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After the Drama of Villeurbanne

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The Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, found the right words. The authorities of the Republic, national and regional, reacted as one would expect. And from one side of the political spectrum nearly to the other, disapproval was unanimous. However, this affair (three young Jews assaulted with blows from hammers and iron bars last Saturday in Villeurbanne) remains eminently troubling.

The simple fact that it is possible, that there are neighborhoods in France where three teenagers, if they are wearing kippas, cannot go for a walk without the risk of being beaten up, is clearly tragic. And to add to it, when one reads that this is not the first time, when one learns that the same kind of incident took place in the same area just months ago but was not reported in the press, when the National Bureau of Vigilance against Antisemitism tells us that acts of aggressions of this kind have become increasingly frequent since the killings at Toulouse and Montauban but that the system is getting used to them, that sometimes it barely bothers to register them and that nearly all, when they do not involve fatalities, fade into the background and appear insignificant, one can only think, "Clearly, something is rotten in the Republic of France; there is, in this very habituation, in this banalization, in this slow but sure metastasis of the poison of anti-Semitism, something fetid that we must not let pass."

I know that, as I write these lines, we know nothing of the identity of the members of this new gang of barbarians. And I know how perilous it is, in such circumstances, to indulge in games of calculation, incrimination, and other demonic causalities.

Nonetheless.

Is it really by chance that this assault occured on the morrow of a campaign where we have watched a candidate, Madame LePen, systematically encourage boos and catcalls at her meetings when Jewish-sounding names are mentioned? Madonna, from this point of view, was perfectly right to make the connection, in Tel Aviv, with Nazism.

Is it due to a coincidence of dates that we learn, the same week, thanks to a collective of anti-racist organizations that have brought the matter to the courts, that France is one of the rare countries where, when you type in a proper name on a Web search engine, one of the first semi-automatic data entries supposedly "suggested" by the algorithm (but in reality prescribed by the totality of searches by preceding users) is the association of the name with "Jew"?

And what can one say of this strange obsession with Israel that, for the past several years, has tended to become the alpha and the omega, the central pawn, the main beam of an ideological construction that is at once insane and monstrously effective, according to which "the Jews" are accused anew: an abstract Israel, an imaginary Israel, a demonized if not downright Nazified Israel that serves, by association, to demonize and to Nazify Jews in general -- an Israel whose function is, in a word, to furnish a brand-new fuel for the old anti-Semitic machine? For there lies the heart of the problem.

It is there among all those who, Muslim or not, imagine they are avenging the "victims of Israel" when they attack someone wearing a kippa.

It exists among the supposed "Palestinian sympathizers" who don't give a tinker's dam for the fate of those in the West Bank or Gaza when the Arab "brothers" are the ones keeping them in subjection or massacring them -- and then suddenly see them as the salt of the earth when they confront Israel and Israel, in return, fights against them.

It is in this double standard whereby the same "friends of humanity" remain dry-eyed before the fate of the children massacred at Houla, in Syria, and find nothing to say about Bashar al-Assad's savage pounding of his cities with heavy weapons, even regretting that a dictator like Muammar Gaddafi, who had the deaths of tens of thousands of Arab innocents on his conscience, was stopped from doing further harm -- but when it is Israel that strikes (that is to say, precisely, when Israel defends itself and, in a manner more or less proportionate, hence more or less open to criticism, retaliates when it has been fired upon) judge that the ensuing fatalities are so many crimes against humanity, the blood of which will fall upon the heads of all the Jews in the world.

Listen to them! Israel, as they tell it, would be a state that is fundamentally illegitimate. Consequently, its leaders' policies would be essentially criminal. And its friends and allies, as still another consequence, would be accomplices in this crime of principle. That is, more than ever, the formula for the anti-Semitism of the future. Such is the theorem that is equal to a license to kill or, as it happens, to beat, in the eyes of the descendants of the Nazi Jew bashers of the '30s, whose argument had become unspeakable. Such is the modern manual of hatred that, having transformed the Jews into just so many potential assassins, has made it possible to condemn them or strike them.

Denounce this manual, deconstruct it, demonstrate that its protocols are no less fearsome than those of ancient times; this is the urgent matter the drama of Villeurbanne compels us to address. And that is the reason why it would be crazy to underestimate its meaning and its influence.