Marine Le Pen. Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters

Fight against Le Pen must continue


As a young girl who fled Iran, I lived in France for several years during the mid-1980s before coming to the United States. I attended a French public middle school, one of only three Iranian students in the entire school. The tension between “Arab” and “French” people was palpable on a daily basis.

Despite the external challenges, I was enduring my own internal cultural conflicts, or, perhaps I should say, tectonic shifts. I had escaped the tumult of the Islamic Revolution and a country where I was forcibly covered from head to toe on a daily basis, only to find myself now exposed to a new environment where women comfortably walked the beach without even a bikini top! I remember the images of men and women casually socializing, holding hands, even kissing in public.

It was overwhelming , but I cherished the freedom France offered. I was a young girl, liberated from the hijab that covered not only my hair, but also my dignity and identity.

In those years, the National Front movement led by Jean-Marie Le Pen — whose daughter Marine Le Pen succeeded him as head of the party and just lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron — was just beginning to pick up steam. It was particularly gaining popularity among troubled students who I knew. These teens expressed their disenchantment by greeting one another with straight-arm salutes, shaving their heads, donning army attire and boots, and occasionally harassing and spitting at Arab students.
Before too long, they discovered I was an easy target as a young Middle Eastern Jewish girl, barely able to communicate in French and still adjusting to my new surroundings. So they teased and harassed me, yelling “Arab!” at me. I tried to reason with them, explaining that I’m not an Arab, I’m Iranian — Persian! I once said Iranians are of the Aryan race, hoping to score points, but they still saw me as I was — a dark-skinned Middle Eastern girl, a despicable foreigner, “the Other.” The fact that I was Jewish enabled me to seek refuge within Jewish community life, but it proved little more than a liability with the Le Front National.

As a vulnerable teenager, life was hard. Beyond the Jewish community, I never was included in any social activities with peers, never invited to parties, never received phone calls from friends after school. I do recall one time when the phone rang. It was a classmate asking for me. Flattered, I picked up the receiver to hear the voice of Florence, a girl from school. I always thought she was friendly, not too cool or snobby. But as soon as I said hello, Florence said, “Tu es une sal Juive Iranienne — You’re a dirty Iranian Jew — and hung up the phone.

This was a painful but clarifying moment. In an instant, I realized that, no matter how much I boasted about my Iranian (not Arab) culture or my Jewish roots, I still would always be “the Other,” the undesirable threat to their heritage.

It’s undeniable that terrorism and radical Islamists pose real challenges to French society. But white nationalism and neo-fascism are real problems, too. I have experienced this threat firsthand. I know the pain and it causes. I know the anger it breeds and the destructive cycle it sustains.

I’m grateful for my life in the West. I freely can practice my religion, express my opinions and, yes, freely expose my hair and dress however I wish. But I would never align myself with fascists with the false hope that I could preserve these freedoms. Empowering these authoritarians by ignoring and excusing their behavior is immoral, futile and self-defeating.

For those people seeking a quick fix to the decades-long problems of France and the radicalization of elements of its Muslim population, Marine Le Pen’s idea of banning religious attire and head-coverings might have some initial appeal. To Persian-Americans, it might seem reminiscent of Reza Shah’s revolutionary mandate to forcibly remove the hijab from women in an effort to catapult Iran toward rapid secularization. But we live in a vastly different world today.

Ask the majority of French Jews residing in Israel today who voted against Le Pen. They know that Jews — along with other religious minorities, including Muslims and Hindus — all would suffer serious consequences with a ban on the hijab. Despite what the neo-fascists might say, this would not be the end, but rather the beginning, of religious oppression for people of all faiths.

After her defeat, Le Pen apparently is seeking to “rebrand” the National Front party. Such marketing strategies may ameliorate Le Pen’s image, presenting a softer side and a more patriotic mission that may increase her appeal in some quarters. I can imagine that a new generation of voters may develop new impressions of this movement.

Some might be drawn to Le Pen because of a lack of better alternatives, others because their hatred for radical Islamists and foreigners is far stronger than their love for their democratic values and fellow French citizens. And yet, those of us who are familiar with Le Pen must raise our voices. We should not accept such distortions.

Some are saying that Le Pen has lost the battle but the war is yet to come. For this reason, we must be prepared to fight. With our votes and with our voices, we must speak out, because we cannot afford to yield an inch in the fight against fascism. This is a fight for ourselves. ”


MARJAN GREENBLATT is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), Iran.

An armed French police officer patrols at the Boulevard de Barbes in the north of Paris on Jan. 7, 2016. Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Report: Attackers saw off Jewish man’s finger, beat his brother near Paris


Two Jewish brothers said they were abducted briefly and beaten by several men in suburban Paris in an incident that ended with one brother having his finger sawed off by an assailant.

The brothers were hospitalized in what was described as a state of shock following the incident Tuesday night in Bondy. A case report published Thursday by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, based on a police complaint by the alleged victims did not specify their medical condition.

cThe kippah-wearing brothers, whose father is a Jewish leader in Bondy, were forced off the main road by another vehicle on to a side street, according to the BNVCA report. While the vehicle was in motion, the driver and a passenger shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the brothers that included “Dirty Jews, You’re going to die!” the father told BNVCA based on the complaint filed by his sons.

The vehicle forced the brothers to stop their car, and they were surrounded by several men whom they described as having a Middle Eastern appearance. The men came out of a hookah café on to the side street, according to the case report published by the news website JSSNews.

The alleged attackers surrounded the brothers, then kicked and punched them repeatedly while threatening that they would be murdered if they moved. One of the alleged attackers then sawed off the finger of one of the brothers.

Sharansky: Arab, far-right anti-Semitism mean no future for Jews in France


Arab immigration to France and deep-seated anti-Semitism in that country mean its French Jews have no future there, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel said.

Natan Sharansky made this declaration on Monday in the French capital, where he was attending a Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting, held in the city for the first time as a sign of solidarity with French Jews.

“We came here because there are historical processes here,” Sharansky said of France, which for the past two years has been Israel’s largest source of immigrants thanks to a record-setting movement by 15,000 Jews who settled in Israel in that time. “There is no future for the Jews in France because of the Arabs, and because of a very anti-Israel position in society, where new anti-Semitism and ancient anti-Semitism converge,” Sharansky told JTA.

Since 2012, Islamists have killed eight Jews in two shooting attacks that came amid hundreds of non-lethal violent assaults. A French citizen with alleged ties to Islamist groups is standing trial in France for a third shooting in 2014 at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in which four people died.

This violence is one of several factors behind the increase in Jewish immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from France, Sharansky said, along with French Jewry’s strong emotional attachment to Israel and France’s stagnant economy.

Yet aliyah from France has decreased considerably in the first five months of 2016 over the corresponding period last year, Sharansky conceded. According to the Israeli daily Makor Rishon, 1,065 newcomers arrived before June this year, compared to 1,865 in that period in 2015.

Sharansky attributed the decrease to “a slightly improved feeling of security” by French Jews. He also said aliyah has been decreasing because of “high housing prices in Israel and non-recognition in Israel of diplomas” of some French professionals. The Jewish Agency is in talks with the government to solve these issues, he added.

Notwithstanding, “Statistically, according to all our indications, massive aliyah will continue, it’s no coincidence we have in France 9,000 active files that have been opened for people seeking to make aliyah,” added Sharansky.

Since aliyah picked up in 2013, the Jewish Agency has reinforced its presence in France, where its team of dozens of professionals is “the largest delegation anywhere in the world,” Sharansky said. “The potential is enormous, we estimate it can reach more than 15,000 olim annually,” he said, using the Hebrew word for people who make aliyah.

In surveys conducted in 2014 among 1,580 respondents by the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, nearly three quarters of those who self-identified as observant Muslims agreed with the statement that Jews have too much influence on French economics, compared to 25 percent in the general population.

The assertion that Jews control the media received an approval rating of 23 percent in the general population group and 70 percent among practicing Muslims.

Among the general population, 32 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Jews use to their own benefit their status as victims of the Nazi genocide” compared to 56 percent of respondents from the Muslim category and among those who voted for the far-right National Front party in 2012. Among voters for the Front de Gauche far-left party, the assertion had a 51 percent approval rating.

Boy, 13, attacked in Paris on the way to synagogue


A Jewish 13-year-old boy in Paris was attacked while walking to synagogue and called a “dirty Jew,” according to a Jewish hate crimes monitor.

Three youths described as “of African origin” attacked the kippah-wearing teen in the city’s 12th district on Saturday afternoon, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, said in a report issued Monday.

The assailants called the teen a “dirty Jew” and punched him. The teen also reported that one of the attackers took off his kippah while a second grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head against a pole.The attackers fled when other people appeared on the street, according to BNVCA. The boy made it to the synagogue and later reported the attack to police.

“Those who wish to observe this religious requirement (of wearing a kippah) should not give in to intimidation or threats and should be able to keep their head covered freely,” BNVCA said in its statement. “On the contrary, it is those who spread anti-Jewish hatred and discrimination who should be disturbed, condemned and neutralized.”

BNVCA called on police to “make every effort to identify and question” the attackers.

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 Jews, struggling to find work in Israel, consider going home


Before she traded her native France for Israel, Catherine Berdah ran a successful drug store in an affluent suburb on the eastern edge of Paris.

A 50-year-old pharmacist with a master’s degree in business and decades of experience, Berdah earned over $6,000 per month and presided over an expanding business with 14 employees. But Berdah sold out last year and moved with her husband and two teenage daughters to this central Israeli city because she feared for their future in France amid rising anti-Semitic violence.

