Flemish Jews: Better coverage of Israel would have prepared Europe for truck attack in Nice


A group representing Flemish Jews said that the vehicular attack in France was shocking to Westerners because their media has willfully ignored a spate of car ramming attacks in Israel.

The Flemish Region’s Forum of Jewish Organizations issued its unusual statement Friday about the July 14 assault in the southern French city. As many as 80 people were killed when a driver plowed his truck through a crowded promenade during the national Bastille Day holiday, in an apparent terrorist attack.

Many European Jewish groups are critical of their media’s coverage of Israel but mainstream organizations like the Forum rarely reference this in commenting about terrorist attacks in Europe.

“It is inaccurate to say, as we have heard said many times after the Nice attack, that car ramming is a new phenomenon,” the Forum wrote. “By ignoring this method of terrorism in Israel – some believe because of political correctness – one is, regrettably, confronted in a horrific manner with reality.”

The statement featured a caricature of a man holding a sword that is sticking into his torso, which is shaped like the map of France, while kneeling with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The sword is labelled “political correctness.”

As the representative body of the Jewish communities of the Flemish Region – one of three autonomous states that make up the  federal kingdom of Belgium – the Forum speaks for half of the country’s Jewish population.

The organization representing Belgium’s French-speaking Jews, CCOJB, made no reference to Israel in its statement about the Nice attack, following which CCOJB expressed its solidarity with France and its condolences to the victims’ families.

CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, made passing reference to Israel in its condemnation of the attack. “The terrorists have the same objectives in Paris, Nice, Brussels, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and around the world,” CRIF wrote. The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote in its statement: “We know only too well of this kind of attack because of its repeated use in Israel.”

In Spain, the ACOM lobby group for Israel noted in its statement that “the model used in France is a lethal technique constantly used by Palestinian terrorists against the Israeli people.” But FCJE, Spanish Jewry’s representative umbrella group, made no mention of Israel in its statement, which spoke of “Islamic terrorism that once again attacks” the Western way of life.

Since January 2015, the Israel Security Agency recorded at least 34 car ramming attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Israel led to the death of three victims and injured at least 77 people.

Ramming attacks in 2015 were responsible for the second highest number of injured, after 114 people who were stabbed and 39 victims wounded in shooting attacks. It was the third deadliest method employed by terrorists, after shooting and stabbing, according to the agency.

Aliza Bin Noun, Israel’s ambassador to France, did not draw parallels between the attack in Nice and attacks in her native country in a statement she posted on Twitter. “Horrified by the Nice attack. Israel stands with the French People and their pain and is ready to help France combat terrorism,” she wrote.

French Jews slam Iranian president’s visit on Holocaust remembrance day


French Jews protested the arrival of Iran’s president in Paris, saying it was particularly unacceptable because the visit fell on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Hassan Rouhani, who postponed a November visit to France because of the terrorist attacks that killed 130 in Paris that month, landed in the French capital on Wednesday.

“The world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day while France welcomes the Iranian president,” CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, wrote on Twitter. “We say ‘no’ to Rouhani.”

Rouhani’s five-day visit to Italy and France, which will end Friday, is the first by an Iranian president in nearly two decades, as Tehran seeks to rebuild economic ties and secure new trade deals following the lifting of international sanctions over its nuclear program.

Speaking Tuesday at the French National Assembly, the lower house, lawmaker Meyer Habib, a former CRIF vice president, cited Iran’s track record of promoting Holocaust denial, threatening to destroy Israel and its human rights violations as incompatible with French values and those being commemorated on Jan. 27.

Both CRIF and Habib opposed hosting Rouhani in Paris regardless of the date.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens, a Holocaust survivor, and Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the Europe director of the American Jewish Committee, also lamented the timing of the visit, calling it “laughable” in an Op-Ed they coauthored that was published Tuesday by Atlantico.fr, a centrist news and analysis site. They proposed that French President Francois Hollande invite Rouhani to visit a local Holocaust commemoration site with him.

French PM: Attacks in France, Israel show we are ‘in world war’


Listing terrorist attacks in Israel along with attacks by the Islamic State, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said they showed “we are in a world war.”

Valls made the statement Monday at a Paris hotel in an address before approximately 350 listeners, mostly from the Jewish community, during an event organized by CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

In explaining the reasons for the existence of a terrorist threat in France, he noted “upheaval in the Arab world” and “the reality in certain neighborhoods in France, where young people are being radicalized.”

“There are more and more terrorist attacks all over the world. In France, Burkina Faso, in Jakarta, in Israel, it keeps happening and it shows we need to learn to live with it,” Valls said.

Asked whether the government was doing enough to protect French Jews from attacks following the slaying of four in January 2015 at a kosher supermarket, Valls said: “Yes, we are doing 100 percent, employing all measures, and we will continue to do so, but the risk is not negligible.”

