May the Shofar Awaken France

Hundreds of French Jews left their homes Sunday, despite the curfew, to attend a mass tefillah in a Paris shul. The ceremony opened with the recitation of a few passages of Tehillim and included a prayer for the speedy and complete recovery for the 300 who were wounded in Friday night’s terrorist carnage, including nearly 100 who are in very critical condition. Words of chizuk were delivered by a number of Rabbanim, including the Chief Rabbi of France, and the assembly was brought to a close with the blowing of the shofar.

“The shofar has the power to awaken us,” explained Rabbi Moshe Levin, director of the Conference of European Rabbis and an adviser to France’s Chief Rabbi. “We need to awaken the people, the government, to understand what’s happening.”

France is reeling from the carnage of Friday night. It is living in fear that more attacks will follow. It faces a period of national mourning as it goes through the heart-wrenching process of burying the 132 who were killed. And it is asking itself what it did, or didn’t do, to create a monster in its midst that threatens to undermine one of the world’s great liberal democracies.

In expressing his hope that the shofar will awaken France to the reality of radical Islam, Rabbi Levin points to many examples of how the country was in a deep slumber over the past decade. Or perhaps it just pretended to be asleep to avoid having to acknowledge the problem and deal with it.

Nearly 10 years ago, terrorists kidnapped Ilan Chalimi, a young French Jew of Moroccan descent, and tortured him to death. That should have set off alarms, but didn’t. Then there was the shooting attack on the school in Toulouse. Instead of recognizing that terrorism was a threat to all of France, the media and the government preferred to view it as a “Jewish problem.”

At the same time, a country that prides itself in its democratic traditions, in protecting individual freedoms, looked the other way when Jews could no longer walk the streets wearing a kippah, when they couldn’t come back to shul for Minchah on Shabbos, when they were subjected to anti-Semitic barbs at stores, health-care centers, banks — everywhere.

The point isn’t, chalilah, to justify the attacks of Friday night. Rather, it is to point out that the signals were there. The seeds of the attacks were planted years ago and nurtured by a society that refused to confront radical Islam when it was still manageable.

And France is certainly not the only country that is dozing at the wheel. Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, this week played the role of Islamic State spokeswoman when she blamed Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians for Friday night’s terrorist rampages.

“To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East in which … the Palestinians see that there is no future: We [the Palestinians/ Arabs] must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” she said in an interview with Swedish broadcast media.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry in Yerushalayim correctly called Wallström’s “shockingly brazen” comments part of her “systematic bias” against the Jewish state. “The Swedish foreign minister is systematically biased against Israel and displays outright hostility by pointing to any link between the terror attacks in Paris and the difficulties between Israel and the Palestinians.”

(It’s no coincidence that on October 30, 2014, Sweden became the first Western European country to formally recognize the “State of Palestine.”)

For years, Europe’s bias has harmed Israel, which is accused of using “disproportionate violence” whenever it strikes back at those who fire missiles at its citizens, or is targeted for boycotts and “labeling” that is aimed at forcing it to accept the dictates of the Palestinians. But now Europe’s bias is hurting itself, because it doesn’t allow it to understand the real problem and how to solve it.

It is our sincere hope that the tragedy that has struck France will awaken it to the need to recognize the enemy and fight it. As Hamodia’s military correspondent points out this week, Israel has consistently offered its state-of-the-art intelligence-gathering technologies to help Paris keep track of those who seek to undermine France’s democracy. Now, the government there will have to decide whether the time has come to violate the privacy rights of the few in order to protect the rights of the many to live.

It is also our hope that recent events will force Europe to shed its bias and understand, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “Just like the French are not guilty, we are not guilty of the terrorism that has been directed at us. The terrorists are the ones who are guilty of terrorism, not ‘the territories’ and not ‘the settlements’ and not anything else.”

Israel and the entire Jewish world is deeply pained at the terrible losses of this past week and prays for the recovery of the wounded and for wisdom for the leaders to take the actions necessary to make Europe safe for all its residents, including the Jews.