Student cartoon contest commemorates Charlie Hebdo
Last May, the Jerusalem Press Club (JPC) held an international conference on freedom of the press. Some 50 journalists and activists came here from all around the world to discuss the threats against journalists and the assaults on media freedom. The testimonials of participants from Africa and Asia were particularly moving.
One of the highlights of the conference was a session titled “Discussing Charlie Hebdo” (you can watch it on YouTube), at which Eva Illouz, a world-renowned sociologist and professor, conversed with Solene Chalvon, a member of the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo, about the special role played by the viciously biting cartoon in French political and cultural tradition.
At one point, Chalvon, who had proudly defended her magazine’s harsh line, stood up, and holding one of the recent issues, praised a certain cartoon that showed a happy Frenchman smoking a cigar, while in Africa, an armed Boko Haram thug tells a young, pregnant girl: “Now go to France and collect your social security benefits.”
Chalvon, however, was in for a surprise. And so was I. The audience — consisting of journalists and press freedom fighters, mind you — vocally disagreed with her over the value of this image. But it mocks the apathy of the French middle class to the grievances of the Africans, Chalvon argued. No, she was told by the audience, it offends Africans, women, and poor and miserable people.
Listening to that heated debate about the limits of free speech, I wondered whether there was a compromise: a way of drawing a cartoon that could criticize effectively without hurting too much the feelings of people who looked at it. Furthermore, whether there is something that Israel — a country of so many religious, ethnic, social and national feuds, contrasts and sensitivities — can contribute to this discourse? And how about Israeli youth — maybe with their fresh outlook, they might come up with new ideas that previous generations failed to produce?
What emerged was a competition among Israeli high school students titled “Cartoon, Criticism, Care,” commissioned in cooperation with the Israel Museum of Cartoon and Comics and with the blessing of the commissioner of civic studies at the Israeli Ministry of Education. Thirty of the best cartoons selected by the jury are displayed in an exhibition that opens this week at the gallery of Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center in Jerusalem, commemorating the first anniversary of the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo and the ensuing manhunt, which took place last Jan. 7-9.
To say the works that resulted from the competition were a surprise would be an understatement. One member of the jury, Michel Kichka, a world-renowned cartoonist, had expressed doubts, wondering whether high school students would be able to provide deep insights on the subject, let alone express them artistically. Summing up his impressions of the students’ cartoon submissions, he said, “This will make a very respectable exhibition.”
Naturally, many of the cartoons dealt with what bothers high school students immediately: The pressure of too many class assignments, the feeling that school dries up their creativity (one cute cartoon depicts a girl entering school from one side and coming out as a robot on the other side). Another laments the conformity and lack of individuality among young people, and one the quest of girls to be thin like models.
Overall, however, what struck the jury was the seriousness with which the students tackled issues and the artistic expression they used to portray them. Israel’s lack of separation between religion and state was a popular theme, as well as pollution, intolerance of the Other and, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
People often ask me how I can remain optimistic when everything in Israel looks so bleak. This time, I don’t have to come up with some elaborate explanation. Just come to the exhibition, or watch it online (jerusalempressclub.com), and you’ll know the answer yourselves.
Here are the three winning cartoons, with the narratives their creators attached to them.
Amit Katz, 17, Hadera
Fun at the Beach 2116
Iosefa Jacobovici, 16, Ra’anana
Hava Herman, 15, Jerusalem
World shows solidarity, tightens security after Paris attacks
World leaders responded to deadly attacks in Paris with defiant pledges of solidarity and Europe tightened security after Islamic State said it was behind an assault by gunmen and bombers that left 127 dead in the French capital.
From Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin and across Europe and the Middle East, leaders expressed their condolences to French President Francois Hollande who said the attacks amounted to an act of war against France.
After the worst bloodshed in France since the end of World War Two, European neighbours including Britain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Italy increased security. France temporarily imposed border controls.
British Prime Minister David Cameron used French to express his solidarity after calling Hollande. London monuments including the London Eye and Tower Bridge were lit up in the red, white and blue of the French tricolour.
“Shocked, but resolute. In sorrow, but unbowed. My message to the French people is simple: Nous sommes solidaires avec vous. Nous sommes tous ensemble. We stand with you. United,” Cameron said.
