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?”

“WE'RE SANE”

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.

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.

Hollande: After deadly Nice attack, all of France living under the threat of Islamist terrorism


Speaking after a mass killing on Bastille Day in the coastal city of Nice, French President François Hollande said all of France is living under the threat of Islamic terrorism.

“After Paris in January 2015 and then St. Denis in November last year, and now Nice, in its turn, is touched, it is all of France that is under the threat of Islamist terrorists,” Hollande said in a pre-dawn broadcast Friday which the Elysee, the presidential palace, posted on social media.

He referred to deadly mass attacks in January on a satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket in Paris and in November on a concert hall in Paris, carried out by terrorists affiliated with Islamist terrorist groups.

A truck barreled into a crowd Thursday night during celebrations marking Bastille Day, the French independence day, killing 77 people. Reports said there might have been more than one attacker, and that the truck’s cab was filled with guns, explosives and grenades, according to local authorities.

The driver, who fired a gun into the crowd, was killed by return fire. An identity card in the truck cab bore name of a French Tunisian.

There was no claim of responsibility and security authorities were not yet describing the attack as terrorist, but Hollande made clear he believed that it was.

“The attack’s terrorist character cannot be denied,” he said. “It is clear we must do everything in order to combat against the scourge of terrorism.”

Hollande, who earlier Thursday had said a state of emergency in place since the earlier terrorist attacks would be lifted on July 26, said in his address after the attack that it would be extended three months.

Chabad Lubavitch News quoted the movement’s emissary in the city, Yossef Yitzschok Pinson, as saying that five local Jews were injured in the attack, one seriously. He did not know of any killed.

Sinai Temple vigil unites police, clergy for “healing in tragic times” [VIDEO]


A week after the murder of five police officers in Dallas and just hours after more than 80 people were killed and 200 wounded from a terrorist attack in Nice, France, Los Angeles rabbis, African-American Christian faith leaders and Los Angeles Police Department officers came together at Sinai Temple on July 14 for a community prayer vigil.

Led by Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Pastor Mark Whitlock, senior minister of Christ Our Redeemer AME church, the evening event had been billed as “a service of devotion and healing in tragic times,” following not only the murder of the Dallas police officers, but also the allegedly racially tinged deaths of two Black men killed by police —Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old killed on July 5 outside a convenience story in Baton Rouge, La. as well as Philando Castile, a 32-year-old killed during a traffic stop Minnesota on July 6. 

The message of the evening: Everybody of all faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds needs to come together as one.

 Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple was among the leaders of a community prayer vigil at the synagogue.

“Everybody you look at is a stranger, a brother and yourself—that’s what we have to learn in order to love,” Wolpe said from the bimah in Sinai’s sanctuary, addressing an audience of more than 300 that included elected officials, Jewish community leaders and others, including Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Mahomed Khan, director of interfaith outreach at King Fahad Mosque in Culver City; Rev. Damali Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz of Adat Shalom and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik.

Over the course of the evening, Taubman and a handful of musicians performed songs in Hebrew, gospel tunes and inspirational pop ballads. Capping the evening off, the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome,” with audience members’ putting their arms around one another and swaying to the music from the pews of the large room. 

Despite the sense of camaraderie permeating the space, tragedy of the terrorist attack in Nice, France was on everyone’s minds. Wolpe address the incident toward the conclusion of the evening, describing events there as “horrific” and saying, “hearts go out to the wounded, their family and friends and to the entire nation [of France].”

Nearly 25 organizations, the majority of them Jewish, served as co-sponsors of the event. 

“Alone we are strong, [but] tonight is a reminder that together we are stronger,” Taubman told the Journal.

Craig Taubman and Jay Sanderson attended the vigil at Sinai Temple.

“I’m proud that within less than a week we were able to get close to 400 people together in prayer and unity,” Guzik said in an interview. She said a Sinai Temple lay leader had approached the synagogue’s clergy about the need to do something involving both law enforcement and race relations in the wake of numerous tragedies in the country. 

“Our community feels helpless… [after the] Dallas shooting. We said, ‘Forget it, we can’t just sit here because now riots are happening in every city. We have to stand up and do something,’” Guzik said.

Paul Cunningham blew the shofar at the start of the event. Later, Beit T’Shuvah Head Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Temple Emanuel Rabbi Jonathan Aaron and others stood at the top of the bimah’s stairs under a chuppah held up by young students of Sinai Akiba Academy, as well as children from local churches, with Borovitz, Aaron and other local leaders saying words of prayer and hope. The shofar blower, Cunningham, returned to the bimah at the end of the night and once again blew the ram’s horn, this time to close the event. 

Exiting the sanctuary, Julie Platt, chairman of the L.A. Federation, said she was happy she had attended.  “This was a wonderful convening—we all needed it,” she said. “Especially after the news of today.”

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 “>a statement from the Nice Chabad on Chabad.org listed the Hebrew names of the victims: Raymonde bat Nouna, missing; Clara bat Nouna, hospitalized; Hafsia bat Miryam, hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Times of Israel ” target=”_blank”>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.”

Truck attack kills 80 in Nice on Bastille Day


A gunman killed 80 people and wounded scores when he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd that had watched Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday, officials said.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 80 people died and 18 were in a critical condition. Many more were also wounded in the attack along the famed seafront Promenade des Anglais as the fireworks ended just after 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).

The driver also opened fire before police shot him dead.

In a pre-dawn address to the nation, President Francois Hollande said he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after the Islamic State militant group killed 130 people in Paris. The state of emergency was extended by three months.

“France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy,” Hollande said, noting several children were among the dead in what he said he had no doubt was an act of terrorism.

He called the carnage, which came as France celebrated the anniversary of the 1789 revolutionary storming of the Bastille, an attack on liberty by fanatics who despised human rights.

France would, nonetheless, continue military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Counter-terrorist investigators were seeking to identify the driver. A local government official said weapons and grenades were found inside the 25-tonne, unmarked articulated truck.

