No Hoax in Paris

There is a disturbing counter-narrative about who was behind this month’s terror attacks in Paris that led to the deaths of 14 innocent people. Listen to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “The duplicity of the West is obvious,” Erdogan told reporters. “As Muslims we have never sided with terror or massacres. Racism, hate speech, Islamophobia are behind these massacres. The culprits are clear.

French citizens undertook this massacre, and Muslims were blamed for it.”It is true that the suspects in the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket were French. But Erdogan chose to ignore their radical Islamic beliefs that saw both free speech and being Jewish as crimes worthy of death.

Others have also put forward conspiracy theories about the origins of the attacks and the reasons behind them: “It’s certain that Mossad is behind these kinds of incidents,” Ankara’s longtime mayor, Melih Gokcek, said in an indictment of Israel’s intelligence’s apparatus. “Mossad enflames Islamophobia by causing such incidents.”

Like those who say the 9/11 attacks were inside jobs carried out by the Mossad or the CIA, these conspiracy theories are short on proof and ignore the contradictory evidence. More to the point, these concocted narratives are offensive and can only serve to further incite hatred and violence.

Erdogan has traveled far from the reformer he was when he and his moderate Islamist AKP party came to power in 2003. He has gone from a democrat to a Putin-like strongman whose pronouncements need not conform to international realities. He has taken Turkey, a NATO member, from an alliance with Israel to a champion of Hamas. And he is a consistent, vocal critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he charges with committing genocide.

So, should we just ignore Erdogan’s ravings and dismiss him as a fringe hater? While we would certainly like to do so, it’s not so simple. And the reason for that is that Erdogan and his supporters are not alone in their narrative. In Russia, for example, the source of the French attacks was also questioned, for much the same reason. The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper asked: “Did America stage the terror attack in Paris?” The reasoning? The United State was punishing France for President François Hollande’s urging the European Union to lift sanctions against Russia. Or

because “for the last 10 years, so-called Islamist terrorism has been under the control of one of the world’s leading intelligence agencies.”

The accusations may be spurious, but they are no hoax. To the extent that they reflect the beliefs of a sizable population, they must be taken very seriously. Many a war has begun using a lie as its pretext.

Win-Win Situation

Marc Shapiro’s Jan. 2 article on the issue of wages for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“Opinions Divided on Subminimum Wage”) did an excellent job in conveying why there is a need to continue expansion of job opportunities that pay at or above minimum wage while cautioning what would occur if we completely disallow sub-minimum wages that may be paid to
people with significant disabilities. While these individuals’ disabilities may greatly diminish their productivity, they do not inhibit their desire to work nor their pride in earning.

Of the nearly 1,000 people supported in our day and employment programs at The Arc Baltimore, 53 percent are employed in jobs paying at or above minimum wage. Less than half of those we support are based at area centers and are involved in other activities in the community. Of these, 45 to 50 people get the opportunity to work for a limited number of hours each week earning 50 percent to 90 percent of the minimum wage.

Shapiro also put the right focus on the interest of The Arc, Chimes and other agencies in finding more companies that would hire people with disabilities, whether for office filing and administrative support, janitorial or landscaping jobs or customer service jobs. We have a lot of capable people who just need a chance to show what they can do, and our team is ready to back them up and make it a win-win situation.

Danish Hypocrisy

It’s always good to know when someone has left no doubt about their anti-Semitism and hypocrisy. Jesper Vahr, Denmark’s ambassador to Israel was clearly revealed in this regard in “European Hypocrisy” (Jan. 2).

Remarks of the sort he made at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference would get many diplomats declared persona non grata and sent home. This individual has lost any credibility he may have had as a representative of his country. He’s a hypocrite because if a Palestinian with a knife approached him on a Jerusalem street and attempted to inflict bodily harm, would he really say, “Give it to me in the gut because my proud Danish standards call for me to accept your antipathy toward Europeans and non-Muslims?”

Show of Support

As a staunch practicing Christian, I believe that the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center (“Israeli NGO Blows Whistle,” Jan. 9) is correct legally and morally in its allegations against  the Presbyterian alliance, and I hope the Church reverses its positions regarding Israel and its peoples.

