TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Sarah Halimi Affair and the Taboo on the “New” Anti-Semitism

The following essay was originally published in French at Le Figaro Vox on July 14, 2017, and is published here by permission. Translated by Russell A. Berman.

In the night of April 4, 2017, in Paris, Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was savagely killed. Her murderer, Kobili Traoré, a radicalized Muslim with a Malian background and a long police record, assaulted her for forty minutes, first in her living room and then on her balcony. He shouted “Allah Akbar,” while degrading his victim, called her a “fat whore” and a “shaitan” (a demon in Arabic). From their windows and later from the courtyard, several neighbors heard and then witnessed, in disgust, the massacre. In Noémie Halioua’s excellent article in Causeur, she reports the testimony of one of them: “First I was woken by the moans of a creature in suffering. It was torture. First, I thought it was an animal or a baby. But then, lifting the blinds and opening the window, I recognized that it was a woman moaning as she was being beaten. With each blow, I heard a moan; she did not even have the strength to cry out anymore.” Kobili Traoré strikes her so hard that his fist is swollen. When he sees the light of the police flashlights in the courtyard, he yells, “watch out, there is a woman here about to commit suicide,” as he seizes his victim, still alive, by her wrists and throws her over the banister of her balcony. Sarah Halimi lays in the courtyard, dead, covered in blood.

Sarah Halimi knew Kobili Traoré. He was her neighbor, he threatened her constantly. She was afraid of him. Five years earlier, his sister had shoved one of her daughters, calling her a “dirty Jew.” A few days after the death of Sarah Halimi, some five hundred demonstrators marching in her memory in Belleville faced calls—according to Noémie Halouia, calls that “are now traditional”—of “death to the Jews” and “we have the AK-47s” which are now blasting throughout the neighboring cities.

“Now traditional”—yes, because of the numerous precedents. The cries of “death to the Jews” already accompanied the “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations, organized, even though they had been prohibited, in July 2014, especially in Paris and the surrounding area. Similar reactions followed the murders of six people, including three Jewish children, in 2012 by Mohammed Merah: the Imam of Bordeau, Tareq Oubrou, explained that he had to devote several weeks of preaching on this case because of the empathy for Mohammed Merah among the faithful in his mosque: Merah’s brother, Abdelghani, had, so he claimed, witnessed shouts of joy following the death of his brother and the neighbors coming to the their home to congratulate their mother, regretting only that Mohammed had not killed more Jews. But this has an even longer history. Between 1999 and 2000, the year of the Second Intifada, the number of anti-Semitic acts in France increased by a factor of nine, from 82 to 744. Since then, it remains at an extraordinarily high level, given the small number of Jews in France, oscillating depending on the year between 400 and 900, reflecting especially the shifts in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The 2002 publication, “The Lost Territories of the Republic,” clearly showed the preeminence, amplitude, and violent hatred Jews face in certain urban areas. These are just a few examples among many others of events that have been increasing for nearly twenty years. Yet none of these alarming signals has been able to break the omerta in politics and the media.

Nor did the atrocious murder of Sarah Halimi. France was in the midst of a presidential campaign, and the four leading candidates were very close, according to the polls. Each had to worry about voters and, let’s be clear, Jews are much less numerous than Muslims—fewer than 500,000 versus nearly six million. In addition, in September 2016, the Institute Montaigne on “Islam in France” published a report claiming that “anti-Semitism was a sign of belonging for one quarter of the Muslims,” and the Fondapol data of November 2014 indicated that Muslim respondents were “two to three times more likely than the average to hold prejudicial views of Jews. The rate is higher the more the respondent declares an engagement with religion.”

