Jeremy Brier is a barrister, writer and former Parliamentary Candidate.
The early motto of 2015 seems to be: all’s well that trends well. Within seconds of the hostage situation unfolding at a Kosher supermarket in Paris, a well-meaning campaign began to spread “#JeSuisJuif” on Twitter. The hope was to repeat the success of “#JeSuisCharlie” which had captured the public imagination in the preceding hours. But it was never going to work out quite like that – and despite some initial success it lacked weight in numbers.
Many Jews expressed surprise at this. But the difficulty with the “#JeSuisJuif” banner is that – rightly or wrongly – it appears to allude to a pointed political position, not to a general moral platitude. Identification with Jews is to identify with those who are on the front line of the battle against Islamism. And while many individuals expressed their sympathies for the Jewish victims in Paris, the broader societal response has been a more neutralised one. Far harder to name the cause of the terror, and easier to stand more generally in favour of freedom, unity, togetherness, peace.
“#JeSuisCharlie” is a laudable expression, but it allows everyone to fit their narrative into the slogan. Whether you be a writer, a cartoonist, a Kosher butcher or the local peace-loving imam, you can be Charlie too. Even Mahmoud Abbas could march along with it, oblivious to his healthy record of locking up journalists in Ramallah for crimes of free speech.
But to stand up and say “I am a Jew”, one must necessarily associate oneself directly with a people who, since the 1990s, have suffered appalling violence in France. The butchery in the Kosher supermarket takes its place in a long line of too readily forgotten horrors, including the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the murder of Jewish children in Toulouse and attacks at French synagogues earlier in 2014. One inescapable truth underlies this: the first but not final target of Islamist extremism is always the Jews.
Jews are viewed by the Jihadists as the apotheosis of Western values and, as such, remain their principal bêtes noires. Their beliefs are the foundation stone of Judeo-Christian morality on which Western society was built, and Jews have long been a key part of Western civilisation, Capitalists and Communists alike, leaders in science, technology, media and politics. And now, the great victims of history dare to maintain a nuclear-armed democracy on the doorstep of the Islamic world, where women drive and gays marry, where military might is deployed to defeat Islamist threats.
By declaring “I am a Jew”, one is not just posturing against all forms of violence and in favour of freedom. One is necessarily taking a purposeful stand on the critical moral question in modern life, that you are on the side of those in the vanguard of the fight for Western civilisation, asserting your values in the face of the Jihadist threat.
After decades of relativist education, during which Western liberals have been taught that it is unacceptable to assert one moral paradigm as “better” than another, it has become socially acceptable to be in favour of “freedom” and “peace”, but more awkward to face the underlying questions. What to do about the enemies of freedom? What if war is the price of that peace?
Standing as we always do at the forefront of the battleline, Jews have inevitably re-evaluated their safety. As Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said recently: “Up and down the country, at Shabbat dinner, I’m sure one topic of conversation tonight will be ‘Are we safe here?’.” There is only one answer to that question: We are not safe here. We are just safer here than we are in many other places.
As an island nation with closer connections with the USA and a proud history of freedom, the UK is not immune from antisemitism, but it is a less fundamental part of our discourse – whereas, in mainland Europe, Jews are frequently the scapegoat, British Jews have more readily been marginalised than centralised. The actress Tracy Ann Oberman recently tweeted a story told to her by a German friend which sums it up: “In my country they gassed the Jews. In England they just barred them from the golf club”. Fine by us. Our own golf clubs serve better food anyway.
But it is naive to think that this safety can endure, unchallenged. Rapidly expanding Muslim populations and the continued blurring of anti-Zionism and antisemitism will mean that Jews face ever-increasing hostility. The real indication of our safety will not be whether there are more attacks on Jews. It will be how people respond to them. Will the Chattering Classes realise that the fight of the Jews is also their fight? Or will Jews instead be blamed for being in the thick of disorder once more? Whilst it’s good news that everyone is Charlie now, we need them to be Yoav and Yohan too.