Europe's Jews Pick Up the Shards After Paris Terrror

After the Paris terror attacks, Jews in Europe are taking stock of where they stand. Here’s 6 voices of hope and fear from a continent on edge.

‘One Common Enemy Unites Them: Us Jews’

By Charlotte Knobloch

The attacks in Paris have filled us all with tremendous shock and sadness. In the past few months and years, we have anxiously observed the public and aggressive display of anti-Semitism in France that has resulted in an unbearable situation of massive threat for the local Jewish community. For us the exodus of French Jews is quite understandable. We have also experienced an increasing number of anti-Semitic hostilities and assaults in Germany.

Especially last summer during the Gaza-war protests, you could once again hear people on German streets shouting terribly aggressive anti-Semitic insults — largely coming from young, radicalized Muslims but also from old and new right-wing extremists, some leftists and, sadly, also from some in the mainstream middle-class. One common enemy unites them all: Us Jews.

We therefore see the events in Paris as one part in a long series of hostilities and assaults that exist in both countries. Of course these murderous attacks cause fear and profound uncertainty within the Jewish communities and the people. And of course, young Jewish families are asking themselves: Can we stay? Are we safe here in Germany? That makes me sad because up until about two or three years ago we really had found such a great way of living together as one community here in Munich. With its new synagogue and community center, our Jewish community moved back to the heart of the city not only location-wise, but it also made it back into the people’s hearts. By the end of last summer, unfortunately, it seemed that not much of that remained.

After Paris, there is now overwhelming solidarity, and as several protests and articles pledge, there is a will to fight for the liberal values of our democracy — and that is great. However, these riskless spoken words should not be one-time pledges. Now we need resolute actions from our officials, courage from our citizens — and perseverance. Besides increasing the safety measures, there is a lot to do within civil society for prevention, especially through working with young Muslims. Because, alarmingly, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is spreading among them.

As president of our community, after the attacks I asked local authorities for tighter security measures. However, in an open, free society 100% guarantees cannot be given. I have already noticed Jewish people becoming more private, afraid to wear a kippah or a Star of David around their neck. We can’t let ourselves be intimidated. We must fight for our free democratic state and our values.

Charlotte Knobloch is the president of the Jewish community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.


‘A Niggling Sense That We Might Be Sitting Ducks’

By Jonathan Boyd

It’s that same feeling you have when there has been a spate of burglaries in the neighborhood. You’re not about to pack up and move house, but you do check that the doors and windows are properly locked and that the house alarm system is in full working order. If I had to try to capture the collective feeling of Jews in Britain right now, it’s like that. On the whole, we’re not about to pack up and emigrate, but we do want to know that the necessary security is in place and functioning well.

There’s variation, of course. Some are more concerned, some less so. Orthodox Jews, because they are more identifiably Jewish than others, typically feel more anxious about anti-Semitism, not least because, statistically, they experience higher levels of anti-Semitic harassment, discrimination and violence than non-Orthodox Jews. But non-Orthodox Jews are a little rattled, too. Unused to feeling vulnerable as Jews in a country that is among the least anti-Semitic in the world, there is an unfamiliar sense of unease in the air.

I work in the realm of statistics, so I know, empirically, that life for Jews in the U.K. is markedly better than life for Jews in France. It’s not only that we haven’t seen horrors similar to the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi here, or to the terrorist attacks at the Ozer haTorah School in Toulouse or the kosher supermarket in Paris, it’s also because on more or less every measure, the data demonstrate it. Furthermore, there are all manner of political, ideological, economic, cultural and demographic differences between the two countries, which might go some way toward explaining why there’s no Dieudonné equivalent in the U.K., and even if there were, he would be instantly exposed as a racist. British society and government have little tolerance for racism, which doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist, but it does mean it isn’t given much oxygen.

But levels of anti-Semitism in the U.K. population, while important to monitor, are probably not the critical factor here. Because what British Jews are starting to realize is that Islamist extremism does not need the support of the British population to succeed in terrorizing British Jews. It just needs the occasional success now and then. And that is what is unnerving. We don’t know exactly where the threat might come from, when it might strike, where it might happen or how we might be personally affected. So while some of us feel more or less completely secure here, others have a niggling sense that we might be sitting ducks.

