After The Terror, A Singular Challenge For France

Following a Sunday that may have restored our collective faith in humanity, the hard work for France and all of Europe begins in earnest. Will the rare burst of unity last?

Paris' Place de la République on Jan. 11
Paris' Place de la République on Jan. 11
Etienne Lefebvre

PARIS — What happened yesterday was truly a unique event. We can only hope that, in both Europe and France, it will mark a new beginning. European leaders came to walk alongside President François Hollande and predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, displaying their solidarity with France after last week's terrorist acts. There were also other noteworthy heads of states present, including those of Israel and Palestine.

This Europe, which is so often criticized for being just a single large economy, demonstrated that it's much more than that. That it must be a lot more than that. Confronted with barbarism, it remembered where it came from. European construction was launched 60 years ago to guarantee peace and democracy. Today, Europe must face up to new challenges, all the while seeing its prosperity undermined.

As Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pointed out, Europe will have to equip itself with new shared instruments to guarantee its security, both at its doors and within its borders. Likewise, all the countries represented yesterday will have to show their determination anywhere and everywhere terrorism takes root, they who let Syria down.

And for France in particular, last week's events are a crossroads, in a country eaten away by doubt and division, caught in an endless spiral of crisis. Yet again, it's in the face of terror and fear that the French remember the values that make France. The incredible international impact of this series of killings surprised the country of Enlightenment. The execution of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, police officers and other innocent victims has inspired the country. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who sees her country torn apart over immigration, says she is impressed by the reaction of the French people, it's not just words.

This exceptional global support requires France to measure up to what it symbolizes: a republic where people from any religion and origin form a pluralistic, secular nation that rejects racism and fanaticism. But getting there will be a challenge. After a regenerative Sunday, there will be a rude awakening. Arguments will resurface. The government and religious leaders will have to meet rising expectations. The imperative of security must lead to effective solutions, to rejecting the demagogical proposals that will undoubtedly flourish. The left will have to be pragmatic and avoid lazy idealism. The right will have to be a constructive opposition force, guarding against extremism.

Are these pious wishes? Exceptional situations require exceptional responses.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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