Bernard Ravet is making headlines in France with his comments about public schools not being a safe place for Jewish students. Screenshot from YouTube

French ex-principal reveals he advised Jews not to attend his school for their safety

A former principal at a preparatory school for teenagers in Marseille said he regularly advised Jews not to attend his institution for fear of harassment by other students.

The revelation, which has grabbed front-page headlines in the mainstream media in France, came in a newly published book co-authored by the retired principal, Bernard Ravet, and Emmanuel Davindenkoff, a Le Monde journalist.

In an interview for the L’Express newspaper, Ravet recalled one case in which he as the principal of a public school asked a counterpart from a private Jewish school in Marseille to accept an Israeli boy whose mother wanted to enroll him at Ravet’s school.

Ravet said he “knew the boy would get beat to a pulp” as soon as the other students realized he was an Israeli Jew.

“Hiding my embarrassment, I asked the mother whether she had considered enrolling her boy at Yavneh,” a Jewish school in Marseille, said Ravet, who used to head the Versaille prep school in the same city. After the mother said Yavneh was full, Ravet intervened to have the boy accepted there anyway, he told L’Express.

Ravet first realized his school was not the place for Jews when a radio journalist, Edouard Zambeaux, asked some of his students during interviews whether there were any Jews studying in their institution.

“If there are, then they have to hide it,” one student said, sending “a chill down my back,” Ravet recalled.

Davindenkoff told JTA on Thursday that he considers it a “failure” for the public education system when one of its principals feels they need to refer Jews to private schools for their own safety or well-being.

Ravet also found Islamist verses about killing homosexuals and mutilating thieves circulating among the student population.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third do. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF Jewish umbrella group in France.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” Kalifat told JTA last year, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

French police secure the area in the French port city of Marseille, France, August 21, 2017 where one person was killed and another injured after a car crashed into two bus shelters, a French police source told Reuters on Monday. Photo by Philippe Laurenson/Reuters

Following attack, French Jewish leader calls for ‘immediate eradication’ of terrorism

Following the death of a pedestrian in what appeared to be a vehicular terrorist attack in Marseille, a leader of the local Jewish community called for the “immediate eradication” of terrorism.

Bruno Benjamin, the president of the local branch of the CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities, wrote the message Monday on Twitter shortly after police arrested a man they suspect is connected to the slaying of one woman and the serious injury of another in a car-ramming attack that morning.

Police cannot confirm that the incident was a terrorist attack, a police source told the Le Soir daily.

“#Marseille, terrorism knows no borders, terrorists have no limits and no humanity. Today, a total eradication is necessary,” Benjamin wrote in the unusually harshly worded message. “We cannot comprehend these levels of hatred and capacity” for terrorism, he added.

A prosecutor in Marseille said the incident appeared to be the work of a mentally ill person, the La Chaîne Info news channel reported.

The incident comes on the heels of deadly terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona on Thursday and Friday, where 14 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a van plowed through a crowd. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack and for the actions of five suspected terrorists who were killed Friday during a police raid in a resort city south of Barcelona. The driver of the van in the attack is the subject of an ongoing manhunt.

On Friday, an 18-year-old man of Moroccan descent killed two women and wounded eight others in a stabbing attack in the city of Turku, Finland. Police arrested the suspect, whom they are calling a terrorist.

A still image taken from a video shows French police who surround a BMW car with several bullet impacts at the scene where the man suspected of ramming a car into a group of soldiers on Wednesday in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret was shot and arrested on the A16 motorway, near Marquise, France, August 9. Photo courtesy of REUTERS.

French Jewish group ties car ramming near Paris to its complaint about hate crime

French Jewish leaders seized on a suspected terrorist attack against police officers to again criticize authorities for not labeling the murder of a Jewish woman as a hate crime.

On Wednesday, the CRIF umbrella group of French Jews posted a sarcastic statement on Facebook about the car-ramming Wednesday morning in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Six police officers were injured in the attack, two of them seriously and the rest moderately.  The suspect fled.

The CRIF post asks whether authorities would place the suspect under psychiatric evaluation, as they did the Muslim man charged in the slaying of a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, in April.

“What do you think, should this insane person be put in a psych ward while we contemplate the reasons for his actions?” CRIF posted in French.

It was a provocative reference to the handling by authorities and the media of the slaying of Halimi. Many in the Jewish community were outraged that her killer, Kobili Traore, wasn’t charged with a hate crime, and was instead sent for observation following his insanity plea even though he has no record of mental illness. According to witnesses, Traore shouted about Allah while killing Halimi, his neighbor, and previously called her daughter a “dirty Jewess.”

CRIF has campaigned vigorously for the hate crime charge, calling its omission a “cover up” of the anti-Semitic character of the crime, CRIF President Francis Kalifat has said.

Mainstream French media began covering the controversy surrounding Halimi’s killing more than two months after it happened.

Referring to the Levallois-Perret attack, Mayor Patrick Balkany told French radio the incident appears to be a “deliberate attack” and that French security forces are conducting a massive manhunt for the suspect.

Jamie McCourt. Photo by Reuters

Trump nominates Jamie McCourt, former Dodgers co-owner, as ambassador to France

President Donald Trump has nominated former Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner and CEO Jamie McCourt to be ambassador to France.

McCourt, an entrepreneur and attorney, also would serve as ambassador to Monaco, the White House said in its announcement Thursday.

McCourt “possesses a unique global perspective, having lived and worked both domestically and abroad in various industries – sports, law, finance, education and real estate,” the announcement said.

In 2016, she served as presidential trustee and California state co-chair for the Trump campaign. McCourt then was on the transition finance committee for Trump as president-elect.

McCourt, who is Jewish, lost her position with the Dodgers when she and her husband, Frank, reached a settlement in 2011 in their widely publicized divorce case and she relinquished any ownership of the baseball team.

Her firm Jamie Enterprises, founded in 2009, primarily invests in technology startups, high-end real estate and biotechnology ventures.

French President Emmanuel Macron on July 26. Photo by Charly Triballeau/Reuters

Sarah Halimi, Sisyphus and the denial of anti-Semitic violence

It took too long for the French people to recognize the Jewish victim of a brutal April 4 murder by name. After weeks of indifference by media outlets and politicians, French President Emmanuel Macron demanded publicly that the judiciary shed light on the nature of the crime. 

Significantly, Macron spoke of Sarah Halimi during the ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv, the roundup of more than 13,000 French Jews during the Holocaust in 1942.

“Despite the denials of the murderer, our judiciary must bring total clarity around the death of Sarah Halimi,” Macron said, adding that “we were silent, because we did not want to see.”

Halimi’s face and body were fractured in multiple places. The 65-year-old had been afraid of her suspected attacker and his sister’s anti-Semitic insults for some time. Her suspected assassin is reported to have called Halimi a “dirty whore” and “Sheitane” (Arabic for Satan), and recited verses from the Quran as he beat her severely, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) before defenestrating her.

All of France should have been shocked by this horror, and should have risen up asking for truth and justice in support of this woman assassinated in her home simply because she was Jewish. Instead, everyone buried their heads in the sand. The prosecutor still has not designated Halimi’s murder as a premeditated anti-Semitic act.

Once more, all those fighting for French society to stand up against anti-Semitic violence find themselves in the same position as the mythological hero Sisyphus, condemned for all eternity to perform the impossible task of pushing an immense boulder up a steep hill each day, only for it to roll back down as the sun sets.

How many years have we implored French authorities and society to react to the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents? How many times have we heard attempts by the authorities to “relativize” the situation, to explain that there is no new anti-Semitism, that the rise in anti-Semitic acts is only hooliganism?

How many years have we implored French authorities and society to react to the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents?

In 2006, very few protested the kidnapping, 24-day torture and assassination of Ilan Halimi (no relation to Sarah) by a gang led by a man born to immigrants from Ivory Coast. But notably, Nicolas Sarkozy, then France’s interior minister, declared that the murder was an anti-Semitic crime. This affirmation set the stage for yet another battle over acknowledging the source of the new anti-Semitism. This meant accepting the fact that victims of racism could themselves be racists.

It also meant understanding that anti-Semitism does not only concern Jews, but rather all of French society — that it is a virulent cancer. If left untreated, it can metastasize and destroy an entire society. Historically, in our liberal democracies, the safety of Jewish communities is an indicator of the level of health of the society as a whole.

Other courageous voices joined. The Foundation for Political Innovation carried out a study together with the American Jewish Committee, pointing out that vehement anti-Semitism comes from three sectors of the population: a substantial portion of French Muslims, the extreme left and the extreme right. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls famously stated that “France without Jews would no longer be France,” and emphasized this inconvenient truth: “Yes, anti-Zionism has become in many parts of French society a screen that hides a visceral anti-Semitism.” DILCRAH — a ministerial delegation opposing racism, anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hate — proposed a plan to fight this scourge, and the plan was adopted by France’s government.

Then how is it possible that after the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the murder of three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012, and the terrorist attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in 2015, France has relapsed into denial by refusing to acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitic violence when it comes to the murder of Sarah Halimi?

Maybe it was our fault, as we Jews did not want to be seen as constantly complaining. Maybe the Jewish community was unwilling to believe that in 2017, it is still possible that an elderly woman would be beaten and defenestrated just because she is Jewish.

By recalling her name at the ceremony commemorating the Holocaust-era roundup of French Jews, and by demanding justice for Sarah Halimi, Macron has broken down the wall of indifference that surrounded this drama, and has stood up for all of us, for all of France.

With these words he has, in his own way, advanced the boulder of Sisyphus.

Let us keep the boulder from rolling back down, by refusing to accept the continued impunity of those who spew the poison of anti-Semitism in France.

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris-based Europe branch.

Emmanuel Macron speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Holocaust roundup in Paris on July 16. Photo by Kamil ZihnIoglu/AFP/Getty Images

6 reasons why Macron’s speech about the Holocaust in France was groundbreaking

It wasn’t the first time that a French president acknowledged his nation’s Holocaust-era guilt, but Emmanuel Macron’s speech Sunday was nonetheless groundbreaking in format, content and style.

Delivered during a ceremony at the Vel d’Hiv Holocaust memorial monument exactly 75 years after French police officers rounded up 13,152 Jews there for deportation to Nazi death camps, the 35-minute address was Macron’s first about the Holocaust since the centrist won the presidency in May.

Evocative and more forthright than any of the speeches on the subject delivered by Macron’s predecessors, his address “relieved the feeling of isolation” experienced by many Jews due to anti-Semitism today, according to Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, who leads the Liberal Jewish movement in France.

Macron’s speech “made me proud to be French and Jewish,” she said.

Here are six significant ways that the address differed from those of previous French presidents, including in scope; the unusual role played at the event by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; its references to present realities, and Macron’s emotional delivery.

Monsieur le Premier Ministre

It was the first time that an Israeli head of state attended the annual commemoration for the Vel d’Hiv deportations of July 16-17, 1942, named after the Velodrome d’Hiver stadium that used to stand near the monument.

Netanyahu was invited despite objections on Muslim websites, by the Communist Party  and the party of the far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon — although the invitation came from the CRIF federation of French Jewish communities and not by the Elysee Presidential Palace, as reported by some French media. The Elysee, which organized the event, did not object publicly to Netanyahu’s attendance and facilitated it.

