Thursday, December 7, 2023

A new wave of Islamic terrorism in France and its impact on French politics and society

In the last two months, France has been coping with a new wave of violence that originates from ongoing Islamic radicalization. The French government's response, which was hesitant and inconsistent, increased public anger and strengthened the far-right parties. Mass demonstrations by Hamas supporters turned into anti-Semitic violence, but the attempt to present a united front in the fight against anti-Semitism was met with an indecisive position of President Macron and the refusal of the Left to condemn Hamas. Internal considerations influence President Macron's position regarding the war in Gaza in his attempt to calm the Muslim immigrant neighborhoods and prevent escalation. The trends above create a new political dynamic that requires re-examination and policy adjustments ahead of future challenges.

Since the beginning of October 2023, France has once again faced a wave of violent incidents against the background of Islamic radicalization in the country. On October 13, a young man of Chechen Muslim origin murdered a literature teacher in the city of Arras in northern France, precisely three years after a similar attack that shocked the country. On December 2, a young man of Iranian origin murdered a tourist in the center of Paris to "avenge the death of Muslims from Gaza to Afghanistan." The attackers had been under surveillance for suspected Islamic radicalization and were marked as a threat but still managed to strike. Government representatives claimed that one of the attackers suffered from psychiatric problems, which was seen by the public as further proof of the government's incompetence. However, what angered the French citizens more than the two attacks above was a violent event that took place in the town of Crépol in the south of France on November 18 during a teenagers' party. About ten young men of Muslim descent from the nearby town, armed with cold weapons, broke into the party, shouted that they intended "to kill all the whites", brutally attacked the participants, and murdered a 16-year-old boy.

The racist and brutal nature of the event, which took place in an agricultural area in the French periphery that is less exposed to the threats of Islamization, was aggravated by another factor that angered the public: the government's response. The law enforcement authorities delayed the publication of the names of the suspects in an attempt to prevent the disclosure of their Muslim origins. The government even tried to ban demonstrations of sympathy with the murdered teenager, explaining that it was an initiative of the radical right groups and a danger to public order. For many, it looked like a bias and a double standard. Everyone here remembers the riots across France in June 2023, after the death of a young Muslim man killed as a result of disobeying police officers and the government's helplessness in the face of rioters who vandalized public property, attacked police, and terrorized residents. Instead of focusing on Islamic radicalization, the French government continues to divert the discussion to the dangers of the "radical right" - a threat that, in the eyes of the majority of the public, is seen as irrelevant.

Caricature in Charlie Hebdo: "The art of living. To end the party with stabbing, isn't it the best proof of integration into the French boobery!"

The French public knows what the real dangers are. According to one of the latest surveys, the absolute majority of the country's citizens - 87% - fear a civil war scenario in France as a result of a loss of control due to continued immigration and Islamic radicalization. The phrase "civil war" stars in the public discourse and comes from all ends of the political spectrum in the country, including the interior Minister in the previous government of President Macron, whose warnings on the subject were recently published. While the representatives of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, express the views of the concerned citizens, President Macron and his government seem at a loss, unable to rise to the magnitude of the hour.

Since he entered the Elysee Palace 6 years ago, Macron has not been able to present a clear and determined policy on the issues of immigration and radical Islam in France. His efforts have been focused on trying to maintain quiet in the "suburbs" and "popular towns," washed-up terms for the places of residence of the Muslim immigrant communities. Although Macron was able to overcome protests of an economic-social nature (the "yellow vests," strikes against pension reform) and was efficient in managing the coronavirus crisis thanks to his skills as an economist and manager, he showed weakness every time he had to deal with the crisis of immigration and radicalization, including the one that is happening now.

