his comments reside somewhere between inane and idiotic. First off, the idea that these attacks were “absolutely indiscriminate” is foolishness: As Alyssa Rosenberg has noted, the targets — a sporting event, a concert, a series of restaurants — and the comments released by the Islamic State in the aftermath of the attack make it quite clear that the attack was very “discriminate.” It was an assault on culture, a stab at the heart of Western “prostitution and obscenity.”

However, I find the idea that this sort of attack is worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack on anything other than a numerical scale to be totally baffling. The Paris attack is, sadly, not that out of the ordinary as far as these things go: It strikes me as no more indiscriminate than the Madrid attacks or the London bombings. The Charlie Hebdo attack, on the other hand, was a rather chilling exercise in political power. It was an attack that was explicitly aimed at our freedoms: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom of press, the freedom from the tyranny of medieval theocracy. It was an attack designed to silence, to intimidate.

I think here we get to the heart of the matter. We don’t want to acknowledge that the terrorists are opposed to Western liberal values and culture. We don’t want to face the fact that we may be targets. We think we can somehow buy our safety by selling out our neighbors.

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3 comments
  1. Because your post is really serious, I will lighten the mood a bit with an anecdote I heard once; if you want to get away with murder, make it look like your victim is a rap artiste, the police will not investigate.

    I think I agree with your conclusions; the Charlie Hebdo was a specific attack on freedom of expression. It is meant to silence people into submission. The other attacks as happen elsewhere, I think is meant to create fear, to terrorize, if I may use the term

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