Opinion: Again

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 The story became a long and resolutely unpublished novel, which I called “Again.”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.

Homeland Security official briefs Jewish leaders after Toulouse

A top Homeland Security official briefed Jewish groups in the wake of the deadly attack in Toulouse, France.

Bill Flynn, an assistant undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke to over 120 leaders in a phone call on Wednesday, two days after lone gunman believed to be an Islamist extremist killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in the southern French city.

Paul Goldenberg, who heads the Security Communication Network, the group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that organized the call, said he and Flynn reviewed security procedures, resources and protocols. 

“The most important element here is that Jewish communities are very much remaining open for business, we will do so in a much more vigilant matter,” Goldenberg told JTA.

In addition to the JFNA and SCN, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations helped organize the call. 

Goldenberg said that requests for SCN training sessions have increased since the shooting, and that he is traveling to six cities over the next two weeks.

“There is no imminent or specific threat regarding the American Jewish community,” he said. “We will remain concerned about the lone wolf and those that are acting independent of organized groups.”

Sharon Vows More Targeted Killings

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is vowing to step up targeted killings of suspected Palestinian terrorists. Israel’s practice of targeted killings is not new, but Sharon’s statements again threw a spotlight on the controversial policy.

He made the comment following a terror attack Dec. 27 at a West Bank yeshiva, in which four students were killed and 10 others wounded. Reflecting the odd vagaries of Middle East politics, his vow also came as Israeli and Palestinian officials began reviewing the latest draft of a U.S. "road map" for achieving peace in the region.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Dec. 29, Sharon said that he and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had agreed to strike at terrorists, those who help them and those who send them. Also speaking at the meeting, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein criticized the targeted assassinations policy, saying it must only be used as a last resort, when all other attempts to arrest wanted Palestinians have failed.

In the deadly yeshiva attack, two Palestinian gunmen dressed in Israeli army uniforms and armed with rifles and hand grenades infiltrated the settlement of Otniel south of Hebron. They entered the yeshiva through the kitchen, firing at students and guests who had gathered for Shabbat dinner.

One of the students on kitchen duty managed to lock the door leading from the kitchen to the dining room, preventing the terrorists from entering the dining room. All four of the students who were in the kitchen were killed.

One gunman was killed in a half-hour shootout with Israeli troops. The second terrorist fled but was found later and killed by Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it came in retaliation for the slaying a day earlier of one of its leaders in the Jenin area.

The four Israelis killed in the attack were buried Dec. 29. They were identified as Pvt. Yehuda Bamberger, 20, of Karnei Shomron; Zvi Zieman, 18, Re’ut; Gavriel Hoter, 17, Alonei Habashan, and Staff Sgt. Noam Apter, 23, Shilo.

In another development, an Israeli undercover unit arrested three members of Islamic Jihad near Hebron on the same day the four Israelis were buried, Army Radio reported. Mofaz said soldiers have arrested more than 1,200 Palestinians in the past two months in what he described as an unprecedented campaign against suspected terrorists.

The leader of Hamas on Dec. 27 called for additional attacks against Israel. During a rally of 30,000 supporters in Gaza City, Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin said discussions between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement about temporarily suspending attacks on Israeli civilians will not prove fruitful.

"The march of martyrs will move forward," Yassin said. Activists at the rally blew up a model of an Israeli tank and burned U.S., British and Israeli flags.

Israel blamed Arafat for the Otniel attack, saying the Palestinian Authority has failed to clamp down on terror. A Palestinian official said Israel’s policies, including the targeted killings, were to blame for the ongoing attacks.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials began reviewing the latest draft of an international diplomatic initiative aimed at ending more than two years of violence. The draft of the road map was given to the two sides after President Bush met in Washington in December with other members of the so-called diplomatic "Quartet" — Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Israel persuaded Bush to agree not to publish the draft until after Israeli elections are held Jan. 28. In the meantime, each side was expected to review the draft and draw up responses.

According to the Jerusalem Post, which published details of the road map, there were few changes in the revised draft. According to the newspaper, the first stage of the road map calls for both sides to call for an end to violence and commit to stopping incitement.

The plan also calls for a complete freeze on Israeli settlement activity and for visible steps by the Palestinians to fight terror. The Palestinian Authority is called on to undertake political and security reforms.

The second stage begins with Palestinian elections and concludes at the end of 2003, with the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. It also calls for an international conference convened by the Quartet.

The third stage, lasting until the end of 2005, calls for a second international conference that would include final-status talks on borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Political sources in Jerusalem were reportedly satisfied with the latest version, Israel Radio reported. Though Israel has begun drawing up its response, it is not expected to be submitted until after the elections, the report said.