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The Paris Massacre

November 15, 2015 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

The scenes of death – whether in Paris or Hebron, Jerusalem or New York – should serve as a warning to us all.

The day is already called Black Friday – a day which will long be remembered for its barbaric cruelty and its attack on the very fiber of Western civilization.

On Friday night at least 129 people were brutally murdered and more than 350 people wounded in a coordinated series of attacks which rippled across a half-dozen locations in the city of Paris. In one of them, four terrorists armed with assault rifles shouting "Allahu akbar" stormed in during a concert by the US rock group Eagles of Death Metal and executed hostages one by one.

In the aftermath of the most deadly violence on French soil since World War II, the Eiffel Tower shut down “indefinitely.” The Louvre closed its doors. A country of cherished secular freedoms outlawed public gatherings until at least Thursday.

France has vowed revenge for the attacks. President Francois Hollande deemed the shootings and bombings "an act of war." He declared a state of emergency and took the unprecedented step of closing all borders late Friday after gunmen opened fire at multiple locations. He said early Saturday, "We will lead the fight, and we will be ruthless."

Around the globe, people are gathering to mourn for the victims of Friday’s attacks, holding candlelit vigils, singing la Marseillaise and leaving flowers and messages at French embassies the world over. Several national landmarks were also lit up in the French Tricolore.

The media is also suggesting a new slogan to express the shared pain and revulsion against these horrific acts of terrorism in France. It was just over ten months ago that the Western world declared that an attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, was an attack on all of us. A slogan swept the globe: “I am Charlie”. Today the new refrain, offered by political leaders spanning countries around the globe, is “We are all France.”

The one phrase which unfortunately is not given equal prominence and yet is far more relevant, the phrase which gets to the heart of this tragedy and identifies its root cause, is the one that in the aftermath of Black Friday needs at long last to shake the somnambulant statesmen from their indifferent reveries and wake up the silent leaders from their apathetic response to the terrorism which has been raging in the only democratic country in the Middle East. The world needs finally to understand “We are all Israel.”

It was no mere coincidence that Black Friday in Paris was also the day of a tragic funeral. The victims were Rabbi Yaakov Litman and his son Netanel who were slain on the way to a Shabbat celebration for the forthcoming wedding of the Rabbi’s daughter Sarah. They were murdered in an Islamic terror attack in the Hebron hills by terrorists from a vehicle stopped on the side of the road. This time innocent Jewish victims died by gunfire. In the past weeks there were many other murders and woundings by stabbing, indiscriminate acts of violence brutally carried out with indifference to age, gender or location.

For them the world did not cry out in shared pain. For them the world looked only for “reasons” – the supposedly civilized way of justifying unforgivable acts of terror. For them the world was able to excuse the inexcusable, to pardon the unpardonable, to defend the indefensible.

“I do not distinguish between terrorism and terrorism. No terrorism is justifiable."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, speaking at the funerals of Netanel and Yaakov Litman, made the point clearly. Addressing hundreds of mourners, the president said there is no difference between terror attacks in Israel and those abroad.

“I do not distinguish between terrorism and terrorism. No terrorism is justifiable. There is no terrorism that is more justified or less justified. The scenes of death and bloodshed we have witnessed in Paris, throughout the Middle East, and here in our country, should serve as a warning to us all. Whether in Paris or Hebron, Jerusalem or New York, we must fight a bitter and stubborn struggle against those who massacre innocent people, against those who murder in cold-blood.”

That was well said. But what needs to be added is the clear linkage between the fanaticism which led to the horrific massacre in France and its predecessor in Israel to which the world closed its eyes because its victims were only Jews. How long will it take for Europe and the rest of the world to understand that “We are all Israel.”

Jews have always been “the canary bird in the coal mine”. It is a famous analogy which comes from coal miners who would carry a canary down into the mine tunnels with them, knowing that if dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, providing a clear warning to act before they too would perish. History has shown us that Jews play the same role for civilization. Jews are invariably selected as first victims. All too often they are seen as expendable – victims whose murderers need not be punished. It took time before the world acknowledged that Hitler’s final solution for the Jews was but a first step which threatened all of civilized mankind.

How long must we wait until the world understands that “We are all Israel” – and the fanatic extremists who shout Allahu akbar as they stab innocents in Jerusalem will all too quickly find their way not only to France but to all the surviving representatives of civilized values, faiths and cultures?

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