Valls condemned former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who last year said Valls is “under Jewish influence” because of his wife.

“It is anti-Semitism of the worst kind,” Valls said of Dumas, “and certain compulsive anti-Semites act on the fact that my wife is Jewish.”

In 2011, Valls said his marriage to Anne Gravoin connected him “in an eternal way” to Israel and the Jewish people.

Valls, a Socialist who became prime minister in 2014 after a two-year stint as interior minister, enjoys considerable popularity among French Jews for his outspokenness against anti-Semitism and his rejection of attempts to boycott or isolate Israel, including through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He has been criticized for his stance.

At the event Monday, Valls also said “there needs to be firmer action on BDS events” in France, citing France’s unique set of laws which proscribe discriminating against nations.

CRIF President Roger Cukierman thanked Valls for appearing at the event.

“On a number of occasions, you said very powerful things: That anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, that France without its Jews is no longer France,” Cukierman said. “This makes you a dear politician.”

French lawmakers wear kippah to parliament following Jew’s stabbing


A French-Jewish lawmaker and his non-Jewish colleague wore kippahs in parliament to signal their rejection of anti-Semitism.

Meyer Habib and Claude Goasguen were filmed wearing the Jewish head covering, also known as a yarmulke or skullcap, briefly in the corridors of the National Assembly Wednesday, after a Jewish community leader from Marseille called on Jews to remove their kippahs as a security measure following a spate of anti-Semitic stabbings in the southern city, TV5 reported.

The call Tuesday by Tzvi Amar, president of the Marseille office of the Consistoire — a community organization responsible for providing religious services — sparked a passionate debate in France over the country’s anti-Semitism problem. His suggestion was squarely rejected by other community representatives and by French President Francois Hollande, who called a reality in which Jews need to remove their kippahs “intolerable.”

Jews in Israel and France, as well as many non-Jews, vowed to wear kippahs demonstratively on Friday across France and beyond to protest anti-Semitism.

The hashtag “#TousAvecUneKippa” (EveryoneWithAKippa) was widely shared on social media. The campaign featured photoshopped images of public figures wearing the skull cap — from actor Brad Pitt to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In addition to such appeals on social media, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia called on soccer fans in Marseille to arrive at a major match on Saturday wearing a kippah.

“There are many small initiatives taking place across France that involve wearing kippahs,” Robert Ejnes, a vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, told JTA Friday.

“The expressions of solidarity we’ve seen in France are a positive outcome to a negative reality that we would have preferred did not happen, in which the religious freedom of Jews is debated,” he added. “At the end of the day, though, we draw encouragement from the public reaction to what was said.”

Since October, there have been three non-fatal stabbing attacks on Jews in Marseille, which has a Jewish population of 80,000.

Paris photo exhibit glorifies Palestinian terrorism, Jewish group says


French Jews accused the medical group Doctors without Borders of glorifying Palestinian terrorism in a photo exhibition on militants, which opened with municipal assistance.

Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, last week asked the municipality of Paris to deny its facilities for the group’s exhibition titled “In Between Wars.” It nonetheless opened on Dec. 23 at the Maison des Métallos, a cultural space that belongs to the municipality and is funded by the local government.

The exposition “can only augment anti-Semitic violence and the terrorist threat,” CRIF wrote in a statement. On Twitter, Cukierman wrote: “We are crying still for 130 dead but for Doctors without Borders, terrorist are martyrs. Shocking.”

On Nov. 13, Islamists killed 130 people in at least eight simultaneous attacks in Paris.

The exhibition features pictures and informational text on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A text attached to the exhibit says the dispute began with Zionism’s “goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine.” The word is a reference to the British Mandate of Palestine, but in France today is mostly used to designate the West Bank and Gaza.

Part of the exhibition focuses on a 26-year-old Nablus resident who has been incarcerated in an Israeli jail three times and whose brother is still imprisoned. His father also was jailed and all his uncles, one of them for life – a penalty which is usually given for murder. The text does not say why they were imprisoned but described Israeli jails as having “degrading, humiliating” conditions and torture.

One of the photos shows the Arabic-language poster of a Palestinian terrorist who died in an attack on Israelis. He is described in the poster as a martyr.

The exhibition further focuses on Doctors Without Borders’ work in Gaza following Israeli strikes. It mentions neither Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians or its use of Gaza medical facilities to fire rockets on southern Israel.

Mego Terzian, the president of Doctors without Borders, told the AFP news agency he “understands the controversial nature” of the exposition but added that Cukierman “acted irresponsibly” and his accusations “are outside the norms of public discourse and unacceptable.”

French Jews condemn attack on mosque on Corsica


The umbrella group of French Jewish communities condemned rioting at a mosque on the French island of Corsica, which occurred following an assault on two firemen there.

