Gaza has a galvanising effect on Europeans. Jeremy Corbyn, for example, appeared to have no consolatory words for France after last week’s Islamist knife attack in Paris, yet on Monday he posted messages on Twitter and Facebook expressing his disgust with Israel. Likewise in France, the far-left, curiously quiet whenever there’s a terrorist attack on their patch, have this week staged protests in Lyon, Marseille, Rouen, Paris and Bordeaux to voice their opposition to Israel’s killing of 62 Palestinians, the victims including several children and fifty members of Hamas, an EU-designated terror organisation.
But what do the protestors in France hope to achieve? Emmanuel Macron reportedly “condemned the violence and underlined the importance of protecting civilian populations” in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, France has expressed its disapproval of America’s decision to relocate their embassy to Jerusalem.
One should at least be grateful that the demonstrations in France passed off peacefully. That wasn’t the case in the summer of 2014 after Israel launched an offensive in retaliation for the kidnap and murder by Hamas of three teenage boys. The military action angered thousands of French and the protests, spread over several weeks, grew increasingly violent with the worst scenes in Sarcelles, a suburb in northern Paris known as ‘Little Jerusalem’ because of its large Jewish community. Shops and synagogues were attacked by a mob chanting ‘Kill the Jews’, and overall in 2014 anti-Semitic attacks in France increased by 130 per cent.
That explains why Jews in Paris have a foreboding about this latest violence in the Middle East. They know the likely consequences: more attacks in a city that is becoming a dangerous place in which to be a Jew. The unease will be felt to a lesser extent in the Élysée Palace because French presidents know that whenever trouble erupts in Gaza, the tremors are felt at home.
Marc Hecker, the author of a ‘French Intifada’, told Le Figaro in July 2014 that “the importation of conflict into our country dates from the Second Intifada in 2000”. Many young French Muslims see in Gaza the same oppression that they experience every day – or so they’re led to believe in fiery YouTube videos, and radical mosques – and so they identity with the Palestinians’ cause in a way previous generations of French Muslims never did.
The nervousness Macron feels will also be furrowing the brows of his counterparts in Germany, Holland, Britain and Belgium, countries that are also experiencing a worrying rise in anti-Semitism.
In contrast, Donald Trump doesn’t need to worry about how Israel’s actions in Gaza might play out at home. America’s Muslim population is minuscule: 3.3m in a country of 323m (one per cent), and there isn’t the Islamification of inner-cities that is happening across western Europe. Only this week, a paper in France reported that one district south of Paris is now largely controlled by salafists, with a “religious police” patrolling the area to enforce Islamic law. The next day in Le Figaro, an anti-terrorist lawyer warned that France is in a period of “false calm” and “the worst is yet to come”. Scores of Islamists are scheduled to be released from prison in the next two years, he explained, and the growing fear in France is that there will be attacks similar in scale and organisation to the Bataclan slaughter of 2015. Some of those due for release were imprisoned for participating in the 2014 pro-Palestine riots. France experienced the most serious violence but there were also ugly scenes in Belgium and Germany, the latter including chants of “Jews to the gas” and “Allahu Akbar”. The trouble prompted the New York Times to comment that:
“As European support for the Palestinian cause and criticism of Israel have hardened, many Jews describe a blurring of distinctions between being anti-Israel and being anti-Jew…and many Jews who have voted with the Socialist Party in France and Belgium worry that those parties are weak and becoming more dependent on fast-growing Muslim voting blocs.”
President Hollande warned in 2014 that: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be imported” to France but his plea was ridiculed by the National Front. Too late, said the party’s then vice-president, Florian Philippot. Gaza has come to France “via mass immigration that has not been assimilated and the hateful multiculturalism of society encouraged by…the Socialist party,” he claimed.
According to the latest available figures, France’s Muslims represent 8.8 per cent of its total population, which is more than Belgium (7.6 per cent), Holland (7.1 per cent), Britain (6.3 per cent) and Germany (6.1 per cent). The Pew Research Centre forecast that by 2050 the number of Muslims living in Europe could be as many as 75m, a three-fold increase on today’s number of 25.8m.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, William Hague lamented that unity among Western nations was “deteriorating sharply”. If this wasn’t arrested, cautioned the former foreign secretary, then “eventually, the pursuit of differing foreign policies will undermine essential security co-operation”.
Such disunity was in evidence when EU leaders gathered in Sofia yesterday, and European Council president Donald Tusk made disparaging remarks about the Trump administration’s foreign policy. There are, of course, several different reasons for the deterioration in relations between the US and Europe but changing demographics is surely one of them. As more Muslims make Europe their home so fear and not old friendships will increasingly influence the Middle East policy of Britain, France and Germany. Get too close to Israel and the consequences will be seen on the streets.