Jews against Trump

In ways direct and subtle, the Jews of America and the Jews of France, the Jews of the left and the Jews of the right, the Jews of the Reform movement and the Jews of the Orthodox movement, have sent Donald J. Trump a message: Feh.

“Feh” is a Yiddish expression of disgust.  And the fact that Trump could provoke such a uniform reaction from such a fractious people is a credit to the dumbness and darkness of his ideas.

His increasingly xenophobic and racist rhetoric reached a low point this week when he declared that under a Trump administration, America would close its borders to Muslims.   

“We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump said to cheers of approval from his supporters.

If Trump thought Jews, so often the targets of Islamic terrorism, would join the cheers, he really doesn’t get Jews.   The reaction from Jewish organizations and leaders was immediate and uniformly negative. 

Trump’s plan was “unacceptable and antithetical to American values,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a written statement.

“The U.S. was founded as a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution, and religious pluralism is core to our national identity,” Greenblatt continued. “A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values.”

Greenblatt’s words echoed similar statements from across the Jewish political, religious and ideological spectrum.  Last month, even the Orthodox Union joined in opposing Trump’s call to keep Syrian refugees out of America.

Trump must be scratching his – insert your own hair joke here. Jews are a particular target of Islamic terror.  The coward who shot up the disabilities center in San Bernardino was “obsessed” with Israel, his father told reporters. 

According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, Jews still are the prime target for hate crimes in America—59 percent are directed at Jews.  Second place, but rising faster, are Muslims.

But Jews understand that the democratic safeguards built into America’s Constitution, including the separation of church and state, form our strongest safeguard against hate and discrimination.  When those crumble, we all fall down. 

Beyond the danger posed by the threat to civil liberties and religious freedom, there is the practical issue.  In Trump’s mind, the best way to stop Islamic terror is to target all Muslims.  But that just encourages Muslim radicalism, creates the “holy war” between Muslims  and non-Muslims that the extremists pray for, and pushes moderate believers to the extremes.   

Liberal claptrap?  Ask the French Jews and the Israelis. 

When Trump’s recent foulness exploded across the Web, I was having coffee with an Israeli official.  Israelis, he told me, are simply bemused by Trump’s antics.   If Muslims in and of themselves are the problem, how to account for the success of Israel, a democratic Jewish state with a 20-percent mostly Muslim Arab minority ?  

Israel faces threats from Islamic extremism that, to use a Trumpism, would make your head spin, but Israeli leaders from David Ben Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu have known that the best way to increase radicalization is to persecute the majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens, or to insult the Muslim religion itself.

French Jews have seen their own and their fellow countrymen slaughtered on the streets of Paris and Toulouse at the hands of Muslim terrorists – but they know the moral and practical dangers of a discriminatory France are a far greater threat.

This week, the Jews of France issued a stinging rebuke to their homegrown anti-democratic forces, and, by extension, to Trump.

On the eve of the upcoming regional elections in France, the Alsace chapter of CRIF, the umbrella Jewish organization, came out strongly against the Muslim-baiting National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.

“The Alsace chapter, strongly attached to the values of the Republic,” the statement read, “calls upon all voters to participate at the upcoming elections – since so much is at stake. We are calling to reject the extremist parties that advocate hatred and try to prosper at the expense of the divide within the society created by fear.”

CRIF president Roger Cukierman called on the Jewish community to vote “in order to block the National Front, a party of xenophobia and populism.”

It was heartening this week to see Republican presidential candidates and Party leaders all denounce Trump’s ideas.  And it was especially thrilling to hear the silence and jeers that met Trump at the recent meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

If Jews in America, France and Israel can all agree on the danger to their countries and their liberty in the kind of ideas Donald Trump espouses, then there’s not a lot more to be said about Trump or his candidacy.

Except, feh.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Drone spotted over Jewish school in Toulouse

An unauthorized drone was spotted flying over the Jewish school in Toulouse that was attacked in 2012.

Soldiers guarding the Ozar Hatorah school as part of a French government directive in the aftermath of the Jan. 9 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris observed the drone on Sunday evening, French media reported.