The deadliest attack on Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings laid bare Islamic State's capability to strike at the heart of Europe and the difficulty of monitoring the movements of militants intent on killing.
It also triggered a debate on Europe's refugee policies and the failures of Western policy in Syria.
DEATH IN PARIS
“This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” Obama said.
New York, Boston and other cities in the United States bolstered security, but law enforcement officials said the beefed-up police presence was precautionary rather than a response to any specific threats.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed Obama, saying “our free life is stronger than terror.”
Western security sources said the attack on Paris was one of the “nightmare” scenarios for police forces: several well planned attacks with advanced weaponry on unarmed civilian revellers across a densely populated capital.
Islamic State militants said the attack was designed “to teach France, and all nations following its path, that they will remain at the top of Islamic State's list of targets”.
Hollande said the attack was planned outside France but carried out with internal help.
Western security sources said the porous nature of Europe's internal borders – hailed as one of the major achievements of European integration – also allowed freer movement of advanced weaponry and potential attackers, including those who have travelled to Syria, across Europe.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands would tighten security at its borders and airports, and said the Dutch were “at war” with Islamic State.
Belgium imposed additional frontier controls on road, rail and air arrivals from France and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel asked Belgians on Saturday not to travel to Paris unless necessary.
“Border control is absolutely critical,” said Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham.
“They can reinstate border controls so they know who is in their country, they know who leaves their country and they know where they've been if they leave their country.”
European Union leaders said that such attacks could not divide Europe.
But in a sign of potential divisions ahead, Poland's European affairs minister designate said after the attacks in Paris, Warsaw would not be able to accept migrants under European Union quotas.
In September, Poland backed a European Union plan to share out 120,000 refugees, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, across the 28-nation bloc.
The attacks have also sparked a debate in Germany on Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy and how to get a better overview of the people entering the country.
At least 140 killed in Paris attacks
BREAKING: BFM TV SAYS ABOUT 100 DEAD IN BATACLAN PARIS CONCERT HALL
Gunmen and bombers attacked busy restaurants, bars and a concert hall at locations around Paris on Friday, killing dozens of people in what a shaken President Francois Hollande described as an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Police sources said at least 40 people were killed and 60 wounded in up to five attacks in the Paris region. French media reported higher unofficial death tolls.
The apparently coordinated gun and bomb assault came as the country, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to open later this month.
Hollande, who was attending an international soccer match with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier when several explosions took place outside the national stadium, declared a state of emergency in the Paris region and announced the closure of France's borders to stop perpetrators escaping.
“This is a horror,” the visibly shaken president said in a midnight television address to the nation before chairing an emergency cabinet meeting.
All emergency services were mobilized, police leave was canceled and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.
Hollande said police were launching an assault at one of the attack sites as he spoke. A Reuters witness heard five explosions outside the Batalla music hall, where up to 60 people were being held hostage.
A second Reuters reporter later said police had completed an operation at the building. BMG TV said two gunmen had been killed.
Earlier, witnesses said an elite anti-terror unit had taken up positions outside the popular concert venue, which was attacked by two or three gunmen, who were reported to have shouted slogans condemning France's role in Syria.
“We know where these attacks come from,” Hollande said, without naming any individual group. “There are indeed good reasons to be afraid.”
France has been on high alert ever since Islamist gunmen attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket in Paris in January, killing 18 people.
U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “despicable attacks” and demanded the release of the hostages.
Julien Pierce, a journalist from Europe 1 radio, was inside the concert hall when the shooting began. In an eyewitness report posted on the station's website, Pierce said several very young individuals, who were not wearing masks, entered the hall while the concert was under way armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and started “blindly shooting at the crowd”.
“There were bodies everywhere,” he said.
French media reported five more or less simultaneous attacks in mid-evening in central Paris and outside the Stade de France stadium in the suburb of Saint-Denis, north of the city center.
There was no immediate verifiable claim of responsibility but supporters of the Islamic State militant group which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria said in Twitter messages that the group carried them out.
“The State of the caliphate hit the house of the cross,” one tweet said.
Three explosions were heard near the Stade de France, where the France-Germany friendly soccer match was being played. A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald's restaurant outside the stadium.
The match continued until the end but panic broke out in the crowd as rumors of the attack spread, and spectators were held in the stadium and assembled spontaneously on the pitch.