The French President, who usually cultivates his image in the media, has disappeared from the public discourse surrounding the incident in Crépol and the recent terrorist attacks. Instead of taking the reins, he let the Minister of the Interior, Gerard Darmanin, and the government spokesman, Olivier Véran, manage the media and public messaging. The President was also absent from an event of great national importance - a demonstration of solidarity with the Jewish community and against anti-Semitism initiated by the President of the Senate and the President of the French Legislative Assembly. The event took place against the backdrop of a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in France following the massacre in Israel (about 1,600 anti-Semitic incidents in the last month and a half, compared to 450 in the entire year of 2022). His non-participation in the demonstration harmed the organizers' attempt to create a unified national front in the fight against anti-Semitism and aided the efforts of the extreme Left to present the event as biased and controversial. So much so that the leader of the extreme left party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who refuses to condemn Hamas, derives most of his electoral support from the Muslim community in France, and who himself boycotted the solidarity demonstration, complimented President Macron for not participating in it. It seems that Macron is walking a tightrope between his desire not to anger the suburbs too much and to be clear about his support for Israel and the security of the French Jewish community.

The President's absence from the demonstration damaged his image and helped his primary opponent, the leader of the right-wing party "Rassemblement Nationale" Marine Le Pen, gain legitimacy among the Jewish community. From the first days of the war in Gaza, Marine Le Pen expressed solidarity with Israel's struggle against Hamas and announced her participation in the demonstration. Government representatives declared she was not welcome to join the rally, but their position led to the opposite result. A few influential public figures, Jewish and pro-Israel, praised Le Pen for joining the demonstration, contributing to her efforts to gain broad public legitimacy. According to the latest public opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is seen as the second favorite political personality in France (the first is former prime Minister Edouard Philippe, a possible candidate for the presidency in 2027), and her party leads by a considerable margin against the ruling party ahead of the European Parliament elections next year.

Balancing opposing interests results in an inconsistent position in French foreign policy. After the October 7 massacre, the French President expressed support for Israel's right to self-defense. However, he was not among the first leaders to visit Israel in solidarity. On October 24, Macron visited the region and met with the Prime Minister of Israel, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and the King of Jordan. During the visit, Macron surprised many, including his Foreign Ministry, when he announced a French initiative to establish an international coalition against Hamas, similar to the coalition against ISIS. The initiative, a complete improvisation of President Macron, was quickly dropped and replaced by the opposite position. Two weeks after he visited Israel, in a televised interview, the French President called on Israel to immediately stop the murder of innocents in Gaza. At the COP28 conference in Dubai, he even claimed that eliminating Hamas is not an achievable goal and "could take ten years." Contradictory statements by the President aside, France focuses its primary efforts on providing humanitarian aid. On November 9, Paris convened an international conference to reconstruct Gaza, in which the countries pledged to create a one billion dollar aid fund. A few weeks ago, France sent a mobile hospital aboard a helicopter carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean and is now working to establish a field hospital south of the Gaza Strip.

It would not be an exaggeration to claim that President Macron looks at the Middle East through the prism of the explosive social situation in his country. As a result, he prefers to portray himself as someone who works for an immediate ceasefire and multiplies efforts in providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza population while distancing himself from Israel. It seems that, in his opinion, this position will help him not to be perceived as a collaborator of Israel in the eyes of the Muslim population in his country. The effectiveness of this policy is questionable, but it looks like this is the kind of advice Macron receives from his close confidants, such as the famous comedian of Moroccan origin, Yassin Belattar, who helps him, as reported in the press, to understand the prevailing mood in the suburbs.

The recent events reveal the French government's strategy for dealing with social tensions - balancing opposing interests to prevent escalation and slide into violence. This balancing act is a difficult task in a country with the largest Muslim population (about 7 million people) and the largest Jewish community in Europe (about 450 thousand people) when the security of the Jewish community and even its continued existence in France are at stake. Beyond the fate of the Jewish community, Islamic radicalization undermines the French way of living and the fundamental values of the country, first and foremost, its famous concept of secularism (laïcité). It also produces a political dynamic of social polarization and the almost inevitable strengthening of Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, classified as extreme right, even though their positions are gaining increasing public support. Due to its central position in Europe, political and social developments in France will have effects throughout the continent and beyond.