The drone looped around the Roseraie neighborhood where the school is located and flew over Ozar Hatorah’s middle school and high school buildings, the guards said.

The incident occurred just one day after an unidentified man was spotted placing a bag containing Stars of David mixed with rags in front of a synagogue in a Toulouse suburb. Police are searching for the man and the people responsible for the drone.

March 19 will mark the third anniversary of the Ozar Hatorah attack, in which three children and a rabbi were shot dead. A commemoration ceremony is planned.

Why Jews must stay in Europe

If, God forbid, some crazy Muslim were to shoot and kill a security guard outside a synagogue in Sherman Oaks, would you pack up and move to Israel?

No, of course not. One crazed gunman does not a pogrom make.

Unless you’re Benjamin Netanyahu.

That seemed to be the logic behind the Israeli prime minister’s statement the day after Saturday’s terror attacks in Denmark. When a Muslim man shot up a free-speech gathering and then a synagogue, killing a Danish film director at the first and a Jewish security guard at the second site, Netanyahu immediately called on the Jews of Europe to immigrate en masse to Israel.

“Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish,” he said. “This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe — Israel is your home.”

His analysis is mostly right — victims in Toulouse, Paris and Denmark were singled out because they were Jewish. The scourge of Islamic violence isn’t going away anytime soon — attacks like these most likely will happen again. And Israel is the Jewish home.

So, if Bibi got all his facts right, why have so many people — from the prime minister of Denmark, to the country’s chief rabbi, to American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein, to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, to just about every European and American Jew I’ve spoken with — lambasted his conclusion?

Because it’s cowardly.

I’m not saying that choosing to immigrate to Israel in the face of what is certainly increased anti-Semitism in Europe shows a lack of spine. For many people, it’s simply a better choice. 

But the idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

First, Israel is not safer for Jews. I can think of many good, positive reasons to immigrate to Israel, but avoiding terrorism isn’t one of them. Statistically, you are far less likely to die violently from war or terror in Denmark, Paris or London than in Israel. That goes for your children as well.

If Bibi were concerned solely with the safety of Europe’s Jews, he would urge them to go to the United States, where anti-Semitism is negligible, and where, since 1948, some 330,000 Israelis have found safe, comfortable homes. It surely doesn’t help Bibi’s cause to be spending half his time telling Jews to run to Israel, and the other half warning that any day now, an Iranian nuke could obliterate Tel Aviv.

The idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

And, by the way, has Bibi looked at a map lately? Those ISIS maniacs are within eyesight of the Golan Heights. They are swarming Iraq; surrounding Egypt; taking over Libya; and cultivating followers in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. If you want to stay far away from ISIS, stay far away from the Middle East, period.

Second, Jews cannot let hundreds of years of European Jewish history, tradition and culture come to a screeching halt because of some Islamic thugs. The popular narrative — or at least the one in Bibi’s brain — is that this is 1938, and Jews had better get out while they can. But the reality is quite different: Jews have the backing of Europe’s governments and its leaders, as well as public opinion. The mass rally this past weekend in Denmark was yet another sign of that. I know it’s hard for us to comprehend, but this time, all Shushan has risen up against Haman.

 “There is a real threat to life and limb,” University of London history professor David Cesarani wrote in the Huffington Post, “however from a tiny number of Jihadists and extreme Islamists. But they are a threat to every liberal democratic society, and they target the state, the police, the military and, as we saw in France, organisations that practice and symbolize freedom of expression. Hence, Jews are not isolated, as they were in the 1930s and 1940s, but find themselves enjoying unprecedented solidarity. This comes, too, from Muslims who are struggling against the extremism in their own faith communities. We need to celebrate and build on this solidarity, not sow seeds of alarm.”

Cesarani’s last point may be the most important reason Bibi is wrong. Bibi’s comments undermine the larger truth about Islamic extremism in Europe: This is not just a Jewish fight. To say it’s the Jews who must run away is to say we are not part of humanity’s struggle against an ideology that has claimed more Muslim and Christian victims in recent years than Jewish ones.