TF1 television said up to 35 people were dead near the soccer stadium, including two suspected suicide bombers.
Police helicopters circled the stadium as Hollande was rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.
In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital's 10th district. There were unconfirmed reports of other shootings in Rue de Charonne in the 11th district and at the central Les Halles shopping and cinema complex.
“There are lots of people here. I don’t know what’s happening, a sobbing witness who gave her name only as Anna told BFM TV outside the Batalla hall. “It’s horrible. There’s a body over there. It’s horrible.”
The attacks came within days of attacks claimed by Islamic State militants on a Shi'ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon, and a Russian tourist aircraft which crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier on Friday, the United States and Britain said they had launched an attack in the Syrian town of Raqqa on a British Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John” but it was not certain whether he had been killed.
VIDEO: Explosion heard during soccer match.
Grenade thrown into suburban Paris kosher market injures shopper
An explosion at a kosher grocery shop near Paris, reportedly caused by a grenade, damaged the store and injured a shopper, French police said.
Police have not linked Wednesday afternoon's attack to the release of caricatures hours earlier by a Paris weekly depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, including one featuring a haredi Orthodox Jew and a religious Muslim.
The store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles reportedly was full of shoppers after the Rosh Hashanah holiday beginning their preparations for the pre-Yom Kippur meal, Moshe Cohen-Sabban, president of the Jewish communities of Val d'Oise, told the French online edition of the newspaper Metro.
Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, told the television channel i>TELE that two men dressed in black had tossed an explosive device into the shop without saying anything.
“I have no reason to doubt the anti-Semitic character of this action,” Prasquier said.
According to Metro, the injured shopper sustained contusions in both arms. The newspaper quoted Marc Djeballi, a member of the Sarcelles Jewish community, as saying the device was “a grenade, not a firecracker.”
Sarcelles, which is known as “Little Jerusalem,” is home to a large Jewish community that emigrated from North Africa in the 1960s.
More Jewish teens attacked in Paris, Adelson gives $30 million to Birthright
Jewish Teens Beaten in Paris Attack
Three Jewish teenagers were attacked in the same Paris district where another Jewish teen was beaten severely in June.
The victims, who were wearing kippot, were temporarily hospitalized for minor injuries on Saturday in what some officials are describing as another anti-Semitic attack in the 19th District.
Badly bruised and with some fractures, the three were shocked and worried about their safety, said Raphael Haddad, president of the French Jewish Student Union, who spoke to the victims on Sunday.
“Their attackers were also from the neighborhood,” said Haddad in a telephone interview, “so they are worried about what will happen if they see them again.”
The three reported the incident to Paris police on Saturday after going to the hospital. The attack took place at about 6:30 p.m. in the low-income, heavily Jewish and Muslim northeastern Paris neighborhood, where 17-year-old Rudy Haddad was beaten on June 21 by a group of young people.
Two of Haddad’s assailants were charged with “attempted murder and group violence aggravated by their anti-Semitic character.”
Richard Prasquier, president of the Jewish umbrella organization, CRIF, told Jewish Radio RCJ on Sunday that he was “certain” the three were targeted because they were identified as Jews.
“There isn’t a shadow of a doubt” concerning the “anti-Semitic character” of the crime, said Prasquier. “Let it be made clear — the boys who were walking by had a kippah.”
A Paris police spokeswoman said an investigation was launched to determine whether the incident was anti-Semitic, adding that the attackers reportedly did not speak to their victims.
The victims’ names were not made public by the French press, but the Jerusalem Post identified them as Bnei Akiva youth group counselors Kevin Bitan and David Buaziz, both 18, and Dan Nebet, 17.
Foundation to Give Birthright $30 Million
The Adelson Family Foundation has pledged another $30 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation.
Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who is chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have now contributed nearly $100 million in gifts over the past two years to the foundation that supplies private funds to Birthright.
The latest pledge consists of a $20 million contribution for 2009 and $10 million for 2010, said Michael Bohnen, president of the Adelson Foundation, in a news release Tuesday announcing the gift.
Adelson said in the release that Birthright Israel “has proven to be the best vehicle we have to strengthen the Jewish community and our people’s connection with the State of Israel. We are honored to have helped Birthright Israel establish a track record of effectiveness on an unprecedented scale, and we look forward to its continued success.”
He called the gift a challenge to other philanthropists to step up during difficult financial times.
