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.”

Israel reports record immigration of Jews from France in 2015


A record number of French Jews moved to Israel this year, an immigration official said on Thursday, citing anti-Semitic violence and economic insecurity in the European country as causes.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, having grown by nearly half since World War Two to some 550,000. The community has been jarred by an increase in security threats and Islamist militant attacks such as January's gun rampage at a Paris kosher market that killed four Jews.

Israel's quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which encourages immigration, said some 7,900 French Jews had relocated to Israel in 2015, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

“Each has his or her reason, including the economic crisis, personal security, terrorist attacks, and, in some places and times, an anti-Jewish mood,” agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Though not final, the immigration figure falls short of Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky's prediction after the kosher market attack following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January that more than 10,000 French Jews would move to Israel this year.

Palmor said wider Jewish immigration to Israel reached a 15-year high in 2015, with around 30,000 new arrivals. He noted a high number of arrivals from economically troubled Russia and civil war-torn Ukraine.

Prosecutor asks for Strauss-Kahn acquittal in French sex trial


A French prosecutor asked a criminal court on Tuesday to acquit former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a pimping charge for his role in what investigating magistrates argued was an organized sex ring using prostitutes.

Strauss-Kahn was tipped to become French president before being accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel chambermaid in 2011. U.S. criminal charges were subsequently dropped, and the allegations that he participated in a French sex ring centered in the northern French city of Lille emerged later.

“Did Dominique Strauss-Kahn pay prostitutes? The answer is no. Did he pimp prostitutes for others? The answer is no,” Lille Prosecutor Frederic Fevre told the court before requesting Strauss-Kahn's acquittal.

The prosecution's demand highlighted the difficulty of a potential conviction of Strauss-Kahn, 65. The trial is due to finish this week, with closing statements from the defense on Wednesday, but a verdict is not expected immediately.

Investigating magistrates, who originally sent the case against Strauss-Kahn to trial over the objections of the same prosecutor, argued that the prominent Socialist was the instigator of parties involving prostitutes from 2008 to 2011 in Lille, Brussels, Paris and Washington.

Under French law, investigating magistrates have the right to overrule prosecutors' initial recommendations to drop a case.

The charge of pimping, or “procuring with aggravating circumstances”, was justified, magistrates said, because Strauss-Kahn took a principal role in planning the parties, and knew that the women who attended them were prostitutes.

But during the three-week trial in Lille, characterized by sordid detail about Strauss-Kahn's sexual behavior from former prostitutes, the star defendant consistently maintained he had no idea the women at the sex parties were prostitutes, and that he had not organized the parties himself.

“Everyone is free to live out their sexuality how they wish,” Fevre said. “Neither the prosecutor nor the judge can set himself up as the guardian of moral order.”

Thirteen other defendants similarly are being judged for their role in the alleged sex ring that Strauss-Kahn says was simply a group of like-minded swingers.

Asking the court to take into account that the defendants had already payed “a heavy price”, Fevre said their actions were those of “a group of friends who were satisfying their egos, ambitions and simply their sexual desires.”

As for Strauss-Kahn, Fevre said he was “troubled by the recurring mention of (his) sexual practices,” which he said was not the case for his co-defendants.

Fevre indirectly criticized the three investigating magistrates for pursuing a case that provoked a media firestorm.

“Without this defendant, this case would have been settled a long time ago,” he told the court.

On Monday, lawyers for the four prostitutes who participated in the parties said they were giving up their claim of damages from Strauss-Kahn, citing insufficient evidence to prove the pimping charge.

Strauss-Kahn, if convicted, risked a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1.5 million euros ($1.70 million).

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police investigate false bomb threat against comedian Dieudonne


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry to join Iran nuclear talks in bid to reach deal


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will join talks on Iran's contested nuclear program in Geneva on Saturday, as Tehran and six world powers appeared to be on the verge of an elusive breakthrough in the decade-old dispute.

The French, British and German foreign ministers, Laurent Fabius, William Hague and Guido Westerwelle, were also due to take part in intense negotiations on a deal under which Iran would curb its atomic activity in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.

The announcements came after diplomats in the Swiss city said a major sticking point in the talks, which began on Wednesday, may have been overcome.

Kerry left for Geneva “with the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The decision was taken after consulting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, Psaki said.

Later, deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Kerry decided to travel to Geneva “in light of the progress being made” and with “the hope that an agreement will be reached.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Geneva on Friday evening and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and with Ashton, a Russian spokeswoman said.

Diplomats said a compromise over Iran's insistence that its “right” to enrich uranium be internationally recognized has been proposed, possibly opening the way to a long-sought breakthrough.

Fabius expressed hope that a deal could be made. France has taken a harder line than other Western powers and repeatedly urged the six-power group not to make too many compromises with Tehran.

“You know our position … it's a position based on firmness, but at the same time a position of hope that we can reach a deal,” Fabius said in Paris.

The United States and other Western powers say there is no such thing as a right to enrich – a process that can yield both electricity and nuclear bombs – but Iran views it as a matter of national sovereignty and crucial to any deal that would resolve the standoff over its nuclear intentions.

The Islamic Republic also wants relief from economic sanctions in return for any nuclear concessions it makes that could allay the West's suspicions that its nuclear fuel-making program has military rather than its stated civilian goals.