The events referenced in the statement by the CRIF umbrella group Saturday occurred in the Corsican municipality of Ajaccio on Christmas Day. Demonstrators ransacked a Muslim prayer hall and attempted to burn copies of the Koran, police said, following a night of violence that left two firefighters and a police officer injured.

They were wounded in Jardins de L’Empereur, a low-income neighborhood of the city when they were “ambushed” by “several hooded youths,” authorities said, according to France24.

Following “attacks on firefighters, and the desecration of a Muslim house of worship in Corsica, CRIF condemns firmly these anti-republican actions,” the group’s communications department wrote on Twitter Saturday.

In France, the term “anti-republican” is used to describe actions or opinions deemed contrary to the values of the French republic.

Arno Klrasfeld, a Jewish human rights lawyer and son of the Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, wrote on Twitter that the incident at the mosque was inconsistent with Corsica’s legacy as the only French region where Nazi orders to deport Jews were defied during the Holocaust.

“During the occupation, one single Jew was deported from Corsica. The vast majority of Corsicans are not racists. They adhere to their idenity,” Klarsfeld wrote. He later added: “Attacks on firefighters, ambulances occur regularly in Israel, where ambulances can’t enter certain villages without protection.”

Jews against Trump


In ways direct and subtle, the Jews of America and the Jews of France, the Jews of the left and the Jews of the right, the Jews of the Reform movement and the Jews of the Orthodox movement, have sent Donald J. Trump a message: Feh.

“Feh” is a Yiddish expression of disgust.  And the fact that Trump could provoke such a uniform reaction from such a fractious people is a credit to the dumbness and darkness of his ideas.

His increasingly xenophobic and racist rhetoric reached a low point this week when he declared that under a Trump administration, America would close its borders to Muslims.   

“We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump said to cheers of approval from his supporters.

If Trump thought Jews, so often the targets of Islamic terrorism, would join the cheers, he really doesn’t get Jews.   The reaction from Jewish organizations and leaders was immediate and uniformly negative. 

Trump’s plan was “unacceptable and antithetical to American values,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a written statement.

“The U.S. was founded as a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution, and religious pluralism is core to our national identity,” Greenblatt continued. “A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values.”

Greenblatt’s words echoed similar statements from across the Jewish political, religious and ideological spectrum.  Last month, even the Orthodox Union joined in opposing Trump’s call to keep Syrian refugees out of America.

Trump must be scratching his – insert your own hair joke here. Jews are a particular target of Islamic terror.  The coward who shot up the disabilities center in San Bernardino was “obsessed” with Israel, his father told reporters. 

According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, Jews still are the prime target for hate crimes in America—59 percent are directed at Jews.  Second place, but rising faster, are Muslims.

But Jews understand that the democratic safeguards built into America’s Constitution, including the separation of church and state, form our strongest safeguard against hate and discrimination.  When those crumble, we all fall down. 

Beyond the danger posed by the threat to civil liberties and religious freedom, there is the practical issue.  In Trump’s mind, the best way to stop Islamic terror is to target all Muslims.  But that just encourages Muslim radicalism, creates the “holy war” between Muslims  and non-Muslims that the extremists pray for, and pushes moderate believers to the extremes.   

Liberal claptrap?  Ask the French Jews and the Israelis. 

When Trump’s recent foulness exploded across the Web, I was having coffee with an Israeli official.  Israelis, he told me, are simply bemused by Trump’s antics.   If Muslims in and of themselves are the problem, how to account for the success of Israel, a democratic Jewish state with a 20-percent mostly Muslim Arab minority ?  

Israel faces threats from Islamic extremism that, to use a Trumpism, would make your head spin, but Israeli leaders from David Ben Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu have known that the best way to increase radicalization is to persecute the majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens, or to insult the Muslim religion itself.

French Jews have seen their own and their fellow countrymen slaughtered on the streets of Paris and Toulouse at the hands of Muslim terrorists – but they know the moral and practical dangers of a discriminatory France are a far greater threat.

This week, the Jews of France issued a stinging rebuke to their homegrown anti-democratic forces, and, by extension, to Trump.

On the eve of the upcoming regional elections in France, the Alsace chapter of CRIF, the umbrella Jewish organization, came out strongly against the Muslim-baiting National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.

“The Alsace chapter, strongly attached to the values of the Republic,” the statement read, “calls upon all voters to participate at the upcoming elections – since so much is at stake. We are calling to reject the extremist parties that advocate hatred and try to prosper at the expense of the divide within the society created by fear.”

CRIF president Roger Cukierman called on the Jewish community to vote “in order to block the National Front, a party of xenophobia and populism.”

It was heartening this week to see Republican presidential candidates and Party leaders all denounce Trump’s ideas.  And it was especially thrilling to hear the silence and jeers that met Trump at the recent meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

If Jews in America, France and Israel can all agree on the danger to their countries and their liberty in the kind of ideas Donald Trump espouses, then there’s not a lot more to be said about Trump or his candidacy.

