They told us not to go to the rally, so we did not go. The rally was to highlight the unity and diversity of France, they said, not tourists. We are sure other tourists went anyway. We still stayed away, but this did not stop us from experiencing the rally from the streets of Paris, walking along Rue de Sebastopol and de Rivoli, the side streets of the Marais and the Siene:
Paris is on the streets today, up in arms over the recent slaughters at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the kosher supermarket. “Je Suis Charlie” is everywhere. On posters and buses and billboards, solidarity displays sanctioned by the government, but also spray painted on walls and sidewalks and streets. No attempts are being made, so far as we can see, to repair or hide these spontaneous acts of vandalism. Paris is Charlie. Outrage is on the streets today.
It is important to see that Je Suis Charlie is not the only slogan here. “Je Suis Juif” and “France is our Country” together are nearly as ubiquitous on the shirts and signs of protestors. One would think that Je Suis Juif is a strictly sideshow and minority expression given the choked attention to it in the media, and the rancorous attention to France’s security situation, the uncertainty of the Jewish community, and Netanyahu’s calls for French Jews to pack up and come to Israel. This is not the whole story.
Officials’ views and statistics are being taken as representative of a unanimous French Jewish consensus to get up and go. In light of these statistics, and increased French Jewish departure in the deplorable wake of increased antisemitic violence in France in recent years, certainly Jewish people will go. But Jewish people will also stay. The protestors of Je Suis Juif and France is our Country walk hand-in-hand with those of Je Suis Charlie. This is all part of the same protest. At least on rally day, Jewish opinion and feelings of French Jewish “otherness” seem far less unanimous than the media says.
Nor is French opinion on the Jewish population so unanimously negative. Some critics take the deaths at the kosher market as indicative of an institutional French antisemitism. This is stupid, manipulating fear, questionable historiography, and opinion on France’s fraught relationship with Israel to tell a black-and-white story. While several controversial statements have been made by individuals on the French political, judicial and social streets in recent years, there is no evidence of malfeasance here. Instead, France got caught with its pants down. France was no more capable of predicting the kosher market catastrophe than Rochester was of predicting the murder of a policeman last autumn. Furthermore, Charlie Hebdo was not predicted either, and Charlie Hebdo was not antisemitic in character. Until hard evidence to the contrary presents itself, two intelligence breakdowns in as many days implicates France’s domestic security policies, not an orientation to antisemitism.
Very little attention is being paid to the spontaneous posting of French security personnel at Jewish sites following the Charlie Hebdo massacre – before the kosher market was even an issue – and the further demonstrated commitments to Jewish security afterwards. This is not the behavior of a country that doesn’t want Jews.
If any slogan has been marginalized, if any slogan is barely seen, it is this one: Je Suis Ahmed.
For ourselves, we never felt unsafe walking the streets of Paris. We were welcomed wherever we went. Prior to checking out of the hotel we stayed in, I asked the clerk his opinion. He said to me, teary eyed, “please don’t leave.”