Watchdog: Anti-Semitic attacks in France climbed 84% after kosher shop killings


The number of anti-Semitic attacks recorded in France during the first quarter of 2015 increased by 84 percent over the corresponding period last year, a watchdog group said.

The SPCJ security service of France’s Jewish communities released the figures Monday in a quarterly report that counted 508 anti-Semitic acts recorded between January and May. In the first four months of 2014, SPCJ recorded 276 incidents between January and May out of a total of 851 that year, making 2014 second only to the 974 incidents recorded in 2004 by the service. In all of 2013, SPCJ documented 423 incidents.

The worst of the attacks this year occurred on Jan. 9, when an Islamist killed four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket.

Of the anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the first quarter this year, 121, or 23 percent, were classified by SPCJ as violent. The proportion of violent attacks was slightly higher in the first quarter of 2014, with 27 percent of the total, or 76 attacks.

Death threats accounted for 387 incidents out of the total in the first four months of 2015, slightly more than three-quarters of the incidents.

In 2012, the slaying of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse by a jihadist spurred a spike in anti-Semitic incidents throughout France, possibly by those inspired by the attack to target Jews, SPCJ reported at the time. SPCJ documented more than 90 anti-Semitic incidents in the 10 days that followed the shooting.

Report: 58% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France in 2012


France saw an increase of 58 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to a report by the French Jewish community.

The report released on Tuesday by the SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities, showed that 614 anti-Semitic acts were documented in the republic last year compared to only 389 in 2011.

“2012 has been a year of unprecedented violence against Jews in France,” the report read, referencing the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children on March 19 by an Islamist radical who gunned them down at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Incidents in which the victims were accosted physically or verbally on the street saw an increase of 82 percent, from 177 cases in 2011 to 315 last year, SPCJ said, and 25 percent of the 96 physical anti-Semitic assaults involved a weapon.

The SPCJ report reflects a near doubling in physical anti-Semitic assaults, of which only 57 were documented in 2011.

In Europe, big gaps exist among security precautions at Jewish institutions


Within hours of Israel's assassination of a top Hamas commander, the situation room sprang into action, anticipating retaliatory attacks and preparing instructions to keep civilians out of harm's way.

No, the room wasn't deep in a bunker beneath Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away — and at a seemingly safe remove from the violence on the ground — in London.

It was the situation room of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s security agency, which was open for business within hours of Israel's killing of Ahmed Jabari last week.

The CST has long been considered the gold standard in European Jewish community security. But communities across the continent recognize that they are all at risk from anti-Semitic attacks, which often spike in the wake of Israeli military operations, and are struggling to ramp up security precautions despite the often prohibitive costs.

“There’s no telling what would ignite the next wave of attacks against our communities,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said at a crisis management training session that drew leaders from 36 Jewish communities to Brussels on Nov. 6, eight days before the Israeli military launched its Operation Pillar of Defense. “It could be hostilities between Israel and Iran or in Gaza or a stupid film on Muslims in YouTube. We have to assume it’s coming.”

Nine months after a deadly attack by a Muslim extremist claimed four lives at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, European Jewish leaders are beginning to take steps to address some glaring gaps in the security capabilities of the continent's Jewish communities. But the process is hindered by the enormous costs involved and differing views of where the primary responsibility lies for ensuring Jewish safety.

Approximately half of Europe's Jewish communities have no crisis-management plan in place. Even in large communities demonstrably at risk of attack like France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 500,000, security resources remain scarce and some congregations have virtually no protection. While CST's situation room was humming last week, the offices of the organization's French counterpart were unreachable by phone or email.

“Nine months ago, Jewish communities in Europe received a wake-up call when Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical, killed three children and a rabbi in Toulouse,” said Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund, which bankrolls much of the EJC’s activity. “At the same time, the spike in anti-Semitic attacks coincides with a recession which is hampering communities’ ability to carry the burden of security costs.”

In Toulouse, the Otzar Hatorah school had surveillance cameras in place and a tall fence around the perimeter, but no one monitored the video feed and there was no guard, which allowed Merah to easily enter the compound toting a gun. Insiders from that community spoke of “a total collapse” immediately after the attack.