Foreign ministers from the six nations negotiating with Iran waded into the previous talks on November 7-9 and came close to winning concessions from Iran, which they count on to reduce the risk of Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

POLITICALLY CHARGED DETAILS

In the days running up to the talks, policymakers from the six powers said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could be within reach to start a cautious process of detente with Iran and banish the specter of a wider Middle East war.

Under discussion is Iranian suspension of some sensitive nuclear activities, above all medium-level uranium enrichment. Sanctions relief offered in return could involve releasing some Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts and allowing trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and aircraft parts.

The United States might also agree to relax pressure on other countries not to buy Iranian oil. Tehran has made clear it wants more significant diluting of the sanctions blocking its oil exports and its use of the international banking system.

Diplomacy on Tehran's nuclear aspirations has revived remarkably since the election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as president in June on promises of winning sanctions relief and diminishing Iran's international isolation.

The sides have struggled to wrap up a deal, however, bogged down in politically vexed details and hampered by long-standing mutual mistrust.

In Geneva, last-minute discussions wrapped up around midnight on Friday as diplomats from the six powers, the EU and Iran sought to work out an agreement.

Diplomats said new, compromise language being discussed did not explicitly recognize a right to produce nuclear fuel by any country. “If you speak about the right to a peaceful nuclear program, that's open to interpretation,” a diplomat told Reuters without elaborating.

No other details were available, but Zarif, Tehran's chief negotiator, said earlier in the day that significant headway had been made even though three or four “differences” remained.

The fate of Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor project – a potential source of an alternative bomb material, plutonium – and the extent of sanctions relief were among the other stumbling blocks, diplomats said.

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is covertly trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

SENATE SANCTIONS PUSH

A senior European diplomat told reporters earlier that foreign ministers of the six states would come to Geneva only if there was a deal to sign. “We have made progress, including core issues,” the diplomat said.

Zarif and Ashton met throughout the day on Friday to try to narrow the remaining gaps.

Israel continued its public campaign of criticizing the offer of sanctions rollbacks for Iran, voicing its conviction that all it would achieve would be more time for Iran to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

“I think right now the international community … has all the leverage to roll back its (Iran's) nuclear making capacities,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel Rossia in Moscow.

“It's a pity, just when they have this maximum leverage, that they're backing off and essentially giving Iran an unbelievable Christmas present – the capacity to maintain this breakout capability for practically no concessions at all,” he said.

For the powers, an interim deal would mandate a halt to Iran's enrichment of uranium to a purity of 20 percent – a major technical step towards the bomb threshold, more sweeping U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran and an Arak reactor shutdown.

The United States has only limited flexibility during the talks, however, because of skepticism in the U.S. Congress about the benefits of cutting any deal with Tehran.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he was committed to pursuing a tougher Iran sanctions bill when the Senate returns from a recess early next month – even though President Barack Obama has warned that could derail diplomacy in Geneva.

If a preliminary agreement is reached for a six-month suspension of some of Iran's most sensitive nuclear activity, the six powers and Tehran will use that time to hammer out a broader and longer-term accord.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak, Fredrik Dahl and John Irish in Geneva, Marcus George in Dubai, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem, Hortense de Roffignac in Paris, Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood, Jackie Frank and Eric Walsh

Deeply unpopular at home, French president embraced on Israel trip


For Francois Hollande, the most unpopular head of state in France in more than half a century, his first presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority promised a respite from the daily pummeling over his country’s stunted economy and his perceived flimsiness as a leader.

In Israel, everything was set for a hero’s welcome for someone who supported Europe’s blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military unit, waged a relentless war on anti-Semitism and scuttled a nascent deal over Iran’s nuclear program that was stridently opposed by Jerusalem.

“I will always remain a friend of Israel,” Hollande said in Hebrew upon arriving Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the sentiment, calling Hollande “a leader with principles and deep humanity” — praises that reflect the gratitude many Israelis and French Jews feel toward a man who has transformed France from one of Israel’s fiercest European critics into an important ally.

Controversy threatened to derail Hollande’s visit even before he arrived.

A planned speech to the Israeli Knesset was canceled briefly after Hollande decided he would prefer to follow President Obama’s lead and address university students. Outraged, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein nixed a reception for Hollande and froze cooperation with the French Embassy on the visit.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, ended the row on Nov. 9 with his announcement that Hollande would address the Knesset after all.

“I know you rely on your own strength for defense, but know that France is your friend and will not allow Iran access to nuclear arms, for it would a be threat for Israel and the world,” Hollande said in his address to the parliament Monday evening.

“Everything must be done to solve this crisis through diplomacy,” Hollande said, adding: “We shall maintain sanctions until Iran has renounced its nuclear program.”

In the French media, the Knesset incident received considerable play because it touched on Hollande’s Achilles’ heel: His perceived indecisiveness, even among members of his own Socialist Party.

“Hollande is more of a grayish leader. He’s not a star like some of his predecessors, including Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Daniel Shek, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Paris during Sarkozy’s term from 2007 to 2012.

Along with this perception of weakness, Hollande is contending with a worrisome financial crisis and a large rise in the unemployment rate, which has reached 26 percent among the young — more than triple the rate in Germany. Earlier this month, the Standard & Poor credit agency cut France’s rating for the second time this year, exposing Hollande to the charge that he is not delivering the growth and welfare he promised.

