The Islamist radicals who murdered 17 people in two attacks in Paris last week targeted, on the one hand, an irreverent magazine and, on the other, the Jews. Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher might not seem to us to belong in the same category, but to the killers they were both the source and symbol of humiliations to be avenged by blood.
Not unlike the 9/11 attacks, last week’s killings hit a nerve that earlier murders of Jews by French Muslims did not. The French government this week deployed 10,000 troops to protect Jewish communal and other sensitive religious sites, an unprecedented militarization of security in the country. Perhaps it is a down payment on remarks French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg before the attacks: “The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” Valls said.
Although the world seemed to rally more in reaction to the slaughter of the satirists — indeed, most have frankly come late to acknowledging the history of violence against French Jewry these last few years — we take the word of Valls and other French leaders that the world’s third largest Jewish community has a secure home in France, and that they believe “France will no longer be France” if Jews emigrate. In that light, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for French Jews to move to Israel, while based on the need to protect lives, could come across as cynical and crass, particularly alongside elbowing his way to the front of the solidarity march on Sunday in Paris. Netanyahu did not display Israel’s best face, and some young Jews in France feel that a mass emigration to Israel would amount to the abandonment of one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, as well as a capitulation in the face of terror.
A satisfactory long-term response to the threat of Islamist terror requires a balancing act that neither Europe nor the United States has perfected: between free speech and security against those who would commit violence, between freedom of religion (and non-religion) and protection from those who would use religion to coerce and even kill others. If France and Europe can begin to strike that balance they will have taken a large step against extremism — left, right and Islamist — that is shaking the continent’s foundations.