Adelson in September 2007 was ranked third on the Forbes magazine list of wealthiest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $28 billion.
Bronfman Prize Seeks Nominations
The Charles Bronfman Prize is seeking nominees for 2009. The prize, which includes a $100,000 award, celebrates the accomplishments of individuals, 50 years old or younger, whose Jewish values have infused their efforts to better the world.
The prize, named for the Birthright Israel co-founder, was launched in 2002 by his children, Stephen Bronfman and Ellen Bronfman Hauptman. Past Bronfman Prize winners include Jay Feinberg, founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and Israeli environmentalist Dr. Alon Tal.
Deadline for nominations is Nov. 30.
For nomination forms or more information, visit www.thecharlesbronfmanprize.com.
— Staff Report
Entire Quebec Town Invited to Wedding
Jewish couple Hana Sellem and Moshe Barouk, invited hundreds of residents of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts to their wedding Tuesday as a gesture of good will after a series of anti-Semitic attacks in the town this summer.
Sellem, 26, an immigrant from France who follows Lubavitch-Chabad teachings, is vice principal of a Jewish teacher’s college in the town.
The couple printed wedding guides in French and English explaining the ceremony. About 300 residents attended.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Latest brutal attack on French youth reignites anger in Jewish community
PARIS (JTA) — Angry and frightened Jewish youth gathered in the 19th district of northern Paris on Monday evening to show support for a 17-year-old Jewish boy who was brutally beaten with metal bars while on his way to synagogue Saturday evening.
Hospital officials said Monday that Rudy Haddad was temporarily out of a medically induced coma and was “doing better.”
But his improved condition did little to quell anger among French Jews over the latest shock to their community.
Angst has intensified in areas such as the 19th district, where interethnic violence between Muslims and blacks of immigrant origin and the Jews living among them has grown more frequent.
The tensions continue despite a general decline in the number of anti-Semitic attacks since the period between 2000 and 2004, which saw a sharp increase.
To many, Saturday’s incident was an unexpectedly violent yet anticipated result of such a divisive atmosphere.
The incident, which has grabbed headlines here and renewed debate about the surge of interethnic violence, also has raised new questions about whether the French authorities are doing enough to protect the Jewish community.
While French officials were quick to condemn the attack, most fell short of identifying the crime as anti-Semitic, saying the police first needed to complete their ongoing investigation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters while visiting Israel this week that he was “particularly shocked by what happened to a young French boy, on the pretext that he was wearing a kipah,” the AFP news agency reported.
In an initial presidential statement Sunday, Sarkozy denounced the attack but did not draw such conclusions.
On Tuesday, Paris police were still looking into possible motives for the beating. Paris public prosecutors said they would be looking into what they called “voluntary violence in a group, aggravated by an anti-Semitic character and the non-assistance of a person in danger.”
The daily France-Soir reported Monday that police sources believe Haddad was involved in a dispute between Jewish and black boys and was attacked two hours later, when he was alone. Various reports cited between 15 to 30 young blacks attacked.
Police confirmed that Haddad had been held for questioning with three friends in 2007 for involvement in an interethnic dispute.
Yet to many in the Jewish community, especially in the poor, multiethnic 19th arrondissement where the incident took place, few doubted that Haddad was targeted because he was wearing a kipah and was an identifiable Jew.
On Tuesday, France’s newly elected chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, shifted his stance on the anti-Semitic nature of Haddad’s attack.
The day before he had told the French media that it was “probable” but “not certain” that Haddad was beaten because he was Jewish. But Tuesday morning he told French Radio J, a Jewish station, that the incident was “something vile and notoriously anti-Semitic.”
While Jewish leaders in the 19th district were discussing the possibility of an organized response to the incident, 150 Jewish youth and some adults spontaneously met near the scene of the crime on Monday for a second consecutive evening to protest the attack.
“It was senseless, and it could just as well have been me because I’m Jewish,” said David Sebban, 17, who spoke with his hands clasped before him, visibly angered and saddened.
As he spoke, a crowd of young Jews rushed to testify of their growing fears for their security in the neighborhood. Some said they would like to take revenge on the next group of “Arabs” they crossed, referring to Muslim immigrants of North African origin.
“When I go out, I go out with a big group, and if someone calls us a ‘dirty Jew’, we fight them,” said David, 15, who declined to give his last name.