Indeed, popular support for Hollande is at a record low. A poll released Sunday by the market research firm IFOP found that Hollande’s approval rating had plunged to 20 percent, a dramatic falloff from the 54 percent he enjoyed following his election in May 2012 and two points below the previous all-time low set by Mitterrand in 1991.

But on issues of particular importance to French Jews, Hollande has a stellar record. Since his election, hundreds have been arrested and dozens convicted for anti-Jewish violence and incitement. And last year, the president cleared his schedule unexpectedly to accompany Netanyahu to Toulouse for a memorial for the four victims of a French Islamist attack on a Jewish school there in 2012.

Such overtures may make French Jews more forgiving of Hollande’s shortcomings on other fronts — but probably not much.

“It would be incorrect to call Hollande popular among French Jews, who also worry about the economy as all French citizens do,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities in France.

On Israel, Hollande reversed France’s objection to the European Union blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military wing. Then, earlier this month, France blocked a deal between world powers and Iran, taking a harder line than the United States over the terms of an accord.

“These moves were not born of any desire to curry favor with Israel,” Shek said, “[but] the French position was nonetheless appreciated in Jerusalem.”

This was not expected of Hollande when he first sought to replace Sarkozy, a right-leaning leader seen as more responsive to Jewish concerns than his predecessors. Some French Jewish leaders — including Cukierman’s CRIF predecessor, Richard Prasquier — warned that a Socialist in the Elysee Palace may hurt Franco-Israeli relations because of a perceived anti-Israel bias among the French left.

“So far, the opposite has been the case,” said Yaron Gamburg, a media adviser at the Israeli Embassy in France. “If anything, there has been a deepening of the sturdy partnership that existed during the term of Sarkozy.”

In addition to his political support, Hollande has been willing to advance bilateral trade with the Jewish state — something his predecessors limited, many believe, to avoid angering Arab states. French exports to Israel currently stand at $1.5 billion — 33 percent lower than Britain and nearly half the volume of Italy.

Joining Hollande in Israel are dozens of French businessmen, and several bilateral trade agreements are expected to be signed during the visit, which ends Tuesday. In his Knesset speech, Hollande said he has decided to jump-start scientific, cultural and commercial exchange with Israel.

Though Hollande has continued France’s condemnations of Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, in his visit Monday to Ramallah he said the Palestinians should give up their call for a return of refugees to Israel in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Hollande in the seat of the Palestinian Authority said it was “urgent” that Israel reach an accord that creates a Palestinian state with “joint control” in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinian issue is the one area where France and Israel differ — and even there, under Hollande the French partners are very open,” Gamburg said. “There are no surprises.”

Some argue that such openness is an improvement to relations under Sarkozy, who despite vowing to improve Franco-Israel relations, cast a surprise vote in favor of UNESCO membership for the Palestinian Authority in 2011.

Still, Sarkozy is generally seen as a major improvement over Chirac, who had declared former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persona non grata in France. Sharon urged French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

“Sarkozy, who raised many hopes, ended up disappointing Jews and Israelis because he was unreliable,” said Joel Rubinfeld of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament. “Hollande’s presidency began amid doubts, but ended up instilling trust that Sarkozy never had.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRIF declined to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three men linked to Mohamed Merah arrested in France


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

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

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

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

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

Twitter must reveal details of users posting anti-Semitism, French court rules


Twitter must divulge details about French users who posted anti-Semitic messages, a French tribunal ruled.

Thursday's order by a Grand Instance Court judge in Paris came in response to a lawsuit by the Union of French Jewish Students that sought to limit the impunity with which Twitter users may disseminate anti-Semitic incitement.

“It is a major precedent and breakthrough in the attempt to balance privacy online with the need to combat hate speech,” Sacha Reingewirtz, vice president of the students' union, told JTA.

The court, Reingewirtz added, imposed a pending fine of $1,300 against Twitter for every day in which it fails to deliver whatever details it possesses on users who are suspected of disseminating hate speech on Twitter. The ruling, he said, applies only to users in France.

Additionally, the ruling by the Paris court’s 17th chamber ordered Twitter to establish a system in which French users may flag anti-Semitic content, which would be reviewed by Twitter before removal and possible referral to the authorities.

At the court, a few dozen activists assembled alongside journalists.

“Social networks were created as essentially democratic tools that are also being used by people who oppose democratic principles,” Nuno Wahnon Martins, director of European Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, told JTA. “Like any democracy, the social networks also need to defend themselves, and the first step is to deny those who spread hate speech in anonymity as something to hide behind.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, welcomed the ruling and told JTA his organization would “use this to lobby other European countries to join in this combat against anti-Semitism.”

The student association sued Twitter in November after the San Fransisco-based company refused to reveal the identities of users who flooded the site under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew), with examples including “#agoodjew is a dead Jew.”

The hashtag was the third most popular in France in October.

Couple suspected of aiding Toulouse killer Merah taken into custody


A man and a woman in the Toulouse area were arrested on suspicion that they helped Mohammed Merah “commit crimes” that may have included the murder of four Jews.

According to L'Express, a French daily, French authorities arrested the two on Tuesday morning. Reports in the French media said there was no use of force.