France’s Wake-Up Call

The kosher supermarket was chosen deliberately. Men, women and children were shopping and preparing for Shabbat. Only two days before the attack, terrorists had left 10 of the best-known satirical journalists and cartoonists dead at Charlie Hebdo. Three French police officers were also struck down, one of them a Muslim. Each Islamist terrorist attack targeted a symbol of the French Republic, seeking to bring the country to its knees.

That Jews were targets of radical Islam was, alas, unsurprising. Four of the hostages — Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, François-Michel Saada — were killed at the kosher market. Survivors of the attack are anguished. So, too, are most French Jews, who again are discussing and evaluating not only the future of our community but the fate of France itself.

Let’s be clear: France is under assault. Extremists, faithful to a brand of Islam that celebrates violence and martyrdom, have no respect whatsoever for the core, longstanding French values of democracy, pluralism, freedom of expression — and, indeed, for life itself.

Tragically, the events of recent days are not a new phenomenon. The Jewish community, including the American Jewish Committee in Paris, has warned for years about the developing and deepening threat that radical Islam poses to France. In March 2012, a lone, heavily armed Mohammed Merah slaughtered a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The Toulouse attack was a game-changer for French Jews. And although French political leaders voiced outrage, as time passed and the numbers and frequency of anti-Semitic incidents rose, the country seemed to get used to them — even anesthetized to this reality — while many Jews felt a sense of loneliness and isolation.

The terrorists who struck in Paris — as in Toulouse and at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May — are not isolated lone wolves. They most likely are the tip of a radical Islamist iceberg, the small visible part. To counter this lethal trend, we must delve deeper and understand the factors that draw certain individuals to radical Islam, and find ways to counter this evil that endangers all of France.

The French government cannot stop this trend alone; the effort will require the active involvement of political, religious and civil-society leaders. Immediate reactions to the attack on Charlie Hebdo were inspiring, as millions of French citizens gathered in central Paris and throughout France, communicated their outrage on social media and called for action. Unfortunately, the voices of Muslim community leaders —with some notable exceptions — have until now been barely audible. Those leaders, too, must speak loudly and clearly, as Muslims and as French citizens.

But what happens in the days and weeks ahead will truly test France. Now more than at any other time in its postwar history, the fate of France is entwined with the fate of its Jews. If France loses them, sooner or later it will also be lost. Is this the wake-up call that will help the French people understand the nature of the threat to our country, and will they respond firmly and effectively?

The very soul of France is at stake.

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris office.

Popularizing Conservation Shopping

Have you heard that you can pop some serious tags with only $20 in your pocket?

The hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis aren’t the only one who have capitalized on the increasing popular interest of thrift-store (also known as conservation) shopping. Although I’m not a fan of the lyrics, I do appreciate the reference. They’re merely reporting what thousands of consumers already know about shopping resale versus retail: high-quality goods at lower prices.

According to the consumer research firm America’s Research Group, approximately 16% to 18% of Americans shop at thrift stores during the year, and 12% to 15% at consignment. Unlike the 11.4% who shop at factory outlet malls, resale shopping attracts consumers across the economic spectrum, as the quality of the product and acquiring a vintage item is often the driving force behind the purchases.

As reported by NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, resale is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and one of the fastest-growing segments of retail at 7% per year. Thanks to many initiatives across business and industry, conservation is a more prominent issue, and people are recognizing many areas of waste within our consumeristic lifestyles. It took several decades for our society to become obsessed with the “ease” of disposables, and now with growing awareness around the cost of this wastefulness, we are gradually becoming a society more focused on reusing and recycling.

When looking for new dining room furniture a few years ago, I attended an estate sale auction in Savage Mill. The room was filled with high-quality solid fine wood pieces, the like of which one would be hard pressed to find in any retail store today, selling at small fractions of what the owners originally paid decades earlier. The auctioneer stated that — based on the experience of all of their estate sales and the quantity of furniture available — that there is never a need to buy new furniture. One could purchase high-quality furniture in excellent condition at many consignment shops specializing in home goods. Additionally, many consignment shops specialize in refurbishing older pieces to “like new” condition.

Painted furniture has also become chic in recent years and is another way many resale shops refurbish home goods. And if you are so inclined, you can make a fun weekend project out of doing it yourself: search Pinterest under “painted refurbishing-furniture-ideas” for literally thousands of ideas; browse thrift stores for items to refurbish at give-away prices; and buy specialized paints (at your local home improvement store) to give your used item a creative new look.