The arrival of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in a motorcade whose limousines sported gold-fringed Israeli flags electrified the predominantly Jewish audience of 1,200 people. Holocaust survivors in their 80s and 90s approached the monument railing to catch a glimpse of the Israelis as others reacted with thunderous applause.

They oohed and applauded as Netanyahu delivered the first part of his speech in French, which he speaks with a thick accent and some errors, but understands without requiring translation. And they nodded as he urged Macron to stand with Israel and fight “the cancerous spread of militant Islam” and “hate that starts with the Jews but never ends there,” as Netanyahu defined it.

But their enthusiasm for Netanyahu was dwarfed by the deafening applause they gave Macron when he responded to Netanyahu.

Anti-Zionism and the reinvention of anti-Semitism

Addressing Netanyahu, Macron assured the Israeli leader and listeners that “we will continue our fight against terrorism and the worst kinds of fanaticism,” adding: “So yes, we will never surrender to the expressions of hatred; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”

Articulated in recent years by Emmanuel Valls, a former prime minister of France, Macron’s statement was the first time an incumbent president in France equated anti-Zionism – a fairly popular sentiment in France – with anti-Semitism. It triggered several emotional yelps from the audience and applause so vigorous, it caused the tarp strung up over the monument plaza for security reasons to vibrate.

There was another wave of applause when, unusually, Macron and Netanyahu hugged publicly after Netanyahu’s speech.

Deeper, farther

Much of Macron’s speech was devoted to establishing France’s complicity in the murder of 25 percent of its Jewish population during the Holocaust and deconstructing apologist views on the subject.

Speaking plainly and avoiding metaphors, Macron sounded less like a politician than a historian or a prosecutor who is committed to factual accuracy.

In the first admission of Holocaust culpability by a French president, Jacques Chirac in 1995 said that “Frenchmen, the French state assisted the criminal folly of the occupier,” resulting in a failure to uphold the nation’s values and an “irreparable crime.”

And Francois Hollande in 2012 said the roundups were a “crime committed in France, by France.”

But the Macron address delivered Sunday “was a precedent-setting speech that went deeper, on a pedagogic level, than addresses that preceded it by French presidents,” said Serge Klarsfeld, a historian and one of France’s leading researchers on the Holocaust.

Members of the audience listening to French President Emmanuel Macron near the Vel d’Hiv memorial in Paris, July 16, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)


Macron’s speech was the first presidential address that named individual collaborators who helped the Nazis kill Jews, including René Bousquet, a police chief who was indicted for planning the Vel d’Hiv roundups, but died in 1993 before his trial.

“France organized the roundups,” Macron said. “Not a single German participated.” And so France “in almost every aspect organized the death” of the victims.

More jarringly to many French ears, he said the collaborationist Vichy government “was not replaced overnight” by the free French government that succeeded it after the country’s liberation in World War II.

“Ministers, civil servants, police officers, economy officials, unions, teachers” from the Vichy government were all incorporated into the Third Republic that replaced it, Macron said.

By touching on France’s perceived failure to purge itself of collaborators and their legacy, Macron differentiated himself from all of France’s presidents after Francois Mitterrand. Klarsfeld praised Macron for pointing out how Mitterrand and postwar leader Charles de Gaulle “remained silent on the historical truth” about collaboration “in favor of appeasement and reconciliation.”

Macron said he “does not judge” his predecessors who remained silent on the issue.

During his speech, Macron said “It is very convenient to view Vichy as a monstrosity, born of nothing and returned to nothing.” But it is “false. We cannot base any pride on a lie.” Rather than weaken the French nation, as argued by National Front politicians, admitting its guilt “opened the path to correcting” its faults, Macron said.

Refuting revisionists

Speaking about the Vichy puppet government, Macron deconstructed the main revisionist talking points put forward by the French far right led by the National Front party under Marine Le Pen. In April, Le Pen argued that the government’s actions in World War II do not represent France as a nation.

“I reject the attempts to absolve one’s conscious by those who claim Vichy wasn’t France,” Macron said. No other French president had said this in these terms.

L’affaire Halimi

Responding to repeated pleas by French Jews – including at the Vel d’Hiv event during a speech by CRIF President Francis Kalifat – Macron for the first time commented on the death of Sarah Halimi,

Halimi, a 66-year-old physician, was killed by a Muslim neighbor, Kobili Traore, who shouted about Allah before he killed her. Halimi’s daughter said that Traore had called her a “dirty Jew.” Yet in what CRIF considers a “cover-up,” the indictment filed against Traore last week does categorize the killing as a hate crime.

In his address, Netanyahu counted Halimi among other French Jews murdered in recent years by Islamists.

Macron replied: “Despite the denials of the murderer, the judiciary must as soon as possible provide maximum clarity on the death of Sarah Halimi.” Klarsfeld said it was a strong message that will “probably induce change” in how Traore is tried.


A rational and analytical thinker with a background in banking and economics, Macron surprised many of his listeners with the apparent intensity of his intonation and body language during the speech.

“Above all, the speech was special for his palpable emotion,” Horvilleur said.


Like many others Horvilleur, the Liberal rabbi, was “deeply moved” by Macron’s remarks at the end of his speech about how the children deported from Vel d’Hiv informs how he views his role as president.

Children “who wanted to go to school, graduate, find work, start a family, read, watch a show, learn and travel,” he said. “I want to tell those children that France has not forgotten them. That she loves them. That their tragic fate demands of us never to give up to hate, rancor or despair.”

Avi Gabbay attending a press conference after winning the Labor Party primary in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 11. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Avi Gabbay, ‘Israel’s Macron,’ wants to lead Labor party from the center

He’s charismatic. He’s an outsider. And he’s a political centrist.

Some have hailed Avi Gabbay, the telecom exec who was elected Monday to lead the center-left Labor Party, as Israel’s version of French President Emmanuel Macron, the banker who recently swept to power with an outsider campaign.

“Like Macron, Gabbay brings hope,“ said Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “People are again saying: Here is a new medicine. The old medicine didn’t cure us.”

But Israel already has two charismatic, outsider centrists in national politics. Both Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon in recent years led new moderate parties to electoral success, though not rule. So what does one more Macron mean for the country?

Gabbay (pronounced gab-BYE) successfully courted Labor’s left wing to win the primary. But he is widely viewed as a moderate.

He entered politics as a founding member of Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party, and joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government in 2015. During the campaign, Gabbay was even forced to retract a televised denial that he had previously voted for the ruling Likud party.

Labor, like much of the historic Israeli left, is a shell of itself. According to Diskin, Gabbay would now be wise to embrace the centrist label. It is no accident, he said, that Kahlon and Lapid — who led his studiously middle-of-the-road Yesh Atid into the government in 2013 — found success far from either political pole. Israel has a long history of successful centrist parties, most notably Ariel Sharon’s Kadima, which won the 2006 election.

“Macron knew the center is the best place to be, because most voters are there. That’s how you get political control,” said Diskin. “Or look at [Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion. He tried to rule from the center and leave leftist parties out of his government. One of Labor’s biggest problems is that it has forgotten this lesson.”

After leading Israel to independence in 1948 and then dominating Israeli politics for three decades, Labor has fallen on hard times. The party’s most recent national election win was 18 years ago, and opinion polls have showed it ranked just fourth or fifth in size among major parties.

Gabbay, 40, is expected to give a much needed popularity boost to his party, at least in the short term. But his wider effect on Israeli politics is less clear. A stronger Labor could actually solidify Netanyahu’s grip on power by siphoning votes from Yesh Atid, the only party polls have shown challenging Likud.

Alternatively, some hope Gabbay — whose parents immigrated from Morocco — will help Labor overcome its longstanding image as a bastion of well-to-do Israelis of Ashkenazi, or European Jewish, descent and attract some of the working-class Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jewish, voters who vote for Likud or Kulanu. In that way, he could expand the center left.

Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at Hebrew University and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said Gabbay appeared to have the tools to rebrand his party.

“Israeli politics is highly personalized. So Gabbay’s personality and his character are huge assets,” said Rahat. “Maybe more significantly, he’s Mizrahi. He may be able to take some Mizrahi votes not just from Lapid, but also from Kahlon and Netanyahu.”

Gabbay grew up in a Jerusalem transit camp, one of eight children, and, after serving in the Intelligence Corps, went on to make millions as the chief executive of Bezeq, Israel’s telecommunications monopoly. In 2015, he helped launch Kulanu and became the environmental protection minister. But a year later, he quit in protest after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replaced Defense Minister Moshe Kahlon with the hawkish Avigdor Liberman as part of a political deal.

He joined Labor about six months ago.

Amid a crowded field, Gabbay made it to the party’s two-man runoff by coming in second to Amir Peretz, 65, a former Labor head and defense minister, who is also Mizrahi. Incumbent Labor chairman Isaac Herzog got the third most votes and threw his support behind Peretz along with most of the Labor establishment.

Nevertheless, Gabbay prevailed by winning the hearts of the party’s rank and file. He appeared likablee  and nonchalant in his many TV appearances and made savvy use of social media. On Sunday, he shared Peretz’s Facebook post asking the public for helping finding his son’s lost dog. The comradely gesture earned critical last minute coverage and social media buzz.

After Gabbay’s victory, Labor leaders quickly threw their support behind him. Ehud Barak, the party’s most recent prime minister who has hinted at a political comeback, called it a revolution in Labor and said Netanyahu and his allies would be “sweating tonight, with good reason.”

For his part, Diskin predicted Gabbay would do little to redraw the political map. But with some political skill, he said, the newly elected Labor leader might be able to form a government with the two other centrist parties. Then, he said, Israel could have its Macron moment.

Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron at a news conference in Berlin on May 15. Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images

Dear President Macron: It’s time to reinforce France’s ties with Israel

In the French presidential campaign just concluded, discussion of foreign policy was largely forgotten. Nonetheless, Emmanuel Macron, France’s new president, faces several critical global issues, among them the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

If France would like to play a role, she must rebuild the credibility that was diminished in January when the Paris Peace Conference concluded with declarative statements but no tangible results that might encourage the two parties to work toward peace. By internationalizing the conflict and leading the Palestinians to believe that they can avoid the negotiating table, the French initiative in effect slowed down an already lagging peace process.

France must appear as an honest broker, an impartial mediator that takes the concerns of both parties into consideration. And France must win back Israel’s trust — especially after deciding to exclude it from the January negotiations — by reaffirming the absolute necessity of ensuring Israel’s security within secure and recognized borders. Macron must approach his relationship with Israel with great care.

Earlier this month, France abstained from voting on the umpteenth UNESCO resolution aimed at denying the historical connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, a number of other European countries (Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Greece and the Netherlands) made the decision to oppose the resolution, one that runs counter to the aim of achieving peace.

Is it not time for France to reconsider its position on this issue, to dare to oppose initiatives that strive to delegitimize Israel?

In 1967, President Charles de Gaulle officially ended the Franco-Israeli honeymoon period of the 1950s and early ’60s when he imposed an arms embargo on Israel just before the Six-Day War. He explained his decision at an infamous news conference in which he said Israelis were “an elite people, assertive and domineering.” David Ben-Gurion responded, “We do not harbor an ‘ardent ambition to conquer’ but rather a fervent faith and the vision of peace as described by our prophets.”