Most of the kipah-wearing boys and observant girls spoke soberly of increasing tensions in the neighborhood, which includes the largest Jewish community in Paris.
Though no official statistics exist, community leaders estimate that 25,000 to 30,000 Jews live in the 19th district, while roughly 200,000 live in Paris and its suburbs.
The district had the largest recorded number of anti-Semitic incidents within the French capital in 2007. Last year, 29 incidents were recorded there, compared to 15 in 2006. This contrasts with two or three reported incidents in areas closer to central Paris in 2007.
“We don’t want to go out of the house anymore,” said a petite Helena Sitbon, 15, who spoke as she leaned against her friend, nervously playing with her gold Star of David charm necklace.
Sitbon said that since Saturday, she has been calling her girlfriend to come pick her up from the house because she is afraid to go outside alone.
“Before we were afraid, but now it’s much worse. Where are we?” she begged to know, as those around her nodded and called for unity among their Jewish “brothers and sisters.”
Officials and community leaders have noted a recent rise in interethnic skirmishes among neighborhood youths. They often take place on Saturdays, when many of the neighborhood’s low-income Jews gather between Shabbat morning and evening services at a large, nearby park and are more easily identifiable.
Haddad’s violent beating is a reminder of the 2006 anti-Semitic killing of Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped and tortured before his body was left on a Paris street.
The latest incident has prompted some to question the French government’s response to the ever-present threat of anti-Semitism in French society. Some Jews in the 19th district expressed their frustration Monday with officials and the French media for declining to identify Saturday’s incident as clearly anti-Semitic.
“The government makes an effort,” said Joseph Cattan, 60. “But if everything they’ve done until now still hasn’t worked, it means they need to do more.”
Defender of France
Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.
I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.
Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.
The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.
I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?
Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”
Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.
Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.
“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”
These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.
Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.
Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.
But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.
The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).
Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.
“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.
He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.
The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.
“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”
Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.
Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.
But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.
Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.
And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).
Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.
“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.
The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.
“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”
Jewish Arsonist Worked for Paris Center
French Jewish leaders fear they may have cried wolf once too often after a Jew was arrested in connection with the well-publicized arson of a Jewish community center in central Paris.
Paris police say a 52-year-old Jewish man arrested Monday morning in connection with the Aug. 22 torching of the Judaeo-Spanish social center in the capital’s 11th district is the principal suspect in the arson.
Police said the man, identified only as "Raphael B." and described as unstable, is a former caretaker at the institution who had received free meals in return for his volunteer activities.
It is believed that the center wanted to part company with the man, provoking what police think was an act of vengeance.
Investigators found keys to the center at the man’s former rented apartment. This discovery tied in with earlier evidence, including the fact that the burned building’s front door was damaged from the inside during the arson, rather than being forced from the exterior.
The arrest shocked community leaders who had successfully mobilized the French political establishment to condemn what appeared to be an anti-Semitic attack.
Moise Cohen, president of the Paris Consistoire — the country’s principal Jewish religious group and the organization that owns the burned building — was sharply critical of community leaders he said had reacted "without taking the necessary precautions."
"From the beginning we thought this wasn’t normal," Cohen said. "The building is in a very quiet neighborhood and there was no indication on the outside that it was a former synagogue. From the start of the investigation, the police thought it was someone connected to the institution."
Cohen was equally scathing about politicians "who fear they’re going to be accused of not doing enough" to tackle anti-Semitism — though in part they have become zealous in their condemnations following stinging criticism that they weren’t taking anti-Semitism seriously enough.
In the aftermath of the attack, Jewish leaders sought to link the incident to recent cases in which judges had been lenient with anti-Semitic offenders.
The Jewish community could have been excused had its cries of anti-Semitism been isolated to one attack that turned out to have different motives. But the recent arson is only the latest example of politicians and community leaders reacting to an event with horror, only to have to ask questions later.
In July, an incident in which a young woman claimed she and her baby were attacked on a suburban train drew fierce condemnations from politicians and religious leaders — until it was discovered that the woman had made up the story.
Similarly, the recent knifing of a yeshiva student in the Paris suburbs also apparently was not motivated by anti-Semitism. And police still are investigating claims by a rabbi that he was stabbed outside his synagogue in January 2003, as reports allege that the rabbi may have stabbed himself.