Officials said hundreds were hurt as the driver wove along the seafront, knocking them down “like skittles”.

The attack, which came eight months and a day after Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers struck the French capital on a festive Friday evening, seemed so far to be the work of a lone assailant. Newspaper Nice-Matin quoted unidentified sources as saying the driver was a 31-year-old local of Tunisian origin.

Police were working to establish what accomplices he may have had in a city with a reputation for Islamist activism.

There had been no claim of responsibility made almost six hours after the attack.

“A SCENE OF HORROR”

The truck careered for hundreds of metres along the front facing the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), slamming into families and friends listening to an orchestra or strolling above the beach towards the grand, century-old Hotel Negresco.

“It's a scene of horror,” member of parliament Eric Ciotti told France Info radio, saying the truck “mowed down several hundred people.” Jacques, who runs Le Queenie restaurant on the seafront, told the station: “People went down like ninepins.”

Bystander Franck Sidoli, who was visibly shocked, said: “I saw people go down.”

“Then the truck stopped, we were just five metres away. A woman was there, she lost her son. Her son was on the ground, bleeding,” he told Reuters at the scene.

Nice-Matin posted photographs of the truck, its windshield starred by a score of bullets and its radiator grille destroyed.

Major events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police since the Islamic State attacks last year, but it appeared to have taken many minutes to halt the progress of the truck as it tore along pavements and a pedestrian zone.

Police told residents of the city, 30 km (20 miles) from the Italian border, to stay indoors as they conducted further operations, although there was no sign of any other attack.

Hours earlier, Hollande had said the state of emergency would end in two weeks. He has now extended it by three months, calling up former troops and gendarmes after racing back to Paris from the south of France in the wake of the attack.

Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years. On Sunday, a weary nation had breathed a collective sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament across France ended without a feared attack.

Four months ago, Belgian Islamists linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people in Brussels.

Vehicle attacks have been used by isolated members of militant groups in recent years, notably in Israel, as well as in Europe, though never to such devastating effect.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement: “On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians.”

The United Nations Security Council said it “condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”.

On social media, Islamic State supporters celebrated the high death toll.

HIDING IN TERROR

One woman told France Info that she and others had fled in terror: “The lorry came zig-zagging along the street. We ran into a hotel and hid in the toilets with lots of people.”

Nice-Matin journalist Damien Allemand had been watching the traditional seaside firework display when the truck tore by just as it ended. After taking cover in a cafe, he wrote on his paper's website of what he saw when he came back out on the promenade: “Bodies every five metres, limbs … Blood. Groans.”

“The beach attendants were first on the scene. They brought water for the injured and towels, which they placed on those for whom there was no more hope.”

Officials have warned in the past of the risk of Islamist attacks in the region following the Paris and Brussels attacks. Reverses for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have raised fears it might strike again in Europe, possibly again using alienated young men from the continent's Arab immigrant communities whom it has inspired to take up arms against their native countries.

Nice, a city of some 350,000, has a history as a flamboyant, aristocratic resort but is also a gritty metropolis. It has seen dozens of its Muslim residents travel to Syria to fight, a path taken by previous Islamic State attackers in Europe.

“Neither the place nor the date are coincidental,” a former French intelligence agent and security consultant, Claude Moniquet, told France-Info, noting the jihadist presence in Nice and the fact that July 14 marks France's revolution.

“Tragic paradox that the subject of Nice attack was the people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter.

At Nice's Pasteur hospital, medical staff were treating large numbers of injuries. Waiting for friends who were being operated on, 20-year-old Fanny told Reuters she had been lucky.

“We were all very happy, ready to celebrate all night long,” she said. “I saw a truck driving into the pedestrian area, going very fast and zig-zagging.

“The truck pushed me to the side. When I opened my eyes I saw faces I didn't know and started asking for help … Some of my friends were not so lucky. They are having operations as we speak. It's very hard, it's all very traumatic.”

Breaking Bodies


Leave my body alone.

This is my thought when I see terror.

I don’t care if it’s a truck, a gun, a knife, a bomb.

Just leave my body alone.

Do not slice my flesh.

Do not splinter my bones or explode my arteries.

Do not rape my muscles and ligaments.

We talk about ISIS and Islam and hatred.

But hatred doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is a bullet that pierces my pancreas.

Or a car that severs my spine.

Madness doesn’t bother me.

A sharp knife launched into my belly bothers me.

Or a rock that cracks my skull.

I don’t care about pundits or faith or interfaith.

About stereotypes or damage control.

I care about a bomb blowing next to my brain.

Or a white truck crunching 84 bodies.

Terrorists are not cowards,

They are artists of death.

Do not call them animals.

Animals kill to eat,

Terrorists kill to break bodies.

Animals do not want to die.

Terrorists?

What shall we do with them?

We can leave their faith and minds alone,

But we cannot leave their bodies alone.

We must break their bodies,

Even if they want us to.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Paris attack victims to sue French state over surveillance lapses


Victims of last November's Islamic State assault on Paris plan to sue the French state for failing to avert a killing spree by militants who had drawn scrutiny from police and intelligence services, a lawyer for the group said on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day a court in a separate case found the French state partly at fault over the killing of a French soldier in 2012 by Mohamed Merah, a militant whose activities had also been tracked for some time by police and security services. Merah was killed in a shootout with police that year.

Samia Maktouf, a lawyer representing 17 victims of the Paris attacks, said she would take legal action against the state on the grounds that some of the assailants were also people the police and judicial authorities had been keeping tabs on.

“We will do all we can to get the French state convicted for failing to prevent terrorists, some of whom were under judicial surveillance, from carrying out their act,” Maktouf told BFM TV.

Nine militants killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more on Nov. 13, 2015. Some assailants blew themselves up near the Stade de France stadium, others opened fire on downtown cafe terraces and a third group armed with guns and suicide vests killed 90 music fans at the Bataclan rock concert hall.

