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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Altered Consciousness: Toulouse killings recall echoes of anti-Semitism

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Opinions

I am still shocked by the murder of three children and a teacher at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, France, last Monday. The image of a seven-year-old girl fleeing for her life being shot point-blank in the head is haunting. Since then, a French Jewish teenager was beaten in Paris by anti-Semitic thugs and Jewish graves were desecrated in Nice.
Less than 70 years after the Holocaust, Jews are once again under attack for their religious identity. Certainly Europe has progressed since those dark days; and indeed, the Toulouse murders were more the work of a lone radical, Mohammed Merah, than of an established organization or network.
Still, Jews in France and other European countries live in a state of insecurity and fear. Synagogues, Jewish day schools, community centers, businesses and other organizations are under constant surveillance. People simply cannot lead normal lives with this kind of siege mentality.
What message will Jewish children receive when they have to pass through security cameras and a concrete, barbed wire fence to get into school? Why do Jews need to transverse what seems like a war zone just to enter their temple and worship freely? The answer is that there are some troubled individuals who, for whatever reason, hate Jewish people.
Last summer on a trip to Germany, I visited the New Synagogue, a gorgeous structure located in the heart of Berlin. Armed guards patrolled the building’s premises and to enter one had to pass through a metal detector. The fact that the synagogue was at the heart of the city where the Nazis came to power fueled my disgust.
The fundamental lesson from the Toulouse massacre and similar atrocities is that anti-Semitism in whatever form it takes is utterly unacceptable. It doesn’t matter from where such hatred derives, nor does it matter who the purveyors of such sentiments are. In today’s civilized, enlightened and supposedly tolerant world, there is no moral justification whatsoever for this attitude.
France and other European countries can take additional steps to combat anti-Semitism. Yet there is a limit to how much governments are able to help their Jewish populations. A fundamental psychological shift away from the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiments all too commonplace on the continent is necessary.
If nothing else, the Toulouse killings also underscore the need for the Jewish state. Contrary to the rhetoric of some, Israel is not the cause of anti-Semitism. Rather, it is a cure for it. Israel has always served as a safe haven for Jews to escape persecution, discrimination and oppression in their own countries. In Israel, Jews no longer have to rely on others for their protection and self-preservation. In Israel, they have the ability to shape their own destinies as sovereign and independent agents.
Israel faces a myriad of challenges: the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and potential threats emanating from Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Yet Israel does not need permission to act in self-defense. While affected by its relations with other actors and countries on the world stage, it is the ultimate arbiter of its own fate.
Fortunately, in America Jews are not threatened to the same degree as their counterparts in other, more intolerant nations, yet the lessons derived from recent events are universal in nature and should not be ignored.