I understand one should never discuss religion or politics, but there was hatred exploding on the streets of Paris earlier this week and I worry that choosing to remain silent would somehow make me guilty by abstention. What is happening between Israel and Palestine today is horrible. Both sides have suffered unconscionable losses. Both have committed crimes against humanity. There is no easy answer.
But the reaction in Europe is worrying governments across the continent. It is anti-semitism hiding behind the shield of anti-zionism.
To be clear. There were Pro-Palestinian protests across the country. They were legitimate, peaceful events held in support of the Palestinian people. I am not referring to those events. I am talking about two very isolated incidents, one in Paris, the other in a nearby suburb.
They were not protests, they were riots. The government refused to let these groups hold an official demonstration because they knew it would dissolve into violence. The people were not screaming “Down with Israel” or “Save the Palestinians”. They were shouting “Death to Jews.” This, by any stretch of any imagination is anti-semitism.
And the rioters targeted synagogues; houses of prayer where people gather to celebrate, mourn and try to find meaning in life. They were not in front of the Israeli Embassy, the only representative of the Israeli government in Paris. This, by any stretch of any imagination is anti-semitism.
As a spoiled, modern woman raised in N America, I don’t remember the era when Jews were not welcome in elite clubs in New York City. I only know that the parks in Warsaw had signs that read, “No dogs, or Jews allowed” because I have a photo of a sign taken by my father-in-law when he was a young man. Anti-semitism seems so far and removed from my life and my generation that I sometimes wondered if Israel really needs to exist as a safe haven for Jews.
Then I’d think of my sister-in-law and I’d hesitate. She is younger than I am and her family had to leave what was then the USSR because there was very limited room for Jews in the universities, and if her parents wanted their children to have a complete education, they had to immigrate. Israel is the only state that would have them, so they sacrificed decent careers at home for menial jobs in a country where they didn’t understand the language.
When Mr French and I would talk about Israel, he would grow impatient. Like many French he sees that the Palestinians were kicked out of their homeland and he was not convinced that Jews in today’s world needed a refuge. Last week, after watching the news, he kissed the top of my head, rubbed my back and whispered, “I’ll protect you.” He isn’t worried about my immediate safety, but he now acknowledges that there is a potential for danger. Which sent chills down my spine.
The French blockbuster, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu? that is filling theaters this summer, uses charming humour to address the difficult subject of racism and integration in France today. My favorite scene is when the two brothers-in-law, one Muslim, the other Jewish are introduced to their soon to be brother-in-law, who happens to be Chinese. “Hmmmm. Let me guess,” he stammers, “its really hard to tell who is Rachid and who is David. You semites all look alike.” And that’s the greatest tragedy of all, because there is an undeniable whiff of fratricide in the air as bombs are exchanged in the Middle East today. We are the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. Two brothers. After a couple millennium you’d think we’d have out grown the sibling rivalry.
As a citizen of the world, I have come to believe that religion is a great personal comfort, but a terrifying source of conflict. I am extremely proud of my Jewish culture and heritage. I get regular calls from Parisiennes for my chicken soup recipe. I cherish the education that taught me to visit the sick, to really think about the food I put in my mouth and most of all, give my children the very best education possible. But from my perspective, the institution of religion separates and divides. It highlights what makes us different, instead of celebrating what we share. I don’t want the state of Israel to have to exist. But as long as there are people in the streets of Europe shouting, “Death to Jews,” I am glad it does.