And with resale “conservation” shopping, there’s not the same guilt associated with the previously wasteful frequent shopping habits to which we have grown accustomed. You can still change out your wardrobe or update your furnishings — but in a responsible way.

With the big consumer holiday season behind us, you may not be thinking of purchasing anything new for a while. But the next time you need to purchase something for your home or wardrobe, consider resale over retail — conserve those high quality items and give them a new home.


What Next for France?

The Islamist radicals who murdered 17 people in two attacks in Paris last week targeted, on the one hand, an irreverent magazine and, on the other, the Jews. Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher might not seem to us to belong in the same category, but to the killers they were both the source and symbol of humiliations to be avenged by blood.

Not unlike the 9/11 attacks on our shores, last week’s killings hit a nerve that earlier murders of Jews by French Muslims did not. The French government this week deployed 10,000 troops to protect Jewish communal and other sensitive religious sites, an unprecedented militarization of security in the country. Perhaps it is a down payment on remarks French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg before the attacks: “The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France, but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” Valls said.

We take the word of Valls and other French leaders that the world’s third-largest Jewish community has a secure home in France and that they believe “France will no longer be France” if Jews emigrate. In that light, some have wondered about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for French Jews to move to Israel. While the offer was based on the need to protect lives, there are those in France and elsewhere, including some young Jews, who feel that a mass emigration to Israel would amount to the abandonment of one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe as well as a capitulation in the face of terror.

A satisfactory long-term response to the threat of Islamist terror requires a balancing act that neither Europe nor the United States has perfected: between free speech and security against those who would commit violence; between freedom of religion (and nonreligion) and protection from those who would use religion to coerce and even kill others. If Franxce and Europe are able to do something to begin to strike that balance they will have taken a large step against extremism — left, right and Islamist — that is shaking the continent’s foundations.

What Would President Paul Do?

Sen. Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul

With his bill calling for the United States to block funding to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the
International Criminal Court, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appears to be sending a message to three voting blocks that could aid a future run for president.

To Tea Party members, the legislation burnishes Paul’s libertarian credentials by defunding foreign assistance. And to Republican and Jewish hawks, Paul’s bill to cutoff $400 million in aid for the P.A. could be used to argue that he is as pro-Israel as anyone. Of course, anything goes in the run-up to an election. Last week, we called similar legislation “empty gestures” because they exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems caused by the lack of negotiations between the P.A. and Israel. And it’s important to remember that most bills introduced by well-intentioned legislators end up going nowhere, much less those that try to address complex foreign policy issues.

Still, the question must be asked, especially since Paul is a rising star in the GOP establishment: Would a President Rand Paul,
responsible for U.S. foreign policy, advocate such a bill? And if he would, would it be good for Israel?

If Paul advocates punishing the Palestinians because he has a visceral identification with the ideals that Israel stands for, that’s all well and good. But if he seeks to use American largesse as a stick as well as a carrot in the conduct of foreign policy, would he be just as likely to wield it against Israel for doing something a Paul administration opposes, such as building settlements? Those now rallying to Paul’s camp might want to explore that point.

There are 21 months before the next U.S. president is elected. Until then, voters should be suspicious of candidates bearing gifts.

Respond with Unity



When news of the slaying of 12 people in and around the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reached the United States, not a single journalist or editorial office in this country was left unaffected. Such was the case here in Baltimore among the staff of the JT, many of whom pointed out that those targeted for execution by two Jihadists bearing Kalashnikov rifles on Jan. 7 were cut down in the midst of an editorial meeting.

That they were targeted merely for practicing the time-honored profession of provoking the powers that be — in their case, religious fanatics — through the equally powerful medium of satire was sobering, causing much introspection by anyone who believes in the power of the pen. The pen is of course mightier than the sword, but what the case of Charlie Hebdo teaches is that sometimes those wielding the pen are forced to give their lives because of it.

And then last Friday came and with it an assault by an associate of the magazine’s attackers on a kosher supermarket in Paris’ 12th arrondisement. As you’ll read in this week’s issue, that gunman killed four people, all Jews, who were buried Tuesday in Jerusalem. Here at the JT, we identified with the satirists at Charlie Hebdo as members of the press, but we identified with the victims at the Hyper Cacher market as Jews. I would argue that the latter identification is the
important one.