Less in the media spotlight is the burning last November of an unoccupied annex of a Jewish school in the Parisian suburb of Gagny. It looks less and less likely that the incident was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Nevertheless, for Jewish organizations and for the government, these cases are merely isolated incidents in a tide of nearly 300 reported acts of anti-Semitism in France since the beginning of 2004.
Roger Benarroch, vice president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewry, said that last week’s arson and the reaction to it should "not cause us to lose sight of the essential, that the climate of anti-Semitism makes these things credible."
But he admitted that such events "give our detractors, and the anti-Semites, an excuse to doubt us."
Similar comments came from France’s Union of Jewish Students, a group in the vanguard of the fight against anti-Semitism.
However, certain groups were critical of what they regard as Israel’s exploitation of the arson incident, which came just weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to leave the country "immediately" because of rising anti-Semitism.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom flew hastily to Paris to hold talks with government officials and Jewish leaders following the arson, and to visit the destroyed center.
Benarroch sharply criticized the visit, saying that "the Israelis should be more careful" and "shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of the community."
However, Shalom last week was considerably more nuanced about the arson attack than many community leaders.
Visiting the burned-out building, Shalom told reporters "we should leave the French authorities to conduct their investigation." He added that it was "of little importance what happened here when we know that during the last six months there have been more than 170 anti-Semitic incidents [in France].
The Consistoire’s Cohen, though, issued a warning to the Jewish community.
"Sixty years after the Shoah, every anti-Semitic incident rightly goes to the community’s head," he said. "When you cry wolf, you need to be very careful and ever vigilant. We are becoming less and less credible."
Do Not Abandon the Jews of France
As the old song goes: "I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall." But for many Jews, Paris, and all of France, is not at the top of their visitor’s hit parade, because of the anti-Semitic activities that have plagued that country in recent times.
Currently, there are 60 million residents of France, of which 600,000 are Jewish, while the Muslin population is now at 6 million or 10 percent of the country. Suffice it to say, this last statistic has been offered as one of the main factors in the increase of anti-Semitic activities in the past few years, this, plus the fact that there is an inordinately high unemployment rate among the Muslim population (18 percent).
Also, the reality of anti-Israel sentiments of nearly all believers in Allah combine to make this a very difficult period for our French Jewish brothers and sisters.
When Carol and I decided to go to Paris on vacation this summer, many congregants and colleagues reacted quite negatively. "Why to a place where Jews are treated so badly?" some asked. Others cited the newspaper articles declaring that many French Jews were contemplating aliyah, a permanent move to Israel.
Now, after having spent a week in Paris and returning home, I can declare to you that the worst thing we can do to show our loyalty to the Jews of France is to not go and visit them.
Carol and I attended and I spoke at Sabbath services at one of Paris’ four Reform synagogues. The 40 or so members present were grateful for our attendance and wanted me to know without hesitation that the French government is not anti-Semitic, and that most of the anti-Jewish problems are being caused by the Muslim population, specifically.
"Do not abandon us," is what I heard over and over from the folks I spoke with on that Sabbath eve in Paris. And frankly, it doesn’t make sense to shun or disconnect from our fellow Jews at a time when they truly need us.
We arrived in Paris at the moment when news of a terrible anti-Semitic incident became known. A 23-year-old woman and her baby were attacked with knives and injured at a train station on the outskirts of Paris. The media covered the story extensively. The government spoke out against the attack. The official Jewish community decried it as one in a series of atrocities.
This event happened on a Thursday. By the following Wednesday, it was announced in the press that the woman, not a Jew, had fabricated the entire beating and had a long history of bringing attention to herself through such fantasies. But the damage was already done, and the situation of the Jews in France was further degraded.
The bottom line: The Jews of France are undergoing an upsurge of anti-Semitism. The causes are complex: unemployed Muslim immigrants, the anti-Israel attitude of so many that is transferred to the Jew on the street and the traditional dislike of Jews that has gone on for thousands of years.
However, the French government is not the main culprit. I met with the emissary of the French government to the Jews of France. He has the rank of "ambassador" and is very sophisticated and sympathetic vis-a-vis the problems of the Jews in France.
I was impressed with him, and he plans to visit Southern California in the fall. I think we should return the favor and not paint all the French with the same brush.
Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.