A parliamentary investigation into the attack ended with the publication of a report last week that highlighted, among other possible failings of the state, the fact that one of the Bataclan attackers had gone to Syria a month earlier despite being under surveillance over a 2012 trip to Yemen.

France has since cracked down on people suspected of going to war zones like Syria to train as jihadist combatants.

A French court last week sentenced several people who returned from one such sortie to between eight and 10 years in jail – including the brother of one of the Bataclan attackers.

In a ruling sure to encourage victims of the November attacks and others, a court in the southern city of Nimes on Monday judged the French state to have been partially at fault for the killing of soldier Abel Chennouf in 2012.

He was one of three soldiers killed that year by Merah, a 23-year-old who said he was inspired by al Qaeda and went on to kill four Jews, three of them school children, before being cornered in a flat and dying in a hail of police bullets.

The judge faulted the French state on the grounds that the police and intelligence services had decided at one point to stop tracking Merah.

“The decision to halt all surveillance of Mohamed Merah … constitutes a mistake for which the state is liable, given the profile of Mohamed Merah and his highly suspect behavior, notably after recent trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Monday's verdict stated.

The judge ruled that the state should as a result provide financial compensation to the wife, child and parents-in-law of the murdered soldier.

Sharansky: Jews uncomfortable in France despite government efforts to protect them


Revisiting what he defined as uncertainty over French Jewry’s future, Natan Sharansky said Jews are increasingly feeling uncomfortable in France despite the government’s best efforts to protect them.

Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, addressed the subject in a letter he sent Tuesday to his organization’s board of governors following its meeting last week in Paris. The event was held in the Paris capital for the first time as a sign of solidarity with French Jews following terrorist and anti-Semitic attacks on that community in the past few years.

His letter said media reports covering the event saying Sharansky believes the community has no future do not accurately capture the issue’s complexity.

“For several years now, I have been speaking and writing about the question mark that hovers over the future of the French Jewish community and of Jewish communities elsewhere in Europe,” Sharansky wrote. “The issue is complex, and I have always been careful to state that it is best represented by a question mark.”

In the past two years, Israel has seen the arrival of a record 15,000 immigrants from France, which in 2014 for the first time emerged as Israel’s single largest provider of newcomers – a position it retained in 2015. Sharansky has attributed the influx to a convergence of factors, including France’s anti-Semitism problem, its near-stagnant economy and the strong attachment of French Jews to Israel.

Sharansky wrote that the French government has undertaken “sincere and laudable efforts to protect Jews, to strengthen the relationship between government authorities and the Jewish community, and to implement strong legislation against anti-Semitism.” This “great deal” of action, he added, perhaps exceeds action by “any other European government to reassure the country’s Jewish citizens.”

But the problem “far exceeds amelioration by one measure or another, and it cannot be solved by sending more soldiers to protect Jewish kindergartens,” he also said.

When it comes to French Jewry’s future, Sharansky wrote, “I am neither a commissar of Zionism nor a modern-day prophet, and it is important that our conversation on this subject be based on the facts, rather than on hollow pronouncements.”

Sharansky cited a recent survey commissioned by the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, a think tank with close ties to France’s ruling Socialist Party, that found that 51 percent of French Jews polled have considered immigrating to another country and 43 percent have considered making aliyah – immigrating to Israel under its law of return for Jews.

French Jews are feeling increasingly uncomfortable and insecure due a “changing demographic reality in France and the influx of large populations that do not necessarily share the French republic’s democratic values and are susceptible to anti-Semitism,” Sharansky wrote. “Another factor is that “liberal France, which Jews have always considered to be their home, is today infected by a sense of hostility and double standards toward Israel.”

As for the Jewish Agency, he said, “Our job is clear: To serve every French Jew who wishes to make aliyah” while “working to ensure that those Jews who wish to remain in France feel deeply connected to their community, their heritage, and the State of Israel.”

French high court reaffirms prison sentence for Holocaust-denying professor


France’s highest court affirmed a one-year prison sentence for a professor who questioned the Holocaust’s veracity.

The Court of Cassation rejected the appeal last week of Vincent Reynouard, who has since fled the country and is presumed escaped. It was the last of several appeals by Reynouard to the sentence imposed last year by a Caen court over a 2014 video in which he said the Holocaust may not have happened and called state commemorations of the deportation of French Jews ”manipulation of memory,” France 3 reported.

Reynouard has lost his license to teach in the public education system over repeated Holocaust denials.

The court’s ruling came amid protests over a Paris university readmitting a student who had been expelled for anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Earlier this month, the Sciences Po University agreed to readmit a student, Amira Jumaa, who is under disciplinary review for writing hateful remarks about Jews on Facebook last year. Jumaa, a citizen of Kuwait, also was fired over the posts by the French consulate in New York, where she was working in an internship.

Sciences Po allowed Jumaa to continue to study at the institution while its disciplinary board, which had suspended Jumaa last year, decides on her appeal of the sanctions.

The Sciences Po chapter of the Union of Jewish Students of France, or UEJF, protested the move in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page titled “No to readmitting an anti-Semitic student.”

Jumaa was suspended after writing “You don’t belong anywhere in this world — that’s why you guys are scums and rats and discriminated against wherever you are. Do not blame it on the poor Palestinians.”

In response to being accused of racism, Jumaa wrote: “First of all you dispersed rat, i am not an immigrant from France. I am from Kuwait so my country can buy you and your parents and put you in ovens.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Municipality near Paris declares boycott of Israeli settlement goods


A municipality near the French capital passed a motion declaring a boycott of Israeli settlement goods and vowing further research and labeling on other products from the Jewish state.

The council of Bondy, located north of Paris, passed the resolution with only five objections on June 23, the news website Rezo Citoyen reported Saturday. The mayor, Sylvine Thomassin, belongs to French President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party.

The motion follows a string of convictions against promoters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel in France, where their actions violate anti-discrimination laws prohibiting the singling out of nations, national groups or their products. Other recent court rulings in France have nullified pro-Palestinian motions and gestures by French municipalities, declaring their involvement in international issues beyond their legal purview.