“In such an event, which has the potential of destroying a community, crisis management can restore a sense of order and enhance the community’s resilience,” said Ariel Muzicant, the former head of the Austrian Jewish community and head of the EJC crisis-management task force.

Only 20 of the 36 communities in the EJC have crisis-management programs, which determine who does what in case of emergency. In Marseille, where 80,000 Jews live among 250,000 Muslims, there is no security guard present even at prayer time and during Hebrew school lessons at the French city's Jewish community center and great synagogue. On a recent Sunday, walking into the complex simply meant pushing open the front door, which remained unlocked.

Among European Jewish communities, British Jewry is the undisputed security leader. The CST has five offices, dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers, drawn mainly from Britain’s Jewish population of 250,000. Since 2008, CST has installed about 1,000 closed-circuit cameras and digital video recorders in dozens of buildings, and has trained 400 British police officers on hate crimes.

The SPCJ, French Jewry’s security unit, did not respond to questions about its budget, size or procedures. But Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities of France, said SPCJ had a “vast network of dedicated volunteers.” The unit is particularly visible in Paris, where Jewish schools and buildings receive robust protection by SPCJ guards and police.

The CST budget was $5.8 million last year, which it raised through donations and government subsidies. The budget is more than double that of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, the country's main Jewish umbrella organization, and far larger than most European Jewish security organs. Smaller communities, most of which are less than one-fifth the size of Britain’s, can only dream of deploying security resources at that scale.

“The subject of funding for security is particularly painful for Europe’s smaller communities,” said Anne Sender, a former president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, which has just 750 members. “We simply don’t have the deep pockets that larger communities have.”

Norway's Jews spend just $87,000 annually on security — about half of what they raise each year in fees that also support education and religious services, according to Ervin Kohn, the community's current president.

Kohn launched a media campaign that persuaded the government to make a one-time grant of $1.2 million this year to protect Norwegian Jews. It was half of what Kohn had sought to ensure security at a “reasonable level” over the next few years, he said.

In response to Kohn’s efforts, a known Muslim extremist last month wrote on Facebook that he would “protect” the synagogue right after he gets an “AK-47 rifle and a hunting license.” In 2006, a Muslim extremist opened fire with a semiautomatic assault rifle on the synagogue.

Unlike in Britain, where security is largely seen as the community's concern, other European Jews see it as the government's responsibility.

“I pay for Jewish life, not Jewish security,” said Eric Argaman of Oslo, who pays about $200 a year in community membership fees. “That’s the government’s job.”

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Jewish leaders recognize that they cannot rely solely on the government. In Sweden, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, authorities have made a one-time grant of approximately $500,000 for security at Jewish institutions — a sum that doesn't “begin to cover costs,” according to Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities.

In Malmo, Sweden's third largest city and the site of dozens of anti-Semitic incidents each year — including a bomb attack in September on the Jewish community center — there is only one part-time security professional, according to Jonas Zolken, regional director for Sweden at the Nordic Jewish Security Council. In Denmark, where the capital city lies just over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, the government offers no security funding for the country’s 8,000 Jews.

“Our experience shows we need to cooperate with local police and security authorities, but ultimately can rely on no one but ourselves,” said Johan Tynell, the Malmo-born director of security for Denmark’s Jewish community.

In the Netherlands, with 40,000 Jews, the community spends more than $1 million on security without any significant help from the government, according to Dennis Mok, the community’s security officer.

“Even after Toulouse, the official Dutch position is that there is no elevated threat toward the Jewish community,” Mok said. “We, of course, have a different view.”

To free communities from depending on the threat assessments and budgetary constraints of national governments, the European Jewish Congress has been lobbying European leaders to arrange for security funding from the European Union. French President Francois Hollande and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas already have said they would support the initiative, Kantor told JTA.

Meanwhile, the EJC announced it was establishing a continent-wide security fund, but did not specify how much would be allocated. The congress also has teamed up with the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps to help small communities lower security costs. The corps, a nonprofit international organization that aims to empower young Jewish professionals, will send its “most capable” crisis advisers “to help small Jewish communities build foundations for defense,” according to its director, Michael Colson.

Moreover, some Jewish leaders say much more can be done, even on a shoestring budget. Tynell said at the conference that Jewish professionals should be recruited as volunteer crisis managers and given responsibility for talking to the media, doing internal communications, coordinating with local authorities and even delivering kosher food to anyone who might be hospitalized.