Jonathan Boyd is the executive director of the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research


‘Now I’m a Member of A Sheltered Minority in Need Of Protection’

By Hartmut Bomhoff

I haven’t been as jolted by a new story in the past couple of years as I was by the murders in Paris. When Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, attended our Reform Jewish seminary’s ordination ceremony in the Polish city of Wroclaw some months ago, he said, “Today we are celebrating the fact that Jewish life has once again burgeoned in Europe.” Since 1989, we have been heartened by the revival of Jewish life in Germany and beyond, and our school has become a symbol of this Jewish renaissance. I pray that we haven’t cherished an illusion. In January we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the very notion that Jews have again become a target group for prejudice and persecution sickens me.

So far I haven’t witnessed a siege mentality in the wider Jewish community of Berlin. There is tightened security all over, but Jews and non-Jews alike rely on our political leadership and on our police. However, the tide of hostility and violence that has swept across Europe has had the effect of limiting my identity to being a member of a sheltered minority in need of protection.

I wish that the violence could be contained, but I fear that the impact of the Paris killings will tilt the balance between national security and civil liberties in Germany. Ethnocentric attitudes are on the rise, and while anti-Semitism has become a catchall sentiment for many different groups of angry people throughout the continent, the events in Paris and Brussels have ignited a new level of mistrust. I don’t fear being overwhelmed and alienated in my own country, but I catch myself wondering if interfaith dialogue does work at all. Why do moderate Muslim leaders not strive to stem hate speech and assaults in their communities?

In the German public, politically correct censorship thrives. In past months, quite a few Muslims in Germany began saying, “We are the new Jews” and were seconded by a number of Jews and Christians desperate to denounce Islamophobia. I’m aware that competing for victimization is a fool’s errand, but I find this sentiment embarrassing while synagogues, Jewish schools and kindergartens are fenced in. Do we have to pamper those who make us feel intimidated? Must we silence free speech? If so, we will have to worry that Germany’s open society is losing its identity.

Hartmut Bomhoff serves the communications officer of Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam and is the editor of the Jewish Voice From Germany.


‘There Is a Deeply Tolerant Bedrock to This Culture’

By Shulamit Ambalu

I write this on a cold January night in inner city London. I live in a close-knit neighborhood, and the people around here speak several languages, come from across the globe and are a mixture of atheists, Muslims and Christians. In this corner of London we Jews are in a very small minority. Yet, the United Kingdom is a very safe place to be Jewish. There is a deeply liberal and tolerant bedrock to this culture — especially in the cities, where most of us live. And while the whole country is pretty worked up about immigration and employment, there really does seem to be a genuine multiculturalism.

Jews here make choices about how to live across a spectrum of engagement with the wider society. The Haredi minority is free to focus completely on its inter-communal dynamics, educating its children in private schools. Mainstream Jews support a variety of successful Jewish institutions and engage fully in British public life. The traditional British anti-Semitism — the raised eyebrow, the comment spoken under the breath — is still around. But so is racism.

Opportunistic, random, anti-Semitic verbal and physical street-based attacks seem to target people who are obviously Jewish. This morning I noticed a pair of highly visible extra police officers in the center of Stamford Hill. I appreciated that public gesture of reassurance.

U.K. Jews probably understand that freedom of speech must be balanced with the duty to use that freedom responsibly. In the late 1930s, for example, fascists such as Oswald Mosley and his followers were allowed to make anti-Semitic hate speeches in Jewish areas, on the grounds that they had a right to freedom of expression. Such hate speech would be a crime today. Jews recognize religious provocation, and for that reason we are sensitive to the feelings of Muslims who feel their religious sensitivities are provoked. On the other hand, we are cautious — highly cautious — about Muslim radicals who exploit British tolerance, as well as the situation in Israel and Palestine. Their impact is primarily in mainstream and social media, and on university campuses. It has been incredibly positive to watch the emergence of moderate and unified Muslim voices here, in response to the events in Paris.