The motion expresses opposition to these rulings. “It is a legitimate civil right to be able to accept or refuse to buy merchandise according to its origin,” the motion states. “And it is a local collective entity’s duty to verify the traceability of services and products it offers its population.”

Bondy is unusual among French municipalities engaged in pro-Palestinian lobbying because it has a Socialist mayor. Elsewhere, such actions are led by Communist-controlled municipalities.

“The Municipal Council of Bondy decided to no longer buy products from Israeli settlements,” read the motion, which had only five objections. It also called for the application of European Commission regulations introduced in November, that require separate labeling for all settlement goods entering the European Union. The regulations so far are only enforced in Belgium, Britain and Denmark.

As long as the regulations are not applied in France, Bondy’s municipal council will “research prior to purchase the origin of products not clearly indicated.”

Fears of terrorism turn Moishe Houses into a lifeline for young Paris Jews


When David Harroch moved from his native Morocco to France 12 years ago, he found a vibrant Jewish scene with a plethora of activities for young adults like himself.

The social circle was something of a lifeline for Harroch, 30, an introverted finance executive who left home to study in France. With neither childhood friends nor family here, he relied on community events to find companionship and the occasional date.

But he arrived at a time of change for Parisian Jewry, as many community members started skipping cultural events out of fear of increasing anti-Semitic attacks. France saw a 10-year record of 851 incidents in 2014, and several deadly shootings by Islamists.

As recently as four years ago, “there was a social event for young Jews in Paris every other night,” Harroch said. “Now this scene for people my age has taken a huge step backwards.”

Partly to deal with the problem, leaders of French and European Jewry are preparing to open an $11 million community center in central Paris next year.

But on the ground, young French Jews like Harroch are already taking part in efforts to restore the Jewish cultural scene through Moishe House, an international project offering subsidized housing to young Jews willing to turn their home into a social hub for other Jews their age.

The newest Paris Moishe House is a sunny three-bedroom apartment overlooking a large boulevard. The organization subsidizes half the rent for the three residents of the Beaubourg home, which could easily cost $3,000-$4,000 a month on the market. In exchange, the residents, all females in their 20s, need to host at least six events each month.

Established 10 years ago in California by David Cygielman and the late philanthropist Morris Squire, Moishe House has made France and Belgium priority areas, according to Josh Moritz, Moishe House’s regional director of global communities. A third France Moishe House is planned to open this year outside Paris with funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, UJA-Federation of New York and local French partners, including Fonds Social Juif Unifie. Additional French locations being envisaged include Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg.

The expansion is part of a larger growth by Moishe House, which has used funding from U.S. Jewish communities as well as organizations like the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and others to grow into a global network comprising 86 homes in 20 countries. But it has an added impact on France’s at-risk communities, Moritz said.

Approximately 20,000 French Jews have immigrated to Israel since 2011. Of those who remain, most avoid wearing Jewish symbols in public frequently or habitually, according to a European Union survey from 2012. A third are too fearful to attend Jewish community events. The slaying of four Jews at a kosher supermarket last year did not help matters.

France’s first Moishe House opened in 2014. Since then, more than 2,500 Jewish young adults have attended some 130 peer-led Moishe House programs in Paris.

“It’s an intimate setting that lets you really get to know people. We don’t have much of that here,” Harroch said at a recent board game-themed soiree at Paris’ new Moishe House, or MoHo, which the organization opened in March in the 3rd arrondissement, near the Beaubourg Complex and the Georges Pompidou Center.

If not for the subsidy, “there is no way I could have afforded to live here,” said resident Carole Bouzaglou, a 25-year-old online sales specialist. “It’s much better than a tiny student apartment.”

But balancing family, friends, career and Moishe House duties can be challenging, says MoHo resident Noemie Grausz, a physician training to become a gynecologist. Rushing home from the gym, she got off to a late start preparing the board game evening but made up for lost time by preparing a quick salad and ordering pizza.

Pointing with dismay at the bare light fixtures, she said: “And then there’s interior decorating that still needs to happen.”

Her guests for the board game event didn’t seem to mind. An eclectic crowd of 15 mostly single men and women in their 20s and 30s, they trickled in alone or in pairs. Some men looked synagogue-ready in cologne-drenched designer clothes and kippot. Others sported a stubble and plain T-shirts.

Noemie chatted up the guests to make them feel less awkward — a knack she’s perfected working as a doctor. The first game, she explained, gives players 30 seconds to name a randomly chosen celebrity described to them. She replaced the game’s celebrity cards with handmade notes featuring Jewish personalities like the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and comedian Gad Elmaleh.

Other Moishe House Beaubourg events include jam sessions featuring Israeli music, Israeli Independence Day parties and even yoga classes.

Terrorist threats notwithstanding, Paris’ 350,000 Jews have no shortage of community events. Less than a mile away from Moishe House Beaubourg, the Edmond Fleg Jewish Community Center offers not only yoga classes but Jewish meditation and study groups.

But the regulars there are much older than the Moishe House crowd, said Louigi Hayat, a 32-year-old accountant. Like Harroch, Hayat said he came to Moishe House activities to make friends, but also in the hope of finding a date.

“So, honestly, it’s not a very attractive option for me,” he said of the Fleg center.

Despite their amorous agendas, Harroch and Hayat largely ignored the group of attractive single ladies in attendance during the board-game event. Instead they engaged in a fierce two-man battle of Stratego rather than the main celebrities game.

Like most other guests, Hayat and Harroch learned of Moishe House Beaubourg through word of mouth or on Facebook. They had to pass a short interview with organizers to get the address, which is neither listed nor published online for security reasons. There are no Moishe House signs on the building or the apartment door. The apartment’s slot on the intercom board bears the name of the previous tenant.

Despite these precautions, the absence from Moishe House Beaubourg of soldiers and police, who are guarding other Jewish institutions across France, makes some guests reflect nostalgically on better days.