“When these things are left to chance, the resulting mess compounds the trauma which members of the community will experience in a crisis,” Tynell said. “Prevent this or your community members will suffer for a long time.”

Dutch police nab suspected stabber of French Jew


Dutch police reportedly arrested and extradited to Switzerland a 22-year-old Briton suspected of stabbing a Jewish man in Geneva.

The suspect is a member of extreme right circles, according to CICAD, a Swiss watchdog on anti-Semitism, and was arrested last month in the Netherlands. DNA evidence linked him to the stabbing, according to Johanne Gurfinkel, secretary general of a CICAD, an institution of the Swiss Jewish community.

According to the CICAD website, the suspect was arrested following “a long investigation by the police department of Geneva and an international arrest waarant issued.”

The attack occurred last December in the car park of Geneva’s Natural History Museum as the victim, a haredi Orthodox Jew, was putting a baby carriage in the trunk of his car. His attacker allegedly stabbed him four times in view of the victim’s family.

The victim, a French national from Aix les Bains, some 40 miles from Geneva, sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized for more than a week.

He was visiting friends in Geneva along with his wife and five children, the oldest of whom was 9. The children were in the car and his wife was at the wheel when the man was attacked and stabbed from the back, according to a report on the incident by SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities. 

The attacker seemed “particularly determined to kill the victim,” according to SPCJ. The victim, however, managed to hit the attacker in the face and fend him off with the baby carriage. The victim suffered lacerations on his back and face; the knife also penetrated one of the victim’s lungs.

The attacker fled but left some DNA, which the Swiss police collected and filed with the European wanted persons database, leading to his arrest and extradition, Gurfinkel of CICAD told JTA.

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.

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.”

Anti-Semitic attacks in France rise 45 percent this year


France has seen a 45 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks reported through August from the corresponding period a year ago.

In one of three recent incidents reported by SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities, unidentified assailants near Paris injured a Jewish woman in her sukkah on Oct. 5.

SPCJ has counted 386 of what it calls “anti-Semitic acts” from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year, the organization said in a report Wednesday. In the corresponding period of 2011, 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 Mohamed 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.

The attack on the sukkah near Paris occurred as 10 members of a Jewish family were eating dinner in their garden in Seine St. Denis, an eastern suburb of Paris. The family ignored a group of men who had shouted obscenities at them from the street, according to the SPCJ report, before the men pelted them with rocks. One of the rocks struck a woman in her back and caused her minor injuries. None of the children present, including an 8-month-old baby, were hurt.

According to the SPCJ report, the assailants shouted at the family in Arabic, as well as in French, saying “Dirty Jews, return home,” “we’ll get you” and “we’ve had enough of you, dirty Jews.” They fled before police reached the scene.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 9, a 19-year-old Jewish male was lightly wounded by a metal ball that was fired at him as he was leaving a Paris synagogue.

Also discovered on  that day in Avignon, a city in the south of France near Marseille, unidentified assailants destroyed a Star of David that was imprinted on the exterior wall of a Jewish cemetery and chiseled off the word “Jewish.”

Blank bullets fired near Paris-area synagogue


Blank bullets were fired outside a synagogue near Paris.

The security unit of France’s Jewish communities, SPCJ, reported that the shots were fired last Friday outside the synagogue at Argenteuil, a northwest suburb of Paris, hours after the city’s chief prosecutor gave a news conference detailing the arrests of suspects in the recent bombing of a Jewish store.

One of the raids, in Strasbourg, ended in the fatal shooting of a suspect in his 30s after he opened fire on police.

At Argenteuil, police found nine blanks after members of the congregation reported the shooting to the police and SPCJ. 

French police, meanwhile, arrested an 11th man whom they say may have been connected to a domestic terrorist cell of alleged jihadists suspected of involvement in the bombing of a kosher supermarket in Sarcelles, home to a large Jewish community that emigrated from North Africa in the 1960s, on Sept. 19.

Two men dressed in black were seen throwing an explosive device into the store. It produced a “weak explosion,” according to French police, in which one man sustained minor injuries.

Police are searching for a 12th suspect.