Berdah hoped to build a new pharmacy business in the Jewish state. But six months after settling here, she has already quit a $6-per-hour job as a cashier that offered no prospect of advancement and another in a health clinic where she was told to stack boxes in a storage room. Berdah left the latter because she was unable to lift the boxes.

“At 60, I was told that lifting boxes was basically all I’m good for,” Bredah said. “That’s when I started to feel humiliated.”

Now Berdah is studying Hebrew and waiting to take an exam that will grant her an Israeli pharmacist’s license. But before she can do that, she must meet a range of demands, including that she produce her attendance log from a pharmacology internship she completed 30 years ago with a French pharmacist who is no longer alive. According to Qualita, an umbrella group of 12 French immigrant associations in Israel, the exam has an 80 percent fail rate.

All of which has Berdah wondering if she made a terrible mistake in uprooting her comfortable life in France for a chance at a better one in Israel.

“I’m going to give it another year,” Berdah said. “But it’s not going too well.”

Some 15,000 French Jews have settled in Israel in the past two years alone, driven here by a combination of rising anti-Semitism and economic stagnation, among other factors. But while their impact is felt everywhere from the opening of multiple kosher patisseries to the launch last year of a French-language kindergarten to the sounds of yarmulke-wearing boys imitating their favorite French movie stars in Raanana’s Yad L’Banim Square, Israel’s Francophone newcomers are struggling to make economic inroads.

Their plight recalls that of Russian immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1990s, many of them highly trained professionals with advanced degrees forced to work low-skill jobs as garbage collectors and street sweepers because their credentials did not transfer.

“French physicians, nurses and pharmacists who’ve studied for five, eight years won’t work here as sanitary workers like their Russian counterparts did in the 1990s,” said Mickael Bensadoun, the director of Qualita. “They’re Zionist, but there’s a limit. And if it comes to that, they’ll return to France or move to countries hungry for skilled newcomers, like Canada.”

Both Bensadoun and Berdah believe Israeli authorities have presented unnecessary obstacles to protect local professionals from immigrant competition. The Israeli Health Ministry declined to respond to the charge and referred all inquiries to the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, which told JTA that efforts are underway to smooth out the certification process for health care professionals.

“We represent a boon for Israel, please don’t put us through a bureaucratic hell for this desire,” David Tibi, a dentist who immigrated to Israel in 2014, wrote in a letter last month to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the meantime, French immigrants are taking matters into their own hands. In 2014, they launched an aggressive lobbying effort to break through the bureaucratic tangles they fault for making absorption exceedingly difficult for those already in Israel, while deterring countless others from coming.

The lobbying, led by Qualita and its member organizations, has already led to some changes, including the easing of certification requirements for French physicians in 2014 and pending legislation that would exempt experienced French dentists from taking a certification exam. Other professionals still must undergo thorough testing to work, regardless of their experience or the French standards they meet.

Last month, the lobbying effort received a big push from Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of France’s National Assembly and friend of Netanyahu, who declared he would advise French Jews against moving to Israel unless progress is made within three months.

“I cannot support a situation which creates tragedies in people’s lives,” Habib wrote on Facebook.

According to Bensadoun, some 300-400 French health care professionals cannot work in their chosen field because of certification issues. He also pointed to official figures suggesting that the situation is leading 15-20 percent of French immigrants to return to France within two years.

Still, Bensadoun says he is optimistic, partly because of lessons drawn from the trials of Russian immigrants in the 1990s.

“The Russian olim’s success and immense contribution to Israel’s rise as a start-up nation have created an awareness in the Knesset and public of the potential dividends from educated olim,” said Bensadoun, using the Hebrew word for immigrants. “In a way, we’re sailing in their wake.”

For all her troubles, Berdah is not quite ready to give up on Israel. But the situation has put strains on her marriage. Her husband, Michel, wants the family to return.

“You think you have something to offer here?” Michel says as they argue on the subject. “Israel doesn’t want anything from you.”

Berdah, in turn, has her own disagreements with her oldest daughter, Clara, 18, who wants to stay in Israel and – to Berdah’s chagrin – serve in an army combat unit. Her younger daughter, Naomi, has acclimated well at her high school, where she studies in a special class for new immigrants and is considering starting a modeling career.

“The silver lining here is that the girls are really fitting in,” Berdah said. “It makes me wonder whether Israel really wants us or only our children.”

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.

In poor Paris suburb, crime and extremism spur internal Jewish exodus


At this Paris suburb’s only Jewish facility, Rabbi Prosper Abenaim serves sweet tea to his synagogue’s most frequent and reliable guests: machine gun-toting troops of the French Legion.

Six soldiers, posted here to defend Jews in this heavily Muslim and crime-stricken municipality bordering the capital, are the first new faces in years in this dwindling community, which has lost thousands of congregants over the past two decades to Israel and safer areas of Paris. On some mornings, the troops outnumber worshippers.

That wasn’t the case when Abenaim first arrived at La Courneuve’s Ahavat Chalom synagogue in 1992. There were over 4,000 Jews in the neighborhood then and it was a struggle to fit them all into the synagogue on Yom Kippur.

“The shul overflowed onto the street,” Abenaim recalled.

Since then, improved economic fortunes and repeated anti-Semitic attacks have driven out all but 100 Jewish families from the neighborhood, where drug dealers operate openly on streets that residents say police are too afraid to patrol. The remaining Jews are mostly a graying bunch, stuck here for financial reasons.

“We have two big problems, extremism and criminality, and they often mix,” said Abenaim, who lives in Paris’ affluent and heavily Jewish 17th arrondisement and has encouraged his congregants to leave for Israel. “I understand why people don’t want to raise children here. I’m here myself only because of my duties. Otherwise, I’d be in Israel.”

La Courneuve’s reputation for criminality is well established and reflected in the security measures at Ahavat Chalom, which resembles a fortress with its heavy metal doors, multitude of security cameras and three armed soldiers in military camouflage at the entrance. For years, the city has ranked among the most violent in France, with 19 assaults per 1,000 residents recorded in 2013.

On street corners near the city center, gangs of young men openly exchange drugs for cash. By noon, prostitutes are soliciting clients on Pasteur Boulevard, a main traffic artery.

Near the synagogue, a group of men wearing colorful sports clothes stand around smoking cigarettes and marijuana on a Monday morning. One of them, a native of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin who identified himself only as Degree, said he felt safe “to do whatever here” because “police won’t come here, they’re too scared. If they come, we just kill them.”

Religious extremism is more difficult to measure, but its effects are nonetheless evident. Last month, La Courneuve became the final resting place of Samy Amimour, one of the suicide bombers who killed 130 people in multiple coordinated attacks in Paris in November and whose family lives nearby.

Security around the synagogue was beefed up following those attacks, but the soldiers were already in place. Their presence is part of Operation Sentinel, launched in response to the January 2015 murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Ahavat Chalom, which in 2002 survived a fire sparked by four firebombs, is considered especially at risk.

Over the past 15 years, such attacks have spurred many Jews to leave poor Parisian suburbs like La Courneuve in favor of safer neighborhoods, according to Bernard Edinger, a Paris-based former senior correspondent for Reuters.

“Tens of thousands changed neighborhoods, pushed by the hostility of their Arab neighbors or drawn elsewhere through social mobility,” Edinger wrote last month in The Jerusalem Post.

Aubervilliers, a municipality adjacent to La Courneuve, once had three synagogues and many kosher shops. Today there is one synagogue and kosher food is available on one shelf at a regular supermarket, according to the Tribune Juive weekly.

Sammy Ghozlan, founder of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a nongovernmental watchdog group, said that while immigration from France to Israel has reached record levels, it only accounts for about 15,000 people over the past decade. Many more French Jews have been internally displaced, Ghozlan said, moving farther from Paris or into the city’s wealthier neighborhoods.

Abenaim said he has seen this happening before his eyes. Congregants from La Courneuve have left the area and settled near Abenaim’s home in the 17th arrondissement, which had no synagogues 30 years ago and now boasts no fewer than eight.

Meanwhile, La Courneuve has seen a proliferation of Islamic schools and apartment-size mosques located deep in the maze of drab public housing projects. One of the mosques was a synagogue in the 1960s, when the first Jews arrived here as refugees fleeing the war in Algeria. The 1962 arrival of 4,000 French Jews gave the name to one of La Courneuve’s main projects, now known as the City of 4,000.

Alain Felous, a French Jewish photographer, moved to La Courneuve in 1996 for the low rent and proximity to his workplace and children, who live with their mother in Paris. To protect himself, he has adopted a tough attitude and taken to wearing bulky coats in all weather to signal that he might be armed.

“Of course I’d rather live in the 17th, or someplace nicer,” Felous said. “I’m not here to make a point. Living here as a Jew isn’t for everyone.”

On a trip to the supermarket, Felous paid for the apples of a fellow shopper, an elderly Arab woman with whom he cracked a few jokes. But he was also on guard, kicking the shopping cart of a fellow shopper who had cut him in line while delivering a juicy curse.

“You have to respond immediately here,” Felous said, “or they will eat you alive.”

Anti-Semitic incidents soared in France in 2014


Anti-Semitic incidents doubled in France in 2014 over the previous year even as other hate crimes decreased, according to a new report.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence,” which was published Thursday by the Human Rights First nonprofit on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terrorist attacks in Paris, draws on “public information and interviews with a range of government officials, civil society representatives, and academic experts.” The report is limited to 2014 data and earlier.