“The way this Jewish institution is set up means that coming here gives you a measure of normalcy,” said Gabriel Saban, a 30-year-old television composer. “You just ring the bell and walk in, like it used to be when we were children.”

Peace summit will take place despite Israel objection, French FM says


The foreign minister of France said in Israel that the international Middle East peace summit will take place despite objections by Israel.

“Action must be taken,” Jean-Marc Ayrault said Sunday at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport at the close of a one-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said he only wanted direct negotiations, but that option is stalled.

“It’s clear to us — and I said this to Netanyahu and Abbas — that we cannot fulfill the role of the two sides,” he said, referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “They will need to carry out direct negotiations but because the process is stuck, they need external help. The goal is to encourage them return to the negotiating table.

“I know that there is strong opposition,” he said, appearing to be referring to Netanyahu. “This is not new and it won’t discourage us. The conference will take place.”

Ayrault said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke positively of the idea of the conference and that France would be willing to postpone the meeting, scheduled for May 30, which is Memorial Day in the United States, so that Kerry could attend. Kerry reportedly has spoken in recent days with Abbas and Netanyahu about the proposed summit.

Netanyahu said Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting that he made it clear to Ayrault during their meeting that he opposed the summit and attempts by France to broker a peace process.

Netanyahu said he told Ayrault that “the scandalous UNESCO decision, which was supported by France, that does not recognize the Jewish people’s ties – which are thousands of years old – to the Temple Mount, casts a shadow on the fairness of any forum that France tries to convene. He told me that this decision stemmed from a misunderstanding and that he would personally see to it that it does not recur. I told him that the only way to advance a true peace between us and the Palestinians is by means of direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions.

“Our experience with history shows that only this way did we achieve peace with Egypt and Jordan and that any other attempt only makes peace more remote and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict, which is non-recognition of the State of Israel.”

Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam extradited to France, under formal investigation


Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was placed under formal investigation on terrorism and murder charges in France on Wednesday after his extradition from Belgium, and he promised to talk to judges during his next hearing, his French lawyer said.

A Belgium-born Frenchman, Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor among a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on Nov. 13.

“The investigation will determine to what degree he was involved in the acts … for which he has been put under investigation,” lawyer Frank Berton said after an initial hour-long hearing.

“He stayed silent today but said he would talk at a later stage,” Berton said, adding that the next hearing was set for May 20. Abdeslam did not speak on Wednesday because he was tired after a “quite rough” extradition, Berton said.

Abdeslam was placed under investigation on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, murder, kidnapping and holding weapons and explosives, the public prosecutor said in a statement. The kidnap charges relate to the hours-long attack on the Bataclan concert hall in which 90 people were killed.

Abdeslam, 26, was Europe's most wanted fugitive until his capture in Brussels on March 18 after a four-month manhunt. He was taken by helicopter to Paris under armed guard and then driven to the capital's main law courts.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison in the Paris region, with his cell under CCTV surveillance.

“PETTY CRIMINALS”

Four days after Abdeslam's capture, other Islamist militants blew themselves up at Brussels international airport and on a metro train, killing 32 people.

Investigators have said Abdeslam told them he arranged logistics for the multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Paris and had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium before backing out at the last minute.

He is suspected of having rented two cars used to transport the attackers to, and around, the French capital.

Abdeslam's elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack on one of several Paris cafes targeted by a group of assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests.

Salah Abdeslam's confession to investigators suggested he may have been the 10th man referred to in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the multi-pronged attack on the stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall.

Police found an abandoned suicide vest in a rubbish bin in a Paris suburb following the attacks, stirring speculation that it might have belonged to Abdeslam, who escaped by car back to Belgium a few hours later.

Belgian police have arrested a number of his associates, including Mohamed Abrini, who was wanted in connection with both the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Sven Mary, Abdeslam's main defense lawyer in Belgium, distanced himself from his client, telling France's Liberation newspaper: “He's a little jerk from Molenbeek, from a world of petty criminals – more of a follower than a leader, with the brains of an empty ash-tray.”

‘Imam of the Jews’ works to combat Muslim radicals


Over dinner at a Simon Wiesenthal Center benefit on April 18 at which he was to be honored, Imam Hassen Chalghoumi pulled out his iPhone to scroll through pictures of himself with a host of foreign dignitaries.

He thumbed past Sen. John McCain, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli President Shimon Peres — each of whom he gamely referred to as “my friend.” Before the end of the night, a sumptuous banquet for Hollywood executives and Jewish leaders at the Beverly Hilton, he would have a few more friends to show off.

But the friends he’s earned on his warpath against anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism have caused him some trouble in the Muslim community of Drancy, France, where he serves as the imam. 

He’s seen his car lit on fire and yarmulkes burned in protest outside his mosque. When he spoke out against the Islamic State in 2015, saying its members have Satan as their prophet rather than Muhammad, the terrorist group put out a fatwa on him — a call for his assassination. Chalghoumi’s family now lives outside of France for their safety.

“My wife and children have had to make numerous sacrifices, and it is of them I think tonight,” he said as he accepted the award onstage at the Hilton. “It is their medal of valor, as well.”

Chalghoumi is tall and broad, with a small goatee and a round, boyish face that is almost always smiling under a white fez. For his activism and close relationships with Jewish organizations, his opponents have labeled him “Imam of the Jews,” a title he now views as honorific.

Back at his dinner table, he pointed across to a tall, suited man in spectacles sitting quietly. The man was an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer, he said, part of his security detail. In Los Angeles, his detail is two cops. In Paris, it’s 12. In Brussels, 20.

The next morning, the imam sat stretched on a couch in the office of Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder. The Wiesenthal Center had flown him to Los Angeles to accept a medal of valor at its 2016 national tribute dinner, and it hopes to collaborate with him on their shared goal of fighting anti-Semitism.

The same off-duty police officer in spectacles and a suit waited quietly outside the closed door.

