Mireille Knoll believed that Paris was her city. As an article in the New York Times recounted,
She believed this despite the fact that it was also the city where, when she was 9 years old, the police rounded up 13,000 of the city’s Jews, 4,000 of them children, and crammed them into Vélodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium, before shipping them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped this largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust and fled to Portugal with her mother.
After the war, she married a man who had survived Auschwitz. She returned to her native land where she built a home and raised a family. French to her core, she stayed in Paris even as her grandchildren moved to Israel.
Last week, Ms. Knoll was stabbed eleven times, and her apartment was set on fire. French authorities have confirmed that the motive was anti-semitism. She wasn’t the first in her neighborhood, either. In another incident found to have been motivated by anti-semitism, almost exactly a year ago, a 65-year-old Jewish widow named Sarah Halimi was murdered by her neighbor, 27-year-old Kobili Traoré.
The truth of the matter is that Jews have made handy targets throughout history, and the assaults have come from all directions, and in all countries.
Anti-Semitism, like other bigotries, ebbs and flows; right now, with the global growth of explicit white nationalism, it is on the rise.The Guardian has reported that such incidents hit an all-time high in the UK last year. Here in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League recently catalogued 1,986 occurrences in its 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, up from 1,267 in 2016. That made it the highest single-year increase since the organization released its first audit in 1979.
Most observers attribute America’s increase in hate crimes to a toxic political environment that has increased tribal animosities and sparked bigotries of all kinds. Donald Trump–whose election was substantially attributable to what polite researchers call “racial resentment”–regularly stokes the stereotypes and conspiracy theories that give rise to those resentments.
Trump regularly recycles far-right propaganda. Recently he tweeted out an anti-immigrant message that cited a group known for promoting pieces authored by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers: the ambiguously-named Center for Immigration Studies. The organization was founded by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist whose racist beliefs
stirred him to create a network of organizations with a simple agenda: heavily restricting the immigration levels to the United States in order to maintain a white majority. As Tanton himself wrote in 1993, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
Trump and his supporters have waged unremitting war against “political correctness”–their term for the social norms that deter people from engaging in public expressions of bigotry. Trump himself exhibits–daily–the sorts of attitudes and behaviors that decent people teach their children to avoid.
Is it any wonder that unhappy and unpleasant people look at this President and his supporters and see permission to act out their most despicable biases?
One of the reasons so many Jews support organizations working for equal rights and social justice is that we have learned from our history. Jews and other minorities are only safe in open and inclusive societies–societies where all citizens are equal before the law, in legal systems where your “tribe” is legally irrelevant.
Of course, it’s not just members of groups that have historically been targets. Trump’s efforts to subvert the foundational American principle of civic equality doesn’t just threaten minorities. It threatens us all.