The Israeli strategy for managing its relations with France should consider the abovementioned trends. We must strengthen bilateral cooperation with France, whose leaders appreciate Israel's technological excellence. It is crucial to support the efforts of the French government to maintain the safety of the Jewish community and fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism associated today with the extreme Left's alliance with radical Islam. It is also essential to be attentive to the transformations taking place in the French right-wing camp, to its position on the fight against anti-Semitism and support for Israel, and the transformation of Marine Le Pen's party into a legitimate player on the political field. These issues require new thinking and policy adjustments ahead of looming challenges.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Hatred of Israel and the new antisemitism through the lens of ideological transformations in American society and the education system

The massacre in Israel's South and the war against Hamas led to an extreme outbreak of hatred of Israel and antisemitism in many Western countries; the United States was no exception. Among the new and prominent characteristics of this phenomenon are the high level of hostility towards Israel, the number of violent incidents against Jews, and the high level of participation in the protests of the young generation (millennials and generation Z), large parts of which refuse to see Israel as a victim of atrocities and overtly justify the actions of Hamas. The source of these phenomena is found in ideological currents that have spread in American society in recent decades, based on radical ideological concepts on race, gender, and social inequality and influenced by a postmodernist anti-liberal approach. Despite their controversiality, these concepts were introduced into the public education and higher education systems; today, they shape the younger generation's mindset and influence their attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Jewish community in America.

The characteristics of the current anti-Israel protests

An outbreak of hostility and hatred towards Israel began immediately after the October 7 massacre. Similar to anti-Israel protests in the previous rounds of fighting, the current wave manifested itself in three main arenas: marches in city centers, demonstrations on university campuses, and a sharp increase in anti-Israeli and antisemitic publications on social media (particularly on TikTok and Twitter). However, the following characteristics distinguish the current wave of protests from the previous:

1. An unequivocal and unapologetic ideological identification of the protesters with Hamas terrorists, including with the organization's slogan "Free Palestine from the river to the sea" seen as a legitimate demand;

2. Determination of the protesters to act violently against Jews and supporters of Israel, which often led to violent antisemitic incidents in city centers and on campuses;

3. Lack of, or a delayed and vague response on the part of the university administrations concerning the massacre and the violence of the protesters against Jewish students;

4. A new form of protest, systematic removal of pictures with Israeli hostages' information. 

5. Alongside Palestinian and Muslim organizations, participation of other minority groups in protests, including the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace (which initiated events with high public visibility at the Capitol in D.C., on the Manhattan Bridge in New York, etc.).

"The Critical Race Theory" - background

The worsening of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility in the U.S. originates from radical ideological concepts that have been spreading in American society and the education system for two decades. The pro-Palestinian bodies, such as SJP, knew how to take advantage of these trends to promote the interests of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, but they were not the ones who created them. The source of these ideological transformations is the adoption and practical application of concepts based on "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) and radical ideologies regarding gender and social justice by institutions responsible for shaping the views and beliefs of the younger generation, namely the higher education system and the public education system. These trends are also present in other domains of public life but are not part of the current analysis.

The Critical Race Theory has been developed since the 1970s by academics and human rights activists. At its center is the claim that race is not a phenomenon based on biological differences but a social construction rooted in the legal system and intended to preserve a state of inequality and power distribution in the USA. According to CRT, racism is not a set of individual prejudices but an integral part of a governmental system established by the white, dominant, and privileged majority to oppress the black minority and other minorities. In the late 1990s, several American researchers criticized this theory, exposing its scientific weakness, the lack of empirical evidence supporting it, as well as its potential dangers, including the possibility that it would encourage antisemitism. Despite this, the "theory" spread beyond human rights activists and academic circles and gained a foothold in the American progressive camp.

One of the offshoots of the CRT is the term "intersectionality," whose original meaning is a cumulative effect of different forms of inequality based on race, gender, social status, and physical disabilities. The current version of this term includes a claim that all expressions of injustice in the world are related. According to this view, the oppression of the Palestinian people and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories are equivalent to racism against blacks in the USA, the persecution of members of the LGBT community, violence against women, and other phenomena of oppression. Hence, the need to unify the struggles of all minority groups to create a united front against the majority's oppression. Paraphrasing the communist battle cry,  the slogan for intersectionality acolytes could be: "Oppressed of the whole world, unite."