While we don’t satirize in these pages and, unlike the cartoonists at the Paris magazine, do not seek to offend, from time to time there are those who are offended by something they’ve read or think they’ve read. Typically, as in proper Western fashion, they will respond with speech of their own, such as with a letter to the editor. But there’s no 100 percent guarantee of safety, even in the United States, as the attack last year on the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City demonstrated with frightening clarity.

But we are also targets by virtue of being Jews. That puts us — and I include you, dear readers, in this estimation — at risk of an attack by a bloodthirsty Jihadist or a neo-Nazi white supremacist. Beyond violence, it also makes us subject to the latent kind of anti-Semitism all too common in polite society and as revealed by a BBC reporter interviewing an elderly Parisian woman over the weekend. Responding to a statement of hers that equated the recent attacks on Jews with the growth of Nazism in the 1930s, Tim Willcox decided to throw Israel into the mix — the existence of the Jewish state or its policies hadn’t even been discussed — and told her that “many critics … of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”

To assume that Jews bear a communal responsibility for Israeli actions is manifestly false and dangerous and Jews throughout the world are right to object in the strongest of terms. But while we take offense, we can also derive inspiration. If we are going to be targeted simply for being Jews, then let’s acknowledge the shared responsibility we have for each other, our communities and our institutions.

We saw it last week, just as with last summer’s kidnap and murder of three teenage Israelis: Jewish suffering is not a localized problem. And whether in Paris or Baltimore, the Jewish response to those who wish our destruction is to respond with unity and conviction.

Nous sommes Charlie.

JT Misses Mark

While the first three paragraphs of the JT’s editorial “Empty Gestures” (Jan. 9) factually outline the current situation between the Palestinians and Israel, the next paragraphs, where you imply the moral equivalency of Israel and her enemies, is unconscionable: “Israel and the Palestinians continue to make accusatory statements against one another and alternately take steps that each knows hurts the other but are unlikely to last.” I don’t think so. The truth is, the Palestinians act and Israel reacts. The unfortunate part of this is that Israel never seems to react long enough, hard enough or significantly enough. You said that while “… the two sides are talking — even if not with each other — they are less likely to be fighting with one another on the battlefield.”  Really? The last time I looked, the Palestinians, like the proverbial “Elvis” had left the building, er, table, and I don’t recall a time when talking “not with each other” prevented the Palestinians from
attacking and killing Jews in general and Israelis in particular.

Further, your comment that “neither Israel nor the Palestinians seem to have leadership capable of working out a peace deal” is patently ridiculous. Yes, President Mahmoud Abbas (just starting the 11th year of a four-year term) is a weak and ineffectual leader.  But therein lies the problem, not in Israel’s lack of leadership. The Palestinians could have had their own country and Israel could have had the peace and security she so desperately wants and needs years ago had the Palestinians only given up their dream of eliminating Israel — not just from the atlases of Harcourt Brace but from her very existence — and implementing the dream of a Palestinian state from the Jordon to the Mediterranean Sea. If freedom-loving, democratic people have not learned by now that peace comes through strength and the will to use it, then woe be unto us. Woe will not be unto Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because he has learned that lesson and learned it well.  His leadership has remained strong, and it is that which has kept Israel strong.

Finally, your statement that the Palestinian Authority works constructively with Israel is laughable. Yes, its security forces work closely with Israel’s but only out of its own self-interest. But what have they done for us lately? Have they made any attempt to stop teaching their children of hatred for and murder of Jews? To worry about what would happen if the corrupt, intransigent, anti-Israel P.A. should collapse is foolhardy; in this case, the known is not better than the unknown.

It’s time for the Palestinian Auth-ority to collapse and hopefully bring forth a representative entity that will recognize the reality of Israel and negotiate a peace with her that provides the security she needs and deserves while doing it from the perspective of representing the best interests of the Palestinian people. Why? Because peace with Israel is in the best interests of the Palestinian people.  It’s not Israel that’s ratcheting up the levels of confrontation. She just reacts to the confrontational acts of the Palestinians, which she rightfully must do.