How did UK Chief Rabbi get the motivation of Toulouse killer so wrong?

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?

22 replies »

    Look. The MCB is not going to single Hamas out for condemnation. It is an organisation which is politically aligned with the South Asian Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and which includes signifiant and powerful Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood aligned groups within its membership. They would not stand for it.

    The MCB is de facto the British arm of the antisemitic Muslim Brotherhood. What nuts are serving on the board?

  2. This seems deeply unfair on Mirvis. The fact that the perpetrator was motivated by radical Islam is surely obvious.

  3. I tend to agree with the rabbi.
    There are many types of political Islam. Merah seems to be motivated more by the simplistic left wing suggestion that applying western pressure on Israel to “free” Palestine is just and will solve the problems in the region.
    Many islamist’s goals are non nationalistic.

  4. Now that the EU has dropped your antisemitism ‘definition’ are you going to remove it from your about pages?

    • No need to remove. That the EU did it is natural and logical. They have to hide their shame somehow and this was the only solution. Anyway you are an antisemite without any legal definition sanity.
      BTW when will you visit Gaza? If you want to participate in the victory celebrations and help the comrades to execute some more Gazans you have to hurry…
      I’m sure the faculty cafeteria will find a replacement during your absence.

    • ‘Sanity’, I love your sense of irony in picking that moniker for yourself, the current Director of the FRA (the EU body that took over from the EUMC) does not believe in ‘Europe wide’ definitions but that each Government should enact its own legislation and definitions.
      His point of view was laid out in a speech he gave to a conference on September 18th 2013.
      “At the legal level, the Council of Europe standards as adopted by the Committee of Ministers Recommendation of 1997 and the body of case law developed by the European Court of Human Rights provide a strong framework and set some clear boundaries. It is not therefore the case that “anything goes,” but simply that there is diversity in Europe which needs to be respected. So do we need an international definition of hate speech? I’m not really sure we do. I think we would be better off going back to what is laid down in the EU’s Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia, which respects the diversity of the different European traditions on how to deal with these issues.”

      So the decision to drop the EUMC definition was not taken because the definition was flawed or fundamentally wrong, but, because the current Director of the FRA believes such decisions, and definitions, should be taken at a national level.

      I disagree with him. Because I am, as I have been for a number of years, an unrepentant EuroFederalist.

    • Not to mention the fact that the EU parliament is full of neo-Nazis Golden Dawn, Jobbik etc. One of the members of its Civil Rights Commission is a German Holocaust denier neo-Nazi Udo Voigt. Friends of Sanity…

      • peter you are correct that Udo Voigt is a member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. More of a worry is that he is also a member of the Delegation for relations with Iran.
        But, whatever makes you think that there is such a group as ‘Friends of Sanity’, or indeed a ‘Friend of Sanity’?

        • Jobbik, Golden Dawn etc. Maybe they don’t know him personally but they would welcome every Israel hating scum like him with open arms…

          • Point taken peter.
            Sadly the increase in Europe in overt, and covert, anti-Semitism is very worrying.

            I hope that the changes at the top of the EU, with Juncker taking over from Barroso as President of the European Commission and todays announcement that Van Rompuy has been replaced by Donald Tusk (PM of Poland) as President of the European Council, more importantly Lady Ashton has been replaced by Federica Mogherini (Foreign Minister of Italy) as High Representative for Foreign Affairs will improve things, but I will not hold my breath waiting.

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  7. With respect to the author of this blog, you have misunderstood the context of what The Chief Rabbi said and I think it is irresponsible of you to criticise him in this way. The article the Chief Rabbi wrote was about Radical Islam and Terrorism and it is clear from the article he blames these as motivating the Toulouse killer.

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