Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Europe: Living a Jewish life is full of "everyday acts of courage"

Jeffrey Goldberg interviews Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the Paris representative of the American Jewish Committee.

Via The Atlantic:

Jeffrey Goldberg: You are a European—Romanian-born, German-raised, now bringing up your own family in France—working for an American Jewish organization. What don't American Jews, and others, understand about the current situation facing Europe's Jews?

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: Most American Jews probably do not understand how difficult everyday life is for some European  Jews; that bringing your kids to Jewish school, that going to synagogue, or putting on a kippa in certain areas in public, or going to a kosher supermarket, can be everyday acts of courage.

For the more informed and alert American Jews who know that there is a serious problem of anti-Semitism in Europe, I think there is a misconception on the other end of the spectrum. Some of those American Jews believe history is repeating itself and that we are now in a period that resembles the 1930s. But there is a profound difference [between] the 30s and today, in that the governments of Europe are today not only not anti-Semitic, but that most of them have made it a priority to fight anti-Semitism.

Goldberg: The governments are with the Jews, but are the people?

Rodan-Benzaquen: Yes, the governments are thankfully very outspoken in the fight against anti-Semitism. The people? This is, unfortunately, different. There has been a lack of civil-society mobilization against anti-Semitism. We have not seen massive demonstrations on the streets after the murders of Ilan Halimi in 2006 or after Toulouse in 2012, and one wonders what would have happened if there had only been the attack against the kosher supermarket, and not Charlie Hebdo right before it. Would we have seen 4 million people on the streets demonstrating?

Maybe the attacks this January have served as a wakeup call to France's civil society. Maybe people will understand that Jews have been the canary in the coal mine, that it might start with the Jews, but that it never ends there. Today it will be the Jews, tomorrow journalists and policemen, and then someone else? Maybe people will understand that Prime Minister (Manuel) Valls is right when he says that when Jews are attacked, France is attacked.

Goldberg: You mention Prime Minister Valls. Obviously he is committed to the security needs of the Jewish community. But do you feel comfortable that the political class will continue to be worried about the Jews?

Rodan-Benzaquen: There are probably very few political leaders who are as determined as Prime Minister Valls in combating anti-Semitism. He is pretty unique in this sense.

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