The French news service AFP named one of the suspects as Charles Mencarelli and reported that he had been arrested in Albi, about 45 miles northeast of Toulouse. AFP described Mencarelli as not having a permanent address. His life partner was arrested at her home in Toulouse, according to the report.

The pair will be brought for arraignment within 96 hours of their arrest, according to  L’Express, during which time they will be interrogated about their links with Merah. They are not suspected of belonging to a jihadist network, an unnamed police source told L’Express.

Merah, a 23-year-old radical Muslim, killed a rabbi and three children in a pre-planned attack on the Otzar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19. The slayings came a few days after Merah gunned down three French soldiers in two drive-by shootings from a scooter near Toulouse. He was shot dead on March 22 by police as they stormed his home.

Tuesday's arrests were headed by France’s domestic intelligence service, DCRI, and the country’s top SWAT team, the anti-terrorist SDAT unit.

Two Jewish cemeteries, municipal building vandalized in France


French police reportedly are investigating fresh acts of vandalism in two Jewish cemeteries and a municipal building.

On Monday in Paris, police arrested two men suspected of digging up two corpses at the Pantin cemetery, according to a statement from the municipality. They were found to be in possession of a number of human teeth and are suspected of being gravediggers, the statement read.

In Avignon near Marseille, two plaques on the Jewish cemetery’s wall were bludgeoned on Nov. 22, according to 20minutes, a French news site. The plaques had been repaired from being smashed on Oct. 8. One plaque read “Jewish cemetery” and the other had a Star of David.

Olivier Tainturier, director general of the local municipality of Vaucluse, said his office was “planning to install video surveillance.”

The previous evening, “pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic texts against Israel and the police” were discovered on the municipal theater of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a western suburb of Paris, according to the French television channel BFM. The report did not say what was spray-painted.

Jean-Christophe Fromantin, a deputy mayor, filed a complaint with police and had the graffiti, which he called “odious,” removed by the end of the week. A practicing Catholic, Fromantin has declared that the “return of the Jewish people to Israel was a miracle.”

Also Monday, SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities, praised French authorities’ handling of the prosecution of a university student studying Islamic studies who threatened to start “another Shoah” in an email to a Jewish professor.

On Nov. 15, a court in Aix-en-Provence handed the unnamed man a one-year suspended sentence plus two years of probation.

In an email sent March 19, the day that a Muslim extremist killed four Jews in Toulouse, the man wrote to a Jewish professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of Provence, “When will you stop making us swallow your tragicomedies, the latest this morning? I don’t like taking orders and even less so from a Jew. That's enough now or I will make another Shoah.”

Two men attack Jewish schoolboy in Paris


Two men hit and threatened a Jewish schoolboy at a Paris bus stop, according to the security unit of France’s Jewish community, SPCJ.

The two men, both in their 40s, hit the 12-year-old boy with a belt on Oct. 22 and told him to remain silent, SPCJ wrote in a statement on Wednesday. The boy was waiting for a bus to take him to school.

The attackers also hurled insults in Arabic at the boy, the report said. The incident, which SPCJ defined as “an anti-Semitic act of aggression,” took place in northeast Paris, in the city's 19th arrondissement.

The parents have filed a complaint with the police and with the SPCJ, the unit’s report said.

In the first eight months of 2012, SPCJ counted 386 of what it calls “anti-Semitic acts,” the organization said in a report published earlier this month. It was a 45 percent increase compared to the corresponding period in 2011, when SPCJ counted 266 such incidents. SPCJ said the figures correlated to official data by French authorities.

Of the incidents this year, 101 were “violent actions,” SPCJ said, including the slaying of four people at a school in Toulouse on March 19 by Mohammed Merah, a Muslim extremist. The attack triggered “an explosion” of anti-Semitic attacks, SPCJ said. Most other incidents documented were cases of intimidation, the report said.

‘Dead Jew’ is newest anti-Semitic phrase on French Twitter


Hundreds of French Twitter users wrote the phrase “a dead Jew” on Twitter after the company removed some anti-Semitic content.

Twitter agreed to pull anti-Semitic materials offline on Oct. 19 after the Union of French Jewish Students threatened legal action. During that week, a hashtag meaning “a good Jew” became the third most popular among French-language Twitter users. Le Monde wrote that the hashtag functioned as the entry to a virtual “contest of anti-Semitic jokes.”

On Monday, the Jewish student association reported that Twitter still carried anti-Semitic hashtags and content including images.

Some of the users of the “dead Jew” hashtag, or “unjuifmort,” wrote that they were using it to protest censorship on Twitter. A user on the account of Kamel Mezouar wrote the hashtag and added, “Here comes the Mossad.”  

Others posted the “dead Jew” hashtag along with “dead Muslim” and slogans for freedom of speech.

Stephane Lilti, a lawyer for the student association, told the French news agency AFP that her group has flagged the anti-Semitic tweets in a report to Twitter.

“We are giving a few days for these tweets that we have drawn attention to be taken off,'' Lilti said.

Belgium’s local elections cause ‘anti-Semitic flood’


Belgium’s recent local elections triggered “an unprecedented wave of manifestations of anti-Semitism,” according to the country’s organization of French-speaking Jews.