Fifty years later, there are vast possibilities for cooperation between France and Israel. The most obvious is the fight against terrorism. France is a target for attacks, and in that regard finds itself in a situation similar to Israel’s. It would make considerable sense to look to Israel for expertise in population preparedness and government resilience in order to combat this scourge.

In responding to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, France has adopted an uncompromising position in opposition to Tehran’s aggressive policies. Surely it would be in France’s best interests to align its strategy with that of Israel, a country similarly concerned by the Iranian threat, as well as with the new U.S. administration, which is eager to address the Iranian nuclear threat.

Moreover, Paris can help broker a rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Arab countries — powers that already engage in a discrete alliance rooted in distrust of Iran. In recent months, with the new American administration in place, there have been signs that such an implicit alliance is a real possibility. What remains unclear is whether France will rise to the occasion and play a key role in forming and bolstering this alliance against a common threat.

The election of Macron gives cause for optimism about the future of Franco-Israeli relations. His visit to Israel as minister of the economy sent the message that France is eager to renew cooperation. After all, as Macron has suggested, “French tech” and the “start-up nation” rank among the 10 most innovative economies in the world.

Furthermore, Macron proved himself a friend to Israel during the presidential campaign, opposing any boycott of the country or the recognition of a state of Palestine in the absence of any peace agreement.

As president-elect, Macron has already had discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who congratulated the new French leader on his triumph and highlighted the importance of cooperation between their two nations on counterterrorism initiatives.

Yet we cannot allow these hopeful signs to make us complacent. The history of French diplomacy over the past 50 years offers much evidence of dashed hopes.

At a time when U.S. plans for mediating between Israelis and Palestinians remain in doubt because President Donald Trump has yet to win the confidence of either party, and Germany’s relations with Israel have turned fraught, Paris has a window of opportunity to restore ties and benefit from cooperation with an Israel that can be its ally on many fronts.

Let’s hope that the new president will choose to renew a sincere, solid bond between France and Israel.

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is director and Julie Decroix is deputy director of the American Jewish Committee’s Europe Office.

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.

Emmanuel Macron meeting supporters in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France, May 7, 2017, before winning the presidential election. Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Emmanuel Macron wins French election, but Marine Le Pen wins legitimacy

Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old  former investment banker and political centrist, handily defeated the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election. Exit polls showed Macron winning Sunday’s vote by a margin of 65 percent to 34 percent.

Although her bid to lead the country failed, Le Pen’s divisive campaign against Macron achieved some of the goals that her supporters have sought for years.

Going mainstream

Under Le Pen, the National Front went from being a fringe movement with no real shot at achieving power to a veritable contender. Her percentage of votes was by far the party’s best electoral performance since its establishment in the 1970s.

While the support may diminish over the next five years, the National Front is now indubitably a major political power and a legitimate choice in the eyes of a third of the electorate.

Le Pen referenced this during an interview Friday, saying, “We moved everything, we have changed everything already.”

The transition came with a personal price for Le Pen, who had a public falling-out with her father and mentor, Jean-Marie, the National Front’s founder. Convicted multiple times for Holocaust denial and incitement of racial hatred against Jews, the elder Le Pen is a hero to the hardcore of the French ultra-right for his apparent disregard for both his country’s laws against hate speech and his rhetoric’s political cost.

Since taking over the leadership of the National Front in 2011, Marine Le Pen has worked to rehabilitate the party’s public image by distancing it from the racist rhetoric favored by her father, the party’s founder.

Jean-Marie Le Pen lost control of the party to a new generation of National Front politicians, led by his daughter, who viewed his provocations as an impediment to contending for power. In 2015, Marine Le Pen kicked her father and dozens of other politicians who made anti-Semitic remarks out of the party.

Still, Le Pen has remained the far-right’s go-to candidate thanks to her insistence on a ban on Jewish and Muslim religious symbols and ritual slaughter, and on immigration by Muslims, among other discriminatory policies.

Jean-Marie Le Pen had to go because he “personifies the ultra-right that does not seek to reach power” in a form of “self-destruction,” Florian Philippot, a National Front vice president and ally of Marine Le Pen, said in a 2015 interview.

Philippot may have been overstating things — in the 2002 presidential elections, the party attracted a respectable 18 percent of the vote. Still, Marine Le Pen has clearly taken National Front to a new level of acceptability while retaining the spirit of its founding mission.

Isolating minorities  

The communal representatives of French Jews and Muslims mobilized almost without exception for Macron. In both communities, even clergy abandoned their carefully cultivated nonpartisanship in an unusual effort, the likes of which had not been seen in at least 15 years.

On Friday, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia co-authored, with the president of the Protestant Federation of France and a Muslim faith leader, a statement endorsing Macron. Tellingly, the Catholic Church of France, by far the largest Christian denomination in the country, sat out the declaration.

“Fully aware that our roles require us to be nonpartisan,” the three clergymen wrote, “peace supersedes all other things and only a vote for Emmanuel Macron guarantees” it.

The rare statement followed efforts by French Jews to prevent a Le Pen victory on “a scale that was last witnessed in 2002, ahead of the runoff led by her father,” according to Philippe Karsenty, a Jewish Macron supporter and deputy mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

Originally supportive of Francois Fillon, the Republicans candidate who lost in the first round last month and stands significantly to the right of Macron, Karsenty joined the Macron camp not because he believes in the candidate’s policies, but “to block Le Pen from ruining France,” as Karsenty put it in an interview with JTA Saturday.

CRIF, the federation of Jewish communities of France, called on all Jews and non-Jews to vote for Macron, describing Le Pen as a “danger for democracy.” And the Union of Jewish Students of France held a string of rallies Friday against Le Pen, including a concert “against fascism.”

While these efforts served as a show of unity within French Jewry and with other faith groups, they also cast a partisan light on French Jews and Muslims, which leaders of both communities have worked hard to avoid. And that has the potential of highlighting a distinction, favored by many Le Pen supporters, between these minorities and the general population.

At the same time, this may also reinforce stereotypes held by many French about Jews and Muslims – presenting Le Pen and her party as the archenemy of groups that conspiracy theorists in France like to describe as cabals working in unison.

Making international alliances

Critics of Le Pen, who has vowed to dismantle the European Union, warned that her victory would leave France internationally isolated.

In a world where international trade is more important than ever, her isolationist policies had the potential of making France “a pariah nation with no international allies,” according to a position paper published by the liberal think tank Terra Nova in March.

However, her campaign showed that National Front has allies from Washington to the Kremlin — and also among some of the leading politicians of countries that founded the very European Union that she is seeking to break down.

President Donald Trump, whom Le Pen endorsed openly during the U.S. presidential election, partly returned the favor on April 21, when he offered what was widely interpreted as tacit support for Le Pen.

The far-right candidate, Trump said, is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” Stopping short of giving her his explicit endorsement, Trump added: “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”

In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Le Pen at the Kremlin and reportedly wished her good luck in the elections — though he, too, insisted Russia did not have any favorites in the runoff. Macron did not visit the Kremlin during the campaign.

Still, Putin, a rival and critic of the European Union, seemed to have an unsurprising soft spot for the woman who vowed to dismantle it.

Several computer experts claimed that Russian operatives were behind the hacking of huge amounts of internal correspondence by Macron’s campaign that were published 36 hours before the vote and presumably intended to sow chaos and discredit the front-runner.

Le Pen also has powerful allies within the European Union, including Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who in March led his Party for Freedom as it became Holland’s second largest political movement for the first time in its history. He publicly endorsed her.

So did Nigel Farage and his UKIP populist party in the United Kingdom, which lobbied forcefully and, ultimately, successfully, in favor of a yea vote in last year’s referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.

Reopening debate on the Holocaust

By uttering five words followed by the name of a place that most young French have never heard of, Marine Le Pen has reopened a debate on France’s complicity during the Holocaust, potentially reversing the results of decades of soul searching that led to a belated admission of guilt.

On April 9 she said,  “France is not responsible for Vel d’Hiv” — the name of a Paris stadium where French police officers in 1942 rounded up more than 13,000 Jews for the Nazi occupation forces, who had them sent to death camps. For decades after the war, leaders in France equivocated about the nation’s responsibility for the deportations.

In 1995, former President Jacques Chirac delivered a landmark speech at Vel D’Hiv that for many had put the issue to rest.

“Yes, it is true that the criminal insanity of the occupying forces was supported by some French people and the French state,” Chirac said.

Coming amid stubborn resistance by the French railway company lawyers to demands that it assume responsibly for its central role in the deportations, Chirac’s speech was the first admission of collective guilt of its kind by a French head of state. He made it at what the Yad Vashem museum had for years called “a symbol of the responsibility of the regime and the French nation” for the Holocaust.

Marking a long and anguished journey by a nation that initially had perceived itself only as a victim of Nazism, Chirac’s speech opened the door to restitution agreements with the railway company. It also mainstreamed the consensus of historians, relegating apologists for French collaborators to the fringes.

The impact of Marine Le Pen’s revisionism is not yet clear. But again, more than a third of French voters supported a candidate who sought to whitewash the historical record. And, according to some observers, it has politicized the Holocaust in a way that did not exist before the campaign.

Following Le Pen’s remark, Macron visited the Memorial for the Martyrs of the Deportation in Paris on April 30 during the last stretch of his presidential campaign. The gesture, however well-intended, infuriated the French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and other critics. Finklekraut said he was “furious” at Macron for “making the extermination of Jews a campaign argument.”

Attracting Jewish support

While the Jewish establishment rejected Le Pen and her party, it did not prevent Le Pen from making significant inroads into the Jewish community and in Israel. According to a 2014 poll, 13.5 percent of Jewish voters said they would vote for her.

And while that figure is significantly lower than Le Pen’s approval rating in the general population, it is a major achievement for her considering the nearly nonexistent support her father got from Jews.

Numbering approximately 500,000, French Jews lack the electoral weight to determine a major political campaign nationally. But Jewish supporters aid Le Pen’s attempts to argue that her party has changed for the better.

Le Pen’s life partner, Louis Aliot, makes no secret of his Jewish origins. Aliot recently visited Israel, meeting in January with a low-level representative of its ruling Likud party.

Under Le Pen, the National Front has an active club of Jewish supporters, the Association for Patriots of Jewish Faith, led by Michel Thooris, a 36-year-old police officer who is also a member of the Central Board of the National Front.

She has secured Jewish support by saying that Jews are allies of other French people endangered by Islam — a potentially potent argument within a community traumatized by jihadist terrorism. In 2015, she promised to be “the shield” for Jews against Islamists but asked Jews to “make a sacrifice” in the fight, including giving up ritual slaughter and the right to wear religious symbols.

Even CRIF, the federation of Jewish communities of France, appeared to soften its opposition to Le Pen. In 2015, its then president, Roger Cukierman, said she “cannot be faulted personally” for anti-Semitism. Although he later that CRIF would continue to shun the National Front, his comments earned widespread criticismfrom prominent Jewish groups and individuals who consider Le Pen irredeemable.

FILE PHOTO: French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates on the stage at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris, France May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

France’s Macron is moderate (which is good) but young (which isn’t)


Many years ago, France was an important country. An empire, a beacon. It is now a country with rich history, inspiring food and culture, and little political significance. Our fascination with France’s election compared with, say, the level of attention we pay to elections in India is a sign of two things: One – we don’t always understand where things of real importance happen. Two – in politics, symbols matter. And France, in our own minds, is still a symbol of something. For now.