Citing data from France’s Ministry of the Interior and the Jewish Community Security Service, the report said anti-Semitic incidents, which include both acts and threats, doubled to 851 in 2014 from 423 the previous year. However, such incidents “likely remain underreported,” the report said, noting that in a survey conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, 82 percent of respondents said they did not report “the most serious incident” of anti-Semitic discrimination experienced in the past year.

Anti-Semitic acts accounted for 51 percent of all recorded hate incidents in France in 2014, even as Jews “account for only one percent of the population” and as recorded racist acts, excluding anti-Semitic ones, decreased by 5 percent that year, the report said. Fifty-one percent of all recorded bias-motivated violent acts that year were anti-Semitic.

The report also noted that anti-Semitic incidents “occur with greater frequency and more severe violence” during “spikes” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, and that “high profile” attacks spark copycat attacks.

The data was “unclear” in three areas, the report said: the ethnic and religious identities of the perpetrators, the law-enforcement and judicial response to the incidents, and incidents occurring in educational settings.

The report also found that anti-Semitic attitudes, including the idea that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to France and that they exploit the Holocaust, are most prevalent on the far right and far left. However, it said, data on anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslims and Arabs in France was “limited.”

Among the factors fueling anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, are the rising influence of the far-right National Front party and “inadequate training” of Muslim imams, many of whom are educated overseas rather than in France. The report also said that “government action to confront antisemitism paradoxically exacerbates it,” feeding into anti-Semitic views that Jews “exercise inordinate influence.”

The report offered numerous recommendations for not only the French government but also the United States, as well as French civil society, philanthropists and Internet companies, including investing in additional research and supporting civil society groups that fight discrimination and hate crimes.

French court: Centrists slandered leftist with anti-Semitism claims


A French court found three center-right politicians guilty of defaming a far-left counterpart when they accused him of being affiliated with anti-Semites.

In the ruling Thursday by the Correctional Tribunal of Paris, the judge ordered the three Union for a Popular Movement politicians – Alain Juppe; Jean-François Copé and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet – to each pay $1,300 to the defamed, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The ruling, according to Le Monde, concerns claims made by the three against Mélenchon, asserting that he has anti-Semitic acquaintances or that he associates with anti-Semites. The claims were made after he posted on his blog a text by the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis against that government’s austerity measures.

In 2003, Theodorakis was quoted as saying that “Jews are the root cause of evil” in the world. But Melenchon said he had no knowledge of Theodorakis’ anti-Semitic statements when he posted the blog.

Separately, the French far-right author and Holocaust denier Alain Soral was called to appear before the same court on Thursday in connection with a complaint filed against him alleging incitement to racial hatred.

The complaint concerns a picture that Soral posted on his Facebook account in which he is performing the quenelle at a memorial site for Holocaust victims in Berlin.

The quenelle is a gesture that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called an anti-Semitic expression of hate, though its inventor, the French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, claims it’s a sign of discontent with the establishment. Both Dieudonne and Soral have multiple convictions for inciting hate against Jews and denying the Holocaust.

In an unrelated action, the Union of Jewish Students of France, or UEJF, on Wednesday announced that it and the SOS Racisme watchdog group had filed criminal charges against 10 members of the far-right National Front party for allegedly making racist statements.

Stay or go? French Jews face a growing – and emotional – dilemma


Israel? The United States? Canada? South Korea, India, Singapore or Japan? French Jews have intensified their search for a new home, and they’ve diversified their potential destinations. For the past 15 years, anti-Semitism has become more and more common, more and more violent, and no one wants to see what it will be like in 10 or 20 years. 

When the “new anti-Semitism” began some 15 years ago, Jews were attacked almost exclusively in certain impoverished Parisian suburbs and neighborhoods. Young men would insult, spit and hit the easily identified pious members of the community. They wrote graffiti on synagogues, threw eggs at and stoned Jewish schools. The Jewish community complained about these attacks perpetrated “mainly” by young Muslims hostile toward Israel and Jews, but few of the French cared. Jewish leaders’ attempts to reverse the situation through interreligious dialogue failed.

Gradually, broader segments of the community started to face assaults. In 2003, 23-year-old DJ Sebastien Selam was murdered by his Muslim neighbor, who told police he would go to heaven because he had killed a Jew. In 2006, cell-phone salesman Ilan Halimi was abducted, held captive, tortured and set on fire by the self-proclaimed Gang of Barbarians. But the attack that convinced most Jews they were no longer safe in France was Toulouse 2012, when terrorist Mohammed Merah went on a killing spree at the Jewish school Ozar Hatorah, murdering three children and a teacher. The violence of that attack on such young children, and the fact that it happened in the traditionally open and quiet southern city of Toulouse, proved no place in France was safe any longer. Many of France’s 200,000 practicing Jews (out of the country’s estimated community of 550,000 to 600,000 ) started calling the Jewish Agency for Israel, to plan their departure. 

But for many French Jews, the situation wasn’t desperate enough to make aliyah

“There’s much more violence in Israel than here. I’m not going anywhere,” I was told by a friend I see at various Jewish events. 

As some community members immigrated to Israel, others preferred to move within their cities to safer neighborhoods. With every new attack, they re-examined their situation: Is staying in France still the right choice? Is it more dangerous to send children to public schools, where some have been attacked by schoolmates, or to Jewish schools, which have been stoned and could become a target for terrorists?

“The situation is complicated. My little brother goes to a Jewish school and a car drops him off five meters away from our building’s entrance, and yet, even in these five meters, he has been insulted. Men took his kippah away from him. What can we do? We take every precaution, and yet the problem is still there,” a 20-year-old Jewish student told me.   

In the summer of 2014, following the protests against Israel’s war with Hamas, French Jews saw for the first time whole groups of people attacking synagogues and Jewish businesses with firebombs and stones.

When the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, located in one of France’s calmest bourgeois neighborhoods, was attacked on Jan. 9, two days after the murders at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it became obvious that anyone could be hit anywhere.

Community members now have to choose: Will they stay in France and fight for their rights? Stay and conceal their religion? Or will they seek shelter abroad, perhaps in a country where people care as little as possible about Jews and the Middle East. 

Many in the community refuse to leave, as they feel strong attachments to France, the first country to recognize them as equal citizens, under Napoleon.

“If we don’t resist, no one will, and then it would all be over. The terrorists would have won,” I was told by a young man who had gone to a tribute to the victims killed at Hyper Cacher a day after the attack. 

Many French nationals appreciate this attitude.

“Please don’t leave! We’re with you!” several demonstrators at the Jan. 11 “Je Suis Charlie” march told a Jewish protester.

“We’re not leaving!” the protester replied.

Other Jews would rather avoid confrontation by hiding their identity, denying being Jewish, and presenting themselves as Christians. Others have made the decision to leave. 

Some have created groups to plan their departures and make them easier. People who wouldn’t ever have thought of leaving France had the situation not deteriorated are holding information meetings similar to ones organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, but for other destinations. French migrants who have already settled in Jewish-friendly countries help them out by giving as much insight and assistance as possible.

Touring with my family in Canada, hoping to find our new land of milk and honey, I met a Vancouver, British Columbia, resident who had analyzed the situation. 

“You need to get as far away as possible from France, where many in the Muslim community are hostile toward Jews and Israel. Coming to America isn’t enough. Don’t settle in Montreal; it’s too European! Go West!”

Figures show many French Jews are moving to Israel. A record 7,000 made aliyah in 2014, twice as many as the previous year. This means that approximately 1 percent of France’s Jewish community moved to Israel alone. At the same time, about 0.4 percent of all French nationals moved abroad.

Over the past week, the Jewish Agency beat another record, getting calls from 2,000 people asking to join information sessions. As French Jews start panicking, the agency is forecasting that it could bring 10,000 olim (those who make aliyah) to Israel this year.

Most of those who emigrate undoubtedly want to keep their families as far away as possible from any future terror attack, but many also may be concerned by a less bloody phenomenon — the widening rift between them and France’s growing Muslim community. After the shooting in Charlie Hebdo, people have again started pointing fingers at the Jewish community, saying Charlie Hebdo never criticized Jews, only Muslims.

“When a cartoonist criticized former [French] president [Nicolas] Sarkozy’s son when he married a Jew, the cartoonist was fired, but nobody cares when these people represent Prophet Mohammad,” several people wrote on Facebook.

“There are obvious double standards in this country,” one of my colleagues wrote.

For Jews, it’s well-known that Charlie Hebdo repeatedly criticized all religions, or all religious extremists and hierarchies, and, if anything, Muslim fundamentalists were criticized less than others. Some see this as an alteration of facts at their expense.

The growing support as well for the controversial comedian Dieudonne (his real name is Dieudonne M’bala M’bala), who has been condemned numerous times for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred, also has increased Jews’ concern for the future.

French law protects the right to criticize religion but bans incitement, which suits perfectly the local Jewish community. But this balance could change.

As Dieudonne wrote on Facebook that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly,” combining the names of Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly — the man who attacked the kosher supermarket — French authorities and many nationals saw the move as a new incitement. But to many Muslims, his words were far more tolerable than a drawing representing their prophet.

Some fear that pressure from them and from abroad could lead to a change of French values and laws, which currently protect free speech as it exists in France, and ban racism and anti-Semitism. These are values that many Jews believe are vital for them to be able to live in France, especially now, as they face growing hatred.


Shirli Sitbon is a journalist from Paris working for French TV station France 24 and Haaretz.

What we talk about when we talk about anti-Semitism


In summer 2014, Muslims attacked Jewish sites in Paris in connection to Israel’s bombing of Gaza. This month, the French Jews killed in Hyper Cacher were buried in Israel.

What links these two events? Fear-based politics desperate to have us believe it’s still 1938 — a contravention of a modern society built on inclusion and common good.