The Oct. 14 election and the campaign that preceded it “were characterized by a flood of anti-Semitic events the likes of which we have never before seen,” Maurice Sosnowski, president of the CCOJB, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In Schaarbeek, a municipality near Brussels, “candidates who belonged to the Jewish community were attacked for their affiliation” and the municipality saw a “hate campaign under the pretext of anti-Zionism,” according to Sosnowski.

On Oct. 8 Belgian Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx complained to police about a pamphlet naming Yves Goldstein, a Jewish member of her party who contended for a seat on the city council of Schaarbeek, an “enemy of Islam.” The Turkish-language pamphlet called him “an active Zionist and an enemy of Islam,” Onkelinx said at a news conference.

The pamphlet was preceded by email warnings to voters to cast ballots against Onkelinx’s and Goldstein’s Socialist Party. Doing so, the email said, would be like “stabbing Palestinians in the back.”

Local politicians have been less resolute than Onkelinx in condemning this “hate speech,” according to the CCOJB statement.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Jew, American researcher share Nobel Prize in Physics


Serge Haroche, a French-Jewish physicist, has won the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with David Wineland from the United States.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012 went to the scientists “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems,” the website of the Nobel Prize said.
 
According to the BBC, the pair developed solutions to pick, manipulate and measure photons and ions individually, allowing an insight into a microscopic world that was once just the province of scientific theory.
 
Haroche, who was born 68 years ago in Casablanca, Morocco, told Le Figaro that he “had a hard time understanding” the news when a representative of the Nobel Prize committee called him on his cellular phone to say he had won what is considered the highest form of recognition of scientific excellence.
 
Haroche, of Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, will share a $1.2 million grant from the Nobel Prize Committee with Wineland, a researcher at the Maryland-based National Institute of Standards and Technology and at the University of Colorado.
 
Le Figaro quotes Haroche as saying he was walking with his wife down the street when he received the call from Sweden. He said he had to sit down on a bench before passing on the news to family.
 
Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of France's Jewish communities, told JTA: “The achievement belongs to the scientists, but a small part of me is also proud today.” Mutual friends described Haroche to Prasquier as “a truly brilliant thinker, known for his creativity,” Prasquier said.
 
Prasquier noted that Haroche had worked closely with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji – also a French Jew of North African descent – who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997.
 
The Algeria-born Cohen-Tannoudji, 79, is still an active researcher at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

French Jewish leaders ‘outraged’ by mosque desecration near Toulouse


French Jewish leaders are calling the tossing of two pig heads into a mosque not far from Toulouse “an odious desecration.”

Worshippers at the Salam mosque in Montauban in southern France discovered two pig heads at the entrance to the building yesterday.

On March 15, Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah murdered two French soldiers in the city. Days later, he murdered three children and rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, which is about 31 miles north of Montauban.

The CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, called the incident “an odious desecration” and said it “identifies with the outrage of the Muslim community, which was deeply offended by the act perpetrated during Ramadan.”

The Jewish communities of France convey their “sincerest sentiments of friendship” to the Muslim community, the statement said.

France’s Union of Jewish Students also said in a statement that it was appalled by an incident that had occurred in a “worrying climate of hatred.”

According to AFP, the incident on Thursday was the first of its kind in the Tarn-et-Garonne region, leading to speculation it was a response to Merah’s March shooting spree.

In 2009, unknown individuals hung pig’s feet outside a mosque in Castres, about 75 miles southeast of Montauban.

French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot explains Hebrew tattoo as a family tribute


French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot said the Hebrew tattoo on his left arm is a tribute to his late grandmother’s husband, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz.

Gilot, who is not Jewish, said the tattoo is dedicated to his family and honors Max Goldschmidt, who has been a large influence in the Olympic champion’s life, Ynet reported. The tattoo says “I’m nothing without them.”

He revealed the tattoo, which is on the inside of his left arm, after exiting the pool following his team’s gold medal-winning performance this week in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in London. It created a stir in Israel and around the world.

The swimmer has previously discussed his tattoos in the French media, claiming “they all have a meaning for me.” He noted that “I have the Olympic rings, a sentence in Hebrew that means ‘I am nothing without them’ for my family and three stars—one for each of my brothers.”

French president blames his country for WWII roundup of Jews


The roundup of thousands of Jews in Paris during World War II was a crime “committed in France, by France,” French President Francois Hollande said.

Hollande was speaking Sunday at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the largest French roundup of Jews.

Some 13,000 French Jews were deported on July 16-17, 1942 from the Winter Velodrome stadium to Auschwitz, where nearly all of them were killed.

“Not one German soldier, not one was mobilized during this entire operation,” Hollande said.

Hollande also remembered the murder in March of three Jewish students and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Some 76,000 French adults and children were deported to Nazi death camps during World War II; approximately 2,500 survived.

Survey finds young Frenchman unfamiliar with WWII Jewish roundup


Most young Frenchmen never heard of the World War II roundup of Paris Jews, a survey shows.

The recent survey showed most young French adults were unaware of the deportation of Parisian Jews during the Holocaust.

Sixty percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they never heard of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup of July 16-17, 1942, when French police rounded up some 13,000 Jews in and around Paris. They were held near the Eiffel Tower before being shipped for extermination to Auschwitz.

