J’accuse! – I Accuse!

Front page cover of the newspaper L’Aurore of Thursday 13 January 1898, with the letter J’accuse...!, written by Émile Zola about the Dreyfus affair. (Photo credit: Public domain/Wikipedia
Front page cover of the newspaper L’Aurore of Thursday 13 January 1898, with the letter J’accuse…!, written by Émile Zola about the Dreyfus affair. (Photo credit: Public domain/Wikipedia)

In 1898, as French-Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus languished behind bars in solitary confinement after a botched misrepresentation of justice that saw him court-martialed for treason on account of his Jewish background – preeminent novelist and playwright, Emile Zola sprung to his defense with his seminal and jarring letter of accusation, splashed on the front pages of influential Paris daily, L’Aurore.

J’accuse! – I Accuse!

Simple yet powerful, Zola laid bare the gross miscarriage of justice and incessant antisemitism sweeping the Republic that endangered the very tenets and democratic values that post-Napoleon France claimed to epitomize.

And now, mere days after terrorists, French citizens purporting to act in the name of Islam, killed 12 at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and then an additional 4 at a Jewish supermarket, the durability of French, nay European democracy is once more coming into question.

But this was not an isolated event. The pressure cooker was boiling for a while, and it was only a matter of time before it burst:

Europe’s fast growing Muslim minority has alarmed politicians and laypeople across the continent; for their rigid and conspicuous refusal to integrate into society, for importing Islamic antisemitism and for exporting young and healthy men and women to man the Islamic State’s front lines in Syria and Iraq, among other things.

 Therefore, in the spirit of the times and less than a day after the end of last week’s terror spree, J’accuse – I accuse.

I accuse the the French government of completely failing its Jews.

Instead of beefing up security in heavily Jewish neighborhoods (especially in the wake of the 2012 Toulouse attack) and taking an effective hardline stance against extremist imams and suspected Islamist terrorists, France, like most of Europe, is paralyzed by overt political correctness and does not dare offend the religious sensibilities of its increasingly radicalized Muslim minority, even at the expense of the security of it’s own citizens.

If and when France’s 400,000 strong Jewish community dwindles to a handful in the coming years, the blame will rest first and foremost with the France’s leaders.

I accuse the media of shallow, populist reporting, pandering to soapified political correctness and a strikingly oblivious misrepresentations of the facts.

We have another 4 dead Jews whose blood is being wiped as we speak from the floor of the supermarket where they went to do pre-shabbat shopping. Killed of course, because they were Jews, and not because they drew an offensive picture of the prophet Muhammad.

Judging by the coverage of the attack, hidden behind titles such ‘kosher supermarket raid’ and ‘second siege’ one could assume that the perpetrators only had beef with the kosher food on sale at store – and not the Jews inside.

And indeed, Jewish blood could not be cheaper, when a slew of opinion articles posted in FP, US media outlets and the Guardian quickly rush to paint France’s 5 million strong Muslim ‘minority’ as the real victims in the entire story with pre-programmed knee-jerk condemnations of any perceived Islamaphobia that might result in the future.

Who are the victims? Who are the perpetrators?

I accuse France’s Muslim community, of not doing enough to distance themselves from the fundamentalists within their fold, and not doing enough to prevent the radicalization of their youth.

Of course, there does exist a hostile atmosphere against Europe’s Muslims. Some of it is unwarranted, and castigating individual Muslims for the actions of their co-coreligionists is wrong and hypocritical.

However it’s no coincidence that after attacking the Charlie Hebdo offices – a symbol of Western ideals and free speech – the terrorists went straight for a Jewish deli during its busiest hour.

As a community, Muslim laymen, leaders and figureheads must come out en-masse to condemn the actions of those who they claim have ‘hijacked’ the Islamic faith and those who kill in their name and in the name of their prophet.

For if they don’t, not only will their silence be deafening.

No, such silence can only be interpreted as tacit approval and thus, indirect culpability for the actions that we witness today – actions which will probably become more violent and spectacular in the coming years.

I accuse for all those whose blood cries out from the violence of the past few days, and for all those whose blood is yet to spilled in the name of radical Islam.

J’accuse.

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The rebirth of the Jewish People

The rebirth of the Jewish people didn’t occur in the dour, moist halls of the UN buildings amid eager lobbyists and budding ambassadors in NY in 1947.

