Nice through Israeli eyes

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Police inspect the bullet-ridden truck used in the Nice attack. [The National/YouTube]

As though on cue, Israelis are always quick to offer advice to Western allies following an Islamist terrorist attack. After Nice, euractiv.com News Editor Joel Schalit muses on why they do it, and what can be really learned from Israel.

Joel Schalit is News Editor of euractiv.com, and comments on European affairs for Israel’s i24news. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming collection, Everywhere But There: Essays on Europe’s Diversity Crisis. His most recent book is Israel vs. Utopia.

We told you so. You should have known better. If only you’d listened to us. Such are the refrains attributed to Israelis, following every Islamist terror attack. Whether it is Europe, or the US, the reproach is the same.

This condescending didacticism comes from a conservative place. Due to the ongoing Occupation, and foreign sympathy for the Palestinians, Israelis tend to share their resentment this way, whenever the opportunity arises.

Witness the kinds of statements of solidarity one hears from the country’s political echelon, about Israel’s experience with Arab terror, and the patronising sorts of analyses that can be found in the Diaspora-oriented English and French-language editions of Israeli newspapers.

The implication, of course, is that if Europeans suffer enough, at the hands of enemies that can be, in a tabloid way, conflated with those of Israel, eventually they will be won over to the hard-line worldview that prevails in Jerusalem, and will show more support in diplomatic matters concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It’s an understandable scenario, given the hegemony of pro-settlement politics in the country, and Israeli memories of racism in Europe. The resentment runs deep, and has pushed us to develop compensatory strategies, such as portraying ourselves as more capable in defence matters than the West.

Surveying Israeli media over the weekend, as it processed the Nice attack, the reproaches appeared like clockwork, as they do on every occasion when ISIS hits Europe. There were little to no analyses of the domestic sources of the violence. The story was only about Islam, with a capital I.

Never mind, of course, the questionable religiosity of the attacker, the racism that inspires French Arabs to violence, and the growing social inequality there and elsewhere in Europe. All things which, of course, Jews should be familiar with, given their experiences of pre-World War II Europe, but which Israelis conveniently forget in such instances.

You might as well have been reading Marine Le Pen, who, on Friday, as though having struck gold, urged the French state to declare war on Islam. As though it hadn’t already, to many of the country’s ten million Muslims, not coincidentally the largest such community in Europe.

From Le Pen’s perspective, ISIS, and its “murderous ideology that we let develop in our country” — as Politico quoted her statement on Facebook — are perceived as the root cause of the wave of terror attacks France has endured. Not an especially unique observation, for the National Front leader, but typical of the racist analyses she disseminates.

If only politics was reducible to faith. The anti-intellectualism of Len Pen, and her appeal to racial prejudice, are what matter here. As long as we can blame the violence on a religion, there is a legitimate basis to discriminate against an ethnic group. It’s not rocket science.

The best that President Hollande could do, in response, was to announce the deployment of an extra 120,000 security personnel. There was nothing ideologically distinct about this gesture, that could serve as an alternative to Le Pen’s scapegoating of French Muslims.  Yet, as usual, she was the only one to communicate a vision of how to move forward, albeit one informed by hate.

Fascists are good at filling vacuums, by identifying the ideological deprivation of liberalism in matters of both security and citizenship, particularly on the centre-left. Undoubtedly, the Nice attack was a big win for her, politically, no matter what. The days of France’s governing Socialists are obviously numbered.

For minorities, especially, it’s an exasperating situation, particularly for someone like me, an Israeli with a French family, none of whom, despite rising fear of French Muslims, would, to the best of my knowledge, ever vote for the National Front. Having lost a significant number of relatives to the death camps, they still feel too close to the Holocaust to go brown.

And that’s why, ironically, despite my reservations, I find myself drawn to reading Israeli newspapers after Islamist terror attacks in Europe. Not because of Israel’s superior experience fighting terror, but, I think, a sense of stability, however perverse, that comes with dispatches from a society in which the threat of mass carnage has been around so long that it feels almost normal.

The headline in an analysis published in Haaretz on Saturday, said it all: “Nice Attack Highlights European Impotence in the Face of Terror.” My first impulse was to conclude, “There you go. Another post-facto Israeli expression of superiority on security matters.”

But as I read the Anshel Pfeffer-penned piece through, I began to realise it was on to something a little more profound. Though it mostly focused on how much better prepared Israel is for such attacks, the article did mention the disenfranchisement of French Muslims, as a contributing factor, and noted that the National Front, unfortunately, are the only party exercising ideological leadership.

Indeed, this is the sort of insight that one can glean, at times like this, from the Israeli press, a reminder that organizations like  the National Front are always the biggest beneficiaries of events like Nice, because there is no political horizon to look towards.

Now drawn into to an endless War on Terror, it seems as if the only thing the French can do is perpetuate it, by finding new ways to scapegoat the weakest members of their own society who, regardless of their fellow Muslims’ complicity in the killing, do not deserve to be collectively punished.

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