The Union of French Jewish Students commissioned the leading polling company CSA to perform the survey, which includes answers from 1,056 respondents. The union published the results on the 70th anniversary of the deportation.

The survey showed young adults know less about the roundup than the average French adult. Among the general population, 42 percent of respondents had never heard of the roundup.

In 1995, then-President Jacques Chirac apologized for the French police’s role in the murder of the Jews arrested in the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Popularly known in French as La Rafle (“The Raid”), the roundup has been the subject of books, poems and movies.

The survey revealed 32 percent of young French adults knew that French police had been responsible for arresting the Jews of Paris. That figure was 46 percent among the general population.

Eighty-five percent of all respondents said teaching about the Holocaust was “important.”

Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the poll shows “there is a lot that needs to be done, but there are also positive points.”

Meanwhile, an exhibit of police archives from the French deportation, including photos, signatures and records of personal possessions from many of the victims, is set to go on display Thursday in Paris.

French groups drop suit against Google


French groups have settled a lawsuit accusing Google of violating French anti-racism laws because of a function that they say perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Google’s “autocomplete” feature suggests the word “juif” or “Jewish” as a top choice in connection with public figures such as Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., The New York Times reported.

The terms of the settlement came after court-ordered mediation and are confidential, the newspaper reported. Google has not said whether it would change the feature, but said it will work with the suit’s plaintiffs on efforts to combat anti-racism and anti-Semitism, the paper added.

Among the groups suing Google were SOS Racisme and the French Union of Jewish Students. They argued that by using the term juif, Google was furthering ideas about Jewish conspiracies.

Google has said the feature’s terms are generated by an automatic algorithm that includes frequency of searches linking items.

Suspects arrested in attack on French Jewish teens


Two suspects have been arrested in connection with an attack on three Jewish teens in Lyon in southeastern France.

The two suspects reportedly turned themselves in to police on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported.

The “main perpetrator” of the attack has not yet been apprehended, local police chief Albert Doutre said, according to AFP.

The attack, which occurred June 2, took place in Villeurbanne, located near Lyon.

The attackers, who reportedly numbered about 10, used a hammer and an iron bar, injuring two of the Jewish victims in the head, who were sent to the hospital. The attackers have been described as “of North-African origin,” according to reports.

In March, a rabbi and his two young sons and the daughter of the head of a Jewish school in Toulouse were killed by a Muslim gunman who stormed the school and shot them at point-blank range. Some French Jewish officials have drawn a link between the two attacks.

French group suing Google for Jewish auto-complete searches


A French anti-discrimination group is taking Google to court for offering to search if celebrities are Jewish.

SOS Racisme, a French organization that fights discrimination, is scheduled to meet Google attorneys in a French courtroom on Wednesday for a hearing on the matter, according to the Hollywood Reporter, citing French media reports.

The suggestion of Jewish comes as part of Google’s auto-complete feature, which appends terms to searches to make them faster. Some of the celebrities’ names associated with Jewish include News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm.

Google says on its support webpage that suggestions made by the auto-complete feature “are a reflection of the search activity of all Web users and the contents of Web pages indexed by Google.”

In court filings, SOS Racisme claims that Google allegedly is violating a French constitutional law against compiling files on people that reference their ethnicity.

SOS Racisme is joined in the lawsuit by France’s Union of Jewish Students and other organizations.

After Toulouse attack, French Jews are reconsidering Sarkozy


With the first round of France’s presidential election less than four weeks away, the attacks that left four Jews and three French soldiers dead are reshaping the race—but for now it’s not clear exactly how.

In the days leading up to the attacks, President Nicolas Sarkozy had managed to close most of the gap behind the leader in the polls, Socialist candidate Francoise Hollande, with a rightward turn that included calls by Sarkozy in favor of tougher immigration restrictions and against the labeling of halal meat.

Since the March 19 attack on the Jewish Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse, Sarkozy has announced several measures to clamp down on right-wing and Islamic extremists. He ordered French security forces to seek out Muslim extremists, barred an influential Egyptian Sunni cleric from attending a conference in France next month and urged TV networks not to air footage of the Toulouse attack and the one on soldiers in nearby Montauban that had been delivered to the Al Jazeera bureau here.

While politicians across the political spectrum condemned the attacks, Sarkozy won praise from the Jewish community for suspending his campaign and flying to Toulouse immediately after the school shooting, calling it “obviously anti-Semitic” and saying that the “whole republic” was mobilized to face the tragedy.

But it’s not clear how long the focus will remain on security before shifting back to the main issue facing France: the economy.

“The political debate will probably refocus on the fundamental economic topics,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist who specializes in right-wing extremism. “Still, it is very important to French Jews to make the population understand that the Toulouse attack does not only concern their community but the whole country.”

French Jews, he said, “will most certainly vote for politicians with solid experience who are able to put in practice legal and credible measures to answer an Islamic threat.”

The latest national polls show Sarkozy and his center-right Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, trailing Hollande by a percentage point or two in the first round scheduled for April 22, but by a wider gap in a theoretical runoff scheduled for May 6.

Since the Toulouse attack, the National Front, France’s largest far-right party, has tried to take advantage of the changed climate. On Sunday, party leader Marine Le Pen promised to “bring radical Islam to its knees.” In her speech Le Pen, who has been polling at approximately 15 percent, also linked mass immigration with fundamentalism and denounced the risk of a “green fascism.”