The victory of Emmanuel Macron is a good thing – and the defeat of Marine Le Pen even more so. A victory of moderation over radicalism is almost always a good thing.

On the other hand, Macron’s youth and inexperience are not a good thing. Often we are tempted to worship political youth and inexperience, when what we ought to realize is that politics is like any other profession: with age and experience comes wisdom, and with them the qualities needed for success. Not always – but very often. Obama’s youth, Justin Trudeau’s youth, and Netanyahu’s youth back in the Nineties were misleading. All of them gave a false impression of freshness and new ideas that soon proved hollow and impractical.

Let us have older, less good looking men and women to lead us. Let us have moderation, experience, humility.


Walter Russell Mead’s observation from two weeks ago, when Macron won the first round of election, still stands:

Macron has some good ideas, but there is zero evidence that a candidate without a strong party backing him, who attracted less than a quarter of the vote in a contest with a Communist nut-job, a seemingly corrupt establishmentarian, and a rightwing extremist, can impose the kinds of changes on the French that they have been fighting for years. The result only looks heartening because Euro-pessimism has grown so intense and pervasive both in Europe and in the wider world.

Don’t waste your time on the tired comparisons between France and the US (no, Trump is not Le Pen) or France and Israel (no, Netanyahu is not Le Pen). The systems of election are different, the stakes are different, the leaders are different, the problems are different. The French picked Macron over Le Pen not because they are wiser than American voters – but rather because they had an easier choice to make. Israelis vote for Netanyahu not because they don’t have a Macron – they vote Netanyahu because they can’t afford the luxury of having a political novice in office (and when they did feel they had this luxury, they always regretted it: see Netanyahu and Ehud Barak in the Nineties).


It is comical how easy it is for us to go to our old bad habit of voicing sweeping statements based on little evidence. For example (this is the Washington Post, but you can find many such examples elsewhere):

The anti-E.U. French leader Marine Le Pen’s larger-than-expected victory in her nation’s presidential election was a crushing reality check for the far-right forces who seek to overthrow Europe: Despite the victories for Brexit and Donald Trump, they are likely to be shut out of power for years.

Just consider the following false assumptions hidden in this short paragraph:

A. Trump resembles Europe’s far-right forces.

B. Having a radical candidate such as Le Pen getting to the finals and earning a third of France’s vote is a “crushing defeat.”

C. This means a “shut out of power” for years.

Let’s deal with the last two and offer a more moderate description of the same event: Le Pen achieved much by becoming a legitimate and realistic candidate for the presidency, and got the votes of a significant minority of France’s voters. There is no guarantee that she will not win the next election – nor is there any guarantee that radicalism was “shut out of power” for “years” (and besides, what does “years” mean – is it two years, five years, ten years? This is the kind of predictions that Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner justifiably mock at the opening pages of Superforcasting).


So now the leaders of France, Germany, and Britain – Europe’s triumvirate – do not have biological children. Not one child between these three. Of course, as a personal choice, or fate, there is nothing wrong with people choosing not to have children, or being unable to have children. But a continent without children is bound to decline – or change by absorbing children from other continents.

In other words: Europeans might be tilting against accepting more waves of non-European immigrants, but without these immigrants they will be lost.


And what about “the Jews of France”?

Most of them were relieved when Le Pen lost the election.

Some of them were disappointed because of her loss.

It is now common among Jewish liberals in Israel and the US to cheer the supposed cooperation between Jews and Muslims in France in opposing Le Pen. As if these two communities have the same goal in mind as they think about the future of France.

But the truth is that the Jews in France lose the battle either way: they lose if a radical such as Le Pen wins an election – and they also lose if the growing Muslim community is emboldened because of the outcome of the last election.



French President-elect Emmanuel Macron in Paris on May 7. Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/Reuters

Macron beats Le Pen 65-34 in French elections, according to exit polls

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate in the French presidential elections, beat the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen 65 percent to 34 percent in the final round of voting Sunday, according to exit polls.

The result, published Sunday evening in Le Monde, marks both the best electoral result ever obtained by Le Pen’s National Front party — which leaders of French Jewry have said poses a threat to democracy and their community — and the first time in decades that a majority of French voters elected as president an independent candidate coming from outside one of the country’s main political parties.

Macron received the explicit endorsement of leaders and institutions of French Jews as well as Muslim and some Christian ones after he and Le Pen made it to the second and final round. Macron received 23 percent of the vote in the first round two weeks ago, with Le Pen trailing him by two points.

“We remain extremely concerned by the still large support for parties of the far right, not only in France but across Europe,” the president of European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said in a statement issued Sunday night after the exit poll numbers were released. He also wrote that the result was “a victory against hate and extremism” by the French people.

Le Pen had vowed to ban the wearing of Jewish and Muslim religious symbols in public if elected, as well as ritual slaughter and the serving of pork-free dishes in school cafeterias. Last month she also said France was “not responsible” for its police’s collaboration with the Nazis in capturing Jews and sending them to death camps. She favors a shutdown on immigration from Muslim countries.

Marine Le Pen has distanced the party from the racist rhetoric of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front and who ran it until 2011, when his daughter took over. She kicked him out of the party in 2015 after he said a Jewish singer should “go in the oven.”

Despite the fact that Macron is not a member of the Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande, Macron was widely perceived as a continuity candidate seeking to further pursue that party’s policy of strong involvement in the European Union and a relatively tolerant approach to religious minorities.

His positions on Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians and the Middle East in general also correspond with those of Hollande’s government, he told a predominantly Jewish crowd in March during a town hall meeting organized in Paris by CRIF, the federation of Jewish communities of France.

Hollande is one of France’s least-popular presidents. Citing dismal approval ratings, he had withdrawn from the presidential race to better the chances of his party to remain in power.

The economic policies of Macron, a former banker who at 39 will be the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic of France, differ significantly from those of the Socialist Party. A believer in free-market economy, he is calling for an economic reform opposed by labor unions and advocates of France’s relatively generous welfare amenities.

This has alienated many left-wing voters in what could explain a historically low turnout in Sunday’s vote.

According to Le Monde, a quarter of registered voters did not show up to vote, making the turnout of 75 percent the lowest recorded in any final round of the presidential elections since 1969.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen addressing activists at the Espace Francois Mitterrand in Henin Beaumont, France, on April 23. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Why Marine Le Pen is confident she will be France’s next president

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron were not alone in cheering his victory Sunday in the first round of France’s presidential elections.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished second in the voting, saw it as excellent news. The two will face off in the final round next month after the centrist Macron won 23 percent of the vote, 2 points ahead of Le Pen.

She has called Macron her “ideal” adversary — Macron is relatively inexperienced and without the infrastructure of an established party, and despite running as an independent is nonetheless widely seen as a continuity candidate of the deeply unpopular government of President Francois Hollande.

“A runoff between a patriot such as myself and a caricature of a diehard globalist like him is ideal,” Le Pen, the leader of the Eurosceptic and anti-establishment National Front party, told the AFP news agency on Jan. 17. “It’s a gift.“

To be sure, the sharp-tongued and gravel-voiced Le Pen has also spoken dismissively of other candidates.

But when it comes to Macron, she is not alone in assessing his perceived weaknesses as a candidate. Nor is she alone in believing  that her anti-Muslim party, with its rich record of anti-Semitism, raw nationalism and xenophobia, is closer to the presidency than at any point in its history.

Macron, 39, a youthful-looking former banker who has never held elected office, has generated a huge following among professionals in France’s more affluent cities and regions. A supporter of corporate tax cuts and competitiveness in the job market, he has appealed to voters with a cosmopolitan worldview. He backs the European Union and promotes tolerance toward minorities while acting against radicalization.

But these very characteristics, as well as Macron’s image as an aloof wunderkind who owes his success to a corrupt establishment, make him deeply unpopular to a class, largely low-income, that feels disenfranchised by immigration, globalization and the European Union. Politically this is a perilous position, as witnessed in the 2016 vote in Britain to leave the European bloc and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.

Conservative writer Guy Millière is a Trump supporter who opposes Le Pen, but says Macron is an “inflatable doll” who, if elected, will guarantee “five more years of Hollande” and a continuation of the rule of a “clique that knows nothing about the difficulties of ordinary Frenchmen,” he wrote Monday on the rightist news site Dreuz. “He’s a candidate made up by billionaires.”

Macron’s supporters say that although he served two years as a Cabinet minister under Hollande, a Socialist, Macron is in fact an outsider to the political establishment and the only candidate who stands a chance to transcend bipartisan divisions in a deeply polarized society. Macron also was inspector of finances in the French Ministry of Economy under Jaques Chirac, a center-right president.

Yet that, too, could be an Achilles heel in a country where no independent candidate has won a presidential election since the 1970s.

Relatively inexperienced in politics and lacking the support of established party mechanisms, Macron is now up against one of France’s shrewdest and most seasoned politicians in Le Pen, a career lawmaker who heads one of her country’s most dynamic and hierarchical parties, and whose life partner and father both have devoted their adult lives to politics.

Emmanuel Macron speaking in Paris after advancing to the final round of France’s presidential election on April 23. Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Emmanuel Macron speaking in Paris after advancing to the final round of France’s presidential election on April 23. Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Le Pen’s family legacy, however, may play in Macron’s favor.

The daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Holocaust denier and open anti-Semite who she succeeded as party leader in 2011, she and her party are widely regarded as extremist and borderline neo-fascist despite her efforts to rehabilitate its image.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, has called Le Pen “a candidate of hate.” On Sunday, he called on voters to vote for Macron in the second round, just to keep Le Pen out of power.

Known in France as a “republican front,” such mobilizations, in which voters set aside their differences and vote for the candidate likeliest to keep National Front out of power, have cost the party many elections. In 2002, the only time National Front participated in the second round of a presidential elections, the republican front resulted in Chirac beating Jean-Marie Le Pen with 82 percent of the vote.

Since then, Marine Le Pen has kicked out of the party dozens of members who were caught making anti-Semitic statements – including her father in 2015 after he said a Jewish singer should be put “in an oven.”

But in a remark that critics said echoed her father’s revisionism, she earlier this month said France was not responsible for how its police rounded up Jewish Holocaust victims for the Nazis.

Marine Le Pen has also vowed to outlaw the wearing of the kippah in public, explaining she does not regard it as a threat but will ban it nonetheless to facilitate imposing similar limitations on headgear worn by Muslims, whom she flagged as a “threat to French culture.”

Kalifat said she was a “threat to French democracy” and Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, wrote in a statement Monday that the younger Le Pen is “no less dangerous than her Holocaust-denying father.”

Many in the French political establishment concur, and most of the losing candidates in Sunday’s voting urged their supporters to vote for Macron. On Sunday, both Benoit Hamon of the Socialist Party and Francois Fillon of The Republicans of former President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a united front against Le Pen.

But this year, that front has at least one major gap: Jean-Luc Melenchon, the communist candidate, who is also a Eurosceptic, did not call on his supporters to vote for Macron, whose economic and foreign policies are diametrically opposed to Melenchon’s.

Meanwhile, Le Pen is already attacking Macron on points that resonate with many of her voters. In a speech she made to supporters following the first round, she called Macron “Hollande’s extension,” saying he was guaranteed to continue the president’s policy of “mass immigration.” In Macron’s world, she added, “the rich man reigns.”