“The good news is that this man’s the real deal,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. “The bad news is he’s one in a million.”

Drancy’s imam has been fighting the radicalization of young Muslims since long before the world’s attention turned to Paris after the terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 people last Nov. 13.

“I wasn’t waiting for the attack,” he told the Jewish Journal. “I foresaw it. I was working on it for a long time.”

The imam is quick to dismiss the people who perpetrated that attack and similar acts of violence as fake Muslims and barbarians.

“When they commit crimes in the name of Islam, they too say they are Muslims,” he said of the terrorists. “But I don’t recognize them as Muslims.”

Chalghoumi has set out to recast Islam as a humanist and peaceful religion, especially as a message to disaffected young men in France most prone to being won over by radical ideologies. In his dealings with young people, many simply need to talk with a knowledgeable person of the Islamic faith in order to recognize radical ideology as a sham.

Other cases are not so simple. 

Chalghoumi recalls a couple asking him, in 2012, to intervene with their son, whom they suspected was being radicalized. When the young man wouldn’t meet with him, he put the parents in contact with the French authorities, who arrested the young man but quickly let him go again. Soon after his release, he fled to Syria. 

After the Nov. 13 attack, the imam made the gut-wrenching discovery that the man had been one of the perpetrators of the attack on Paris’ Stade de France football arena.

“There are cases like that that are impossible,” he said. “I can’t do anything about it — the state has to take measures. Their ideology of death, they harbor it because they have inside them so much hate. Is it because of their family? Are they part of a gang? Because in general, it doesn’t start in mosques.”

In 2008, Chalghoumi started the Conference of Imams in France, a group that has grown to 180 religious leaders aimed at creating “an Islam of Europe, that fits in the laws and the values of Europe.” The group has spoken out with conviction and regularity against recent acts of violence in Paris and Brussels.

The imam’s fight for the soul of his religion was inspired in part by the history. The Parisian suburb of Drancy, where he lived, served as the railway terminal through which 70,000 prisoners passed on their way to Nazi concentration camps. 

“Remembering the Shoah is a human duty,” he said. “It’s just human victims, assassinated, massacred because of their religion, their belonging.”

He began to learn more about the Holocaust after moving to Drancy in 2000 to start the local Association of Muslims. Since then, he’s paid respects at Holocaust memorials in Israel and Germany.

His activism in Holocaust memory has brought him a fair deal of strife. In 2006, days after he spoke at Drancy’s Holocaust memorial, vandals broke into his house. Since then, there have been more break-ins and attempts on his life.

From an early age, multiculturalism played a large role in the imam’s life. Born in Tunisia in 1972 to a family of modest means, he grew up in the diverse La Goulette port neighborhood of the country’s capital, Tunis, where he recalls a kosher restaurant peacefully coexisting with the Muslim majority.

“We don’t talk about the People of the Book as infidels; we talk about them as the family of the book,” he said of his upbringing in the Islamic faith.

He said the type of radical Islam spreading in low-income areas of France and Belgium are an opportunistic interpretation of the religion: “The façade is Islamic but the reality is politics.” 

Extremist Muslim leaders exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to energize their supporters. For instance, he pointed to dogged activism on the European continent by the Muslim Brotherhood, imported from the Middle East by political refugees.

“It’s not the same Islam as the Islam in the countries where they come from,” he said. “It’s not about peace, love — it’s about confrontation.”

Take, for instance, the idea of jihad — often translated as “struggle” — which has come to refer to Islam’s most militant and extreme wing. Chalghoumi draws a different interpretation. 

“Ramadan is a jihad against the soul,” he said, switching between halting English and Arabic-accented French. “To resist your ambitions — like [Yom] Kippur. For hours, no eating — that’s jihad.”

He shares with the Wiesenthal Center the conviction that radical Islam in the 21st century has to be met where it exists, namely on the Internet. 

“The majority of work we have to do, 60 percent, is on the Internet,” he said. “Because that’s the vehicle, the means of hate. America attacks Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Tora Bora, all those places. But now Al Qaeda is on the Internet, you can’t just bomb them.”

Much of his activism is directed at European corporations that allow terrorist groups to spread their message online. Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center associate dean, recalled that when he first met Chalghoumi at a conference on anti-Semitism, the imam pointed to a Google representative and said, “J’accuse! [I accuse!]” Chalghoumi holds the search engine responsible for allowing terrorists to operate on its site.

As the interview wrapped up, Cooper re-entered the room with a laptop open to a screen grab of a homophobic game a Wiesenthal Center researcher had unearthed, where users play as ISIS soldiers and execute suspected homosexuals. 

“It’s a failure in the system,” Chalghoumi commented.

“Parents don’t know,” Cooper said.

“No control,” the imam said.

“No control, no knowledge,” the rabbi said. “There has to be a whole change in approach even as to how you raise your children.”

Chalghoumi looked drawn and worried. “France doesn’t deserve what’s going on right now,” he said.

Sold Marseille synagogue to become mosque


A synagogue in the center of the French city of Marseille was sold to a Muslim association that is planning to turn it into a mosque.

The Or Thora synagogue on Saint Dominique Street near the Saint-Charles train station was sold a few months ago for approximately $400,000 to the Al Badr Association ahead of its reopening in the summer, the local daily La Provence reported Tuesday.

The switch reflects a demographic shift in which, over the past 16 years, tens of thousands of Marseille Jews have left its once heavily Jewish center for the city’s more affluent suburbs, La Provence reported.

Saint Dominique Street already has one mosque operated by the Al Badr Association, La Provence reported, but the group is looking for another one because it is so crowded that Muslim worshippers pray on the sidewalk on Fridays. Meanwhile, Or Thora, which has a capacity of 250, sometimes has as few as 10 worshippers.

Marseille, a seaside city of 800,000, has about 250,000 Arab residents and 80,000 Jews.

