I just finished a leadership conference in Germany and Italy and arrived in Paris last night- a place that was awash in terror on January 7th when the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine was attacked. Two days later, a kosher (Jewish) market in the south-eastern area of Paris was attacked. In the end, 17 people were killed and Paris is still recovering from the tragedy.
Tomorrow, a new group of Global Next students begins their journey to Paris for a conference, ironically enough, on the topic of communication skills. So we will undoubtedly discuss freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom to criticize, freedom to offend and all the values, consequences and responsibilities of that freedom. Paris now seems like the perfect place to have those discussions.
In addition to visiting the site of the Charlie Hebdo shootings today, I also sat down at lunch with two French Jews (neither of whom wished to be named in this post) to discuss growing anti-Semitism in Europe. Between recent events in France, angst in Israel and all the controversy surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to the US Congress this week about the threat of a nuclear Iran, I was interested to hear the thoughts of European Jews. Here are the highlights:
- Regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Believe he runs Israel more like a “king” than a prime minister. They are not fans.
- Regarding President Obama: Think that he’s incredibly weak and Putin is making a fool of him. They attribute absolutely no leadership to the American president.
- Regarding Iran: Think that Iran is not just a problem for Israel, it’s a problem for the world. They reminded me that when Israel bombed the Osiris nuclear facility (a nuclear reactor purchased from France) outside of Baghdad in 1981, (3 weeks before Israeli elections…hmmm…) no one was certain of what the reaction or consequences would be. There were lots of UN meetings and resolutions and condemnations of Israel’s actions -but that’s about it. And in Israel’s view, a nuclear Iraq was avoided – and a message was sent. Therefore, if Israel should respond militarily to Iran’s nuclear program, the world also can’t predict the outcome – or suggest that Israel not act in its own interests. (But I’m pretty sure the response this time around would be much greater than Iraq’s response – and not just through the UN and global condemnation.)
- Regarding Netanyahu’s call for all European Jews to immigrate to Israel: He’s right, both men agreed – Europe is not safe for Jews. One of the men mentioned that he will not – cannot – live in a country where his son could be beaten on the street simply because of who he is.
The Jewish perspective is not the only one in France at this time – there is a growing concern for Muslims too. Karim, an Egyptian immigrant I spoke to viewed the Paris shootings (perpetrated by Muslim extremists) through a different lens – the lens of “what does the world think of me and my faith.” He hates his faith being identified with violent and radical behavior. And while he deeply disagrees with and is offended by the caricatures produced by Charlie Hebdo, he is also offended by how these acts of violence change the way the world sees his faith – a faith, he says, that is not represented by hate and extremism.