In light of the challenges facing Macron, even some of his ardent supporters spoke openly of their concern ahead of the final round.

“I don’t consider today as a victory,” Michael Amsellem, one of Macron’s many Jewish supporters, wrote on Facebook. “Having Le Pen in the second round is a tragedy.”

Citing the abstention of Melenchon and his supporters from the republican front, as well as polarization between “protectionists and internationalists, “we are in a major danger zone from Le Pen,” Amsellem wrote.

“The French people are full of surprises,” he added. “This is not going to be so simple.”

Francis Kalifat, left, with presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron at the Grand Hotel Intercontinental in Paris on March 22. Photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

French Jewish leader: Our country’s democracy is in ‘real danger’

There is a “real danger” that France’s democracy will be destroyed by its next president, the leader of the country’s federation of Jewish communities warned ahead of the elections.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF Jewish umbrella group, sounded the alarm during an interview Friday with the RJC Jewish radio station ahead of the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday.

Polls show Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, in a tight race for the top with the centrist independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Each candidate had 23.5 percent of the vote in an Ifop poll released Wednesday. The same poll had Francois Fillon, who heads The Republicans party, with 19.5 percent followed by the communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon. CRIF has flagged both Melenchon and Le Pen as “candidates of hatred.”

“We are in a real danger of seeing the arrival to power of someone who will only use democracy to destroy it,” Kalifat said. “We are in a state of total chaos. There is a real sense of urgency that all should be aware of, and we should all assume our responsibility to go and vote to exclude these candidates, these parties of hate from reaching power.”

Le Pen recently said France “was not responsible” for the murder of Jews whom French police helped round up for the Nazis. She has also vowed to ban kippahs and the right of French citizens to have an Israeli passport – prohibitions she said were necessary to enforce similar limitations on Muslims.

She has, however, softened the National Front’s image since taking over its leadership in 2011 from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is a Holocaust denier and inciter of racial hate against Jews.

Jewish support for National Front rose from negligible levels under Jean Marie Le Pen to 13.5 percent in 2012, according to a poll.

Kalifat in the interview flagged the rise in support for National Front by Jews who fear Islamists as particularly worrisome.

“I am deeply concerned. I see the polls, but I also hear the discussions of people around me who say, ‘why not give him – or her – a chance, perhaps she has the solution,” Kalifat said. “But the enemies of our enemies are not our friends, not this time.”

But Kalifat did not single out Le Pen outright, referring to “dangerous candidates” in a reference to Melenchon.

During a speech about Israel and French Jews in 2014, Melenchon said: “We do not believe that any people is superior to another,” adding that “France is the opposite of aggressive communities that lecture to the rest of country.”

A supporter of a blanket boycott of the Jewish state, in 2014 he praised participants of violent protests against Israel, calling their behavior exemplary even though some of them tried to burn down several synagogues. Melenchon condemned French Jews who demonstrated peacefully in support of Israel, suggesting their actions were tantamount to taking up arms “for a foreign country.”

French far right party leader Marine Le Pen and candidate for the 2017 French Presidential elections presenting her New Year’s wishes to the press at her campaign headquarters in Paris, Jan. 4. Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images

Israel condemns Marine Le Pen for denying French responsibility for deporting Jews

Israel condemned far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen for saying that her country is not responsible for the deportation of thousands of Jews to death camps in 1942.

“This declaration is contrary to historical truth, as expressed in the statements of successive French presidents who recognized France’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Monday, a day after Le Pen made the statement during an interview in Paris for the RTL network and Le Figaro daily newspaper.

The ministry’s statement also said: “This recognition underpins the annual events marking the anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from France and the study of the Holocaust in the education system, both of which are important elements in the battle against anti-Semitism, which unfortunately is once again raising its head.”

Le Pen, the head of the National Front Party who is at or near the top of polls, was asked about the roundup and deportation of 13,152 from the Vel d’Hiv stadium in Paris on July 16-17, 1942, which the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem defines on its website as “a symbol of the responsibility of the regime and the French nation for the Holocaust.”

Le Pen responded, “I think France is not responsible for Vel d’Hiv,” and added, “I think generally, and in very general terms indeed, if anyone is responsible, then it is those in power at the time, not France as such. It wasn’t France.”

Since National Front was established by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, the party has been accused of espousing anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims and other forms of xenophobia. The elder Le Pen has been convicted multiple times for Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred against Jews.

Under Marine Le Pen, the party has softened its image, including by kicking out anti-Semitic members like Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was excluded from the party in 2015.

France will hold its presidential vote on April 23. Should no candidate win a majority, a runoff election between the top two candidates will be held on May 7. Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron are the front-runners in the polls.

The aftermath of an incident on March 20 involving a municipal truck at the Jewish section of the Pantin cemetery near Paris. Photo courtesy of JSSNews

Toppled graves near Paris inspire conspiracy theories among Jews

Five days after a municipal truck plowed through a Jewish cemetery near Paris in what authorities said was a freak accident, Isabelle Zenou arrived at the scene of the incident with a camera — and a theory.

The March 20 devastation of 13 gravestones in the suburb of Pantin was not an anti-Semitic attack, according to city officials, France’s CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities and even the country’s chief rabbi. The driver drove over 13 headstones after losing control of his vehicle, the chief rabbi said in a statement.

But Zenou, a communications professional from the Paris area, is among many French Jews who are not buying the explanation. She cited delays and alleged time discrepancies in official reports on the incidents, her failure to identify skid marks at the scene and a whirlwind of rumors over the incident.

“I don’t think we’re being told the whole truth,” said Zenou, whose photographs of the damaged stones were published in the Le Figaro newspaper and triggered much speculation about the case online and in the media. Jewish community leaders, meanwhile, accused her and other skeptics of peddling “crackpot conspiracy theories.”

The exact circumstances of the incident in Pantin are the subject of an ongoing police inquiry. Regardless of its findings, though, the incident is already underlining the distrust that many French Jews have in their authorities amid a polarizing presidential campaign, and in a country where many consider wearing a kippah too risky due to hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks recorded in France each year.

Several days after the Pantin incident, the French media reported that unidentified vandals destroyed 40 out of 50 headstones at a small Jewish synagogue near Lyon.

The incident in Lyon, which is undisputedly a deliberate attack, highlighted “the many questions about the incident in Pantin,” said Jonathan Simon-Sellem, a France-born journalist living in Israel. “What is clear is that the Pantin thing exposed a trust crisis between some French Jews, the leaders of their communities and the authorities.”

Initial reports about the incident, including by the La Voix Du Nord local paper, came five days after it happened. The paper and other publications said it took place at night, when the driver steered into the Jewish section of the cemetery to avoid hitting a couple visiting a relative’s grave.

In addition to social network posts by users like Zenou, the reports triggered a wave of rumors and speculation on several well-read French Jewish news sites, including Europe-Israel, JSSNews and the website of the far-right French Jewish Defense League.

The cemetery, the skeptics pointed out, is closed at night, making a collision with visitors unlikely even if the municipal truck was there after hours. In addition, Zenou maintained, “the cemetery paths are too small for a truck to drive on with enough speed to knock over a dozen massive headstones. Nothing adds up.”

Francoise Saadoun, who has four relatives buried in the cemetery, was among the dozens of French Jews who expressed their skepticism of the official version.

“I don’t believe in an accident for one second,” she wrote on Facebook. “The condition of the roads in the cemetery make it impossible.”

The fact that the first reaction by authorities to the incident came nearly a week after it happened did not add to the credibility of officials and community leaders.

“The authorities decided to make a deal to avoid rocking the boat during the elections campaign because news of another anti-Semitic incident will help the far right under Marine Le Pen,” Zenou said. “They covered it up.”

Simon-Sellem said the baseless allegations, which CRIF in a statement recently denied, condemned and labeled “crackpot conspiracy theories,” are unusual among mainstream members of a community that prides itself on its ability to unite under threat.

He pegged the mood to several factors: inconsistencies regarding the incident itself, compounded by a “growing distrust of authorities’ politicization of information on anti-Semitism” and anxiety over the popularity of Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate, ahead of the elections this month.

Like many American Jews who criticized the Trump administration for being slow to condemn anti-Semitism, French Jews have recently seen a series of events that weakened their own faith in their authorities.

One such event was the March 30 publication of a government report that questioned the existence of a new anti-Semitism in which Jews are targeted over Israel’s actions. It also listed only far-right perpetrators of hate crimes against Jews without mentioning the more politically sensitive violence by Muslims against Jews, which one Jewish watchdog group believes accounts for most assaults.

The hate crime prosecution this year of a prominent Jewish historian who said that Muslims are culturally preconditioned to hate Jews further soured French Jews on the judiciary, although the historian, Georges Benssousan, ultimately was acquitted.

Many Jews also  resented that France’s oldest Jewish organizations, the LICRA human rights group, helped initiate Benssousan’s prosecution. That highlighted a political gap between rank-and-file members of the community and some members of its elite.

“All these factors joined together after the Pantin cemetery incident to open a very divisive debate about basic trust in the midst of the community in a way that didn’t exist in the past,” Simon-Sellem said.

It also prompted a harsh and unusual rebuke of the skeptics by Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of France.

Korsia, whom many French Jews cherish for his hopeful and consoling speeches at times of crisis, delivered his scathing criticism of the speculation around the Pantin incident in an op-ed published March 29 in the Actualite Juive daily.

Calling the skeptics part of a “campaign of deceit,” the rabbi wrote that he understood their “initial reflex to assume a hateful attack.” But their “persistence in circulating rumors amid an atmosphere of fury, conspiracy theory and revenge,” Korsia added, “help neither our credulity as a community nor to generate support for our causes.”

Francois Fillon at a campaign event in Caen, France, March 16. Photo by Christophe Morin/Bloomberg.

In bid to defeat Le Pen, French right-wing candidate cozies up to Jews

Even to his supporters, France’s center-right presidential hopeful Francois Fillon is a flawed candidate.

Dogged by corruption scandals Fillon, who represents The Republicans party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was indicted Tuesday for allegedly funneling public funds illicitly to his children and wife. Fillon, a career politician and former prime minister, has denied the allegations.

Nonetheless, his supporters are willing to forgive him these problems, as they see Fillon as likelier to beat the front-runner in the race, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Additionally, many of these supporters see him as more likely to act tough on radical Islam than his left-wing rivals.

But there is an added layer of complexity for Jewish backers of Fillon: The candidate has made vaguely critical remarks about ritual slaughter and said that at some indeterminate point in history, Jews had to be forced to obey French law.

On Monday, Fillon — who is running a credible third in the polls behind Le Pen and the centrist independent Emmanuel Macron — attempted to mend fences with French Jews. For the first time in his campaign, he attended a town hall meeting with some 700 members of the community organized by the CRIF federation of Jewish communities.

For Fillon, it was a partial success at best.

Dozens of supporters welcomed the candidate by chanting “Fillon President” at the meeting at a Paris hotel. Meyer Habib, a Jewish lawmaker and former CRIF vice president, endorsed him publicly. Fillon earned applause at least a dozen times when he pledged to support Israel and curb jihadism.

Nevertheless, the applause was weak and sporadic, and the audience questions were critical. By contrast, the former prime minister, Manuel Valls, who lost the Socialists’ primary election this year, received thunderous applause at similar gatherings.