Our Jewish community is well organized. My own inner-city synagogue immediately reviewed its security procedures following the attacks in Paris. We welcomed contact with a local council who checked that we are feeling safe. And like many others, we will focus next on strengthening our relationships with local Muslim communities and churches. This is the only rational response, since the extremist crimes in Paris were an attempt to terrorize, radicalize and polarize.

Shulamit Ambalu is the rabbi of Kehillah North London.


‘Your Country Betrayed You, Not Long Ago’

By Rossella Tercatin

When Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters were attacked, we spent hour after hour listening to the news, checking the Internet, calling our loved ones to share our feelings and sense of loss for the disconcerting assault to two of the most crucial European values: the sanctity of life and the freedom of expression.

In Italy, the situation is very different from that of France, as Italian Jewish leaders have underlined multiple times in the past couple of weeks. The cooperation with Italian authorities is extremely positive and efficient both in terms of security issues and other areas, such as cultural projects and education about the Holocaust.

That is not to say that anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy. It does, it’s growing and it’s scary. We have to be aware of the threats, we have to work toward education, especially for the younger generations, who know very little about Judaism and are more easily influenced by the confused and often hateful information that can be found online. However, anti-Semitism in Italy in the past years has never turned into physical violence against people.

It has not always been this way. Thirty years ago, a terrorist attack targeted the Great Synagogue of Rome, killing a 2-year-old and injuring dozens. The terrorists were Palestinian. And the general understanding is that Italian authorities back then had struck a deal with the Palestinian terror organizations that they could use the country as a logistical base as long as they would not target Italian citizens. Somehow, this deal did not include the Jews.

The truth is that living in a state that played an active part in perpetrating the Holocaust, where you know that the parents and grandparents of your neighbors could have easily been responsible for the persecution of your parents and grandparents, is not easy. It means living with a physical as well as spiritual awareness that your home country and your fellow citizens betrayed you, not long ago.

At the same time, I feel offended when anyone suggests that Jews should leave Europe because it is not safe. Making aliyah to Israel is a wonderful, personal choice that everyone should make out of his or her own free will because of the realization that it is best for life and for ideals, and not out of fear.

We must not give up being part of the project of making our countries and our union a better place, a space of freedom and security. In Italy, Jews have been around for more than 2,000 years and they are Italian through and through. There is so much that we have given and are giving to Europe. But there’s also so much that Europe is and must keep on giving to the Jewish world.

Rossella Tercatin is an Italian Jewish journalist. Follow her on Twitter, @RossTercatin


‘I Suddenly Find Myself Powerless’

By Samuel Ghiles-Meilhac

‘For once they are not targeting Jews.” This was the strange thought that came to my mind a few minutes after I started reading about the horrific attack at Charlie Hebdo, less than a mile from where I live.

But I was wrong. I should have remembered that since the Toulouse attack in 2012 and in Brussels last year, European jihadis, when they come home, aside from assassinating members of the army or police forces, see the killing of Jews as a priority.

Born in 1983, I was 10 when I watched Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands on television. I remember my dad opening a bottle of champagne that evening, and all the hopes we had. Hamas and the settlers were the bad guys, but peace would prevail. In France, my political world seemed equally simple and reassuring: The National Front wanted to expel the Arabs and exclude the Jews, and we would happily fight together against these forces of xenophobia. The European Union would slowly but smoothly lead us to the end of history.

But that was way back in the last century.

Since the second intifada, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which had echoes in Europe, I have learned to deal with a reality that is complex and painful. As a Jew I don’t face any of the discrimination that minorities deal with. Jews are seen as fully part of the society, and the so-called representatives of the Jewish community enjoy a level of partnership and dialogue with the state that does not exist for any other group.

But the truth is that I suddenly find myself powerless when I look at all the local and international actors directly or indirectly involved in what happened this January. I can conclude only with questions rather than answers: Will a large number of European Muslims overcome their internal anxiety and finally dare to confront radical Islamism in a more decisive way? Will the Syrian civil war come to an end and not continue to provide a gigantic training camp for murderers? Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put as much energy into evacuating the Palestinian territories as he does into inviting us to pack and leave for Israel? Will my beloved country find the recipe for building a common future where no one believes that the meaning of life should be found in death?

Samuel Ghiles-Meilhac is a professor of Jewish history at the Paris Institute of Political Science.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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