In early April 2017, Emmanuel Macron faced difficulties with the affair of Mohammed Saou. This referent for Macron’s movement “En Marche,” in the French department of Val d’Oise, had shared Facebook posts of Marwan Muhammad, a founder of the (according to Alain Finkielkraut) “frightening” CCIF (Committee Against Islamophobia in France, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the bridgeheads of fundamentalist political Islam in France). In addition, it came to light that Saou also supported the Erdoğan regime in Turkey, and that he had declared that he “had never been nor never would be Charlie” [i.e., no solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack on the editorial board of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015—RB]. Macron vacillated, removing Saou from his functions provisionally while nonetheless praising his remarkable work, and delegated the decision concerning Saou to the Ethics Commission of his movement—a decision that one never heard anything more about. (The same Saou has by the way just been reintegrated into his departmental functions.) François Fillon, caught up in his family scandals, did not dare to move an inch for fear of losing some hundreds of thousands of votes that might make the difference as to his entering the second round of the election. Jean-Luc Mélenchon made grand statements about laicism but shamelessly aspired to win the Muslim fundamentalist vote, surrounding himself with the right figures to do that. (As proof: a few weeks later, one would learn that Danièle Obono, newly elected deputy of La France Insoumise [the party that supported Mélenchon’s candidacy—RB] is close to the Parti des Indigènes de la Républilque, a small identitarian grouplet whose speaker, Houria Bouteldja, distinguished herself by stating that “Mohammed Merah is me, and I am he.” These revelations in no way dampened the enthusiastic support that Ms. Obono receives from Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) In this collection of hypocrites, there was only Marine Le Pen, the heir to a party founded notably by barely repentant anti-Semites, who would condemn the crime, albeit on a relatively small scale and without making a big deal of it, while nonetheless insisting that one finally broach the topic of Islamist anti-Semitism.

That one finally broach the topic? It would certainly be time to do so. But who will dare to do it? Georges Bensoussan, the historian of the Shoah and specialist on the Arab world, paid dearly for having addressed the topic on Alain Finkielkraut’s radio program Répliques in October 2015: extraordinarily violent responses spread condemning Bousoussan’s alleged “racism,” not only from the standard thought police of the academic left but also from that fringe of Jewish intellectuals (such as Bernard Schalscha in Règle du Jeu) who seem to believe that by pretending that this anti-Semitism does not exist, it will end up disappearing; a warning from CSA directed at France Culture; as well as a trial, initiated by the prosecutor, that gathered the main antiracist organizations, including LICRA, together with political Islam, represented by CCIF, to denounce the historian’s comments.

Bensoussan’s acquittal was exemplary, particularly with regard to the clear motivation of the judges. Emphasizing that he had not expressed a hatred but, on the contrary, an anxiety, and that he had not called for the “separation of the group presumed to have seceded, its rejection, banishment or eradication, but rather its reintegration into the French nation,” the court has reset the terms of contemporary anti-racism and heeded Alain Finkielkraut, who, testifying in court, deplored “a misleading anti-racism that tries to criminalize an anxiety in place of combatting the reality that causes it”: fighting against racism and enabling an integration of foreign populations into the core of the nation begins by fighting against the obstacles standing in the way of this integration, rather than accepting them as unchangeable.

It is evidently politically very difficult today to combine, in the same discourse, the struggle against racism and the struggle against anti-Semitism. The primary culprits of the latter come from the primary victims of the former. The appearance of this anti-Semitism, new to us in France, is inscribed in the powerful revival of Muslim fundamentalism, in France as elsewhere. This revival is not only evident in frightful murders but also, as Elisabeth Badinter has put it, by the appearance of a “second society” that “attempts to insinuate itself into our republic, to which it turns its back, aspiring explicitly to a separatism or even secession.”

The hostility of this anti-society does not only target secularism (laicism); it targets more broadly our principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. For there is no equality in the fundamentalist anti-society with its identitarian terms, for which the individual Muslim, the umma, and the house of Islam are superior to all other individuals, communities, or non-Muslim nations. Nor is there a universal fraternity but rather a fraternity reduced to the community of faithful who see themselves in conflict with the West in general and with France in particular. And there is no liberty in a group that functions in a clannish way, imposing on all its members a submission to God, to Islam, to its dogmas and combats concerning the conflictual relationship toward Western civilization. This political Islam does not recognize a single and selfsame humanity but only different humanities. In its eyes, some people are worth more than others. And in the extreme versions of this religious fundamentalism, some people have no value at all.

One can therefore understand why anti-Semitism flourishes in this fundamentalist Islam. It is merely one of the forms of rejecting the other that are cosubstantial with this Islam, taking the shapes of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism.