Fillon rebuked France’s support for a UNESCO resolution passed last year that ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem, calling it “an error and historical untruth that complicates peace efforts.” And he vowed never to normalize ties with Iran as long as that country “continues to call for Israel’s destruction.”

He said he supported Palestinian statehood “only if the future Palestinian state is reached by an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Fillon also promised to “be more careful,” in reference to his controversial remark last year during a radio interview in which he claimed Jews in the past had lacked respect for the rule of law. As for ritual slaughter, he assured the crowd that his comments from 2012, when he said that the practice “has little to do with modern science,” does not mean he would act to outlaw the custom.

Last year, French Jews and Muslims formed a joint effort to defend against attacks on kosher and halal practices.

“Jewish values, they are, well, they’re our values,” Fillon said. “Jews had a very major role in building the French republic,” he added, noting that Jews have lived in France “since time immemorial.”

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon, with open jacket, shaking hands with CRIF President Francis Kalifat in Paris, March 14, 2017. (Courtesy of CRIF)

During the two-hour talk, Fillon made little effort to present any Jewish or pro-Israel credentials other than assuring the audience of his desire to curb anti-Semitism and radical Islam while defending French Jews. He repeatedly explained that he was their best defense against a victory for Le Pen.

“Without a candidate for the center-right, Mrs. Le Pen would have a field day,” Fillon warned. “Some in the right wing would express their anger by going so far as to vote for her.”

Many in the crowd remained uninspired by Fillon’s bleak description of French society, and were unimpressed by his failure to apologize for mismanaging his financial affairs and accusing Jews of lawlessness.

“He’s precise and logical, but I heard nothing that will inspire young people or instill hope in the minds of those seeking meaningful change,” said Emmanuel Attlan, a 30-year-old finance executive who attended the meeting.

“He’s got nothing but fairy tales to offer,” said Henry Battner, president of the Farband association of Ashkenazi French Jews.

Serge Sznajder, a scholar on Eastern Europe and a Farband board member, used Yiddish to describe is impression of Fillon.

“Let me sum it up this way: Gurnisht,” he said, which means “nothing.”

Fillon, Sznajder said, “is not against Jews, he just doesn’t know us, doesn’t get us, he has no idea, he never had too many dealings with Jews in Sablé-sur-Sarthe,” Sznajder added, naming the countryside town where Fillon began his political career in 1983.

Both Szajder and Battner said they will vote for Macron.

Albert Cohen, 53, an unemployed Parisian, quietly cracked jokes about Fillon from his seat, calling him “the thief” even though he plans to vote for him. And Olivia Cattan, an author and activist for people with disabilities, asked the person sitting next to her “not to yawn or we’ll all fall asleep.”

According to a poll Tuesday, Le Pen is leading the race with a 26.5 percent approval rating, followed by Macron at 25.5 percent. Fillon was third at  18.5 percent and the far-left Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon had 13.5 percent.

The top two vote-getters in April’s first round will advance to the second and final round on May 7.

Fillon, who won his party’s primaries despite predictions he would finish third or fourth, cited the false forecasts in advising his listeners to distrust polls.

Macron, who has avoided populist statements about Islam in a positive campaign promoting national reconciliation, is the “kind of candidate that floats on the cloud thanks to a nice platform, but come elections, voters will be faced by the divides once more, and that’s when candidates like Macron crash,” Fillon said.

An independent candidate has not won a French presidential election in over four decades, since the 1974 victory by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Countless French voters who are worried about radical Islam, Fillon also argued, would vote for Le Pen if made to choose between her and the reconciliatory Macron. On Feb. 4 in Lyon,  Macron riled the right and even some centrists when he said, “There is no French culture, there is culture in France, and it is diverse, different and made up of multiple cultures.”

Fillon disagreed at the CRIF meeting, saying “France is not multicultural, it is diverse but has one language: French.”

Despite Le Pen’s efforts to woo Jewish voters by promising that she will be their “shield” against Islam, most of them are distrustful of her National Front party. It  was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for Holocaust denial and incitement to racial hatred against Jews. His daughter kicked him out in 2015 for making anti-Semitic statements, but he remains honorary president of the party and has many supporters in its ranks.

Marine Le Pen has also said, if elected, that her effort to ban the religious garb of Muslims would include kippahs in some public spaces. The kippah prohibition would be necessary to preserve equality, she said.

By contrast, at the CRIF talk, Fillon said he would focus only on Islam and would not change any of the religious liberties now afforded to Jews and Christians in France.

“Banning citizens from wearing all religious symbols goes against my understanding of religious freedom,” he said. “Today there is one religion that poses an integration problem, and that is Islam.”

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.

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria speaking at a news conference at Marlins Park, Nov. 19, 2014. Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images.

Jared Kushner’s family won’t buy Marlins if current owner becomes ambassador to France

The Kushner family has dialed down its interest in buying the Miami Marlins now that reports have surfaced claiming the baseball franchises current owner will likely be named the U.S. ambassador to France.

Since Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is a senior adviser to the president, the Kushners reportedly are wary that the purchase would look like a corrupt ambassadorship-for-team trade.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, 76, is expected to be announced for the post within days, The New York Times reported Thursday. He donated at least $125,000 to the Trump campaign last September.

Reports last week indicated that the Kushners, led by Jared’s brother Joshua, had been in talks to buy the Marlins for months. Loria’s asking price was $1.6 billion.

“Our family has been friends with Jeff Loria for over 30 years, been in business together, and even owned a AAA baseball team together,” Jared Kushner’s brother-in-law Joseph Meyer, who took over the Kushner-owned New York Observer when the 36-year-old moved to Washington, D.C., to become an aide to Trump, told the New York Post in a statement Wednesday night. “Although the Kushners have made substantial progress in discussions for us to purchase the Marlins, recent reports suggest that Mr. Loria will soon be nominated by the president to be ambassador to France.

“If that is true, we do not want this unrelated transaction to complicate that process and will not pursue it. The Kushners remain interested in purchasing a team and would love to buy the Marlins at another time.”

Loria, a Jewish art dealer from New York, owned the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) in the early 2000s. He purchased the Marlins in 2003 and the team went on to win the World Series that year. Since then, the Marlins have not reached the playoffs, and Loria has become unpopular among the club’s fans for meticulously keeping the payroll among the lowest in the league.

Paris regional council vows to strip funding from BDS promoters

A regional council in France that includes Paris passed a precedent-setting amendment that excludes funding from promoters of boycotts against Israel. The council of the Ile-de-France region, where right-wing parties have a majority, adopted the amendment Oct. 13, the Le Monde Juif website reported the following day.

The report said the council’s president, Valérie Pécresse of the UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, led the vote in keeping with her campaign promises to pursue vigorous measures against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“In accordance with the law, I will not tolerate any form of boycotts against Israel in the Ile-de-France region,” she said while campaigning for the top executive political position of the region, which is home to most of France’s 500,000 Jews.

Robert Ejnes, deputy president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, in a Twitter post congratulated the council for its amendment, whose final text was not yet published. 

In France, several dozen promoters of a boycott against Israel have been convicted of inciting hate or discrimination. Some activists have been convicted based on the 2003 Lellouche law, which extends anti-racism laws to the targeting of specific nations for discriminatory treatment.

The judiciary in neighboring Spain has cracked down in recent years on BDS initiatives, declaring them unconstitutional. Last month, the high court of the Asturias region there joined other Spanish high tribunals in upholding rulings by lower instances declaring BDS discriminatory.

Britain’s ruling party is formulating legislation against BDS, officials said earlier this year.

Joseph Sitruk, former chief rabbi of France, dies at 71

Joseph Sitruk, who served as chief rabbi of France for more than two decades, has died.

Sitruk died Sunday after being hospitalized for several days following a stroke, The Times of Israel reported. He was 71.

French President Francois Hollande called the Orthodox religious leader a “defender of secularism” in a statement announcing his death, according to The Associated Press. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised him as “a tireless fighter against racism and anti-Semitism.”

Sitruk, a Tunisia native, served as head of France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe, from 1987 to 2008.

His efforts as chief rabbi included promoting synagogue attendance and Jewish identity, according to AP. He also served 12 years as head of the Conference for European Rabbis.

Sitruk was buried in Jerusalem on Monday.

French Jewry’s president appears to back burkini ban

Ending a long and conspicuous silence on the burkini ban in France, the president of the umbrella group of French Jews appeared to support the ban, saying he favored limiting “political-religious” symbols.

In an interview published Monday on the Actualite Juive Jewish news website, Francis Kalifat of CRIF for the first time directly addressed the ban last month by 30 French municipalities on the full-body swimsuit favored by Muslim women seeking modesty.

Kalifat said lawmakers should “consider differentiating religious symbols from political-religious symbols.” Radical and sectarian Islam and its fanatics, he said, “are looking for ways today to destabilize the French republic with the aim of vanquishing the societal model we inhabit today.”

He also said: “This polemic will, of course, also affect the Jewish community.”

Religious Orthodox women also adhere to clothing deemed modest, though few wear burkinis to the beach in France.

Kalifat has resisted calls to speak against the divisive ban, which a court on Aug. 26 ruled was illegal, in solidarity with French Muslims.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has defended the ban, saying the wearing of burkinis on French beaches was “part of a political project … to perpetuate female servitude.” Critics of the ban have argued it infringes on the very liberties its supporters say it is designed to protect.

The burkini controversy reawakened the debate on the wearing of religious symbols in public in France, where a law banning face-covering clothing such as the burka was passed in 2010. Critics of such legislation say it opens the door to religious persecution, including of Jewish men who wear kippot and women who cover their hair.

In the interview, Kalifat reiterated his scathing criticism of Jean Luc Melenchon, a far-left politician who compared the ban to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. The comparison, which Kalifat called “indecent,” prompted him to make his first indirect reference about the burkini bans two weeks after they were put in place.

Whereas Kalifat expressed an opinion that can be interpreted as supportive of the ban, a prominent Paris rabbi who early on told JTA that he supported the ban outright has walked back the statements, claiming they were taken out of context.

Asked by JTA on Aug. 23 whether he personally supported the burkini bans, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag, who heads the Grand Synagogue of Paris, said: “Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it’s sending a message.”

The mayors who banned it, he said, “understood this is not about women’s liberty to dress modestly but a statement as to who will rule here tomorrow.”

But in an interview published Thursday by the Forward, Sebbag said: “I think my words were taken out of context. I was trying to explain this situation from a political level and how politicians in France view our current situation.”

He added: “I understand where the mayor is coming from, but it doesn’t mean that I agree with him. Passing this kind of law is unacceptable. It just screams Islamophobia. But from our current climate and environment, it is understandable.”

Israeli Jews, Muslims puzzled by French ‘burkini’ brouhaha

In Israel, where it is fair to say Muslims and Jews do not always agree, there is shared confusion and surprise at events across the Mediterranean: the push by French mayors to ban full-body swimsuits, or “burkinis,” on beaches.

France's highest administrative court ruled against the ban on Friday, but mayors in several beachfront towns have said they will defy the edict, determined to stop swimwear designed to be Islam-compliant appearing in public.

It is a policy that has drawn some popular support while provoking outrage and ridicule, with editorialists playing up the irony of a liberal country challenging the strictures of Islam by telling women what they cannot wear.