The influence of radical theories on American society

Despite shaky scientific basis and internal contradictions, the concepts mentioned above have formed over the years into a powerful ideological current that impacts the public discourse and, in recent decades, has created a sharp ideological conflict, some call it a full-blown "culture war," which tears and divides the society. These ideological tensions rose as early as the 1990s around the term "political correctness," intended to protect minorities from criticism against them; it gradually moved from the academic world to a broader social discourse. At the same time, the critics of the political and social order in the USA focused on the term "identity politics" to undermine the legitimacy of the existing system, which they claimed, while pretending to be liberal and universal, preserves the interests of the white majority and those with political and economic power.

The next incarnation of the American culture war began with the appearance of the "cancel culture" as part of the actions of the MeToo movement. Soon, the "cancel culture" became a valuable tool for the bearers of the new ideology in their struggle against the "dominant and oppressive majority." Furthermore, the "cancel culture" marked a new phase in this struggle that turned from a theoretical battle into a real-life conflict, with boycotts and social ostracism campaigns, causing reputational and financial damage to those who became the targets of these "cancel" actions. In addition, the "cancel culture" harmed freedom of expression by drawing clear boundaries between what is allowed and what is not in public discourse. These phenomena dramatically increased the political and social polarization in the U.S. at the beginning of the previous decade. They were criticized not only by the political right but also by President Obama, who warned of the consequences of the "cancel culture."

Despite the growing criticism, the radical ideologies continued to strengthen against the background of a series of dramatic events, especially the killing of George Floyd by a police officer. In the following years, there was a sharp increase in the number of particularly violent incidents, including looting and severe clashes with the police. The violent antisemitic incidents that occurred after October 7 are consistent with the trend above and indicate a transition to a new phase of ideological struggle, the phase of physical violence. It should be noted that today, the name affixed to these radical ideologies is "woke" (woke, or wokeness, or wokism), which originated in the struggle of the black community that sought to increase awareness of inequality and social injustice (the use of the term "woke" is common among opponents of this ideology, but perceived as a derogatory by its supporters who prefer to define themselves as fighters for equality and social justice). At the same time, as the level of violence escalated during these years, the "woke" ideology succeeded in increasing its influence and institutionalization in the public education system and higher education institutions.

Impact on the higher education system

The academic community contributed to developing the radical theories of race, gender, and social justice. The influence of the CRT on the general academic discourse and the universities' administrations was growing significantly. It translated into an unprecedented expansion of frameworks for the advancement of students from all types of minority groups (except the Jews). Many universities have established new departments called DEI - "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" to increase the proportion of minority students and facilitate their integration. The new departments turned into excessive bureaucratic bodies gaining status and sizable budgets. However, the latest journalist investigations indicate modest results, if any, of the DEI offices achieving their stated goals.

Furthermore, there are growing concerns about DEI's negative impact on freedom of expression on campuses, the damage to academic excellence, and, most importantly, the deepening of social polarization in universities instead of inclusion, contrary to what was expected from them. After the October 7 massacre, the DEI offices did not lift a finger to prevent the antisemitic incidents on the campuses since they do not recognize antisemitism as an act of oppression or discrimination. There is a possibility that the scandalous way the university administrations reacted to the massacre in Israel was due to their excessive reliance on the DEI offices, which, as mentioned, did not recognize the possibility that Israel or the Jews could qualify as victims of oppression.

Impact on the public education system

The situation in the public education system is even more complex. Since the beginning of the decade, evidence has been accumulating about the teaching of the radical concepts of race, gender, and social justice based on CRT and other radical ideologies in U.S. public schools. The students' parents complained about the radical study content in the classes, such as blaming the white majority for racism in the U.S. or intrusive lectures on sexual identity. Later, parent groups began to self-organize to ban CRT teaching in schools, and the issue made headlines in many states. In one of the districts of Virginia, the conflict between parents and schools ended up in court and the imprisonment of one of the protesting parents. The issue became highly partisan and politicized. Governors of several conservative states tried to ban the study of CRT and other radical ideologies. At the end of his term, President Trump issued a presidential order on "Combating race and sex stereotyping" and prohibited federal agencies from promoting opinions based on CRT or funding actions that encourage them.

