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“Je suis Juif” means “I am a Jew” and has been chanted at recent demonstrations in solidarity for the Jewish victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris 10 days ago. The world has been awe-struck by the recent assaults on innocent lives in France and chants and slogans have also included “Je suis Charlie” and “Je suis Ahmed.” The question on many people’s minds is why Jews have been targets so often in recent years.
Je suis Juif. Anti-Semitism is an old story, since the beginning of Christianity over 2000 years ago, and before. It has been prominent throughout history as a recurrent theme, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms in the former Soviet Union, and of course during the Holocaust. Many ask why the resurgence at this point in history.
Christopher Caldwell, a journalist at The Wall Street Journal provides insight into this question. He explains that the trauma of Nazism during World War II was never fully dealt with. He describes that the Holocaust “demoralized and paralyzed” Europe.
Furthermore, European leaders did not feel morally strong enough to deal with the problems resulting from the persecution that led to the murder of three-quarters of its population of Jews. Six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Caldwell likens this to the lack of moral strength in U.S. leaders’ handling of issues regarding race during the “wake of desegregation.” One might draw the conclusion that today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement has emerged as a result of unresolved issues from the Civil Rights era.
In France, there exists a conflict between anti-racism, anti-Semitism, and freedom of speech. The Gayssot Law of 1990 introduced punishment for denial of the Holocaust. This has led to a delicate balance of and heightened awareness regarding the political correctness of language.
Je suis Juif. Why Parisian Jews are under attack remains a question for those in Europe and abroad. Economic difficulties frequently result in political unrest. Europe is facing economic strife that has not been fully resolved since the 2008 global financial crisis. For example, The Wall Street Journal announced today that the European Central Bank is proposing a stimulus plan to address its fragile economy.
Hitler used the faltering economy of the 1930s and his charisma to spur on his followers. He used the economy as a building block for his diabolical plan to rid the world of those he deemed different from himself, and specifically, Jews.
To be sure, the forces of today’s anti-Semitism do not carry the same weight as the Nazi era. However, they are within the same realm, gaining strength. This past spring, gravestones in Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and a French YouTube video demonstrating a Neo-Nazi Hitler salute had 120,000 hits. The current situation has been elevated to the outright murder of Jews in a kosher butcherie ten days ago.
In May, a flurry of right-wing, anti-Semitic leaders were elected into the European Parliament. For the first time, the far-right French National Front party’s provocative leader Marine Le Pen won the French elections in the Parliament. With its growing strength, her party could eventually result in reduced control of the ruling Socialist party. The founding platform of the National Front party, which is gaining in popularity, was anti-immigration rhetoric. The direction of the party has changed into promoting France’s disengagement from the euro.
In Europe, problems central to immigration and to anti-Semitism and racism are intertwined. France has had a contradictory relationship with its immigrants, who make up a significant portion of its population. According to Caldwell, when mass immigration began in the country after the end of World War II, very little attention was paid to the influence of Islam. Caldwell cites bigotry as a potential cause of Islamic terrorism and says that the French are responding to the crisis in their country with the same tools that failed them in prior crises.
“Je suis Juif” is the call for solidarity among Parisian Jews struggling to maintain a sense of security while feeling under attack. The question remains as to whether the French government can and will make the necessary changes to stem the current tide of anti-Semitism and racism, while at the same time, handling the need of its citizens to maintain free speech and addressing the terrorist threat before it strikes again.
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown
Related articles by the author:
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The Wall Street Journal
Letter from World Jewish Congress, December 31, 2014
The Wall Street Journal
Photo courtesy of Maya-Anaïs Yataghène – Flickr license