In Israel, there may be profound ideological and political differences between the Jewish population and the near 20-percent Muslim minority, but it has never come down to banning someone's dress on the basis of religion.

“It is very funny that people think they are so liberal and open and yet they cannot stand other religions and the feelings of other people,” said Ruti Solomon, an Israeli Jewish woman enjoying the sunshine on the beach in Tel Aviv.

Behind her, Muslim women with their bodies and heads fully covered in burkini-like clothing played in the water or relaxed on the sand, with the church spires and mosque minarets of the town of Jaffa in the near distance.

“I've heard what's happening in Europe,” said Shams al-Duha Alayyan, a fully-covered young Muslim woman visiting the coast from Jerusalem. “This is personal freedom. If I want to cover my body, why can't I cover my body?”


Of course, Israel has its quirks, too. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish population enjoys the seaside as much as anyone else. But they keep separate, not only having segregated beaches but alternating the bathing days for men and women.

North of Tel Aviv, it was women's day at an ultra-Orthodox beach on Tuesday. Busloads of visitors arrived in full-body swimwear and went down to the beachfront via a security gate, with high fencing all around to keep out prying eyes.

Anat Yahav is the chief executive of SunWay UV Clothing, an Israeli company that supplies modest swimwear to Jews and Muslims in Israel and beyond. Muslim women generally prefer swimsuits with a head covering and Jewish women full-body suits without one, she says.

Either way, business is strong and she cannot understand why the French have decided to kick up such a fuss.

“When I see what's happening in France, I think we're very sane here,” she said with a laugh.

France's move against burkinis follows a series of deadly attacks by Islamist militants that has put the nation on edge. While Israeli beachgoers sympathized about the need to tighten security, they warned against missing the target.

“In France … it is a big problem right now,” said Shiran Rokban, a sunbather in Tel Aviv. “They have to deal with the real thing, not with the burkini and all these things on the beach.”

When in France…

The little storm in a teacup last week in France — burqini or no burqini? — is emblematic of a much larger, existential question: Should a person be free to choose oppression? 

For the uninitiated, the burqini is similar to a wetsuit but made of lighter material; it covers the whole body, including the head, leaving out only the feet, hands and face. If you’ve ever been to a coed beach in summertime in a Muslim country, you’ve seen the floating tents that bob up and down along the shoreline — women trying to swim or cool off with their clothes and their chador wrapped around them. It’s not very practical, and it may even be unsafe: one’s limbs may get caught in all that fabric, but what’s an observant woman to do? How else is she going to satisfy both her religious duty and her desire to swim?  One alternative is to divide the beach, the way the Islamic government did in Iran — just curtain off sections of the sea and let women bathe in whatever costume they want. The other, it seems, is the burqini. 

The manufacturer says it has sold more than 700,000 of them since 2008. That
must have been one too many for the mayors of some French towns because, earlier this month, more than 20 of them imposed a “temporary” ban on wearing it at a public beach or pool. France’s beaches, they said, are a national treasure, a reflection of a certain way of life — sexy and secular and unabashedly amoral; “the beaches of Bardot and Vadim,” one mayor said. They would not be altered or adulterated by symbols of Islamic encroachment into the French way of life. 

Basically, when in France … 

I should clarify at the outset that France’s highest court swiftly overturned the ban, on grounds that it’s every person’s right to choose what she wears and why. I think most of us would agree that the court took a wise and logical stance, given what a slippery slope it can be to selectively apply the law or protect individual rights. But while my head applauds the decision, I have to admit that my heart is — well, with the mayors. 

I realize it’s none of my business and that I’m being intolerant and judgmental and very un-American in my reaction, but the sight of women covered up in public has always rattled me. I do believe that most ideas fall into the gray zone between right and wrong, but keeping women covered up so men don’t feel tempted isn’t one of them. So my first reaction to news of the burqini ban was, “Good! It’s about time.” 

In 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of the fallen Shah, imposed a ban on women wearing any kind of hijab, from the chador to a headscarf or veil. Much has been said over the years about the wisdom of alienating such a large majority of Iranians by taking from them their beloved hijab. Reza Shah should have respected people’s rights to practice their religion any way they want, pundits still say, instituted change slowly and from within, through education and dialogue, given women a choice, appeased the mullahs.  

On that last one — appeasement — I’ll quote Churchill’s “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” On the rest of it, I’ll say only, thank God Reza Shah violated observant Muslims’ rights and saved all of us — men and women, Muslim and not — from the tyranny of the hijab. Because no amount of patience or education would have resulted in the mullahs voluntarily loosening their grip on their powerbase. Just as, I fear, no amount of appeasement in France will result in its
radical Muslim leaders willingly giving up their sovereignty by allowing their followers to assimilate into mainstream French culture.

Lest I sound like one of those radical right-wing we’re-going-to-build-a-wall-and-make-Mexico-pay-for-it lunatics, let me say that I recognize a good degree of hypocrisy in my own approach to the subject: Had the mayors of Nice and Cannes announced that Orthodox Jewish women, not Muslims ones, have to give up their standards of modesty in order to enjoy the beach, my response to the news would have been vastly different: alarm, outrage, anger, “it’s happening again” — yes. “There go the anti-Semitic French” — yes. “They’re doing this because they want to appease their Muslim extremist citizens — yes.” “It’s about time” — absolutely not. 

Granted, Orthodox Jewish women don’t wear a chador and/or neghab; most of them are not subject to all the other restrictions that cage observant Muslim women; their numbers are not as great and their values not as hostile to Western ones. Most importantly, their histories could not be more different. For Jews, small censures have usually been precursors to catastrophic assaults.

Still, the rationale behind the covering up is the same. For the Jews, I tell myself, “it’s a personal choice.” For the Muslims, I’m convinced, it’s an assault on civilization. How can I defend this way of thinking? 

I can’t. And I don’t want to. All I can say is, thank God we — and the French — have laws that protect everyone’s rights equally, and that there are courts that uphold those laws and a system that enforces them.

And thank God, too, for the occasional tyrant who, every once in a while, deprives people of their right to choose. 


GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

French court overturns burkini ban

A little over one week after at least 30 French municipalities imposed regulations that banned wearing full-body swimsuits favored by Muslim women, the country’s highest administrative court overturned the bans, calling them unconstitutional.

The French Council of State passed its ruling Friday, following a polarizing debate about the burkini swimsuit in a divided France, which is struggling to balance freedom of worship with its attachment to other liberal values — including the fight against radical Islam and the oppression of women.

Defended by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as a countermeasure against “a political project … to perpetuate female servitude,” the burkini ban and its enforcement have angered millions of Frenchmen who regard it as a gross infringement into the private realm and unwarranted discrimination toward Muslims.

The ruling by the court was specific to the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the decision is expected to set a legal precedent for the 30 or so resort towns that have issued similar decrees. 
Lawyers for two human rights groups challenged the legality of the ban, saying it infringed basic freedoms and that the towns’ mayors have far overstepped their powers by dictating what women can and can’t wear on beaches.

[RELATED: Ban the burkini?]

The mainstream representative organs of French Jewry have remained uncharacteristically silent on the burkini issue even as the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained Wednesday about reports of “police harassment” of Muslim swimmers in Nice. It was an unusual move for the board, which rarely comments on foreign issues without consulting the relevant Jewish communities.

A senior rabbi, Moshe Sebbag of the Grand Synagogue of Paris, acknowledged in an interview with JTA on Tuesday the reluctance of other French Jewish leaders to speak out on the issue.

“It’s a complicated subject and both sides have compelling arguments,” Sebbag said, adding that the French state is a “secular country with freedom of religion.”

But Sebbag ultimately defended the bans, whose supporters, he said, “understand today there’s a religious war, a takeover of the secular establishment of the French republic, and this is what they find unacceptable.”

Asked if he agrees with the burkini bans, he said: “Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it’s sending a message.”

How Paris public schools became no-go zones for Jews

Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.

As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.

“You learn to get along with all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”

But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.

“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”

This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

Whereas most anti-Semitic incidents feature taunts and insults that often are not even reported to authorities, some cases involve death threats and armed assaults. In one incident from 2013, several students reportedly cornered a Jewish classmate as he was leaving their public school in western Paris. One allegedly called him a “dirty Jew” and threatened to stab the boy with a knife. A passer-by intervened and rescued the Jewish child.

The increase in schoolyard anti-Semitism in France, first noted in an internal Education Ministry report in 2004, coincided with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents overall. Prior to 2000, only a few dozen incidents were recorded annually in France. Since then, however, hundreds have been reported annually. Many attacks — and a majority of violent ones — are committed by people with a Muslim background, who target Jews as such or as payback for Israel’s actions in what is known as the “new anti-Semitism.”

In 2012, payback for Israel’s actions in Gaza was the stated motivation of a jihadist who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Since then, Jewish institutions across Europe and French Jewish schools especially have been protected by armed guards – most often soldiers toting automatic rifles.

In neighboring Belgium, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism has documented multiple incidents that it said were rapidly making Belgian public schools “Jew-free.” Some blamed Belgian schools for being more reluctant than their French counterparts to punish pupils for anti-Semitic behavior.

The latest incident there involved a 12-year-old boy at a public school outside Brussels. Classmates allegedly sprayed him with deodorant cans in the shower to simulate a gas chamber. The boy’s mother said it was an elaborate prank that also caused him burns from the deodorant nozzles.

In April, another Jewish mother said a public school in the affluent Brussels district of Uccle was deliberately ignoring systematic anti-Semitic abuse of her son, Samuel, in order to hide it. She enrolled him specifically at a non-Jewish school because she did not want him to be raised parochially, the mother said, but she had to transfer him to a Jewish school due to the abuse.

In addition to charting anti-Semitism among students, watchdogs in France and Belgium are seeing for the first time in decades a growing number of incidents involving teachers – as victims and perpetrators.

Last month, the Education Ministry in France began probing a high school teacher who shared with her students anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including ones about the clout of the Jewish lobby in the United States and another about French President Francois Hollande’s Jewish roots (he has none).

In 2012, a teacher from a suburb of Lyon said she was forced to resign after her bosses learned that she had suffered anti-Semitic abuse by students. Days later, two teenagers were arrested near Marseilles on suspicion of setting off an explosion near a teacher who had reported receiving anti-Semitic threats at school.

The atmosphere is pushing many French Jewish parents to leave for Israel, which is seeing record levels of immigration from France. Since 2012, 20,000 Jews have made the move. Their absence is already being felt in Jewish schools and beyond, said Kalifat, because “the people who are leaving are exactly the people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Some of those who left were responsible for developing France’s Jewish education system long before anti-Semitism became a daily reality for French Jews, said Kalifat. More than 30 years ago he enrolled his own two children in a Jewish school “not because of anti-Semitism, which was not a problem back then, but simply to give them a more Jewish education,” he said.

Jewish immigrants from North Africa to France had a major role in the growth of Jewish schools from a handful in the 1950s and ’60s to the formation of Jewish education networks with dozens of institutions, said Kalifat — himself an Algeria-born Jew and the first North African Sephardi to be elected CRIF president.

Arriving in a country where a quarter of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jewish newcomers from former colonies of France were more traditional and religious than many French-born Jews.

“They developed all sectors of Jewish life, but Jewish schools more than anything,” Kalifat said.

The effort has paid off in several ways. Last year, Jewish schools topped two French media rankings of the country’s approximately 4,300 high schools. One was a Chabad institution; the other was part of the more liberal Alliance network.