“Raising the spectre of ‘anti-Semitism’ will not help anyone cope with the threat posed by Jihadists and extreme Islamists,” Cesarani wrote. “We all face a specific menace that demands targeted counter-measures.”

Finally, a strong Diaspora, and a strong Israel, is better for the world, and for Jews.  Jews carry values and traditions that usually end up imporving the places where they live.  And Judaism itself is the result of what the Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein likes to call the “rolling mess” of Jewish life.  Judaism has survived and thrived precisely because Jews have constantly been exchanging ideas, values and knowledge across cultures and times.   Were we all to just huddle beneath the Iron Dome, between the Mediterranean and the Security Barrier, we would wither as a living, breathing culture.

I know it’s easy for me to dispense prescriptions from cozy America. Jews in Europe these days face a constant level of threat and intimidation, which we here can’t fathom. But the civilized world has faced down fanaticism before on European soil, and it can do so again. The battle is not yet lost, so why does Netanyahu sound like he’s surrendering?

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Stay or go? French Jews face a growing – and emotional – dilemma

Israel? The United States? Canada? South Korea, India, Singapore or Japan? French Jews have intensified their search for a new home, and they’ve diversified their potential destinations. For the past 15 years, anti-Semitism has become more and more common, more and more violent, and no one wants to see what it will be like in 10 or 20 years. 

When the “new anti-Semitism” began some 15 years ago, Jews were attacked almost exclusively in certain impoverished Parisian suburbs and neighborhoods. Young men would insult, spit and hit the easily identified pious members of the community. They wrote graffiti on synagogues, threw eggs at and stoned Jewish schools. The Jewish community complained about these attacks perpetrated “mainly” by young Muslims hostile toward Israel and Jews, but few of the French cared. Jewish leaders’ attempts to reverse the situation through interreligious dialogue failed.

Gradually, broader segments of the community started to face assaults. In 2003, 23-year-old DJ Sebastien Selam was murdered by his Muslim neighbor, who told police he would go to heaven because he had killed a Jew. In 2006, cell-phone salesman Ilan Halimi was abducted, held captive, tortured and set on fire by the self-proclaimed Gang of Barbarians. But the attack that convinced most Jews they were no longer safe in France was Toulouse 2012, when terrorist Mohammed Merah went on a killing spree at the Jewish school Ozar Hatorah, murdering three children and a teacher. The violence of that attack on such young children, and the fact that it happened in the traditionally open and quiet southern city of Toulouse, proved no place in France was safe any longer. Many of France’s 200,000 practicing Jews (out of the country’s estimated community of 550,000 to 600,000 ) started calling the Jewish Agency for Israel, to plan their departure. 

But for many French Jews, the situation wasn’t desperate enough to make aliyah

“There’s much more violence in Israel than here. I’m not going anywhere,” I was told by a friend I see at various Jewish events. 

As some community members immigrated to Israel, others preferred to move within their cities to safer neighborhoods. With every new attack, they re-examined their situation: Is staying in France still the right choice? Is it more dangerous to send children to public schools, where some have been attacked by schoolmates, or to Jewish schools, which have been stoned and could become a target for terrorists?

“The situation is complicated. My little brother goes to a Jewish school and a car drops him off five meters away from our building’s entrance, and yet, even in these five meters, he has been insulted. Men took his kippah away from him. What can we do? We take every precaution, and yet the problem is still there,” a 20-year-old Jewish student told me.   

In the summer of 2014, following the protests against Israel’s war with Hamas, French Jews saw for the first time whole groups of people attacking synagogues and Jewish businesses with firebombs and stones.

When the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, located in one of France’s calmest bourgeois neighborhoods, was attacked on Jan. 9, two days after the murders at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it became obvious that anyone could be hit anywhere.

Community members now have to choose: Will they stay in France and fight for their rights? Stay and conceal their religion? Or will they seek shelter abroad, perhaps in a country where people care as little as possible about Jews and the Middle East. 