Responding to anti-Semitic attacks over Israel, Jews in the city have gravitated away from center and northern Marseille in favor of middle-class neighborhoods in its south in greater numbers than before the year 2000, according to Elie Berrebi, the director of Marseille’s Central Jewish Consistoire.

Approximately 80 percent of Marseille’s Jews now live in that part of town, he said. Arab families also are migrating from the center northward and eastward to working-class areas.

As Jews took up residence in southern Marseille, they stopped frequenting synagogues in the center, which many local Jews consider unsafe.

From October to January, Marseille saw three stabbings of Jews by assailants who are believed to be Muslim or Arab.

Still, according to Zvi Amar, president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire — an organ of French Jewry responsible for supplying religious services — the overall Jewish population of Marseille has not diminished despite “the naturally occurring population shift” within its borders.

“There are many synagogues left in Marseille,” he said. “There were 32 in the 1990s; now that figure is almost double.”

New activists’ group to push Marine Le Pen to French Jews ahead of ’17 vote


Jewish activists close to Marine Le Pen said they have formed an organization designed to market her far-right National Front party to France’s Jewish community ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

Michel Thooris, a French Jew who once worked as Le Pen’s consultant on police issues, told the Le Lab news website that he will head the new nonprofit when it becomes active this summer.

Le Pen told the news website that the group, reportedly to be called the Union of French Jewish Patriots, or UPFJ, will not be an official organ of the National Front, whose charter and ideology go against frameworks built around ethnicity or other special characteristics.

“It’s an association of patriots that adhere to the Israelite faith which existed already in 2012 and in which Thooris already had a role,” she is quoted as saying in reference to the now inactive Union of French Jews.

National Front’s founder is Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred against Jews. Marine Le Pen last year expelled him from the party as part of her rejection of his openly racist rhetoric and has courted French Jews in a move that many observers said was designed to rehabilitate the party’s name.

A February poll by Ifop-Fiducial projected Le Pen could win a record 25 percent to 28 percent of the votes in the first round, and take National Front for the first time to the second round of presidential elections.

There are indications her plan was working even before she kicked out Jean-Marie Le Pen and stripped him of the title of honorary president of the party. In a 2014 poll among 1,095 self-identified Jews, the National Front earned 13.5 percent of the vote in 2012 presidential elections, more than doubling its share from the previous presidential contest five years earlier.

Marine Le Pen has insisted repeatedly that the real enemy of French Jews is not the National Front but Islamic fundamentalism, against which she has claimed the party is “your best shield.”

But CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the party remains an illegitimate political entity because of the presence of anti-Semites within its ranks, such as Holocaust denier Bruno Gollnisch, who represents the party at the European Parliament.

Thooris told Le Lab that one of his association’s goals is to “contend against the representational dictatorship of CRIF on National Front,” adding that CRIF “represents no one but itself and does not fight for the interests of the French Jewish community.”

CRIF maintains Jewish National Front voters are a minority within the community. The umbrella group’s leader, Roger Cukierman, said a rising far right will only augment the community’s current problems.

French-Jewish philosopher violently ejected from meeting on proposed labor laws


Alain Finkielkraut, a pro-Israel, left-wing philosopher who was recently recognized as one of France’s greatest thinkers, was violently ejected from a public gathering on labor laws.

Finkielkraut, who is Jewish, was spat on and heckled by protesters shouting “fascist” and “racist” on Saturday at a rally organized by the Nuit Debout, or White Night, platform, set up in March 31 in opposition to laws proposed by the government of President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, that would make it easier for employers to fire workers in order to help France’s stagnant economy to grow.

Finkielkraut was filmed leaving the gathering, where he came only to listen to speeches, with his wife as insults were shouted at him. He initially tried to engage the hecklers, telling them: “I’m also a human being, am I not?” before he finally gave up and left.

A best-selling author, Finkielkraut in January entered the pantheon of French academia when he was admitted into the Academie Francaise, which is a council of 40 greats elected for life.

“I was ejected from a square which stands for rallying together for democracy and pluralism,” he said after his expulsion from Republique Square in Paris. “That democracy is nonsense, that pluralism is a lie. And I only came to listen, I didn’t even want to speak and share my opinions, but they wanted to purify the square from my presence.”

A declared Zionist and critic of Israeli settlements, Finkielkraut said last month at a talk before Belgian Jews that some colleagues in France have shunned him for his support of the Jewish state.

Finkielkraut is a supporter of JCall, the European counterpart of JStreet, the American dovish group on Israel.

On Monday, JCall issued a statement condemning Finkielkraut’s ejection from the rally.

“Those who called Alain Finkielkraut a fascist and prohibited him from attending speeches organized at a public space have a different perception of dialogue” than his, JCall said in the statement. “Nuit Debout must distance themselves clearly from inflammatory actions and take measures to stop them.”

Myriam El Khomri, France’s minister on labor, said the incident “is regrettable. Everyone is allowed to participate in the debate.”

The loose collection of organizers of Nuit Debout events, who communicate mostly though Twitter, have not yet issued a statement on the incident.

North of Paris, a beleaguered Jewish community dares to seder


After three firebombs hit the synagogue of this poor and heavily Muslim suburb of Paris, municipal authorities advised the local Jewish community to lower its profile.

Like dozens of attacks on French synagogues since 2000, the January 2009 incident at the Chabad House of Saint-Denis, which did not result in any injuries, was believed to have been Islamist extremists’ retaliation for Israel’s actions – that year against Hamas in Gaza.

“We were told by the mayor from the Communist Party that it would be prudent if we tone down our activities at least until things calm down in the Middle East,” recalled Yisroel Belinow, who runs the Chabad House here with his wife, Rivky, and his brother, Mendel.

“We had absolutely no intention of complying,” he said.

Instead of laying low, the Belinows that year produced Saint-Denis’ first public community Passover seder, starting an annual tradition. Members of this besieged congregation say it succeeded because it reflects their unity in the face of rising anti-Semitic violence.