Some French Jews, including Yeshaya Dalsace, a Conservative rabbi from Paris, say the rise of Orthodox religious schools and other institutions is part of a trend toward insularity that comes at the expense of openness at a time when Jews should be more engaged in French society than ever.

But to Tayar, the growth of Jewish schools amid anti-Semitism is a much-needed silver lining.

“That parents like me effectively can’t send their children to public schools is tragic,” he said. “The only positive aspect I can see here is that anti-Semitic hatred drives us to make the financial sacrifice that will raise a generation that has much more Jewish culture and knowledge than our own.”

Deadly attack on French church is attack against all religions, European Jewish Congress says

An attack on a Catholic church in northern France that saw an 84-year-old priest killed is an attack against all religions, the head of the European Jewish Congress said.

Two assailants who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State also critically wounded at least one other person during the Tuesday morning attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen about 65 miles northwest of Paris. They shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, before slitting the priest’s throat, according to reports.

The terrorists were shot and killed after taking the priest, two nuns and two parishioners hostage during morning Mass. Following the siege, the Islamic State claimed the two men as its “soldiers.”

“An attack against a religious institution and a man of God is an attack against all religions and faith itself,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement following the attack. “This dastardly attack will only strengthen our resolve to defeat the enemy of Islamist terrorism.

“This attack targets us all decent Europeans, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike,” he said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on the free world to “fight to defend” our values.

“This attack shows the true face of the brutal nature and horror of terrorism,” he said. “This is an attack by radical extremists, terrorists, who have struck at the very symbol of peace and murdered in cold blood in a house of God, while they pretend to speak in His name.”

Rivlin also said that Israel “stands side by side with the people of France.”

“The whole free world must understand that our values are under attack. We must fight to defend them, lest we be overtaken by waves of intolerance and hatred,” he said.

What can France learn from Israel?

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

As France mourned the 84 dead and more than 200 wounded in the attack in Nice, an alert security guard in Jerusalem foiled a potential attack on Jerusalem’s light rail train, when he spotted a suspicious man loitering near the train stop, and demanded he open his knapsack. When the man refused, the security guard arrested him, and found three pipe bombs inside.

It was yet another example of Israel’s success in stopping terrorist attacks, and minimizing casualties when they do occur.

Vehicular attacks, like the one perpetrated in Nice, have been a fixture in Jerusalem and the West Bank for years. In 2014 a Palestinian rammed his car into a light rail stop in Jerusalem, killing a three-month old baby and a young Ecuadoran woman. Just weeks ago, a similar attack in the West Bank wounded three soldiers.

“Israel has been proven as the model of imitation for other terrorists around the world,” Boaz Ganor, the Executive Director of the Institute for Counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) of Herzylia, told the Media Line. “There is a difference between prevention of terrorist attacks and limiting the consequences.”

Preventing terror attacks depends on prior intelligence – a challenge when terrorists act alone.

“The problem with (this kind of ) intelligence is that the initiation, the planning and the execution start and end with the sick mind of one person,” Ganor said. “In these cases traditional intelligence is useless.”

However, he said, counter-terrorism in these cases must focus more on social media. Terrorists often post their intentions. Reports in the British press say that the attacker in Nice posted “I have the material” hours before the bombing. He also reportedly sent over $100,000 to his family in Tunisia just days before the attack.

Another difference between Israel and France is that Israelis are constantly aware of the possibility of terrorism. Anyone who has left a bag or a backpack unattended knows that often within seconds people will ask, “Who does this bag belong to?” Many Israeli civilians have also served in the army, meaning they have had military training, and many carry personal weapons for protection.

All of that together makes it likely that an attacker would not have been able to drive into people for more than a mile without being stopped.

Other Israeli analysts say that a similar attack could happen in Israel, although it is less likely than in France.

“The truck was very big and the protection and security in France was very poor,” Reuven Ehrlich, a terrorism expert at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center told The Media Line. “The combination between a big truck, a terrorist who is ready to be killed in such an attack, and a lot of people without any protection caused a mass killing.”

When stopped, the attacker said he was carrying ice cream, but he was never asked to open the back of the truck. In addition, press reports say there were only 105 policemen responsible for the security of 30,000 people at the Bastille Day event.

France also has a large number of fighters who have returned from Syria, who have been radicalized to carry out attacks. Israeli terrorism experts say that France must move quickly to secure events with a much larger police presence. But it is the public that can offer the most security.

“The Israeli public is aware of its surroundings and of suspicious cars and behavior,” Boaz Ganor said. “A truck like this in a crowded place would raise people’s suspicions. A lot can be done to educate Europeans about preventing terrorism.”

The Institute he heads is currently holding a three-week intensive course in counter-terrorism for professionals from around the world.

As terror unfolded in Nice, local rabbis jumped to action

Rabbi Reouven Ouanounou was still in his office at the Chabad Lubavitch of Nice Côte d’Azur at 11 p.m. on July 14 when he saw people running frantically in the streets.

The Chabad house is a five-minute walk from where hundreds had been celebrating Bastille Day with a fireworks display when a terrorist drove a truck into the crowd and began firing a gun, killing more than 80 people and injuring more than 200. When Ouanounou stepped outside to see what was going on, he was told to get back inside and lock the doors, he said. So he did.

Reached by phone shortly before setting out for Friday evening prayers on July 15, Ouanounou sounded tired as he discussed the tragedy that left at least three members of the Jewish community wounded and another two missing at the time of the interview.

Once it seemed safe to leave the house at around 1:30 a.m., Ouanounou made his way to a restaurant to pick up four counselors of Chabad’s Gan Israel day camp who had taken shelter there.

“They were really in trauma,” he said.

The four counselors had missed being hit by the oncoming truck by a few feet, running to escape it, according to a report from Rabbi Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the Chabad director under whom Ouanounou works.

The morning after the attack, Ouanounou made the rounds of area hospitals to seek information about the wounded and to bring food to their families for Shabbat.

He said he visited two wounded elderly Jewish women who attended the Bastille Day festivities. Neither was conscious when he showed up; both had been hooked up to artificial respirators. The sister of one of the women was still missing, he said.

Shortly after Ouanounou hung up to head to Shabbat services, a statement from the Nice Chabad on listed the Hebrew names of the victims: Raymonde bat Nouna, missing; Clara bat Nouna, hospitalized; Hafsia bat Miryam, hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Times of Israel reported that sisters Clara Bensimon, 80, and Raymonde Mamane, 77, had not contacted their families since the attack.

Ouanounou said he was reminded of the passage in the Leviticus where the priest Aaron learns his two sons have died suddenly.

“Vayidom Aaron,” the passage reads. “And Aaron fell silent.”

“There are no words,” Ouanounou said. “You can’t explain, just be there when they need, bring them food, drinks. You talk. That’s the only thing you have. It’s not a moment to find counsel… It’s not proper to encourage them to move forward. It’s not the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen. So we’re hanging around with them and ‘if you need anything call me.’”

Ouanounou’s brother-in-law, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, the co-director of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit, whose father is the Nice Chabad director, learned of the attack via a WhatsApp chat group with his family even before news had spread in the media.

“Before there was any news on any of the media, even in France, my sister was posting ‘I hear gunshots in the streets what’s going,’” he said in a July 15 interview.

Pinson’s parents were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson to establish a Chabad presence in the French Riviera, where about 30,000 Jews live.

The Jewish community there is predominantly traditional Sephardic Jews who came to France in the 1960s from North Africa, he said. Chabad thus plays an important role in their lives.

Pinson said he followed the news of the July 14 attack closely through family members posting information of their whereabouts.

“It wasn’t clear that the terrorist had been eliminated, or there might be another threat,” he said. “The desire was there right away: How can we be there to help?”

Pinson said a number of his family members who hold various rabbinical positions in Nice rushed to the triage center as soon as it was legally allowable.

“The first reaction we have in the Jewish community is: ‘Were there any Jews that were harmed?’” he said.

But even after it was clear that no Jews were among the injured and grief-stricken at that time in the triage area, “they remained there for the whole night basically.”

“They couldn’t leave,” he said. “Because beyond our responsibility to the Jewish community, we’re responsible to all the people in the community, regardless of their religion and their background. So you had these rabbis spending the night with total strangers… literally staying with them, holding their hands, letting them talk, giving them the moral and spiritual support to go through this terrible time.”

Chabad has put up a webpage asking for donations to provide for the needs of families impacted by the terror attack.

The statement from the Nice Chabad concluded: “Men should put on tefillin. Women and girls should light Shabbat candles. Everyone should add in giving tzedakah. … Shabbat Shalom to all.”

Nice’s Jews to gather on Shabbat despite terrorist attack

Nice’s Jewish community will hold Shabbat activities in a spirit of solidarity and defiance after a terrorist killed scores of people in the city in southern France.

A 30-year-old man drove a rented white truck through a crowded promenade in the coastal resort city on Thursday night shortly after the annual firework show on Bastille Day, BFMTV reported. He may have had accomplices who participated in the attack itself, the channel reported. As many as 80 people were killed.

“We will not let this affect us, we will not let fear affect or damage the life of our community, just as France will not let fear of terrorism change it,” Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the rabbi of Nice’s Chabad House, told JTA Friday. Synagogue services and community events will go on as planned, he said.

In addition to the fatalities, the attack resulted in severe injuries to at least 18 people and a few other people were lightly wounded. The identities of the victims have not yet been made known. At least five of the wounded are Jews, according to Pinson. French media reported that the death toll was higher than 50 and possibly as high as 80 people.

“The truck left a trail of blood as it tore through the crowd,” said Pinson, citing eye-witness testimonies. One witness to the attack was “deeply traumatized by what she saw,” he said. “Body parts, people screaming, blood everywhere and very, very difficult sights.”

Unlike Paris, Nice had never seen a terrorist attack of the scale witnessed Thursday. “Although it is part of the reality of life in France that something like this can happen, it is shocking to see it in Nice,” Pinson added.

The driver, who has a criminal record involving violence but not terrorism, barrelled through the crowd that had gathered on the Promenade des Anglais to watch fireworks on France’s national day, according to the BFMTV television channel.

President Francoise Hollande said that an “attack with terrorist characteristics cannot be denied.” He added that France’s state of emergency, declared in November following a lethal series of terrorist attacks in Paris, may be extended and that some army reservists may be drafted. The driver, who fired a gun into the crowd, was killed by return fire. His name was not immediately released.

Nice, which is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is an international tourist destination that also draws hundreds of thousands of local French tourists in summer, as well as many European Jews who come to Nice because it has a permanent Jewish population of 25,000 with kosher shops and synagogues, in addition to the Chabad House.

But the summer crowd has not yet arrived, Pinson, the rabbi, told JTA. “They usually come in August, then there are far more Jews in town,” he said.

Following the attack, Jewish groups joined other faith groups, heads of state and international organizations in condemning the attack.

President Barack Obama said in a statement:  “We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack. We know that the character of the French Republic will endure long after this devastating and tragic loss of life.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu siad in a statement Friday that his country “condemns in the strongest terms last night’s horrific attack in Nice.”

Israelis, he added, “stand united with the people of France today” and “Israel is ready to help the French government fight this evil until it is defeated.”

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor spoke of his outrage, as well as “pain and sadness,” following the attack.