Many in the community refuse to leave, as they feel strong attachments to France, the first country to recognize them as equal citizens, under Napoleon.

“If we don’t resist, no one will, and then it would all be over. The terrorists would have won,” I was told by a young man who had gone to a tribute to the victims killed at Hyper Cacher a day after the attack. 

Many French nationals appreciate this attitude.

“Please don’t leave! We’re with you!” several demonstrators at the Jan. 11 “Je Suis Charlie” march told a Jewish protester.

“We’re not leaving!” the protester replied.

Other Jews would rather avoid confrontation by hiding their identity, denying being Jewish, and presenting themselves as Christians. Others have made the decision to leave. 

Some have created groups to plan their departures and make them easier. People who wouldn’t ever have thought of leaving France had the situation not deteriorated are holding information meetings similar to ones organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, but for other destinations. French migrants who have already settled in Jewish-friendly countries help them out by giving as much insight and assistance as possible.

Touring with my family in Canada, hoping to find our new land of milk and honey, I met a Vancouver, British Columbia, resident who had analyzed the situation. 

“You need to get as far away as possible from France, where many in the Muslim community are hostile toward Jews and Israel. Coming to America isn’t enough. Don’t settle in Montreal; it’s too European! Go West!”

Figures show many French Jews are moving to Israel. A record 7,000 made aliyah in 2014, twice as many as the previous year. This means that approximately 1 percent of France’s Jewish community moved to Israel alone. At the same time, about 0.4 percent of all French nationals moved abroad.

Over the past week, the Jewish Agency beat another record, getting calls from 2,000 people asking to join information sessions. As French Jews start panicking, the agency is forecasting that it could bring 10,000 olim (those who make aliyah) to Israel this year.

Most of those who emigrate undoubtedly want to keep their families as far away as possible from any future terror attack, but many also may be concerned by a less bloody phenomenon — the widening rift between them and France’s growing Muslim community. After the shooting in Charlie Hebdo, people have again started pointing fingers at the Jewish community, saying Charlie Hebdo never criticized Jews, only Muslims.

“When a cartoonist criticized former [French] president [Nicolas] Sarkozy’s son when he married a Jew, the cartoonist was fired, but nobody cares when these people represent Prophet Mohammad,” several people wrote on Facebook.

“There are obvious double standards in this country,” one of my colleagues wrote.

For Jews, it’s well-known that Charlie Hebdo repeatedly criticized all religions, or all religious extremists and hierarchies, and, if anything, Muslim fundamentalists were criticized less than others. Some see this as an alteration of facts at their expense.

The growing support as well for the controversial comedian Dieudonne (his real name is Dieudonne M’bala M’bala), who has been condemned numerous times for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred, also has increased Jews’ concern for the future.

French law protects the right to criticize religion but bans incitement, which suits perfectly the local Jewish community. But this balance could change.

As Dieudonne wrote on Facebook that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly,” combining the names of Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly — the man who attacked the kosher supermarket — French authorities and many nationals saw the move as a new incitement. But to many Muslims, his words were far more tolerable than a drawing representing their prophet.

Some fear that pressure from them and from abroad could lead to a change of French values and laws, which currently protect free speech as it exists in France, and ban racism and anti-Semitism. These are values that many Jews believe are vital for them to be able to live in France, especially now, as they face growing hatred.

Shirli Sitbon is a journalist from Paris working for French TV station France 24 and Haaretz.

After attack, spike in emigration could deplete France’s Jewish community

Taken alone, the attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket near Paris is nothing that French Jews haven’t seen before.

Arguably, the 2012 attack that caught the Toulouse community unprepared was more traumatic because children were killed. And the 1982 attack on the Goldenberg Jewish restaurant in Paris was deadlier than last week’s attack and involved more assailants.

Yet the deadly hostage siege at Hyper Cacher, which came amid a dramatic increase in attacks on French Jews, may nonetheless be the watershed moment that changes the community’s dynamics for the foreseeable future. That’s because it compounds the problems that are already depleting the community’s ranks.