It didn’t occur either in the cramped salon of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, where all the esteemed dignitaries of the pre-state Yishuv had gathered in 1948 to hear Ben-Gurion’s ominous announcement.

It didn’t occur during the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and it didn’t occur in ’67, or in ’73 or in ’82.

No, the rebirth of the Jewish people occurred on the streets of Jerusalem, on a Friday afternoon in early 2015, amid the sounds of heavy psychedelic trance music, dancers, onlookers, shoppers, screaming vendors and the long expected winter snow – acquiescing to the pleas of the holy city’s hopeful kids and falling around like confetti at a rock concert.

The rebirth of the Jewish people wasn’t an auspicious occasion. Perhaps it was never destined to be. Amid a long, onerous history of pogroms and exile, major events and specific dates – be it 522 BCE, 70 AD, 1492, Sep 1, 1939 – this ancient people’s rebirth seemed to crawl upon them slowly and completely unnoticed. No brouhaha or announcement, in fact, there wasn’t even a news story, and suffice to say that the moment – like the crowd of onlookers that quickly dissipated as the music died down – will be quickly forgotten, as if it passed by like the blink of an eye.

But I noticed.

I noticed the group of American Birthright kids dressed head to toe in leather jackets and North Face gear starting their impromptu dance beside a wine shop in the market that was blasting agitated trance beats.

I noticed the hippies – recently returned from their post army trip in India – joining in and grooving to the unrelenting bass – their long, wavy dreadlocks and colourful wrist bands accumulating snow like mosquitoes attracted to a light.

I noticed the security guard, still on duty, jumping in to the middle of the circle to show off his skills – his concealed pistol all but invisible to the untrained eye.

I saw the old rabbi – a shtetl caricature straight out of a Bashevis-Singer novel – look on with a hearty smile – seemingly escaping, but for a fleeting moment, ponderous and pious thoughts that still weighed him down; the burden of mitzvoth and heavy bags of chicken breast and challah rolls.

I noticed the swelling crowd of bystanders – some locals, some tourists, some out-of-towners, some shop-keepers and some other kids from the birthright group – too self conscious to join in the festivities, but happy to document it from the side with their I-phones.

I noticed the two giggling teenage girls dressed in long, tight jeans and not-quite-high heels, tentatively ‘throwing themselves out there’ in the centre of the circle to do a few twirls.

I noticed an old couple, grey hair and woollen scarves, grooving along with a child – neither of them sticking to the beat, but still looking as if they were having a lot of fun.

I noticed a young couple, 25 at most, throwing a little toddler – wrapped in layers and layers of pink – into the air like a defiant sign to the gods; or to destiny; or to whoever happened to witness the scene unfold: ‘Look, we are here. We’re alive. We’re not going anywhere. And we’re having a great time!’

And, as I was noticing the revival of the Jewish people, in Jerusalem’s ‘Mahane Yehuda Market’ – by now covered in a layer of white snow to grace the tranquillity of the oncoming Shabbat – I asked myself: Could the half-dead skeletons of Buchenwald imagine such a scene, as they were being liberated by Allied troops – or was it beyond their wildest dreams?

What about the mothers who cowered underneath their beds, smothering the mouths of their newborn babies so as to stifle any sounds, while Chmielnicki and his men raped, pillaged and murdered on the streets outside; could they believe such a scene was possible?

How about the Jewish community of York as they sought refuge from their fellow Britons in the royal castle above the city in 1190. As they barricaded themselves in the keep from the bloodthirsty mob outside, could they have believed that one day Jews will walk around without fear and dance in the markets?

What about the Jews of Babylon, who after months of forced marches collapsed by the banks of the Euphrates to weep over their beloved city’s former splendour: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.’ Could they believe in such a future?

Or even the Jews of Hebron, who lived in an uneasy peace with their neighbours, until their community was decimated in the riots of 1929. Could they have imagined such a genuine, simple, impromptu outburst of joy – predicated upon nothing at all?

The cries, anguish and torment of the past seemed to melt away with the pit-patter of snowflakes obscuring the dirt on the street below with a blanket of cleanliness, together with the harsh, lurid juxtaposition of random shoppers coming together and breaking out into spontaneous dance.

The rebirth of the Jewish People will not be recorded in the books of history.
It was not a seminal event.

But it did not go by unnoticed.