Anti-Semitism has never made much etymological sense. It means “hostility or prejudice against Jews” but “Semitic” on its own refers to people descending from several groups speaking any number of “Afro-Asiatic” languages.

That’s a pretty big swath of humanity — Arabs and many Muslims, to pick just two. But Jews have been getting exclusive use of the term.

The Holocaust made sure of that, the traumatic culmination of centuries living as the Other in Christian lands. It’s now 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, but the way “anti-Semitism” continues to get tossed around shows how far we have to go before we are truly free.

“In Berlin, Jews are chased like it’s 1938,” Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, said when part of a largely Muslim protest here against Israel’s most recent war with Hamas turned into anti-Jewish vitriol.

For that to be true, I, as an active Jew in Berlin, am either extremely lucky or very naive. Or is it that those who choose to live as a victim of history simply find the sources of fear they’re looking for?

Jews are still targets, but it is on an individual level condemned by the collective. I have a hard time calling that anti-Semitism, which instinctively (and intentionally) conjures up scenes of systemic extermination by national decree, delivering the message: Jews, with the goyim, you will never be safe.

This is the instrumentalization of anti-Semitism — used for a divisive political agenda, it makes living together that much harder. Four French citizens get buried in a country for which they had neither passports nor voting rights, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does everything but proclaim himself prime minister of the Jews — no wonder some may see a Jewish person or site an extension of the Israeli policy they detest.

The deliberate blurring between Judaism and Israel is called solidarity when it is beneficial. When it gets Jews killed, it is called anti-Semitism.

Don’t let the events in Paris overshadow optimism: The world is more at peace, and we are more secure than ever — and Jews especially. Persisting dangers are much more a threat to communities of Sinti and Roma, Muslims and Arabs, refugees, and gays and the rest of the not-totally-hetero spectrum.

Jews are part of this diversity, nothing more, which should be cause for celebration. It’s what we’ve always wanted: normalization in the eyes of European society, no longer confined to the shtetl or ghetto. So it’s confounding when Jewish voices call to run back to the imagined safety of the very walls we waited 1,000 years to get out of.

Fear and division are exactly what white supremacists, Islamic terrorists and anti-Other movements such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) all propagate. Each is anathema to free markets and open borders, flailing to hold back the surge of humanity undoing the ethnic or civil nation-state.

There is desperate need for a third way, one that neither strives to divide nor wants to be divided, but seeks to bring people together around something closer and more tangible: the cities we live in and share as our homes. It’s at this level we can influence crime, jobs, education, environment and good governance, issues that bind us far more than the foreign policies of nations that tear us apart.

“We are not soldiers standing against each other on the front. We are average people living in the same city,” said Armin Langer, a rabbinical student and co-founder of Salaam-Schalom, a grass-roots initiative here. “Maybe we can build up something more peaceful in Berlin.”

For there to be peace in the world, first there must be peace in our cities and among neighbors who see each other as that and not as tired labels creeping out of history’s shadows. Our lives here cannot be another casualty of war over there.


William Noah Glucroft is a photographer and translator living in Berlin. He is a founding board member of Freunde der Fraenkelufer (Friends of Fraenkelufer Synagogue), a pending nonprofit organization.

As a Jew, would you stay in France?


In the wake of the horrific terrorist killings in France, my heart took many turns. First there was shock, soon replaced by grief, then anger, followed by resolve. Now it may be time for reflection.

The response from the French and then the Israelis to the two attacks raised some important issues for Jews living in the Diaspora and also in Israel.

I have been struck by the irony of Israel’s offer of the Jewish state as a safe haven for Jews. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, the heroic chairman of the Jewish Agency whose task is to bring Jews to Israel, have reiterated the familiar and all-important offer: Jews are welcome in Israel. We want you here. This is your home. It is here that you are safe.

Such words stir the heart of every Jew who remembers the desperation of Jews fleeing Germany and later German-occupied Europe — Jews who were unwanted everywhere else.

But does this promise still hold true? We shall return to that question.

What has changed in the aftermath of the recent events in France — the murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo, the killings of innocent shoppers at the Jewish supermarket, the worldwide march of solidarity, the declarations by the French leadership that France is at war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam” and the statement that France without its Jews is not France? What is new in the remorse expressed by the French prime minister that his country has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism?

Nothing! 

Or perhaps everything.

Permit me to explain.

This is, of course, not the first time that free speech has been attacked by radical militant Islam. Previously, in fatwas, in killings and in violent rioting, the extremist Islamists have tried to silence those they deem to have insulted Islam. From the death sentence declared against Salman Rushdie to the threats on the life of a Danish cartoonist, from massive street demonstrations in Egypt following the release of a minor video by a marginal, unimportant American Protestant to the killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the Islamists’ politics of rage have defined radical Islam. And rage leads directly to violence. 

Simply put, outrage is being used to legitimize and justify murder, and in the eyes of many Muslims, murder has become a reasonable response to what they see as the desecration of their religion and the Prophet Muhammad. Nothing new here.

Let’s look specifically at the most recent violent outbreak. 

For a dozen years, I have been writing about anti-Semitism in France, suggesting that we should distinguish between anti-Semitism in France and anti-Semitism of France. Those who are of France have accepted the values of the French Revolution — liberty, equality and fraternity — and they have few problems seeing Jews as part of France. These French citizens interact daily with Jews and Muslims, Christians and secularists and think nothing of it. They may be outspoken in their opposition to the policies of Israel, but they do not see that as license to attack their Jewish neighbors.

On the other hand, there is also a sizable population of Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live in France but feel themselves untouched, and even alienated from, or appalled by, the values of France. These people have no stake in the values of French society. Despite having by now dwelled in France for some two generations, they nevertheless do not feel part of France, but consider themselves in exile from their true home in the Middle East. Their alienation from the society in which they dwell is fueling their attraction to the values that are wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East, where the politics of rage dominate. Poverty and lack of opportunity created their alienation, but religion fuels their rage; religion justifies their anger and sanctions their violence. 

But even as we look the politics of outrage in the eye, let us be clear that our battle is against militant radical Islam and not against all Muslims. We were touched and heartened by the report that Jewish lives were saved in the Hyper Cacher attack by a Muslim employee. Expressions of solidarity on both sides are important. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient for politically correct people, including our president, Barack Obama, and even his predecessor, George W. Bush, to proclaim that the politics of rage does not define the views of a vast sector of Islam today, and moderate Muslims must be the first and loudest to reclaim the voice of their faith. Without a powerful, even outraged objection from moderate Muslims to the violence, we are engaged in a one-sided discussion among Western Christians (and sometimes Jews) who assure one another that true Islam is actually moderate. And when the people making the case for Islam do not even understand the religious differences between Sunni and Shia, the discussion is not only not credible but also hardly relevant.

Before the killings in recent weeks, when militant Islamists attacked Jews, much of France seemed to turn a blind eye to the violence: A swastika on a synagogue was petty graffiti; mugging a rabbi or a pious Jew en route to synagogue was a minor crime; the murder of yeshiva students was a one- or two-day news story; and the idea that anger at Israel was behind an explosion of anti-Jewish violence — that what happened in Israel, in Gaza and in Lebanon was sufficient reason to attack the Jews in one’s neighborhood — these actions by radical Islamists were allowed for too long by the French as understandable, largely because Israel’s actions infuriated many Europeans as well, and the French in particular. 

Only when this same violence turned against a French non-Jew on the streets of Lyon or Marseilles was attention paid. 

Bridging the divide between the Muslims in France from everyone else who identifies with France will require a fundamental rethinking of French policy. It will require an admission of a fundamental problem in France’s attitude toward its immigrant workers, most especially its lower-class immigrants, who are essential to the nation’s workforce but were never integrated into French society or French culture.

The problem, a longstanding one, cannot be solved in the short term, and it will not go away without a dramatic change of attitude.

But what has changed, perhaps?

It appears that the French finally have come to the realization — or, perhaps more cynically, at least vocalized it — that the very nature of France, its self-image, its self-perception and its core values are at stake if Jews cannot feel secure living as Jews in France. Because the French people today want to believe that they are not the same as they were during World War II. In the aftermath of that war, the French populace was horrified by its own collaborators, those who helped the Nazis, including the French police who participated in the roundup and deportation of Jews, and Vichy France. The French today see themselves as a liberal, inclusive, democratic society. It therefore follows that if the Jews of France are truly once again vulnerable to outbreaks of anti-Semitism and violence without the protections of a civilized society, France today is not, in its very essence, true to its core values — values that had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the Shoah. 

If this realization has finally come, then I say, better late than never. But let us hold them to it.

The concept of a war against radical Islam articulated so passionately in recent days by French President Francois Hollande may — and I stress the word may — spell the end of France’s appeasement to the politics of rage. Let us hold them to that as well.

Still, their immediate reaction was weak. The Grand Synagogue in Paris never should never have closed, even for a day, as many synagogues in Paris closed down and did not hold Shabbat services immediately after the attacks. The French government should have provided its Jewish institutions with adequate security immediately, and the president himself should have appeared in the pews that very first Shabbat on the evening of and the day following the attacks. 

In Los Angeles, I went to services at Temple Beth Am on Friday evening and Shabbat morning, Jan. 9 and 10, and the Los Angeles Police Department was present outside the shul, simply as a demonstration of vigilance.

 

I doubt that France’s newfound avowal of commitment to its Jews will ally France with Israel. The government of France and significant segments of French society tend to see Israel in colonialist terms, as a country occupying another people’s land and as a problem that can be solved only by withdrawal and the establishment of two states. By contrast, Netanyahu sees Israel as battling the same forces of radical Islam as the French government and the people of France. Both may be right, but neither side accepts the other’s interpretation as correct.