Except, feh.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

French far-right National Front party wins first round of local elections


The far-right National Front party won the first round of local elections in France.

Less than a month after the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris that killed 130, the anti-immigrant National Front garnered 28 percent of the vote nationally on Sunday, edging the center-right Republicans at 27 percent, according to France 24. The left-wing Socialists of President Francois Hollande finished third with 23.5 percent.

National Front received the most votes in six of France’s 13 regions, but now faces a tougher runoff vote on Sunday. The Socialists have announced that they will withdraw some candidates from the race in order to consolidate opposition to National Front.

“This is a great result that we welcome with humility, seriousness and a deep sense of responsibility,” said National Front leader Marine Le Pen, according to France 24. “We are without question the first party of France.”

According to Haaretz, the result is the strongest electoral achievement for a far-right European party since World War II. Le Pen’s father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a history of anti-Semitism, though his daughter has distanced herself and the party from him and his record.

Following publication of the results, CRIF, the umbrella body of French Jewry, called on French Jews to vote against National Front in the runoff, according to i24 News.

“On this coming Sunday, go out and vote by the masses to block the National Front, a xenophobic and populist party,” the CRIF statement read. “Do not allow the Republic to fall.”

Jewish boy, 13, assaulted near Paris


A 13-year-old Jewish boy was maced near Paris in what a watchdog group said was an anti-Semitic assault by three unidentified minors.

The incident occurred Tuesday evening in Le Pre-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris, according to a report published Wednesday on the website of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

The attackers, who appeared to be of North African descent, identified the boy as Jewish because he wore a kipah and tzitzit, according to the BNVCA report, which was based on the testimony of an eyewitness. One of the assailants sprayed the boy’s eye with mace, or possibly pepper spray, before fleeing with the other two.

Rendered temporarily blind, the boy was rushed to a nearby clinic for medical treatment. He suffered intense pain for about 30 minutes after the attack, BNVCA said.

Police, alerted to the incident by BNVCA, collected depositions from the witness and the victim, BNVCA wrote.

The attack is part of a surge in anti-Semitic incidents in France that has been ongoing since 2012, BNVCA wrote, and which led to the death of 12 people at the hands of French jihadists targeting Jews.

“The situation is becoming increasingly intolerable,” the BNVCA wrote in the report about the 13-year-old victim, who was not named. “A child of 13, as he is about to celebrate bar mitzvah, knows nothing but the climate of fear and insecurity as a result of anti-Semitism.”

French police foiled terrorist plot on anti-Semitism forum


Suspected jihadists arrested last year in Lyon were planning to carry out a terrorist attack at a Jewish group’s conference on anti-Semitism.

The five suspects who were arrested in a series of sweeps by French police from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18 were planning to strike on Sept. 18 at an event organized in Lyon by the regional branch of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, according to a report Tuesday in the Le Progres daily.

An unnamed police officer who was in charge of the investigation confirmed to Le Progres that the suspects were arrested following the interception of a Sept. 5 telephone conversation in which they discussed their plans.

Among the five arrested are Karim and Reda Bekhaled, brothers who are believed to have been involved in recruiting radical Muslims to fight in Syria, along with the remaining three suspects. Reda Bekhaled was heard discussing the plans in the recorded conversation.

The police officer said the brothers “had the ambition of dying as martyrs” and “planned to carry out imminently an act of violence.”

On Jan. 9, Amedy Coulibaly, another suspected jihadist, killed four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket outside Paris where he held 19 people hostage for several hours before police stormed the building and killed him. The attack was part of a string of terrorist acts committed by Coulibaly and two accomplices who on Jan. 7 murdered 12 at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly for its ridicule of Islam.

Coulibaly and the two brothers were part of a cell that also recruited jihadists to fight in Syria, French police said.

French Jewish leader indicted for calling Dieudonne ‘professional anti-Semite’


Roger Cukierman, president of France’s largest Jewish group, was indicted for calling the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala a “professional anti-Semite.”

Cukierman, who heads the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, announced the indictment on Monday in a video that appeared on the CRIF website.

“So I am being indicted for having stated on Europe 1 that Dieudonne is a professional anti-Semite. Isn’t that funny? For once, Dieudonne is actually comical,” Cukierman said.

Dieudonne has 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews, according to CRIF. He also invented the quenelle salute, which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said was an inverted Nazi gesture of anti-Semitic hate, and the term “shoananas,” a mashup of the Hebrew word for the Holocaust and the French word for pineapple, which is used to suggest the genocide never happened without explicitly violating France’s laws against doing so.

Earlier this year, Valls, then interior minister, advised mayors to ban Dieudonne’s shows, leading to the show’s cancellation and replacement with another routine which featured less anti-Semitic material.