Each year since 2009, the Beth Chabad of Saint-Denis — a small building under constant army protection — welcomes about 100 congregants for a group seder dinner. It is led by Belinow, an introverted and soft-spoken man, and his more outgoing and older brother.

“It’s the best answer we could come up with to the attack,” Belinow said.

On the evening of Jan. 11, 2009, assailants ignited and hurled firebombs into the Chabad House kitchen. The fire charred the dining area but failed to catch because of a quick intervention by Mendel Belinow, who was inside the building. Belinow said police found 15 unignited firebombs in parts of the building, including a children’s play corner. No one was convicted in the attack.

“The attack lasted an instant and made an impression for a few weeks. But the seders — they’re now an annual event that’s part of the definition of this community,” Belinow told JTA during a community event last month in Saint-Denis.

Saint-Denis’ 15,000 Jews are all that remains of a community that was halved after the 1980s, when many left for more affluent and safer areas. Jewish emigration from Saint-Denis increased in 2000 amid a surge in anti-Semitic attacks. Gradually estranged from areas where it became unsafe to wear a kippah, the Jews here joined a quiet exodus that has depleted Jewish communities north of Paris.

With 100 guests, attendance at public seders in this drab suburb is relatively high for France. The Chabad House of Toulouse, where 23,000 Jews live, gets similar and even lower attendance, which sometimes leads to the event’s cancellation. And in Nice, where 20,000 Jews live, some 120 local Jews attend the local Chabad House’s public seder, which is being prepared for the fifth consecutive year.

Group seders are less popular in France than elsewhere in Europe because it has a predominantly Sephardic community with “close family ties and a tradition of hospitality,” said Avraham Weill, a Chabad emissary and chief rabbi of Toulouse. “People get invited to family seders, lowering demand for a public one.”

Some of the Saint-Denis seder guests are poor Jews with no family in France, including Mordechai Elbaz, a 60-year-old former dope dealer who lives in a moldy two-room apartment. He plans to attend the seder this year with his only relative – a sister, who is on a visit from Israel.

Other Saint-Denis congregants choose the public seder over a family setting. Caroline Wildbaum, 47, a regular at the Mendels’ Chabad House, has attended Saint-Denis seders with her four children, now aged 15 to 22, since the first year.

“I have a rather large family, so it’s not like I come here not to feel alone,” said Wildbaum, who lives in the nearby suburb of Sarcelles, a municipality known as “little Jerusalem” for its Jewish community of 60,000. “Having a seder here doesn’t subtract from the family atmosphere, it amplifies it.”

She added: “None of Sarcelles’ synagogues offer this feeling of unity and family.”

The Chabad House is now the only synagogue in Saint-Denis, which once boasted four. Drugs are sold openly at a local train station. Young, jobless gang members loiter there. In November, two suspected terrorists were killed here in a police raid on alleged perpetrators and accomplices tied to the terrorist attacks that month in Paris, which killed 130 people.

During the raid, the Jewish community of Saint-Denis went into lockdown for a few days. But true to his institution’s ethos, Mendel Belinow vowed activities would only “increase in volume,” starting with a public lighting of Hanukkah candles the following month.

At the Chabad House, congregants exchange hugs, kisses and back slaps. They call each other by their first names and address one another,  including the rabbis, with the less formal pronoun “tu.” Wildbaum sometimes teases the Brooklyn-born Rivky Belinow by calling her “my sister the princess” while playfully imitating her American accent.

Many credit the Belinows with generating this atmosphere.

“Mendel, with his fiery speeches and warm hugs, sets the tone,” said Ascher Bouaziz, a physician in his 60s who has worked his whole professional life in Saint-Denis. “Yisroel is more reserved. His administrational skills keep the place ticking. And Rivky, her charm and sweetness just melts everyone who meets her. That’s the secret to this place.”

Yet some connect the social cohesion also to the external threats, which are “making Jews seek comfort in a community where members have exceptionally strong ties to one another,” according to Irene Benhamou, a 59-year-old mother of two. “When you are surrounded by people who want to kill you, you find less time for bickering and formalities.”

Her youngest son was threatened with a knife on the street last year in what she said was an anti-Semitic incident. It made her decide to move four months ago to Noisy-le-Grand, an affluent eastern suburb, but she still comes to Saint-Denis for community events.

For Bouaziz, this year’s Saint-Denis seder may be his last. Next year he is planning to join the 20,000 French Jews who have immigrated to Israel since 2014.

“I don’t feel safe here,” he said. “When I retire I want to live where I can wear my kippah without inviting attack and army protection.”

But Yisroel Belinow wryly jokes about the security arrangements at his synagogue.

“At every seder, there’s one extra on top of the guest list,” he said of the prophet Elijah, for whom room is traditionally left at the seder table. “The only difference here is that we have Elijah plus four French Legion soldiers.”

Jewish man who stormed Paris synagogue in jihadist costume not charged


A Jewish man who stormed a suburban Paris synagogue dressed as a jihadist and shouting “God is great” in Arabic was not charged with any crime.

Police called the man, who is in his 40s, to a hearing on Friday, the day after he rushed into the Chabad synagogue in Vincennes wearing a djellaba – a loose-fitting Moroccan robe – and carrying toy Kalashnikov rifles, Le Figaro reported. The incident occurred on Purim, when it is traditional to dress in costume.

“I wanted to lighten the mood, I think I made ​​a big mistake,” he told another Paris-based paper. “Purim is a special party where you can let go and drink. I had an Arab costume with a red and white headscarf and a Kalashnikov. Arriving at the synagogue, I told the soldiers that it was a fake. I laughed with them. I shouted ‘Allahu Akbar,'” a phrase terrorists often use while committing attacks.

The appearance rattled the security guards at the synagogue, according to reports.

The incident occurred two days after suicide bombers affiliated with Islamic State killed at least 35 people in attacks at Brussels Airport and a metro station in the center of the Belgian capital, and nearly a week after three Israelis were killed in an attack in Istanbul after their travel group allegedly was targeted.