By Jonathan S. Tobin
This past week’s bloody events in France have shocked the civilized world. But shock and sadness are not a sufficient response from those entrusted with the responsibility to defend us against Islamist terrorism. That’s why President Obama’s initial statement in response to today’s news was so disappointing. The conspicuous absence of any acknowledgement of the motive of the terrorists or their targets made his remarks empty platitudes rather than a meaningful call for solidarity against a common enemy. The continued refusal of the president to identify Islamist ideology as the foe is undermining efforts to combat this dangerous virus. But the fact that he also failed to label the attack at the Parisian kosher market where four hostages were slaughtered was a case of anti-Semitism sent exactly the wrong signal to a world that is looking to the U.S. for leadership in this struggle and getting precious little of it from this president.
The president did well to express solidarity with France as our oldest ally as well as condemnation of the actions of the terrorists that he characterized as standing for “hatred and suffering.” But the sensible reluctance on the part of Western leaders from casting this conflict as one between all Muslims and the rest of the world is no excuse for his determination to ignore the fact that these crimes are rooted in a form of political Islam that is supported by tens if not hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Pretending that these armed killers are not connected to a worldwide movement, even as information about their connections to such groups continues to trickle out, does nothing to avoid antagonizing those who already hate Western values and culture. It also serves to help unilaterally disarm both Muslims and non-Muslims who understand that we must directly confront the corrupt and evil source of this violence within the spectrum of Islamic belief.
Just as wrongheaded was the president’s conspicuous omission of a mention of anti-Semitism.
As the president well knows, his own State Department has already labeled the increase in incidents of Jew hatred as being part of a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe. This trend can be traced in part to the crude Jew hatred that has become a routine element of the culture of the Muslim and Arab worlds and which has been brought to Europe by immigrants from the Middle East. Though some of this antagonism is a function of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians – a point on which European intellectual elites have made common cause with Islamists – the distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and the new variety that is tied to hostility to the Jewish state is essentially meaningless.
Not mentioning anti-Semitism when Islamist killers specifically seek out Jews to slaughter – as if anyone could possibly believe a terrorist assault on a kosher market in Paris could be mere happenstance – is more than insensitive. It is a sign that this administration does not take the many attacks on French and European Jews seriously. It is also a message to the Muslim world that the United States does not take the issue of anti-Semitic violence seriously. To his credit, French President Francois Hollande did specifically condemn the attack as an act of anti-Semitism, a statement President Obama should have echoed.
In essence, while the president rightly wishes to embrace France, the Jews there are essentially on their own as far as the U.S. is concerned.
This administration has conducted a vigorous campaign of drone attacks on terrorist targets, his eagerness to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan created a void that gave rise to ISIS even as its al-Qaeda rivals were far from destroyed as the president claimed in his re-election campaign. But his appetite for outreach and engagement has also undermined the ability of the U.S. to rally allies against Islamist radicals. His avoidance of anti-Semitism in his comments today sent the same message. More such mistakes can only encourage the very elements that the United States must defeat if it is to protect our freedom and those of other peoples.