Indictments are “quasi-automatic” in France when police receive complaints of defamation, according to the  L’Express news website.

Responding to the indictment, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Vigilance, or BNVCA, extended its support for Cukierman.

“No one in France knows anti-Semitism better than Roger Cukierman, who survived the Holocaust at the age of nine because nuns hid him while his family was deported to Auschwitz and gassed there,” the Drancy-based watchdog wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Dieudonne and the far-right Holocaust denier Alain Soral recently decided to form a political party, the news site Mediapart.fe reported Tuesday.

Last week, Dieudonne was indicted for fraud, money laundering and abuse of public funds, Le Monde reported. Researchers believe Dieudonne, who declared he had no money to pay fines he received for his hate speech, transferred more than $500,000 to Cameroon while he declared himself to be insolvent.

 

French Jewish leader: ‘It’s not so pleasant living there as Jews’


France’s flag has three stripes, and its motto promotes three values: liberty, equality and fraternity.

Now, its Jewish community — Europe’s largest — faces three threats, according to Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

In an appearance at New York’s French consulate, Cukierman laid out the trio of challenges: an increasingly radicalized Muslim immigrant population that scapegoats Jews, the growing popularity of the far-right National Front party headed by Marine Le Pen, and widespread anti-Israel sentiment among French leftists.

“It’s not so pleasant living there as Jews in this period,” Cukierman said, adding that at a recent anti-government demonstration, “a crowd of 17,000 people was yelling, ‘Jews, France does not belong to you.’” (An audience member disputed his characterization later during a Q&A session, arguing that only about 500 demonstrators joined in the anti-Jewish chants.)

Forty percent of violent hate crimes in France target Jews, Cukierman said.

Another looming threat, he said, is Qatar’s enormous influence on the French economy.

“They’re in a position to influence French policy,” he said. “They haven’t yet, but it’s easy to envision they might in the future.”

Despite the challenges, the French government is standing by the country’s Jews, said Cukierman, noting approvingly that the country’s president recently publicly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

A mix of French expats and American Jewish leaders filled the large, stately second-floor room, where Cukierman spoke, followed by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Much of Hoenlein’s speech was laced with dramatic rhetoric, comparing anti-Semitism in France to a “tsunami,” describing Arab unrest as “the Arab volcano” and referring to anti-Semitism in Europe as a “cancer that has been allowed to grow.” He also referenced Hitler’s “big lie” and quoted the “in every generation, enemies arise to destroy us” line from the Haggadah.

Toulouse anti-racism rally features anti-Zionism chants


Participants in a march against anti-Semitism and other racism in the French city of Toulouse hurled anti-Zionist insults at Jewish fellow demonstrators.

Some of the insults were directed at Nicole Yardeni, who heads the local chapter of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities, during the march on Saturday by 2,000 people. The march was organized by a gay group, Arc-en-Ciel, following the spraying of anti-Semitic and anti-gay slogans in several locales last week in Toulouse.

At one point, a group of demonstrators started chanting “Yardeni, get lost” and “CRIF, fascists, Zionists, get lost.”

The Jewish participants were “absolutely unprepared for such a reception,” Yardeni told the French news agency AFP. ”Jews are now being chased away from a demonstration against anti-Semitism.”

Demonstration organizers said they regretted the chants.

“We are deeply disturbed by what happened,” said Noemie Henry, a president of Arc-en-Ciel.

Also in Toulouse on Saturday, some 400 protesters demonstrated a few miles from where the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was performing at the Zennith Theater. City officials did not permit the demonstration opposite the building, the France 3 television channel reported, and police were on hand to check that everyone entering the theater had a ticket to prevent disturbances by anti-Dieudonne infiltrators.

Dieudonne has used his shows to air anti-Semitic views.

The protest was organized by CRIF and the LICRA anti-racism watchdog.

The France 3 report showed young men leaving the theater performing the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi gesture that Dieudonne invented and labeled anti-establishment, but which many French Jews and politicians believe is anti-Semitic.

 

French group that saved Jews from Nazis snubs Shoah memorial event


A French organization that saved Jews during the Holocaust has declined to attend a commemoration because it was organized by pro-Israel Jews.

The Marseille branch of CIMADE, a French Protestant group established in 1939, declined to attend the region’s main memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims because of the pro-Israel attitude of CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, which organized the event together with the municipality.

The values that led CIMADE to save Jews make the group “equally committed to oppose the colonial, discriminatory and bellicose policy of Israel with regards to the Palestinians,” CIMADE regional deputies Françoise Rocheteau and Jean-Pierre Cavalie wrote in a letter to the local CRIF branch on Dec. 21. It also said CIMADE was determined to fight “apartheid.”

The letter, which was published online on Feb. 11 by a group which promotes a boycott of Israel, was a reply to an invitation extended by CRIF to CIMADE to attend the 70th commemoration on Jan. 20 of the deportation and subsequent murder of thousands of local Jews.