But hatred of Jews is the most intense. Some attribute this to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and to Israeli policies, especially the pursuit of settlements in Palestinian territory. However, they do not know—or they claim not to know—that this hatred has roots in a much older history. In his seminal work, Juifs en pays arabes—Le grand déracinement: 1850–1975, Georges Bensoussan reports the violence of anti-Semitism in Arab countries, with its long history; he explains how, from the Maghreb to Iraq and from Egypt to Yemen, the Jewish life of dhimmitude in Arab countries did not lag behind that of Jews in Czarist Russia, in terms of oppression, poverty, second-class citizenry, humiliations, and occasional pogroms. This anti-Semitism was not born in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; it thrives on it. This conflict did not create the hatred, nor does it increase its intensity; but the support from the left, which, as Jean Birnbaum (in his book A Religious Silence) has shown, has no understanding of religious issues, legitimates its expression. By placing its networks, its culture, its energy, its access to the media, its privileged place in universities and in the world of research at the service of Arab and Muslim cause, in France as elsewhere, the left—extreme, moralistic, “antiracist” more out of parroting than out of conviction—is not only stupid, it is destructive. It provides our enemies (refusing to see that they are, in fact, also, in a certain sense, its enemies too) a humanistic façade, which their motivations and goals otherwise lack. Our alliances with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, our failed interventions in the Middle East, the colonialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are instrumentalized to justify what is presented as legitimate resistance to oppression. But once again, it is our Western brains that respond to such brilliant disputations, well-argued and rational; in contrast, in the conquering spirit of political Islam, the war against the West needs no justification.

The support of these “useful idiots” is the primary cause of the silence of the government regarding the anti-Semitism from “the slums.” For despite its weak electoral presence, this left is extremely influential in the intermediary bodies: it has access to the media, and it is masterful in the art of manipulating the elements of the language of human rights, dripping with pathos. Today, one is permitted to say certain things for which, twenty years ago, or ten, or even just five years ago, one would have been pilloried by the moralistic left: one can even say that there is an anti-Semitism of the far left. But one may still not say that there is an Arab or Muslim anti-Semitism. To talk of this, it is safer to refer only to a “new” anti-Semitism and otherwise to rely on allusions, paraphrases, and innuendo. The smallest slip up, the smallest reference that is too direct, and the obscurantist cabal of modern inquisitors will be unleashed, and the transgressor is immediately sent to roast in the hell of racism, and no pledge of morality or of real motivations, no matter how irrefutable, will let him leave. For answering accusations that grave and justifying oneself requires long and complex explanations. These are incompatible with the immediacy of the media and their inability to communicate subtlety and complexity. And everyone knows that the denial has much less impact than the accusation: as soon as the doubt is launched, one might as well be dead; our leading politicians understood this a long time ago.

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it,” George Orwell once said. The political incapacity to call this anti-Semitism what it is prohibits an analysis of it, in terms of history, anthropology, and religion, and as a result, it prevents the specific and targeted actions that would be necessary to vanquish it. France is sinking daily a little more into a multicultural politics that, involuntarily but inevitably, will be racialist: racialist, if not to say racist, because this culturalist attitude which claims to be inspired by a respect for different cultures is nothing other than the abandonment, sotto voce, of our model of integration, judged to be inaccessible to these populations, which our political leaders, supported by some of our antiracist associations, presume to be incapable of leaving their modes of thought and their archaic habits. We have given up helping these populations or lending them a hand. We have also abandoned them by abandoning the Jews, and in this, we have also lost ourselves.

The murder of Sarah Halimi should be viewed as an alarm that reminds us of who we are. This inertia is not worthy of us. France, the country of the Enlightenment, birthplace of the universal values of human rights, cannot become a country where Jews are attacked and killed as Jews, in the face of general indifference. We are the heirs to a history; we are all responsible for a heritage that goes from Salomon of Troyes through Vichy France, by way of the emancipation of the Jews in 1791 (the first in Europe) and the Dreyfus affair. In view of what we are, in view of what we boast to represent, we do not have the right to stand by without reacting to the hatred faced by our Jewish citizens. It is a matter of our love for France and, especially, our pride in being French.

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