So the Israelis have invited French Jews to make aliyah, promising safety and security in the Jewish state. This invitation comes despite the fact that, over the past decades, even with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, both per capita and in absolute numbers, many more Jews have been killed in Israel because there were more Jews there than anywhere else in the world. 

As I write these words, I shed tears because it wasn’t supposed to be so. We Zionists believed that the creation of an independent Jewish state with an army of its own would end Jewish vulnerability. But Jewish history is filled with irony. In reality, Israeli independence came just as the world became increasingly interdependent, and the State of Israel has not ended Jewish vulnerability, it has simply given us — Israelis and all Jews — new tools to combat that vulnerability.

More worrisome today, if Netanyahu is to be believed, Israel currently faces an existential threat of vulnerability, due to the development by Iran of nuclear weaponry that can be used against Israel, either by Iran or by other nonstate actors armed by the Iranian state. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any safer in Tel Aviv than in Paris?

The fact is, even as Jews consider leaving France, other Jews are leaving Israel. We don’t know why some Jews today are leaving Israel, getting European passports and moving to Europe, but the prospect of endless war in Israel is surely one contributing factor. Israeli Jews weary of war and perceiving a bleak future of unending battles are moving to Germany and other European countries — including France. This is true even as French Jews, feeling like targets of attack, are coming to Israel to take their place.

I was not as moved as many were by the fact that the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack — Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada, Phillipe Barham and Yoav Hattab — were buried in Israel rather than on French soil. They were not killed because they were Israelis; they were killed because they were Jews. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any
safer in Tel Aviv
than in Paris?

Their burial in Israel, therefore, may have reinforced the idea that Jews do not belong to France, but rather to Israel, and that their murders were a Jewish problem and not a French problem.  

This cannot be the message that we offer up to the world. We must insist that France claim French Jews as their own, as citizens of France, not only publicly and loudly, but also sincerely, just as we must mourn them as Jews.

Comparisons to the 1930s are being offered now by those who understand neither the 1930s nor today. It is essential to remember that, in the 1930s, the attack against the Jews was government sponsored, by the most powerful people as well as by important interest groups native to their country. Today’s attacks are by disempowered people who impose their views through criminal acts of violence and intimidation. Meanwhile, the world powers, the leaders of Europe — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain, Hollande and Pope Francis among them — are condemning anti-Semitism loudly and clearly. One cannot compare the power of contemporary Jews and the reality of Israel with the abject powerlessness and statelessness of Jews in the 1930s. The refusal to equate today’s events with the Holocaust should not be license to minimize their importance, but rather to insist that we affirm how far we have come since then.

Walking home from synagogue in Los Angeles, I saw that my French neighbor displayed a sign, Je Suis Charlie, on his lawn, and I asked for a similar sign to place on mine. I would have felt better, much better, if my neighbor and his fellow countrymen all had exhibited two signs side by side: Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Juif.

Only when both signs stand side by side — when the rights of French citizens are valued just as highly as the essential democratic right to free speech — only then will the situation of Jews in France truly change.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Click here to read his A Jew blog.

What’s next for the Jews of France?


Maurice Benhamou, a Jewish citizen of France who lives in the coastal city of Marseilles, just a three-hour train ride from Paris, is not afraid.

But the Algerian-descended Benhamou, 69, is among a minority of Jews living in France who, despite the recent terror attack at a kosher supermarket and years of rising anti-Semitism, insist on remaining in France. 

“I’m not afraid,” Benhamou said during a phone interview from his home in Marseille on Jan. 18, translated by his English-speaking daughter, Los Angeles resident Carole Slama. “The community is not afraid. We feel confident that we can secure our shul and our community.”

But in the weeks since the murderous terrorist attacks in Paris at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, anxiety among Jews living in France has reached alarming levels. Over the past decade, a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism among radicalized Muslim immigrants and a spate of attacks targeting Jews — including a shooting at a school in Toulouse and the kidnapping and killing of a French-Jewish cell-phone salesman — have left Jewish citizens of France wondering whether they have a future there.

Even the French government demonstrated deep concern for its Jewish citizens, immediately deploying thousands of French military personnel to guard synagogues and Jewish schools. On the Shabbat right after the attacks, Benhamou said, many families stayed home, especially those with young children. And in places like Marseille, France’s second-largest city, Benhamou said a climate of general anxiety has gripped even non-Jewish citizens: streets ordinarily bustling with people — strolling, shopping, sitting in cafes — have become quieter, nearly deserted. 

“It’s not only Jewish people — even local people don’t go out,” Benhamou said. “This time of year, after the holiday, it’s the big sale in France — everything is discounted. But nobody is in the street.”

Things are even eerier at night. 

The pizzeria Benhamou owns and operates is just adjacent to the Lubavitch shul where he davens, so customers have continued to come at night because the shul is under the strict, round-the-clock protection of the military. According to Benhamou, six military officers and one police officer rotate shifts over a 24-hour period, taking turns sleeping and showering, using facilities outside the synagogue’s mikveh. Because of the guards’ presence, Benhamou has been able to keep his business open late, but he worries what will happen come Jan. 27, when the military is expected to recall its troops.

“When they leave, I am not sure we’re going to have any business at all,” he said of his nighttime clientele.  

In anticipation, Benhamou said the synagogue has convened the community to organize its own security plan. Young men and women trained in Krav Maga — the Israeli-developed self-defense system that combines boxing, jujutsu, wrestling and other combat techniques — will remain on guard along barricades protecting the shul from unwanted visitors. However, even if the presence of citizen guards is a deterrent, it will be a superficial one, as the young citizen guards will not be armed. “If people come over with Kalashnikovs and electronic weapons, there’s nothing we can do,” Benhamou admitted.

Further worrying, people throughout France are wondering how the country will handle the reabsorption of the approximately 1,000 young militants who left France to receive training from Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.  

“It’s really nice of France right now to guard us, but what are we going to do with all these [young militants] when they come back? Put them in prison? What’s going to happen?” Benhamou asked.

“The military security is temporary relief, but it is not a long-term solution.”

Benhamou noted that many in the Jewish community are exploring making aliyah. In 2014, nearly 7,000 French Jews left for Israel, and some expect to see that number double in 2015. But for many other Jews, like Benhamou, who have long-established routines, resources and connections in France, moving to a new country and starting a new life is not so easy. 

“It’s really difficult to leave a place when you have a job. What are you going to do in a new place? Where are you going to work? How are you going to live?”

Benhamou added that many of the Jews who have made aliyah already have relatives, connections or resources in Israel, perhaps even second homes.

And yet, even though Benhamou has two sons in Israel, he said he can’t quite muster the will to leave.

“Right now, I would love to go — but I can’t,” he said. “I’m not young anymore. I have my routine and my stuff, and it’s hard for me to leave everything.” 

For better or worse, he is willing to remain in France and take his chances there. 

“The word is emunah” — faith, Benhamou explained. “At the end of the day, I believe that whatever will be, will be. If I need to die here from a terrorist attack — whatever should happen, should happen.”

France’s wake-up call


The kosher supermarket was chosen deliberately. Men, women and children were shopping and preparing for Shabbat. Only two days before the attack, terrorists had left 10 of the best-known satirical journalists and cartoonists dead at Charlie Hebdo. Three French police officers were also struck down, one of them a Muslim. Each Islamist terrorist attack targeted a symbol of the French Republic, seeking to bring the country to its knees.

That Jews were targets of radical Islam was, alas, unsurprising. Four of the hostages — Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, François-Michel Saada — were killed at the kosher market. Survivors of the attack are anguished. So, too, are most French Jews, who again are discussing and evaluating not only the future of our community but the fate of France itself.

Let’s be clear: France is under assault. The enemy is in our midst. Extremists, faithful to a brand of Islam that celebrates violence and martyrdom, have no respect whatsoever for the core, longstanding French values of democracy, pluralism, freedom of expression — and, indeed, for life itself. Traditional forms of protest are alien to them. Instead, as seen in the carnage wrought by ISIS, al-Qaida and other jihadists in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, pure barbarism is their vehicle to achieve their perverted notion of salvation.

Tragically, the events of recent days are not a new phenomenon. The Jewish community, including the American Jewish Committee in Paris, has warned for years about the developing and deepening threat that radical Islam poses to France. In March 2012, a lone, heavily armed Mohammed Merah murdered three French soldiers in cold blood and, a week later, slaughtered a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The Toulouse attack was a game changer for French Jews. And although French political leaders voiced outrage, as time passed and the numbers and frequency of anti-Semitic incidents rose, the country seemed to get used to them — even anesthetized to this reality — while many Jews felt a sense of loneliness and isolation.

The recent attacks in Paris have shocked the entire nation, indeed the entire world. What is new this time is the depth and breadth of the reactions, crisscrossing French society, the realization that combating the threat of radical Islam must be, and remain, a national priority. But will this be the necessary wake-up call for France as a whole to confront the danger?

The terrorists who struck in Paris — as in Toulouse and at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May — are not isolated lone wolves. They most likely are the tip of a radical Islamist iceberg, the small visible part. To counter this lethal trend, we must delve deeper and understand the factors that draw certain individuals to radical Islam, and find ways to counter this evil that endangers all of France.

French schools must teach mutual respect and responsibility, a component of the curriculum that today is stunningly missing. Indoctrination in extremist ideologies in prisons demands attention, as does recruitment by radical, violent groups through social media and in mosques. The Toulouse and Paris terrorists spent time not only in prison but also with jihadist groups in Syria and Yemen. Hundreds more are currently in Syria and Iraq, and maybe in other Arab countries. That they could return with French passports to settle back in our communities, or in other European countries, is a nightmare. Their objective is to create fear and division in French society, of which the extreme right and populists may take advantage. So let’s have the courage not to let fear take over.