Marseille had a Jewish population of 39,000 in 1939, according to Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Only 10,000 remained after the Holocaust. CIMADE organized “vital relief and later resistance” in connection with the murders, according to Yad Vashem, and helped smuggle Jews to safety. Yad Vashem named Madeleine Barot, who headed CIMADE during the Holocaust, a Righteous among the Nations in 1988. She passed away seven years later.

“We understand our positions may appear unacceptable, making us unwelcome at your commemoration,” the CIMADE representatives wrote. “We cannot keep silent on our convictions but do not wish to cause a scandal.”

In France, Marseille Jews look to Paris and worry that their calm may be fleeting


At a time when Jewish institutions across France resemble military fortresses for their security, entering the great synagogue and main Jewish center of this picturesque city on the Mediterranean coast is as easy as pushing open the front door.

The only obstacles on a recent Sunday were 20 children scampering around on their break from Hebrew school.

That same day in Paris, prosecutors announced that they may never catch all the known 10 members of a domestic, jihadist network described by French authorities  as “very dangerous” and responsible for detonating a grenade in a kosher store near Paris last month.

Days earlier, French Jewry’s security unit, the SPCJ, reported a 45 percent rise in anti-Semitic attacks this year, mostly by Muslims — part of an “explosion” of incidents after the March 19 killings of three children and a rabbi in Toulouse by a French-born Muslim extremist. Terrorists may try to infiltrate synagogues on reconnaissance missions, SPCJ also warned recently.

Yet while the 350,000 Jews in and around Paris — more than any other city in Europe — have seen violent convulsions with increasing frequency, Jews here in France’s second-largest Jewish community have enjoyed relative calm.

But many of the 80,000 or so Jews who live in relative peace next to an estimated 250,000 Arabs in this seaside city of 800,000 worry that things could get worse.

In Marseille, Jewish leaders and laymen say they wear their kipahs without fear of attack, offering varying explanations for how the peace is maintained: Some cite interfaith dialogue, others point to geographic segregation and a few make mention of the deterrent threat of Jewish gangsters.

From 2009 to 2011, there were twice as many anti-Semitic attacks per capita in Paris proper than in Marseille, according to an analysis of 1,397 incidents recorded by SPCJ. Only 59 attacks were registered here in those years, compared to 340 in Paris proper.

Michele Teboul, the regional representative of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, says these relatively low figures are part of “the miracle of Marseille.” She credits mainly the work of an interfaith dialogue group that the municipality established in 1991.

But Teboul, a businesswoman and mother of three, is worried that this effect is wearing off as “mosques continue to preach hatred” and the city’s Jewish and Muslim communities drift apart physically and mentally.

Elie Berrebi, director of Marseille’s Central Jewish Consistory — the institution responsible for administering religious services for French Jews — describes the presence of “a small but well-positioned” Jewish mafia as a deterrent to would-be Muslim aggressors, saying that attacking Jews here carries special risks.

“It’s a well-known secret that this community has its own gangsters,” he said. “Not many, but in powerful positions in that world. They speak the language of the other side’s criminals.”

Approximately 50 Jewish gangsters from Marseille are currently in jail, where the Jewish community offers them what services it can, according to Berrebi. One of them, identified only as Daniel S., was the subject of a feature published in August by the French weekly Marianne titled the “The revival of the Jewish Mafia.”

Bruno Benjamin, president of the Marseille Jewish community, dismisses the Jewish gangster theory.

“The Arabs have many more gangsters,” he said.

In 2002, Marseille saw the first synagogue arson attributed to anti-Semitism since World War II when the northern Or Aviv shul was burnt to the ground.

“Since the early 2000s, we’ve been seeing long periods of calm interrupted by eruptions of anti-Semitism,” Berrebi said. Jews in Marseille’s northern parts “have been hit pretty hard,” he said, since the early 2000s, when anti-Semitic attacks spiked in France.

Since then, the city’s Jewish population has gravitated away from the center and northern Marseilles in favor of middle-class neighborhoods in the city’s south, which Berrebi describes as safer. Approximately 80 percent of Marseille’s Jews now live in that part of town, he says. Arab families also are migrating from the center northward and eastward to working-class areas.

The separation is a mixed blessing, Berrebi says. While it insulates Jewish families from potential Muslim aggressors, “it means that there is a new generation growing up without knowing Jews, with a strong us-versus-them notion,” he said.

Berrebi arrived here as a boy in 1967. Like 90 percent of Marseille’s Jews, his family emigrated from North Africa shortly after the Maghreb — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia — gained independence from France in the 1950s. Arabs also came in large numbers and settled in the same neighborhoods as the Jews.

“We used to live together. My generation and the previous one had a lot of commercial exchange with the Arabs,” he said. This familiarity prevented hate crimes, he said, “but the younger generations have lost it.”