“These events are having such a profound effect because they target people who go to synagogue and eat kosher — the group that in France is simultaneously the beating heart of the community and the population likeliest to leave for Israel because of its Zionist attachment,” said Avi Zana, director of the Israel-based Ami Israel association, which facilitates aliyah from France.

France has Europe’s largest Jewish community, with anywhere from 500,000 to 600,000 members. Most live in Paris and are Sephardic, and about half belong to some Jewish social or religious framework. Community life is robust, and the country has hundreds of Jewish schools.

But a number of coinciding factors — including attacks by Islamists with combat experience gained in the Middle East, the French far right’s rising popularity, economic stagnation and an increase in taxation — is creating record levels of Jewish immigration to Israel and elsewhere.

Last year, a record number of French Jews — more than 7,000, twice as many as the previous year and three times as many as in 2012 — moved to Israel.

Before the Jan. 9 attack on Hyper Cacher, where an Islamist killed four Jews, the Jewish Agency estimated that 2015 would bring 10,000 French Jews to Israel. But the attack will require a reassessment, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told JTA. Moshe Sebbag, the rabbi of the Grand Synagogue of Paris, said he expected 15,000 French newcomers to Israel this year.

The rise in French aliyah — Hebrew for immigrating to Israel under its law of return for Jews — can be tied at least in part to last summer, when several French synagogues and Jewish shops were attacked during demonstrations against the Gaza war.

“We may well see 30,000 Jews from that group leave for Israel in the coming three years, and that would mean the departure of 15 to 20 percent of the affiliated community,” Zana said. “This has the potential, unfortunately, of considerably weakening some of the community’s institutions. The community needs to prepare for it.”

Daniel Benhaim, the Jewish Agency’s chief envoy to France, speaks of 50,000 Jews who are expected to move to Israel by 2024.

“In an affiliated community of 200,000, that’s already a critical mass whose departure will deeply impact the internal dynamics remaining community,” he said, referring to Jews who are somewhat observant and attend Jewish institutions.

In parallel to the increase in aliyah, there has been in recent years an increase in emigration by French Jews to Canada and the United States, Zana said.

“There are not statistics on that movement, but it is definitely significantly smaller than the movement to Israel,” he added.

Schools are a major concern pushing Jewish parents to make aliyah, according to Zana.

“On the one hand, parents increasingly are apprehensive about enrolling their children in public schools because of rampant anti-Semitism there,” he said. “On the other, they are afraid to put them in Jewish schools because they are targets for attacks. So Israel seems like a good choice.”

Yvan Lellouche, a Jewish grandfather who is seeking to make aliyah in the coming months, told JTA on Sunday that he fears for the 15 children from his extended family who attend a Jewish school near Hyper Cacher.

“Every minute they are there, I fear for their safety. I fear for my safety as well,” he said.

Speaking at the Knesset on Tuesday, Joel Mergui, president of French Jewry’s religious affairs organ, the Consistoire, said children are likewise frightened.

“It is hard to describe how afraid our children are to go to Jewish schools in France,” he said.

Some Paris Jews are feeling the aliyah-related depletion already in their own synagogues, including Bernard Mouchi, president of the Jewish community of Courneuve — an impoverished and heavily Muslim suburb of Paris.

“Fifteen years ago this was a large Jewish community of over 1,000 families,” he told JTA at his synagogue, where 30 men congregated on Saturday evening under police protection. “Now there are 100 families, and we are actually a community of pensioners.”

“Many made aliyah,” Mouchi said. “Others left for safer areas around Paris.”

In light of this phenomenon generally, Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said, “The community will need strong leaders who will know how to downsize the community’s institutions and basically shut it down.”

Meanwhile, the accumulation of French-speaking Jews in Israel is creating a snowball effect because it is drawing newcomers to join friends and family who left while reassuring them of a social infrastructure that would facilitate their absorption, according to Karin Amit, a researcher with the Ruppin Academic Center’s Institute for Immigration and Social Integration who has studied French aliyah.