The French government cannot stop this trend alone; the effort will require the active involvement of political, religious and civil-society leaders. Immediate reactions to the attack on Charlie Hebdo were inspiring, as millions of French citizens gathered in central Paris and throughout France, communicated their outrage on social media and called for action. Unfortunately, the voices of Muslim community leaders —with some notable exceptions — have until now been barely audible. Those leaders, too, must speak loudly and clearly, as Muslims and as French citizens.

Many of us in the Jewish community regretted that no large solidarity movement rose up after the gruesome kidnap-murder of Ilan Halimi nine years ago, or after Toulouse, or during last summer’s transparently anti-Semitic demonstrations. While the government did speak out after attacks on Jews and firmly decries anti-Semitism, many in French society and in the media refused to see that our French values were at stake and that Jews were indeed a target.

Hatred of Jews never ends with Jews. The menace of rising anti-Semitism threatens French society at large. The future of France will be decided in the coming days, weeks and months. The Charlie Hebdo massacre makes clear that the war against France’s democratic values is in high gear.

Sunday’s mass rally, with more than 3.7 million people across the country in attendance — including, in Paris, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders — was a powerful statement of outrage and solidarity against this barbarism in France and in the rest of the world.

But what happens in the days and weeks ahead will truly test France. Now more than at any other time in its postwar history, the fate of France is entwined with the fate of its Jews. If France loses them, sooner or later it will also be lost. Is this the wake-up call that will help the French people understand the nature of the threat to our country, and will they respond firmly and effectively?

The very soul of France is at stake.

(Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris office.)

Designer Galliano loses lawsuit against Dior in firing over anti-Semitic rant


The British fashion designer John Galliano lost his lawsuit against Christian Dior for unfair dismissal.

The decision by a Paris employment court was announced Tuesday.

Galliano, who was fired in March 2011 after being filmed making anti-Semitic statements at a Paris bar, was ordered to pay Dior one symbolic euro. He had sued for lost earnings of up to $16 million, claiming that the fashion house was aware of his alcohol and drug addictions before the incident.

In the video, Galliano stated his love for Adolf Hitler and told people he believed were Jewish that their mothers should have been gassed. He later blamed his outbursts on addictions to drugs and alcohol.

“It’s the worst thing I have said in my life, but I didn’t mean it,” Galliano said in an interview with Vanity Fair in an article in the July 2013 issue.

A French court ruled in September 2011 that Galliano in several incidents had made “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.” He was sentenced to a suspended fine and no jail time.

Following the anti-Semitic tirade, actress Natalie Portman, who was serving as a spokeswoman for Dior, issued a statement condemning Galliano and said “I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

Last month, Galliano was hired as the creative director of the Paris-based fashion house Maison Martin Margiela.

 

5774: For Europe’s Jews, a year of upheaval and uncertainty


A laconic man who abhors hysteria, the president of France’s CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities is not naturally inclined to emphasize his community’s fear in public, preferring to underscore French Jewry’s achievements and capacity to prosper despite recent hardships.

But in a filmed interview posted this month on the CRIF website, Roger Cukierman was uncharacteristically candid in describing this summer as “a time of fear, which we shared with our Israeli brethren” who suffered weeks of bombardment from Hamas rockets.

The fear was not merely the significant uptick in violent attacks on Jews in recent months, but a mounting sense that public authorities could no longer be relied on to provide the community with protection. The events, he said, “left the Jewish community with the impression of being isolated within the nation amid attacks by another population.”

Across Europe, Jews have encountered measurable increases in anti-Semitic activity over the past year, prompting both increased immigration to Israel, or aliyah, and a creeping sense of uncertainty over the future of their communities.

Cukierman’s description of a growing Jewish sense of isolation is especially true in France, where Europe’s largest Jewish community lives in an often uneasy coexistence with a large Muslim population. But the situation is hardly unique.

In the Netherlands, where one of the chief rabbis saw his house vandalized for no less than the fifth time in July, several anti-Israel rallies in The Hague featured chants about killing Jews. Similar calls were heard at a rally in Belgium, where the community is still reeling from the slaying in May of four people at Brussels’ Jewish museum — the bloodiest attack on a Jewish institution in Europe since the 2012 murder of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Just this week, arson was the suspected cause for a fire at a synagogue near Brussels.

Belgium also saw three instances in which Jews were denied professional services, including one case of a doctor who advised a 90-year-old Jewish woman from Antwerp to seek help in Gaza. In both the Netherlands and Sweden, people were beaten for displaying an Israeli flag.

The summer war “emboldened jihadists in a way never seen before, resulting in a coming-out of sorts,” said Manfred Gerstenfeld, a prominent Israeli scholar on anti-Semitism. “Mostly it intimidated Jewish communities, but it also produced some pushback.”

For example, in Greece, two years after its entry into parliament, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was feeling a strong response from the establishment. With many of its leaders jailed or on trial since September 2013 for crimes linked to the racist violence encouraged by its members, the party must now contend with a new law that criminalizes Holocaust denial and increases penalties for “inciting acts of discrimination, hatred or violence.” 

Among the European leaders who spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who last week addressed a Berlin rally against the hatred of Jews. Before a crowd of several thousands, Merkel called German Jews a “national treasure.”

Meanwhile, at Europe’s eastern edge, Jews also felt themselves under assault, though for much different reasons. In Ukraine, Jewish immigration to Israel skyrocketed as Jews fled the bloody battle zones where Ukrainian troops clashed with pro-Russian militiamen.

The intensity of the attacks on Jews — some European politicians have referred to it as “the import of the Middle East conflict to Europe” — caught several European governments off guard, exacerbating the Jewish sense of abandonment and prompting some Jews to take the quest for security into their own hands.

In Paris, where police consistently failed to enforce a recent ban on Gaza-related protests, officers stationed outside the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue, or the Roquette Synagogue, found themselves vastly outnumbered and besieged by dozens of young men who splintered off a nearby anti-Israel protest rally on July 13. Dozens of young Jews, many from the far-right Jewish Defense League, fended off the mob in a violent street brawl as six police officers waited for backup.

Similar scenes unfolded in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, where riot police acted as a buffer between an Arab mob and approximately 100 Jews who on July 19 had gathered outside a synagogue — many with clubs in hand — “to prevent a pogrom,” as local community leader Serge Najar described it.

In France, particularly in Paris, violent assaults against Jews became an almost daily occurrence in April and May, months before the onset of the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Jewish Agency officials said the violence contributed to a dramatic increase in French aliyah.

More than 4,500 immigrants have left France for Israel this year, making France the No. 1 source of immigrants to Israel for the first time in decades, topping the United States and even the embattled Ukraine by a considerable margin.

The figures do not include the French Jews who left for countries other than Israel. Jewish communities from Montreal to Miami reported a rise in the number of French congregants in what some are calling “a silent exodus.”

“I left because this country is no longer the France I knew,” said Lionel Berros, a former kosher supervisor in his 40s who was born in Paris and moved to Netanya in July. “I used to take the bus to school wearing a kippah, but now have to cover it with a baseball cap and worry that maybe someone is going to kill my daughter at her school. I’m sad because of what happened to France, but am happy to leave it.”

Jewish leaders have hardly acquiesced to the dwindling of their communities. Cukierman has vowed that after 2,000 years of French Jewish history, the “Jewish presence in France will continue.”

Still, the increase in aliyah is significant and evident across the continent. While aliyah from Britain and Holland remained stable, 272 Belgian Jews immigrated to Israel in 2013, the highest figure recorded in nine years. Jewish emigration from Italy also rose, climbing to 209 in the first eight months of 2014 from 162 in 2013.

The identity of the suspected assailant of the Brussels museum attack — an alleged jihadist named Mehdi Nemmouche who reportedly honed his killing skills while fighting in Syria — “demonstrates the profound change in the nature of the threat we are facing,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor told JTA. “No longer the odd hate crime but trained killers with the ideology, know-how and weapons to carry out massive attacks.”

Immediately after the museum attack, EJC and the local Jewish community set up a crisis management center, the result of a two-year effort initiated after the Toulouse attack by the EJC’s Security and Crisis Center, the body responsible for providing medical, psychological and security services in times of crisis. In addition to the EJC effort, the governments of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, among others, allocated millions of dollars toward security for Jewish institutions.

“The threat is still being treated on an individual state basis, whereas what’s needed is a coordinated multi-state effort similar to the one launched against drugs or tax evasion,” Kantor said.

Fear was a factor also for many Jews in Ukraine, where a revolution that erupted in November brought with it a number of violent assaults by unidentified assailants who appeared to target Jews. The attacks ceased after the ousting in February of President Viktor Yanukovych, but they were replaced in the country’s east by an arguably worse fear — being caught in the crossfire between government troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Despite some disagreements about the political situation, Jews in Ukraine and Russia responded with a coordinated effort. In Ukraine, it included assistance to thousands of Jews affected by the war. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and local Jewish communities and philanthropists all pitched in to help evacuate thousands of Jews from the battle zones.

In total, some 15 Jews died in the fighting, according to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which along with local Chabad officials helped set up a refugee camp for the internally displaced.

And as in France and Belgium, the crisis in Ukraine also resulted in substantial growth in emigration, with 3,252 newcomers leaving for Israel in 2014 compared to 1,270 in the corresponding period last year.