Few observers believe that many Jews will opt for the National Front, even though Le Pen has sought to woo Jewish voters and distance herself and her party from the anti-Semitism of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front.

“In 2002, only 6 percent of French Jews voted for the National Front, while the election occurred only a few months after 9/11,” Camus said. “A substantial movement from the Jewish community toward Marine Le Pen is very unlikely.”

The Jewish community, whose 600,000 members represent less than 1 percent of the total French population, remains more supportive of Sarkozy’s party than the general public. But prior to the Toulouse shootings, a survey of the Jewish electorate showed that Sarkozy had lost support among Jews even though he remained more popular than any other single candidate.

According to a March 9 poll from the French polling institute IFOP, Sarkozy’s favorable ratings among Jews had fallen to 43 percent as of January from 62 percent in May 2007, when Sarkozy was elected president. The main reason, said Jerome Fourquet, who directed the survey for IFOP, was France’s economy.

“The trend is similar to the French general electorate’s disaffection with Sarkozy,” Fourquet said. “People are dissatisfied with the economic situation and their purchasing power.”

For many Jews, the economy is not the only source of discontent with the president. In early March, Sarkozy’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, made controversial statements about halal and kosher slaughter rituals, declaring that the “ancestral traditions” in Islam and Judaism were “outdated.”

The comment provoked a strong reaction from Jewish leaders.

“As religion and state are strictly separated in France, politicians should avoid giving their opinion on these topics,” said Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF, the main French umbrella organization for Jewish institutions.

More widely, French moderates also have expressed concern about Sarkozy’s tilt to the right. A week before the Toulouse shootings, Sarkozy told an audience that France has “too many foreigners” and proposed cutting legal immigration in half.

Thirty years ago, most Jews leaned toward the Socialist Party. Francois Mitterrand, a Socialist who served as president of France from 1981 to 1995, was considered a friend of Israel—an image he developed after his 1982 address to the Knesset, where he emphasized the Jewish state’s right to security.

But the Jewish vote drifted toward the UMP during the second intifada, when many leftist organizations took a pro-Palestinian stance and violence against French Jews soared.

“Violence in the Middle East had a huge impact on this community,” Fourquet said. “During the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France in the early 2000s, many Jews felt abandoned by the Socialists. This is when the center of gravity started shifting to the right for French Jews.”

Sarkozy was interior minister at the time—serving two stints from 2002 to 2007—and his tough rhetoric and the aggressive measures he championed were credited with helping tamp down the anti-Semitic violence.

Sarkozy: Gunman in French shootings driven by racism [VIDEO]


French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the same gunman who shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday was also responsible for the killing of three soldiers last week, apparently motivated by racism.

“We know that it is the same person and the same weapon that killed the soldiers, the children and the teacher,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, saying the terrorism alert level in France had been raised.

“This act is odious and cannot remain unpunished.”

Sarkozy also said he would suspend his campaign for France’s April-May presidential election until Wednesday.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas; editing by Nicolas Vinocur

 

Make Yom Kippur national holiday, French presidential candidate says


The Green Party candidate for the French presidency has called for national holidays on Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Green Party leader Eva Joly said in a speech Wednesday that she wanted, “Jews and Muslims to be able to celebrate Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha during a day off,” so that “every religion is treated equally in the public space.”

Though national holidays are customary for Christian celebrations, the call made waves in France, where religion is expected to be kept private in a strictly secular society intended to be blind to race and religion.

“That is one way to look at secularism,” quipped the French daily Le Figaro in its regular news coverage of the story.  Reader on-line reactions also expressed shock at the idea, and political opponents on the right and left defended the country’s Christian-only holidays out of an “old tradition.”

In a similar vein, Joly, who is Norwegian and French, said she was in favor of the controversial use of national statistics showing standards of living for different ethnic groups.  The French government by law cannot conduct surveys on groups identified by their religion or ethnicity.

However, such surveys are, “a useful instrument to permit equal access to employment, health, housing, even political responsibility,” argued Joly.
“We have a Christian history, that led to a certain number of holidays in our calendar,” said Education Minister Laurent Wauquiez on French BFM TV.  “That doesn’t prevent having the greatest respect for all religions,” he added.

Greek Jewish leader awarded top French honor


David Saltiel, the head of Greece’s Jewish community, was honored by France with its highest civil decoration.

Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and head of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, was awarded the title of the Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor during a ceremony Tuesday at the French Embassy in Athens.

France’s ambassador to Greece, Christophe Farnaud, bestowed the medal on Saltiel and praised his longtime work and achievements for the benefit of the Greek Jewish community.

“This decoration is in recognition of the quality of services and your commitment to our country,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a letter to Saltiel, who is involved in the importing and exporting business with France.

The Legion of Honor, which was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is awarded to people of all backgrounds and nationalities who have made significant achievements through scholarship, the arts, sciences, politics, business and social work.

French Riots Show Need for Pluralism


For once, it would appear that Jews, Judaism and Jewish interests are not the target of violence in Paris and in so many cities across France.

After a surge in anti-Semitic hostility and incidents in recent years, that comes as something of a surprise. This time, it appears the rioters are burning their own cars and neighborhoods, rather then aiming their anger at the symbols of some outside enemy.

