Many, many years ago I sat down at my computer and decided to write a fictional story about what would happen if “Never Again!” became “Again.”
My story took place in a Los Angeles of the not-too-distant-future, sometime between now and “Blade Runner.” As I imagined it, a crashed economy, a charismatic leader and new forms of intrusive technology combined to create a society that once again singled out the Jews, herded them into concentration camps (empty shopping malls) and exterminated them (starvation, bullets, radiation). The story became a long and resolutely unpublished novel, which I called “Again.”
My wild imaginings, I see now, are a Jewish reflex. Given our history, we are prone to see our doom in every negative development. We see the writing on the wall, even when it’s not there. Even when there’s no wall.
The reflex took hold — and how — following the brutal murders in Toulouse, France, last week. Mohammed Merah, a young Muslim fanatic, murdered 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, 3-year-old Gabriel Sandler, 6-year-old Arye Sandler, and Gabriel and Arye’s father, 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, outside their day school, Ozar Hatorah.
Commentators and politicians rushed to describe the tragedy as clear evidence of rampant, inexorable French anti-Semitism. Israeli Knesset members Danny Danon and Ya’akov Katz compared the attack to a pogrom and called for French Jews to emigrate en masse to Israel.
On the Web site Tablet, Michael Moynihan wondered — breathlessly, foolishly — how it was that the world minimized the fact that it was Jews who were murdered in cold blood, motivated by a “toxic anti-Jewish ideology.”
Moynihan warned readers of “a raft of data showing the rise in anti-Jewish feeling in France.”
None of this hysteria honors the dead. All it does is scare the s—- out of the living.
The truth is that there is a “raft” of data showing anti-Semitism decreasing in France. The French, first under President Jacques Chirac and now under President Nicolas Sarkozy, have worked hard and effectively to counter anti-Semitism. After an upsurge in anti-Semitic acts following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, anti-Semitic incidents in France have declined. Last year, they were down 16 percent from the prior year.
The numbers simply don’t support the idea that Toulouse represents the iceberg’s tip, nor did the response. Sarkozy — 57 of whose Jewish family members were killed by the Nazis — immediately went to the school to speak out against the violence and comfort the victims. French people of all faiths, including Islamic leaders, held vigils and press conferences. At the request of Sarkozy, Al Jazeera refused to broadcast video the killer shot while committing his crimes. Yes, that’s how deep-seated and dangerous anti-Semitism is in France — one of the leading Arab-language networks refused to stoke hatred by rebroadcasting a killer’s trophy.
The fact-free hysteria, however, crossed the Atlantic. Interviewed on CNN about the Toulouse killings, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the terror against Jews didn’t surprise him, as 15 percent of respondents in an ADL poll of Americans hold “deeply anti-Semitic beliefs.”
That poll, let’s be frank, is junk. If respondents answer affirmatively to statements like, “Jews tend to stick together,” that’s considered a sign of anti-Semitic attitudes. I gave myself the poll (you can find it at jewishjournal.com), and it turns out I’m something of a Jew-hater myself. Every reputable poll I’ve seen over the past 10 years shows that the one thing Americans can agree on is their affection for Jews and support for Israel. I know, that’s a very bitter pill for some of us to swallow, but we’re just going to have to learn to deal with it.
The killings in France are actually similar to crimes that have happened here in America in recent weeks. The killing on Feb. 26 of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., by a self-styled vigilante, seems to have all the markings of a crime motivated by hate. As does the slaying this week of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five who was beaten with a crowbar in her home in El Cajon and left for dead along with a threatening note to “go back to your country.”
In both cases, more facts will need to come out to determine exactly what happened, but on the face of it, what’s clear is that, whether in France, Florida or California, there have always been, and will always be, twisted individuals willing to murder because they are consumed by hate.
That’s why the killer in Toulouse began his killing spree with French Muslim soldiers. When you divide the world into believers and infidels, Jews are actually in pretty broad company.
But, you ask, what’s so bad about overreacting? First, by failing to acknowledge the progress societies have made, we undercut efforts to build on that progress, to spread the techniques and words that actually do work, and to show gratitude to leaders and legislators that do act on our behalf. Second, by clinging to this notion that the next Holocaust is just around the corner and it’s ours, we may fail to see and respond to other manifestations of hate and bigotry. Finally, we send a message to our children that no matter what the facts are, deep down the world just hates Jews. Talk about building positive identity.
There is no final solution for hate. Deranged individuals feeding off subcultures of prejudice, opportunism and dissatisfaction will always be with us. That’s not the Jewish problem, it’s just a problem, and sometimes a tragedy.