A New Brand Of Antisemitism, From France To Germany To Britain

The targeted murder by a Muslim of an elderly Parisian Jewish woman connects hatred of Jews today to that of Europe's past. And it's not just in France.

Paris march in memory of slain Mireille Knoll on March 28
Paris march in memory of slain Mireille Knoll on March 28


The murder last Friday of Mireille Knoll, an elderly Jewish woman stabbed to death and partly burned after her killers set fire to her small Parisian apartment, has made front-page headlines across across France — for reasons, both past and present.

News reports have noted that the 85-year-old victim of what has been classified as a targeted anti-Semitic attack had, decades earlier, narrowly escaped occupied France's 1942 Vel" d'Hiv Roundup and Nazi deportation. But the brutal killing also took place on the same day as an Islamic terror attack in a supermarket in southern France in which four people were killed — and also almost exactly one year after the murder of another Jewish woman, 65-year-old Sarah Halimi, in the same Parisian neighborhood.

It is neither new nor limited to France.

The similarities between those two murders are indeed striking. Knoll and Halimi each knew their killers, in both cases Muslim neighbors, and were targeted because of their religion. France, which is home to Europe's biggest Jewish community, has seen a rise in violent anti-Semitic acts and crimes in recent years, including the 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket near Paris and the 2012 assault on a Jewish school in Toulouse, both perpetrated by Islamic extremists.

As disturbing as it might be for some in Europe to face, it is undeniable that the most pressing danger facing the Jewish population right now doesn't come from far-right groups but from radicalized Islamic minorities. Many in France are calling this a "new form" of anti-Semitism, but it is neither new nor limited to France.

Germany too is experiencing a rise in anti-Semitic acts, as Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged earlier this year. The case of a Jewish girl being bullied and facing death threats by fellow Muslim pupils in a Berlin school has made its own round of headlines this week in German papers. It's not an isolated case either, coming after reports a few months ago that the son of Wenzel Michalski, the director of Human Rights Watch Germany, had been the victim of anti-Semitism from Muslim children at school, with acts that went from insults, bullying and hitting to a mock execution.​​

"School yards have always been merciless amplifiers of what's been whispered and talked about among adults — and so there is also a reflection and intensification of anti-Jewish and Christian hostility, which is unfortunately preached in many mosques," columnist Matthias Drobinski writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung. Particularly troubling, he adds, is that "school administrations appear to react halfheartedly, powerless, showing the wrong sort of tolerance."

A similar charge of awkward leniency is currently being made in Britain against the Labour Party, with Jewish leaders writing an open letter accusing the party's leader Jeremy Corbyn of "siding with antisemites rather than Jews," after a controversy of an apparent endorsement of an anti-Semitic mural. The open letter blames "the far left's obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel."

We've passed the first basic step of problem-solving — identification.

But the Labour party's problem with anti-Semitism goes deeper than that, according to The Economist. "Another source of Labour's anti-Semitism is British Muslims," the magazine writes before mentioning a poll from last September which found that "55% of Muslims held anti-Semitic attitudes, with 27% believing that "Jews get rich at the expense of others," compared with 12% of the general population."

The fact that these cases are being reported on and are sparking national debates — unlike what Le Figaro described as "media silence" following Sarah Halimi's murder last year — shows that we've passed the first basic step of problem-solving — identification. Now it's time to find solutions.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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