Taken together, the crises prompted a sense that something fundamental had shifted for Europe’s Jews. Over the summer, Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who as chief of the Jewish Agency is the top Israeli official responsible for aliyah, suggested that the current period “may be the beginning of the end for European Jewry.”

 

The Ebola-like plague of anti-Semitism sweeping the West


My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors.  They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France.  Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.” 

Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a  speaking tour of Southern Africa.  In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza.  In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.

In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.

In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country's leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.

And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.

In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”

Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized.  Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalelled outbursts of anti-semitic activity and sentiment in their countries.

The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of  the world's capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.

For it surely is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping  Western Africa  –  deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world. 

If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?

That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?

Theodor Herzl's words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words.  Despite whatever you read in the world's newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world's most sophisticated armies.  United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies.  That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East.  It is an age old  war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of anti-Semitism and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own schedule .  The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakeable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.

I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia. 

Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked:  “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”

As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering  in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without  hesitation I wrote back: 

” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.” 


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in  Israel.

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas


Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Firebombs fail to ignite at Toulouse Jewish center


Police in Toulouse arrested a man who hurled three firebombs at a Jewish community center and the officers guarding it.

The incident happened Saturday, one hour after the conclusion of a demonstration against Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza, the AFP news agency reported.

The man, who was not named, threw two firebombs over the center’s fence and a third at the officers, but none of the bombs successfully ignited. He also hurled stones at the Espace du Judaisme center, which contains a synagogue, a library and a lecture room, among other facilities.

“Our lives have become absurd,” Nicole Yardeni, the head of the local branch of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities. “We endure daily insults and get spat on, a general feeling of anxiety because a part of the population has a poisoned mind that makes it their mission to hurt Jews, regardless of Gaza.”

On Sunday, approximately 2,000 people, many of them Jews, held a rally in Marseille to express their solidarity with Israel.

Also on Saturday, the Correctional Tribunal of Paris released 11 of the 16 suspects that police arrested July 23 on suspicion that they were involved in carrying out an attack on a kosher restaurant in Paris’ 4th Arrondissement, which is also known as the Marais and is Paris’ historic Jewish quarter.

Eight of the suspects were minors, the website 20minutes.fr reported. Seven of them were released for lack of evidence, along with four adults. The court extended the remand of four young men and one minor, who was sent to juvenile court.

The suspects still in custody are believed to have been part of a group of 50 people who splintered off a pro-Palestinian demonstration and headed for the 4th Arrondissement.

A worker of the restaurant managed to shutter the restaurant’s anti-burglary bars, preventing the crowd from entering and locking dozens of customers inside, according to 20minutes.fr. The crowd proceeded to hurl various objects at the windows while shouting “bunch of dirty Jews, we will kill you” and “death to the Jews.”

One of the people released was a 32-year-old man whose criminal record included 14 incidents, and whose photo was identified by two victims of the attack.

 

Germany, France, Italy jointly condemn Gaza-related anti-Semitic acts


In a joint statement the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy condemned anti-Semitic acts arising out of the recent wave of anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini met in Brussels Tuesday to coordinate a response to protests in Berlin, Paris, The Hague, Antwerp and Brussels that have included chants calling for the murder of Jews and that in France have devolved into riots targeting synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic agitation, hate speech against Jews, attacks against people of Jewish belief and against synagogues cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe,” the ministers’ statement reads. “We strongly condemn the outrageous anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks in our countries in recent days,” the joint statement said.

Nine synagogues in France have been targeted over the last week, Jewish groups said.

On Wednesday, approximately 10 youths assaulted a disabled Jewish woman in southeastern France, the French Jewish community’s SPCJ security unit reported. The youths hurled stones at the woman and chanted slogans about killing Jews.

Speaking at a Holocaust commemoration in Paris on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the phenomenon as a “new anti-Semitism.”

“Traditional anti-Semitism, this old disease of Europe, is joined by a new anti-Semitism that cannot be denied or concealed, that we must face,” he said. “It happens on the social networks and in workers’ neighborhoods, among ignorant young men who hide their hatred of Jews behind a facade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.”

Germany, France, Italy condemn anti-Semitism in anti-Israel protests


The foreign ministers of GermanyFrance and Italy on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia that have marred rallies against Israel's role in its conflict with Hamas in which about 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died.

After 10 days of bombardment, Israel on Thursday also launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire out of the territory. So far 29 Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died in the fighting.

On Sunday, French media showed the burnt-out front of a kosher grocery shop in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, which is home to a large Jewish community, and clashes between pro-Palestinian marchers and riot police outside two synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic incitement and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish faith and synagogues have no place in our societies,” the three foreign ministers said in a joint statement issued in Brussels.

France's Laurent Fabius, Italy's Federica Mogherini and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such actions here in Europe.”

The ministers' statement on Tuesday came as Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting.

French authorities had refused to allow several pro-Palestinian protests scheduled for the weekend due to fears of violence, but gave the green light for a rally planned in Paris on Wednesday.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups of violence in the Middle East often add to tensions between the two communities.

In Germany, police in Berlin said it had detained 13 people after demonstrators pelted police with stones after a pro-Palestinian protest on Monday. Police also banned an anti-Semitic slogan used by protesters, according to media reports.

“We will do everything together and in our countries so that all citizens can continue to live in peace and safety, unoffended by anti-Semitic hostility,” the ministers said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed the statement from the three ministers.

“The situation has reached unexpected dimensions. The wave of anti-Semitism in the course of pro-Palestinian demonstrations is getting worse from day to day,” said Deidre Berger, director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish relations.

French minister: Brussels Jewish museum shooter no ‘lone wolf’


France’s interior minister said he believes the Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium should not be considered a “lone wolf.”

Bernard Cazeneuve made the statement on Tuesday during an address before the French Senate about Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old alleged radical Muslim whom French and Belgian authorities believe committed the murders on May 24, the Belgian daily Le Soir reported.

“I would like to take the opportunity to reject the term ‘lone wolf,’ which proliferated during the attack committed by Mohammed Merah in March 2012,” Cazaneuve told the Senate’s legislative committee in reference to the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse, France, “and which was revived in describing Mehdi Nemmouche after the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum.”

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

In the hours after Nemmouche’s arrest on May 30 in Marseille, Cazeneuve himself used the phrase in describing Nemmouche, as did the Paris region public prosecutor, Francois Molins.

According to French and Belgian authorities, Nemmouche traveled from the Belgian capital to Marseille in southern France. Customs officers arrested him during a routine bag inspection and found an AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun –- weapons that match the type of firearms reportedly used at the museum. Nemmouche’s lawyer says his client stole the weapons from a parked car in Brussels and did not commit the murders.

A French court will determine on June 26 whether Nemmouche, who is believed to have fought with jihadists in Syria last year, is to be extradited to Belgium to face trial there. His attorney said he would not oppose extradition to Belgium if Belgium promises not to extradite him to a “third country.”

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the killings during a speech in Geneva in which she focused on the rise of far-right politicians in Europe, noting the recent successes of France’s National Front.

“There is a road to perpetration of human rights violations, and hate speech, particularly by political leaders, is on that road,” she said, adding that the museum shootings “is connected to this climate of extremism.”

Her words drew criticism from the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA. “Mrs. Pallay is right, but she should apply her words at her own house,” the league’s president, Joel Rubinfeld, said in a statement Wednesday. “Indeed, the U.N. Human Rights Council is probably the most high-level international arena where xenophobic speeches are held, including attempts to portray Israel as a Nazi state, with tragic consequences we are experiencing across Europe.”

On Monday, the French imam Hassan Chalghoumi led a delegation of a handful of imams on a visit to the still-closed museum “to express solidarity with the victims and utter rejection of extremism,” he told the Belga news agency.

French rapper accused of praising Toulouse killer


A French watchdog group filed a complaint against a rap artist it accuses of glorifying the anti-Semitic murderer Mohammed Merah.

The National Bureau for Vigilance against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, filed the complaint with police this week against Elie Yaffa, better known in France by his stage name Booba, in connection with the lyrics of a song titled “Porsche Panamera.”

The video was removed from Booba’s official YouTube channel on Wednesday, the day BNVCA published a statement condemning the video.

Mohammed Merah, who killed three children and a rabbi in 2012 in Toulouse, is mentioned twice in the song, which Booba performed together with the rap group S.D.H.S Family.

“We’ll shoot anyone for a cause, Mohammed Merah,” the group sings. “Bang bang in your head, we’ll blow you away, we’re angry like Merah.”

Later in the number, they sing: “Allah Yerahmo [Arabic for 'May Allah have mercy on him'], because only crime pays off.”

“Booba’s lyrics amount to endorsing the anti-Jewish and anti-French killer of Toulouse, who is clearly referenced,” Sammy Ghozlan of BNVCA told JTA.

Booba, the son of a Muslim father from Senegal, last year drew anti-Semitic social media attacks when a song he released called for vengeance for the victims of slavery and the Holocaust.

Booba has sold more than 1 million albums in France.

French cities ban Dieudonne performances


Several French cities banned performances by the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala following a recommendation by the interior minister of France to the country’s mayors.

Shows were banned by mayors in Marseille, Bordeaux, Tours and Nantes, the opening venue of the comedian’s national tour that was to launch Thursday, Reuters reported.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls sent the non-binding recommendation for French mayors to cancel the performances in a circular on Monday, days before Dieudonne was scheduled to launch his nationwide tour.

“I am calling on all representatives of the state, particularly its prefects, to be on alert and inflexible,” President Francois Hollande told a meeting of senior government officials in Paris, Reuters reported. “No one should be able to use this show for provocation and to promote openly anti-Semitic ideas.”

Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews and is facing an eighth trial for suggesting during a show that the French Jewish journalist Patrick Cohen belonged in a gas chamber. He also is the originator of the quenelle, the increasingly popular gesture in France and Europe that has been called anti-Semitic and a quasi-Nazi salute.

Police investigate false bomb threat against comedian Dieudonne


French comedian Diedonne M’bala M’bala complained to police about threats to blow up the theater in which he performs.

The bomb threat was made Thursday against the Main D’Or theater, which Dieudonne operates, in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, according to MetroNews.fr. Police rushed to the scene but found no explosives.

Performances by Dieudonne, a professed anti-Semite and inventor of the quenelle anti-Semitic salute, have been targeted in the past by activists of the Ligue de Defense Juive, the local branch of the JDL.

Last week, six men believed to be linked to JDL were arrested in Lyon for allegedly assaulting two individuals who posted online pictures of themselves performing the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi salute which French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday was a gesture of hate and anti-Semitism.

In recent months, several athletes in France and beyond were seen performing the quenelle, which is believed to be gaining traction in French society.

On Dec. 28, West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka performed the salute during a match, prompting strongly worded condemnations from anti-racism campaigners.

But Kick it Out, a prominent British organization working to curb soccer racism, issued a guarded statement saying only that it will assist Britain’s Football Association in investigating Anelka’s behavior. Anelka has ignored calls to apologize, saying the salute was a gesture to his friend Dieudonne.

John Mann, chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism at the European Parliament, blasted Kick it Out for not using stronger language.

“Not good enough,” Mann wrote on Twitter last week. “You should be leading on challenging this racism. Your statement is weak and puny.”

Quenelle salute performed in front of Toulouse Jewish school


Amid a public debate in France over an allegedly anti-Semitic gesture, French media have published a photo of a man performing it outside the Toulouse school where four Jews were murdered.

The photo, which was published Monday on the website of the television channel France 3, shows a man wearing a shirt featuring a portrait of Yasser Arafat in front of the Ohr Torah school.

The man is seen holding his left palm outstretched over his right shoulder – a gesture known as quenelle, which was invented by the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’balla M’balla. Jewish groups say that Dieudonne, who has multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews, designed the quenelle to emulate the Nazi salute without violating France’s laws against displaying Nazi symbols to cause offense.

The picture taken outside Ohr Torah is not dated but was taken after the Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah last year killed three children and a rabbi. The institution changed its name since from Otzar Hatorah.

The photo was published a day after photos surfaced of NBA star Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium and is French by nationality, performing the salute earlier this year standing next to Dieudonne backstage at a theater in France. Photos of the salute were published in French media.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center reportedly has called on Parker, who plays point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, to apologize for performing the salute.

“As a leading sports figure on both sides of the Atlantic, Parker has a special moral obligation to disassociate himself from a gesture that the government of France has identified as anti-Semitic,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Algemeiner news website.

Reports of the Parker salute came a day after soccer player Nicolas Anelka, a French national playing for Britain’s West Bromwich Albion soccer team, was roundly condemned for performing the salute during a match on Saturday.

Anelka defended himself on Sunday, saying that he saw a photo of President Obama performing the quenelle with rapper Jay Z and singer Beyonce. They were, in fact, performing a hip hop move in which the hand brushes off the shoulder.

Britain’s Football Association has launched an investigation of the Anelka incident.

France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, declared that his ministry would look into banning all public performances by Dieudonne.

Dieudonne has been convicted several times for inciting racial hatred against Jews in films, shows and articles.

France’s soaring anti-Semitism lures Jewish Defense League vigilantes out of shadows


With scooter helmets in hand, a man called Yohan and six buddies stroll around Paris’ 20th arrondissement. The seven look much like a typical group of French students — until they locate a group of Arab men they suspect of perpetrating an anti-Semitic attack the previous day.

Using their helmets as bludgeons, members of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, set upon the Arabs and beat them. Several of the Arabs attempt to escape in a blue sedan, but the LDJ members pursue the vehicle, causing it to crash into a stone wall.

The attack last August, filmed by a television crew shooting a documentary on LDJ, was one of at least 115 violent incidents that critics attribute to the group since its registration in France in 2001 — a year after the eruption of the second intifada in Israel and the sevenfold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the 12 years that followed.

“Now they know the price of Jewish blood,” said Yohan, the nom de guerre of Joseph Ayache, one of LDJ’s young bosses.

An offshoot of the American Jewish Defense League, which was founded in New York by the ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 and which the FBI considers a domestic terrorist group, LDJ stages violent reprisals to anti-Semitic attacks.

The group, which numbers about 300 members, is now on a collision course with France’s Jewish establishment, which has condemned its activities and threatened a lawsuit.

French authorities have ignored calls to ban LDJ, though in Israel the Kach movement, also founded by Kahane, has been outlawed.

The French government’s apparent acquiescence may have inspired LDJ to ratchet up its deterrent potential by showcasing its activities following the murder of four Jews in Toulouse last year by a Muslim extremist.

LDJ traditionally had shied away from media attention. But in the weeks after the killings, which was followed by a 58 percent increase in attacks on Jews in France over the year before, LDJ for the first time allowed a television crew to tag along on a number of guerrilla operations.

In addition to the helmet assault, Ayache was filmed calling for revenge killings in posters he and his group posted around central Paris. When a police car neared, Ayache told officers that he and his friends were working on an art project. The police officers wished him a pleasant evening and drove away.

Ayache also was filmed attempting to storm a performance of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne.

“Since when is it illegal to run?” a brazen Ayache told the police after they detained him.

Another sequence shows Ayache firing a pistol at a shooting range.

“We’ve noticed the Muslim community believes LDJ is some vast machine that operates with impunity and help from Mossad,” said an LDJ spokesman who goes by the alias Amnon Cohen. “It’s not true, but it’s not a bad thing if they are scared. It’ll make them think twice.”

LDJ’s growing assertiveness has further strained the group’s already tense relationship with the CRIF, the umbrella body of French Jewish communities.

In April, CRIF’s former president, Richard Prasquier, said he would sue LDJ for defamation for posting a photograph on its website depicting him with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The caption accuses Prasquier of “pardoning [a] killer.”

LDJ, meanwhile, has accused CRIF of being undemocratic, obsolete and ineffective.

“We operate outside and independently, and that creates opposition within the establishment, which is run by men and women who mean well but don’t know the painful reality of the Jewish rank and file in Paris’ suburbs and poor neighborhoods,” Cohen said.

“There are hundreds of French and Belgian Muslims fighting in the Syrian civil war. When they return, do you think they will be scared of a couple guards trained by the community?”

CRIF declined to comment.

Earlier this month, LDJ announced that its “soldiers” had put a young Arab in the hospital with a coma, “a rapid and effective response” to the man’s attack on Jews at Saint-Mande, just east of Paris.

The announcement drew calls to ban LDJ. As criticism mounted, LDJ retracted the statement and denied any involvement in the violence.

Cohen told JTA the person who published the “false statement” had been removed from the group and that the violence actually resulted from a drug deal gone sour. A spokesperson for the Saint-Mande municipality confirmed that account.

Still, the events at Saint-Mande resulted in a public row between LDJ and CRIF, which on June 4 blamed LDJ for the violence at Saint Mande and for subsequent calls “to take revenge against the Jews.”

Cohen said CRIF is looking for a “scapegoat” to distract from its failure to prevent attacks on Jews through outreach and education. He also denied the group engages in violence, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Besides the television footage, a French court last week sentenced LDJ activist David Ben Aroch to six months in prison for an attack he staged with another LDJ member at a Paris bookstore owned by a pro-Palestinian activist.

Aroch’s accomplice, Jason Tibi, was sentenced to four months for the attack at Librairie Resistance that sent the two victims to the hospital for days.

It may have been a real-life demonstration of what one masked LDJ boss recently called “treatment a la Israel” during a speech at a secret training camp in France.

The filmed address was the introduction to a LDJ propaganda clip titled “Five cops for every Jew, 10 Arabs for each rabbi.”

Three men linked to Mohamed Merah arrested in France


Three men believed to be linked to Mohamed Merah were arrested in southern France.

Two of men were arrested Tuesday in Toulouse by a French police anti-terror unit, the French news service AFP reported.

A third person was arrested on Wednesday morning in the nearby town of Castres.

Merah, a 23-year-old radical Muslim, killed a rabbi and three children in an attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school, now Ohr Hatorah, on March 19, 2012. The slayings came a few days after Merah gunned down three French soldiers in two drive-by shootings from a scooter near Toulouse. He was shot dead on March 22 during a standoff with police.

French police have arrested and released several people and questioned dozens in connection with the shootings.

Paris thugs threaten Jewish teen with Merah-style murder


Three men who accosted a French Jewish teenager in a suburban Paris subway said they would do to him “what Mohammed Merah did.”

According to a report on the incident by the National Bureau of Vigilance against Anti-Semitism, a nongovernmental organization known locally by the French acronym BNVCA, the 17-year-old kippah-clad male was threatened in the southern Paris suburb of Vitry-Sur-Seine on March 3 by three black men who asked him “why Israel was doing this to the Palestinians.”

The report said the men also told the teen, identified by the initials J.C., that Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old Islamist who last year killed four Jews at a school in Toulouse, “was right to do what he did.” They added, “Now we’re going to do what Merah did. We will kill all of you Jews, one day we will kill a Jew.”

A witness corroborated the exchange to BNVCA, the watchdog group said. The presence of the witness may have prevented a physical attack on the teen, the organization added in a report on the incident.