However, President Biden rescinded this order on the first day of his term and fully supported the teachers' unions in determining school curricula (it should be noted that the teachers' unions are a solid support base for the Democratic candidates; major teachers' unions were among the first to announce their support for the second term of Biden in April 2023). As a result, teaching CRT content in schools has permeated education systems in most U.S. states, except a few conservative states such as Florida and Arizona. In early 2023, the Manhattan Institute published research results indicating that the majority of young people aged 18-20 have learned concepts related to CRT and radical gender ideology in public schools. As expected, American parents are voting with their feet. In the last six years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of home-schooled children and a 4% drop in the number of students in the public education system. The process of abandoning a public education system that began during COVID-19 continues now due to the radical content and the danger of indoctrination that worries a large part of the public. As a result, Republican activists are already working on new legislative initiatives to make it easier for parents who wish to transfer their children from public schools controlled by the teachers' unions to private or independent schools.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism of the new ideology

In recent years, reports have appeared about the introduction of anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli content in several public schools as part of the study of CRT and other radical theories. Moreover, after October 7, Jewish teachers reported hostile behavior from their students. In one case, high school students in New York even tried to physically attack a teacher of Jewish origin who posted a photo of her participation in a pro-Israel rally. Although the dimensions of anti-Semitic violence in schools are still relatively small compared to the scope of the phenomenon on campuses, the trend is clear. This hostility stems from the "woke" ideology, which sees Israel as an illegitimate state and identifies Jews with the privileged white majority. "Woke" ideology is not only aggressively anti-Zionist; it denies any possibility that Israel or Jews can be a victim of discrimination and persecution, and thus, in practice, dehumanizes them.

Book by David Bernstein, published in 2022

Senior officials in leading Jewish organizations, such as ADL, recognized the destructive potential of these distorted views as early as 2018, but their warnings did not receive due attention. Furthermore, progressive Jewish organizations, driven by idealism, wholeheartedly accepted "woke" ideology while ignoring its anti-Israel and antisemitic elements. These Jewish organizations discovered, to their astonishment, that after the October 7 massacre, none of their allies in these movements stood by their side and condemned the inhuman cruelty of Hamas. As Bret Stevens defined it, the ideology of "woke" has all the elements that should terrify any Jew: the belief that racial characteristics determine a person's moral worth, a habit of descending to antisemitism, and a quasi-totalitarian mindset. Thus, during the worst crisis for the Jewish people and the State of Israel since the Holocaust, the American Jewish community discovered that its efforts to build an alliance with the progressive camp had failed and that it was left alone in the face of an unprecedented wave of antisemitism. In recent weeks, the demand for a reckoning on the part of the progressive circles of the Jewish community has been growing more robust. However, it is still too early to determine its results, mainly because quite a few people have gone too far in their attempt to become part of the "woke" movement.


The above processes shape the face of American society and its future generations. Those are profound internal developments influenced by demographic, economic, cultural, and political trends. The U.S. is Israel's most important ally, and naturally, these developments are worrying, but Israel cannot influence them. However, it must be remembered that a strong and stable Israel is the primary source of strength for all Jewish communities worldwide. Israel can help Diaspora Jews face the challenges of the new antisemitism by a firm adherence to its fundamental commitments as the only state of the Jewish people: a persistent commitment to the security of its citizens, to the Law of Return and aliyah, and to maintaining its Jewish and democratic character.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Artificial Intelligence and its regulation, a perspective from Israel

Speaking at Tel Aviv University last June, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, made two headlines that caught the attention of the Israeli media. Addressing the risks of AI development, he emphasized the need to take the existential threats of AI seriously by creating an international regulatory body to ensure responsible use of it by all countries, similar to nuclear power control organizations. Complimenting the audience, Altman expressed his confidence that Israel's tech ecosystem will play a "huge role" in the artificial intelligence revolution, which will transform the world. "There are two things I have observed that are particular about Israel: the first is talent density, and the second is the relentlessness, drive, and ambition of Israeli entrepreneurs," said Altman at the event. 

