Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal columnist, says he was “almost grateful” for the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris in January in which four Jews were killed because it demonstrated that Europe has a problem with anti-Semitism.
Now with the attack on the kosher supermarket, I think [the anti-Semitism is] at last out in the open, and in that sense I’m almost grateful that this happened, that at last I think Europe is coming to recognize that it has a real problem with anti-Semitism that can’t be denied or can’t be passed off as a function of a reaction to Israeli policy.
Stephens, a neoconservative who is also deputy editorial page editor of the Journal, said the attacks on the supermarket and the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo proved that the rightwing understanding of terrorism is right: it comes out of a “clash of civilizations,” because Arab and Muslim societies have fundamental differences with the west on such core values as freedom of speech. The attacks disproved the leftwing view of radical Islamism: that these attacks grow out of western policies in the Middle East, from support for Israel to the invasion of Iraq.
Stephens makes his comments at minute 36 of this video broadcast on C-Span last weekend from a panel on the French terrorist attacks on February 18 at the French-American Foundation in New York (which cost $50 a head to attend). Here is the entirety of his analysis of the January 9 attack on the kosher supermarket, in which Muslim extremist Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jewish hostages before he was killed by police:
The attack on the kosher supermarket or the kosher grocery I think also ought to be an occasion for a certain amount of clarity. I started covering the Middle East when I was based in Brussels for the Wall Street Journal in the late 1990’s and early part of the last decade. And even then and especially after the outbreak of the so-called second intifada in the fall of 2000, I sensed that there was a great deal of anti-Semitism on European streets and it was anti-Semitism coming in both a kind of vulgar and high-tone variety, the vulgar variety which is the sort you would encounter if you walk through my largely Muslim neighborhood in downtown Brussels towards the canal but also a high-toned variety which typically went by the anti-Zionist catchphrases, but anti-Zionist catchphrases that had a weird reflection in traditional anti-Semitic tropes. Just to give you an example of what I mean, I’ll never forget shortly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, The Economist had an editorial — one of their leaders, and the Economist is a serious magazine, maybe the best magazine in the world — there was a line that said Israelis are a superior people — I’m not sure if I’m quoting this exactly but I’m getting the spirit of it largely right– the Israelis are a superior people, their talents are above the ordinary, but they must curb their greed for other people’s land. And I thought, Boy, if that’s not an antisemitic trope: those clever Jews, superior, but greedy.
There was a great deal of that. It was very hard to sit in Brussels and have dinner time conversations with the class of commissioners and foreign policy people in Brussels and not get a great deal of this. So now with the attack on the kosher supermarket, I think it’s at last out in the open. and in that sense I’m almost grateful that this happened, that at last I think Europe is coming to recognize that it has a real problem with anti-Semitism that can’t be denied or can’t be passed off as a function of a reaction to Israeli policy.
Stephens’s comments are reminiscent of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in 2008 that the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. had been good for Israel. “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” he said, because these events “swung American public opinion.”
I recommend the entire conversation at the French-American Foundation. Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director of Le Monde and an opinion writer for The International New York Times, is fascinating. She says that French Jews were shocked by Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for them to move to Israel and that it was a “positive” sign that Jewish organizations at last broke with Israeli policy and rebuked Netanyahu.
Watching this panel on C-SPAN, I found support for my belief that Israeli actions are driving the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. If classical anti-Semitism has an implacable Christian religious character, if 19th and 20th century anti-Semitism had a sociological-reactionary character that was also implacable and bigoted, this anti-Semitism is focused on Israeli actions. No prejudice is justifiable, and anti-Zionists must be sure to distinguish between criticizing the Jewish state and criticizing Jews. But as Kauffmann makes clear, the identification by Jewish organizations of all Jews with support for Israeli actions is dangerous.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz for Netanyahu point.