In today’s France, we witness riots without obvious enemies or proper targets — just bursts of pure anger.

After the burning of thousands of cars and shops, the French government announced two steps and two policies to stop the violence. First, it gave permission to strong repressive measures, such as house arrests and curfews, measures that the government has criticized when used by Israel. It also announced a plan to help the social and economic situation in the affected suburbs, promising to create 57,000 new jobs.

This second step is late and based on the wrong assumption — namely, that the present wave of anger is driven mainly by a harsh economic situation. In truth, this is an insult to the millions of people who struggle every day to make a living, but who never riot because they respect the life and possessions of others.

What’s really at stake is that many of the 7 million Muslim immigrants and their descendants in France feel discriminated against in the French political system, where their religious identity often is seen as suspect.

Unless religious and cultural expressions of identity are permitted and valued in a diverse society, violence is a likely response to the perceived lack of recognition. Only a year ago, the French government banned the use of visible religious symbols, such as the Islamic head covering. This was done in good faith for the higher purpose of secularism, as well as to curb trends of religious radicalism and fundamentalism.

But how wise is it to prevent such expressions of diversity and identity in a society that prides itself on being multicultural? Is France today paying the price of its policy of integration into a society where secularism is seen as the highest value?

What’s taking place these days on the streets of so many French cities should remind us that in a diverse society, it’s dangerous to put one set of values above others. The basis of a diverse society should be a sufficient set of common values that allow citizens to live together, rather then the establishment of a hierarchy of values that elevates some and deprecates others.

Let us not forget that as Jews, we, too, are often first- or second-generation immigrants. More then 75 percent of French Jews are from North Africa. For the Ashkenazim, many do have issues and problems with a French society that only 60 years ago turned its back on us, stripping us of citizenship and denying us protection from the Nazis.

Concerned by the events of the past two weeks, let us go beyond simple condemnations of violence and avoid the trap of playing the secular French card of order and citizenship against the Muslim immigrant card of violence and hooliganism.

The images can be misleading. The real danger today is not the lack of order and the burning of cars, the danger is the political impact that such riots could have on many French citizens.

In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, reached the second round of France’s presidential election. After these riots, we fear that many will again turn to Le Pen and his ilk for simple and radical answers, which could bring to an end the dream of a diverse religious and cultural society.

Two years ago, CEJI, the French acronym for the European Jewish Information Center, warned the French government that diversity should never be taken for granted, and that unless society learns how to deal with pluralism, it will face difficult times ahead. We offered training for teachers and civil servants, but the government didn’t follow up.

Through our work in schools and peer training, implementing the World of Difference educational program and constantly working in the field of Jewish-Muslim dialogue and European integration, we know that education is the key to a peaceful society.

When violence erupts, it’s not the time to give up on our dreams and turn to simple and radical solutions. Rather, today is the time to work even harder to make our dream a reality. By valuing each other and discovering each other, we believe we can still create a more cohesive society in Europe.

Ronny Naftaniel is executive vice chairman of the European Jewish Information Center, and Rabbi David Meyer is a member of its executive board.

 

No Small Actors, Only Fake Parts


“Le Grand Role” has laughter, pathos, in-jokes, heartburn, self-caricature — in other words, it’s a really, really Jewish film, even though the characters insist on speaking French.

The film’s concept is cute, although it could have gone astray in less-skilled hands.

Maurice (Stephane Freiss) is one of four good buddies in Paris, all Jewish, all in their late 30s, and all actors who scrape by on commercials, dubbings and bit parts.

The big chance comes for Maurice when legendary American director Rudolph Grishenberg (Peter Coyote doing a takeoff on Steven Spielberg) comes to town with his latest project: an all-Yiddish movie version of “The Merchant of Venice.”

After his buddies ambush the director in shul, Maurice gets a tryout for the role of Shylock. He does a curiously moving rendition of the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” monologue in Yiddish and gets the nod from Grishenberg.

The actor rushes home to break the life-changing news to his beautiful wife Perla (Berenice Bojo). The two are crazy about each other, to the point where Maurice surreptitiously takes photos of his wife at work in a clothing store.

Perla stuns her husband with some news of her own. She has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only a few weeks to live.

A couple of days later, Grishenberg finds a name star to play Shylock and dumps Maurice. But how can the actor tell Perla, when only the belief that her husband has finally made it brings her some last bit of happiness.

So the four buddies concoct a scheme pretending that Maurice still has the part and is doing just great. Every morning, a limousine picks up Maurice to take him to the “studio,” he poses for fake photo shoots and interviews, and when Perla phones Maurice on the “set,” the buddies provide the necessary background sounds.

In a final desperate move, the friends kidnap Grishenberg and convince him to visit Perla’s bedside and tell her what a great actor her husband is.

To get the director to that point takes some doing, and when his kidnappers ask him to lie about Maurice for the greater good, Grishenberg delivers the movie’s top laugh line, “I can’t lie. I am an American and Americans don’t lie.”

The bittersweet ending is honest, if not entirely satisfactory, but director Steve Suissa, working off Daniel Goldenberg’s novel, maintains an unforced balance to create an appealing slice of life, French Jewish style.

“Le Grand Role” opens this Friday (9/30) at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.