Part of the recent heartbreaking events in Paris reached their tragic end today in Israel, when the victims of the attack on the Jewish supermarket were laid to rest in Jerusalem. The leaders of Israel gave moving eulogies with President Rivlin stating, “This is not the way wanted to greet you in Israel.”
Jews have a long history of ending their life’s journey by being buried in the holy land. However, usually those being buried have been much older than the young men cut down by the terrorist in Paris.
The deplorable incidents in Paris have revived a long simmering debate in Israel on Israel’s relationship to Jews outside Israel. We have seen an almost pavlovian reaction by some members of the government (including the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu), calling on the Jews of France to move to Israel. Thereby, allowing Israel to fulfill its traditional role as “the refuge for endangered Jews wherever they are.”
Others have been calling for Israel to find ways of strengthening the French Jewish community, fulfilling what Israel sees as its other role, that of being an advocate for Jews everywhere. These different views represent what has always been a dichotomy in the Zionist world, between those who believe a Jewish State was the place to which all Jews should move, and those who have believe the very existence of a Jewish state would normalize the state of the Jews in the world and result in the near elimination of anti-semitism.
The reality of the past 60 years has proved great fodder for continued debate, with the facts on the ground differing widely from location to location. For the Jews of the United States the existence of Israel, combined with the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust, have diminished overt anti-semitism to the point of being minute. Sadly, in the Arab world, the effect has been just the opposite.
There, anti-semitism increased to the point that almost all of the Jews of the Arab world were forced to find refuge in Israel (some went to France). In Europe, for most of the last 60 years the situation remained more similar to that experienced in the United States. However, that situation began to change over the last twenty years, with the increasing number of Muslims living in Europe and the use of the Jews of Europe as surrogates for the Jews of Israel (who remain more difficult to attack.)
The irony of Muslim attacks on the Jews of Europe is that anytime a Jew is attacked, because s/he is a Jew (in Europe or anywhere else in the world), the fundamental premise of Zionism is strengthened – i.e. that Jews can only be safe if they have a Jewish State.
Trying to make sense of shocking events in Paris over the past few days has been an intellectual challenge. If it had just been another attack on a Jewish institution in France, that would fall into a familiar narrative. If the incident had been only the premeditated attack on a leading French cultural institution that had run afoul of the Muslim obsession of not insulting the prophet Mohammed, then it would have fallen into a very different narrative.
However, a seemingly coordinated attack on both the Jewish community and at a French institution falls into unchartered territory. What is the connection? Why attack Jews and French-Western ideals at the same time? What, if anything, do they have in common?
On one level, there is very little that directly connects the editors of Charlie Hebdo with a random group of Jews who were gunned down in a Jewish supermarket. The connection is provided by Israel and what it has meant to part of the Muslim world. To Muslim fundamentalists, the very establishment of Israel was a Western assault on a part of the world that, to their minds, was meant to remain forever Muslim. Israel’s very success is seen as an affront to their worldview, in much the same way that Charlie Hebdo was seen an assault on Muslim values and sensibilities.
Unfortunately for Israel, its conflict with the Arab world (and the Palestinians in particular) has always been taking place on two planes. First, it has always been about land and nationality – i.e. the conflicting national goals of the Jews/Israelis and the national goals of the Arab states and the Palestinians. The national conflict has alway been solvable. The peace agreement with Egypt proved that fact. The conflict could have been resolved in the 1947, if the Arabs of Palestine had accepted the Partition Plan.
However, some of the main opponents of accepting any compromise were religious figures, such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who opposed any concession. King Abdullah of Jordan, who tried to reach a peace agreement with the young state of Israel, was assassinated in 1951. President Sadat of Egypt also paid with his life (he was murdered by Islamist extremists) for daring to reach a peace agreement with Israel.
In more recent times, it was the bombing by Hamas (an Islamic fundamentalist religious organization) that paved the way for the narrow election victory in 1996 of Benjamin Netanyahu over Shimon Peres, after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fundamentalist, showing that Muslims do not hold a monopoly on those who have prolonged the conflict thanks to misguided religious beliefs.
The questions now remain: what does this mean for policymakers – to the new government in Israel that will be formed after the March 17 elections; to the European nations who must grapple with a multi-cultural Europe; and to the leadership of the United States that has been sending drones to kill the most radical of Muslim fundamentalists (ones who have actively taken up arms against those they see as opponents of Islam.)
The answer is: We have all been fighting the wrong war, with the wrong tools. I am not saying that military action is unnecessary. When someone brandishes a gun to fight, you cannot answer solely with words. However, our fight is not only with those who take up the gun, or bomb in defense of their religion. Our fight is with anyone, from whatever religion, who believes that only their path is the right path.
Our struggle is with those who do not accept the primacy of the nation state over their identification with their community. Our battle is a war of ideas – a war that maintains you can have your religion, I can have mine, or I can be free to have no religion – but my religious beliefs and practices are my business and not those of anyone else.
Since the Iranian revolution and the rise of Iran’s fundamentalist regime there has been ongoing hostility between the West and the fundamentalists in the Muslim world. This struggle has often turned to violence and it has impeded a chance to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We often have heard that extremists is a problem the Muslim world has to resolve. The recent speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, in front of clerics at Al Azhar University, calling for a religious revolution within Islam is a courageous start. However, Sisi’s calls need to be supported. His actions need to be strengthened.
Beyond that there must be a realization throughout the world that if the wave of Islamic terrorism is to end, if Muslims are to be successfully integrated into Europe, if the Israeli-Arab dispute is to be resolved, there must be a concerted worldwide effort to help the leaders of Islam move away from the path they have taken and learn to coexist with other religions and beliefs.
Our military fight may be with the Jihadists, but the larger battle is with fundamentalists -- from whatever religion they come.