“There seems to be a momentum for aliyah that is fueling itself in a way within the Jewish community of France,” said Amit.

France’s wake-up call

The kosher supermarket was chosen deliberately. Men, women and children were shopping and preparing for Shabbat. Only two days before the attack, terrorists had left 10 of the best-known satirical journalists and cartoonists dead at Charlie Hebdo. Three French police officers were also struck down, one of them a Muslim. Each Islamist terrorist attack targeted a symbol of the French Republic, seeking to bring the country to its knees.

That Jews were targets of radical Islam was, alas, unsurprising. Four of the hostages — Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, François-Michel Saada — were killed at the kosher market. Survivors of the attack are anguished. So, too, are most French Jews, who again are discussing and evaluating not only the future of our community but the fate of France itself.

Let’s be clear: France is under assault. The enemy is in our midst. Extremists, faithful to a brand of Islam that celebrates violence and martyrdom, have no respect whatsoever for the core, longstanding French values of democracy, pluralism, freedom of expression — and, indeed, for life itself. Traditional forms of protest are alien to them. Instead, as seen in the carnage wrought by ISIS, al-Qaida and other jihadists in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, pure barbarism is their vehicle to achieve their perverted notion of salvation.

Tragically, the events of recent days are not a new phenomenon. The Jewish community, including the American Jewish Committee in Paris, has warned for years about the developing and deepening threat that radical Islam poses to France. In March 2012, a lone, heavily armed Mohammed Merah murdered three French soldiers in cold blood and, a week later, slaughtered a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The Toulouse attack was a game changer for French Jews. And although French political leaders voiced outrage, as time passed and the numbers and frequency of anti-Semitic incidents rose, the country seemed to get used to them — even anesthetized to this reality — while many Jews felt a sense of loneliness and isolation.

The recent attacks in Paris have shocked the entire nation, indeed the entire world. What is new this time is the depth and breadth of the reactions, crisscrossing French society, the realization that combating the threat of radical Islam must be, and remain, a national priority. But will this be the necessary wake-up call for France as a whole to confront the danger?

The terrorists who struck in Paris — as in Toulouse and at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May — are not isolated lone wolves. They most likely are the tip of a radical Islamist iceberg, the small visible part. To counter this lethal trend, we must delve deeper and understand the factors that draw certain individuals to radical Islam, and find ways to counter this evil that endangers all of France.

French schools must teach mutual respect and responsibility, a component of the curriculum that today is stunningly missing. Indoctrination in extremist ideologies in prisons demands attention, as does recruitment by radical, violent groups through social media and in mosques. The Toulouse and Paris terrorists spent time not only in prison but also with jihadist groups in Syria and Yemen. Hundreds more are currently in Syria and Iraq, and maybe in other Arab countries. That they could return with French passports to settle back in our communities, or in other European countries, is a nightmare. Their objective is to create fear and division in French society, of which the extreme right and populists may take advantage. So let’s have the courage not to let fear take over.

The French government cannot stop this trend alone; the effort will require the active involvement of political, religious and civil-society leaders. Immediate reactions to the attack on Charlie Hebdo were inspiring, as millions of French citizens gathered in central Paris and throughout France, communicated their outrage on social media and called for action. Unfortunately, the voices of Muslim community leaders —with some notable exceptions — have until now been barely audible. Those leaders, too, must speak loudly and clearly, as Muslims and as French citizens.

Many of us in the Jewish community regretted that no large solidarity movement rose up after the gruesome kidnap-murder of Ilan Halimi nine years ago, or after Toulouse, or during last summer’s transparently anti-Semitic demonstrations. While the government did speak out after attacks on Jews and firmly decries anti-Semitism, many in French society and in the media refused to see that our French values were at stake and that Jews were indeed a target.

Hatred of Jews never ends with Jews. The menace of rising anti-Semitism threatens French society at large. The future of France will be decided in the coming days, weeks and months. The Charlie Hebdo massacre makes clear that the war against France’s democratic values is in high gear.

