When the former Trump administration announced that it was moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017, the reaction in the Muslim world and among Muslim communities in the West was, as expected. wait, furious. In the Friday sermons that followed this announcement, several imams around the world denounced Israel in purely anti-Semitic terms, many of them citing the same hadith – a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad – which speaks of a massive massacre of Jews by the Muslim faithful.
In writing about those sermons at the time, I highlighted three that were given in mosques across the United States that same week, all of which spoke of Jews in genocidal terms. Two of the sermons – one in a mosque in Houston, Texas, the other in Raleigh, North Carolina – quoted a rather frightening hadith which reads: “The day of judgment will not come until the Muslims will not have fought the Jews. The Jews will hide behind the stones and the trees, and the stones and the trees will say, O Muslim, O servant of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me – come and kill him.
This same hadith surfaced during a sermon delivered by the imam of the Great Mosque of the city of Toulouse, in southwestern France, Mohamed Tataiat, just after the embassy moved. Residing in France since 1985 and occupying the post in Toulouse in 1987, Tataiat has been hailed by his supporters as a voice of moderation and an enthusiastic supporter of interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews.
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Last week, the Toulouse Criminal Court endorsed this dubious assessment, acquitting Tataiat of incitement charges brought against him by CRIF, France’s main Jewish organization, as well as the National Office for Vigilance Against Antisemitism. (BNVCA) and the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA). After a three-month trial, the court ruled that by citing the hadith, it was not Tataiat’s intention to “cause hatred or discrimination”.
Since the authenticity of this hadith is not in question, one can understand why the mere fact of quoting it might not be considered a criminal offense, even in countries, like France, with strict laws on speech. of hate. But as with any type of hate speech, context is essential.
Two considerations must be taken into account. First, the hadith on Muslims fighting against Jews on Judgment Day has long been an established component of radical Islamist texts; for example, a PBS Frontline investigation of Saudi textbooks in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities in the United States 20 years ago revealed its use in the book used for religious studies. If the Toulouse court had approached the Tataiat case with any diligence, it would have noted the militant pedigree of this hadith, as well as the fact that Tataiat was not the only imam to have invoked it in a sermon attacking the move. from the American Embassy.
Second, the court could have watched the video of the relevant section of Tataiat’s sermon, which is available on the website of the US think tank, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). In his sermon, Tataiat is heard quoting the hadith before explaining it as follows: âThis hadith was narrated by Imam Muslim (a ninth century Persian scholar revered in Sunni Islam). Christians and Jews also believe in these prophecies. Without further commenting on the hadith, Tataiat then recounted a fabricated anecdote of the âIsraeli Prime Ministerâ fearing that the Jewish state âwould not live longer than 76 years – as it is written in the prophecies of [the Jews]. “Reinforcing this apocalyptic prediction of Israel’s imminent death, Tataiat then quoted an anonymous reporter who attended the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres as saying that the occasion did not mark Peres’ funeral but the “Funeral of Israel”.
Critically, nothing Tataiat said amounted to criticizing the message of the hadith in any way. But by hiding behind an Islamic text from the early Middle Ages and loosely connecting contemporary events to its central message that the days of Jews on earth are numbered, he succeeded in convincing a French court that his intentions were noble.
Of course, French justice does not need much to persuade that anti-Semitism is a phantom invented by Jews who are too paranoid. A Jewish leader compared the Toulouse court ruling in the Tataiat case to the shocking ruling earlier this year in the case of Sarah Halimi, the Jewish woman murdered in her Paris apartment on April 4, 2017, by an intruder who shouted Islamist slogans as he punched her to death. After four years of insults and heartache inflicted on French Jews as they awaited the official announcement of the criminal trial of Halimi’s murderer, Kobili TraorÃ©, in April 2021, the country’s highest court announced that he would be exempted of such a forgery trial on the grounds that his cannabis use in the hours preceding the murder had made him temporarily insane, and therefore criminally irresponsible. There is clearly a habit in French courts of ignoring substantive charges whenever the problem of anti-Semitism arises, instead focusing on procedural matters that work to the advantage of the accused.
The problem is that in democracies we rely on the police and the judiciary to uphold the rule of law. Elected politicians can pass laws, but they cannot directly enforce them. As necessary as this separation of powers is, when it comes to France, we are forced to conclude that the many condemnations of anti-Semitism made by French politicians are worthwhile as long as French courts dismiss Jewish fears of it. anti-Semitism as an irritation – and nothing more.PJC
Ben Cohen is a New York-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS, where it first appeared.