Meanwhile, one of Marseille’s biggest problems is unemployment — 30 percent above the national average in 2012 — and the accompanying crime. In 2011, some 26 physical assaults occurred here daily, and armed robbery rose by 40 percent from 2010, according to police statistics.

Lawlessness always seems to be nearby, with ethnic tensions roiling just beneath the surface. In July, what began on the street as a robbery ended in rape and assault after the perpetrator — a Muslim man whom authorities judged to be mentally unsound — saw his elderly victim’s mezuzah on the front doorway of her home, according to her account.

On Saturday, a convoy of seven reckless drivers raced down Rue Paradis, near the city’s great synagogue. In one car, women ululated while the driver swerved violently in consecutive hand-brake skids. In another, five men shouted and waved the Algerian flag. A passing police car only provoked them to intensify their conduct, then passed them.

Benjamin, Marseille’s Jewish community president, credited the non-confrontational approach of city authorities in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods with keeping things quiet.

“Some of the relative peace here owes to police not kicking those hornets’ nests,” he said.

Other members of the community praise Marseille Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin’s “declaredly pro-Israel” attitude.

“It sets the tone and discourages pro-Palestinian sentiment from turning anti-Semitic,” Berrebi said.

Even so, when Berrebi’s daughter wanted to move to Israel, he said he did not try to dissuade her. “There’s a growing realization we won’t be able to stay here indefinitely,” he said.

Jean-Jaques Zenou, 40, is the president of Radio JM, the area’s Jewish radio station. The Marseille native says he wishes his five children would immigrate to Israel.

“Even in Marseille, I get frightened when I stop to compare our reality to that of the 1990s,” he told JTA. “We have terrorist networks, a very strong far right. And what happened in Toulouse.”

Zenou says the community “may be behaving naively” by sufficing with relatively lax security arrangements.

“After all,” he said, “it’s not like the Jewish community of Toulouse ever expected what happened there.”

Richard Prasquier, French Jewish CRIF leader, adds to warning on Francois Hollande presidency


Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewry, reiterated concerns that a Francois Hollande presidency would boost the anti-Israel left.

Speaking to reporters Monday before a meeting at the French Consulate in New York, Prasquier said, “We know that some of the parties who are supposed to be partners of the coalition in favor of Francois Hollande are not friends of Israel. The place they will play [in a Hollande administration] we will see.”

Prasquier, who is president of the representative council of French Jewish institutions, came under fire over the weekend for an April 25 column he wrote in Haaretz in which he appeared to express more concerns about a Hollande presidency than a second term for the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande and Sarkozy will face off in a second round of French voting on May 6. Hollande, of the Socialist Party, leads Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, by 8 percentage points, according to a poll by Ifop conducted April 26-29.

At the news conference in New York, Prasquier denied having expressed a preference for Hollande in his Haaretz column, saying that both Hollande and Sarkozy were friends of Israel and share the same views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But, he added, Hollande is untested when it comes to Iran, and there are closer ties between the Socialist Party and the anti-Israel far left than there are between Sarkozy’s party and the xenophobic far right represented by Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The problem, Prasquier said, is not with Hollande or the people close to him, but with the adamantly anti-Israel parties that are supporting him.

“It is clear that the Left Front has declared that they will vote for Francois Hollande,” Prasquier said.

“If Francois Hollande is elected president, I do not expect the far left would be given the position of foreign minister, but if they have more visibility there might be an increase in demonstrations against Israel in the public society—BDS and so on—and we will have to face them. But we will have to face the demonstrations, not the government.”

By contrast, he said, if Sarkozy is elected to a second term, Le Pen will not have a stronger voice.

“If Nicolas Sarkozy is elected, she will not have a voice because there are no relations between her and the president,” Prasquier said.

In France’s first round of voting on April 22, Le Pen’s party captured 18 percent of the vote while far-left parties, including the Green Party, the French Communist Party and the Left Party, captured less than 15 percent of the vote.

Prasquier said he was not happy about the strong showing by Le Pen, but he does not believe that her support is comprised wholly of anti-Semites. Rather, he said, “the new category of Jew-bashing comes from those who present themselves as being anti-Zionists”—namely, the far left.

“Those people who stigmatize, who vilify on the very precise and unique way the State of Israel instead of stigmatizing the other countries,” he said, exhibit “behavior very similar to the behavior used in the past to pinpoint Jews as responsible for everything.”

Prasquier said he does not believe France is an anti-Semitic country. He said the way to prevent attacks like the shooting in March at the Jewish school in Toulouse that resulted in four deaths is to increase security. The perpetrator in the attack, Mohammed Merah, who was killed after a standoff with police several days after the shooting, was a Muslim extremist.

