It typically is quite welcomed when the UK Chief Rabbi lends his moral authority – and, as in the case of the previous occupant of the office, Jonathan Sacks, profound eloquence – to an op-ed on the topic of antisemitism.
However, though we were hoping for inspiration and clarity by the new Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, his Telegraph op-ed included a truly baffling error regarding the background of the Toulouse killer, Muhammad Merah.
Here are the first few paragraphs in Mirvis’s essay (A new strain of Antisemitism is on the rise, Aug. 27):
On Sunday a rally will take place in London to demand zero tolerance of anti-Semitism. Why is this necessary?
On March 19 2012, a teacher and three pupils were killed in a terrorist attack at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish Day School in Toulouse. For days, speculation was rife about the identity and motivation of the perpetrator.Initially, many presumed that the killer came from the extreme Right. After all, the strengthening of extremist elements in the midst of a faltering European economy has fuelled anti-Semitism. Or, we wondered, perhaps the attacker subscribed to neo-Nazi ideology, or was influenced by radical Islam. Whatever the motivation, it seemed sadly clear that, even in the 21st century, the old aims of Hitler had not vanished from the continent of Europe.
Then the perpetrator was identified as Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French petty criminal, of Algerian descent. Merah said that he attacked the Jewish school because “the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine”. This transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian political conflict into something more sinister, and even religious in nature, has produced what some refer to as the new anti-Semitism.
It’s curious that Mirvis chose to benignly characterize Merah as a “petty criminal’ and not someone motivated by radical Islam. There is simply no debate over the fact that he was an Islamist who murdered Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, Gabriel Sandler (age 4), Arieh Sandler (age 5), Miriam Monsonego (age 7) in an act of Jihad.
Though Merah had previously served time in jail for ‘petty crime’, his radicalization while in prison was not surprising, given that this extremist Islamist ideology infected most of his immediate family. Indeed, his family was reportedly obsessed by hatred of Jews, and were passionate supporters of the “outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Armed Islamic Group) (GIA) terrorist organizations”.
In 2010, Merah traveled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Tajikistan to join or train with jihadists. He later traveled to Afghanistan in hopes of joining the Taliban.
Marc Weitzmann, a regular contributor to Le Monde, in his masterful essay at Tablet about Merah, chillingly noted the following:
in August 2011…he finally met [Islamist] “the brothers” who would initiate him into terror. And here’s the credo (retold in a French that challenges a translator): “In the beginning, the brothers, they told me to kill. A brother from Arab origin. He said I should kill everything—everything that is civilian and miscreant, everything. The gays, the homosexuals, the ones that kiss each other in public. He said, ‘Shoot them down,’ see? But me, I had a message to carry. And, er… I knew that by killing only militaries and Jews, the message, it would carried better. Cuz if I were to kill just civilians, the French population they’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just another crazy terrorist.’ Even if I had the right. But now the message’s different. Now I just kill militaries and Jews, see?”
Yes, we ‘see’ that Merah was clearly motivated by Islamist extremism, an ominous example of the increasing threat posed to Europe by radicalized Muslims returning from ‘theaters of Jihad’ overseas.
We’re left to wonder, however: Does the Chief Rabbi not see this?