There are good reasons for Altman's words of appreciation. Israel's Artificial Intelligence sector is growing fast and places it among the leading countries in the field. According to the AI Index Report 2022 of Stanford University, Israel ranks fifth in the Relative AI Skill Penetration rate in 2015-2021 and fourth in private investment in AI in 2021, with $2.4 billion. In absolute terms, 2200 companies in the country use Artificial Intelligence, as reported Israel Innovation Authority in May. In the last months, there was a sharp increase in Israel's start-ups entering the field of generative AI. Israeli companies use AI in cyber, fintech, agrotech, and organization software. One of the critical goals of Israel's Innovation Authority and AI experts is the development of the "National LLM," a language model that will function in Hebrew and Arabic. A significant presence of big technology companies and highly-ranked academic institutions provides a solid platform for international discussions on the future of AI, like the last conference, "Data Sciences," that attracted professionals from all over the globe.

However, the central message of OpenAI leaders to the Tel-Aviv audience and the global public opinion is a need to handle the future development of Artificial Intelligence with due caution. Sam Altman and OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever compare AI's negative potential to nuclear energy, which may sound like a stern warning. In his congressional testimony in May, Altman suggested a regulatory body to oversee the licensing and use of AI "above a certain threshold." Regarding the international community, he believes a new international organization should regulate the development and use of Artificial Intelligence in the way the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) controls nuclear power. 

As someone involved in the discussions on AI regulation a few years ago, seeing the CEO of OpenAI urging such regulation was encouraging. Sam Altman is not the first technology leader to express concern about the risks of AI - Ilon Musk did it as early as 2014, contemplating the need for national and international regulation publicly. Sam Altman takes this regulatory cause one step further. His recent road shows to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East constitute an effort to generate a more informed discussion of AI risks among decision-makers. This effort is a welcome initiative. 

However, we should remember that AI regulation is not a new topic for international organizations and national governments. Multiple international bodies, including UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and OECD, delved into the issue, hoping to forge a broad consensus among the countries. But were they successful in finding global consensus? The debates on AI regulation started three years before Chat GPT's launch, yet those respected bodies still try to find common ground or propose a regulatory mechanism. The differences between approaches to AI regulation precluded any reasonable agreement between all member states. Concerns for human rights and privacy were at the center of the European approach to AI regulation; the United States advocated for a market-driven approach and expressed fear of over-regulation stifling innovation, while China stood up for complete government control of Artificial Intelligence. Based on observation of the current state of affairs of the UN system, it is impossible to expect global consensus on AI. The only international organization able to reach an agreement among its members is the European Union, which plans to finalize the AI Act by the beginning of 2024. This example provides an important lesson on AI regulation - reaching a consensus among like-minded countries is the right way to proceed. 

Another vital lesson is the direct responsibility of the government to provide the regulatory framework and the equally unquestionable need to hold an open dialogue with the industry and civil society. Israel's government, for example, consulted with leading entities in the hi-tech sector and with technology experts and then published a draft policy on AI regulation in November 2022 for public comment.

One last lesson from the field of diplomacy: to get a consensus, we must find a compromise. Like others before him, Sam Altman discovered in his European tour that the European approach is more preventative and potentially more harmful to innovation than the American position. However, as Sam Altman did, once we realize the regulation is crucial, we can and should find a middle ground among like-minded countries. The OECD could be the best platform as it brings countries from Europe, Asia, and the Americas under the same roof who share common values but foster different cultural perspectives and traditions. Once achieved, this consensus would become a basis for an agreement on AI regulation open for other countries to join. 

What could this consensus look like? In Israel, the emerging approach is that of a "soft" regulation, as explained in the draft policy papers prepared by the Israel Innovation Authority. Instead of a comprehensive legislation framework, the various regulators working in different specializations examine the need to promote concrete regulation while maintaining a uniform government policy. In addition, the regulation will be carried out in appropriate cases using advanced regulatory tools such as voluntary standardization and self-regulation. Thus, Israel's approach combines elements of the European (uniform government policy) and the American position (voluntary steps and self-regulation). The policy paper draft also suggests using a modular format and regulatory experimentation tools (such as "sandboxes") and the public's participation in the deliberation process.

A doomsday scenario of AI technologies is probably exaggerated, but the need for its regulation is not. Given the current pace of AI development, procrastination could prove too dangerous.