“I do not see any possibility of preventing another action of this kind without increasing the level of security,” Prasquier said. “It’s not a question of reaching out. We are trying to reach out as much as possible to the Muslim community. We should not mix up the Muslim community with the awful deeds of this murderer.”

Sarkozy heralds new era in France-Israel ties


In an unprecedented speech by a French president to the umbrella organization of French Jewry, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to boost the France-Israel relationship and play a major role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Fulfilling a promise he made almost a year ago, Sarkozy on Feb. 13 became the first French president ever to speak at the CRIF’s annual dinner, and many attendees said they felt they were on the cusp of a new era in France-Israel relations.

The address was also seen as a sign of the newfound warmth between Elysees Palace and French Jewry, whose place in French society has been shaken in recent years following a surge in anti-Semitic attacks.

“Israel can count on a new dynamic to its relationship with the European Union,” Sarkozy declared, with France set to hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2008. “France will never compromise on Israel’s security.”

Sarkozy also warned that the European Union might boycott the planned United Nations’ Durban conference on racism if it becomes an Israel-bashing conference, as it did in 2001.

“The Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs that turned the conference into a forum against Israel, and no one has forgotten,” Sarkozy said. “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001. Our European partners share France’s concerns. France will chair the EU in the final months preceding the review conference. I say to you: if ever our legitimate demands are not taken into account, we will disengage from the process.”

In his remarks, made to a crowd of more than 1,000 leading French Jews, as well as politicians from the political right and left, Sarkozy spoke of the indispensable place of French Jewry in French society, said 2008 would be a crucial year for French-Israeli reconciliation and promised to play a leading role in helping Palestinians and Israelis reach a peace deal, which he called “absolutely possible.”

“I think it’s going to be a landmark year,” Israel’s ambassador to France, Daniel Shek, said after the speech. “We used to be very close to France until 1967, so this is a real renovation, which is very exciting to experience.”

The president’s appearance came as his approval rating among the French has dropped some 20 points since September, to 39 percent — due in large part to France’s sluggish economy and revelations about Sarkozy’s personal life, including his recent marriage to model Carla Bruni.

But Sarkozy found a warm reception at the CRIF dinner. French Jews overwhelmingly supported Sarkozy’s candidacy for president, and many say he is a true friend of the Jews and Israel.

“It’s the first time that a president of the republic has come here in person, and it shows how important it is to him,” said Claude Hampel, editor of Cahiers Bernard Lazare, a Jewish periodical. “It shows that the Jewish community is an integral part of the French nation.”

Sarkozy described the evening as significant to him as well and the start of a busy year in French-Israel relations.

Israeli President Shimon Peres is scheduled to visit Paris on an official state visit March 10-14, and Sarkozy is expected to go to Jerusalem in May to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. In July, France will take over the EU presidency, which Sarkozy said could have major implications for Israel’s future.

The president also spoke of the need to maintain dialogue and trade ties with Arab states, saying he sees “absolutely no contradiction” between this policy and a steadfast friendship with Israel, arguing that this gives France broader influence in the Middle East to push for peace.

Yet, Sarkozy drew a line when it came to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “I will not meet with or shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.

Sarkozy also talked about anti-Semitism in France, pledging to combat it through original educational measures, including a proposal to have every 10- or 11-year-old in the country “entrusted” with the profile of a French Jewish child killed during the Holocaust. Sarkozy’s maternal grandfather was a Greek Jew.

“I’m very touched and interested,” Ariel Goldmann, CRIF’s vice president, said of the elementary school memorial initiative. “I think it’s a magnificent idea, and that it will last.”

While the crowd here mostly had praise for Sarkozy’s remarks, his comments about the compatibility of religious and secular values struck some as striking the wrong chord, while others said they found them comforting.

In another one of his attempts to open up the delicate debate in France over introducing aspects of religion into French culture, Sarkozy said, “The drama of the 20th century, the millions of beings thrown into war, famine, separation, deportation and death, were not born from an excess of the idea of God, but of its fearsome absence.”

Sometimes sounding more pastor than politician, Sarkozy said of the Bible: “Never again, after the Torah, never again has man been able to speak about God the way he was able to in the past.”

Alain Belhassen, president of the southeastern section of the CRIF, said he was thrilled to hear a politician talk about spirituality, and to listen to Sarkozy’s heartfelt contemplations about Judaism.

This is the kind of discussion France’s 600,000 Jews need more of in order to heal the wounds caused by nearly a decade of renewed anti-Semitism here, Belhassen said.

Jean-Michel Quillardet, head of the Grand Orient of France, an organization that stridently defends French secularism, said Sarkozy’s remarks were at odds with French culture.

“This is the first time that a French president talks this much about God. That’s his affair, if you will, his personal conviction, but it’s a little like the U.S. in the end, and we are not in the U.S.; we are in France, with the great tradition of French enlightenment,” he said. “So I’m very dubious, and a little worried.”