Sunday’s mass rally, with more than 3.7 million people across the country in attendance — including, in Paris, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders — was a powerful statement of outrage and solidarity against this barbarism in France and in the rest of the world.

But what happens in the days and weeks ahead will truly test France. Now more than at any other time in its postwar history, the fate of France is entwined with the fate of its Jews. If France loses them, sooner or later it will also be lost. Is this the wake-up call that will help the French people understand the nature of the threat to our country, and will they respond firmly and effectively?

The very soul of France is at stake.

(Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris office.)

Toulouse anti-racism rally features anti-Zionism chants

Participants in a march against anti-Semitism and other racism in the French city of Toulouse hurled anti-Zionist insults at Jewish fellow demonstrators.

Some of the insults were directed at Nicole Yardeni, who heads the local chapter of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities, during the march on Saturday by 2,000 people. The march was organized by a gay group, Arc-en-Ciel, following the spraying of anti-Semitic and anti-gay slogans in several locales last week in Toulouse.

At one point, a group of demonstrators started chanting “Yardeni, get lost” and “CRIF, fascists, Zionists, get lost.”

The Jewish participants were “absolutely unprepared for such a reception,” Yardeni told the French news agency AFP. ”Jews are now being chased away from a demonstration against anti-Semitism.”

Demonstration organizers said they regretted the chants.

“We are deeply disturbed by what happened,” said Noemie Henry, a president of Arc-en-Ciel.

Also in Toulouse on Saturday, some 400 protesters demonstrated a few miles from where the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was performing at the Zennith Theater. City officials did not permit the demonstration opposite the building, the France 3 television channel reported, and police were on hand to check that everyone entering the theater had a ticket to prevent disturbances by anti-Dieudonne infiltrators.

Dieudonne has used his shows to air anti-Semitic views.

The protest was organized by CRIF and the LICRA anti-racism watchdog.

The France 3 report showed young men leaving the theater performing the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi gesture that Dieudonne invented and labeled anti-establishment, but which many French Jews and politicians believe is anti-Semitic.


Quenelle salute performed in front of Toulouse Jewish school

Amid a public debate in France over an allegedly anti-Semitic gesture, French media have published a photo of a man performing it outside the Toulouse school where four Jews were murdered.

The photo, which was published Monday on the website of the television channel France 3, shows a man wearing a shirt featuring a portrait of Yasser Arafat in front of the Ohr Torah school.

The man is seen holding his left palm outstretched over his right shoulder – a gesture known as quenelle, which was invented by the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’balla M’balla. Jewish groups say that Dieudonne, who has multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews, designed the quenelle to emulate the Nazi salute without violating France’s laws against displaying Nazi symbols to cause offense.

The picture taken outside Ohr Torah is not dated but was taken after the Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah last year killed three children and a rabbi. The institution changed its name since from Otzar Hatorah.

The photo was published a day after photos surfaced of NBA star Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium and is French by nationality, performing the salute earlier this year standing next to Dieudonne backstage at a theater in France. Photos of the salute were published in French media.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center reportedly has called on Parker, who plays point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, to apologize for performing the salute.

“As a leading sports figure on both sides of the Atlantic, Parker has a special moral obligation to disassociate himself from a gesture that the government of France has identified as anti-Semitic,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Algemeiner news website.

Reports of the Parker salute came a day after soccer player Nicolas Anelka, a French national playing for Britain’s West Bromwich Albion soccer team, was roundly condemned for performing the salute during a match on Saturday.

Anelka defended himself on Sunday, saying that he saw a photo of President Obama performing the quenelle with rapper Jay Z and singer Beyonce. They were, in fact, performing a hip hop move in which the hand brushes off the shoulder.

Britain’s Football Association has launched an investigation of the Anelka incident.

France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, declared that his ministry would look into banning all public performances by Dieudonne.

Dieudonne has been convicted several times for inciting racial hatred against Jews in films, shows and articles.

Hollande visits graves of victims of Toulouse Jewish school attack

French President Francois Hollande visited the Jerusalem graves of the victims of the attack on a Toulouse Jewish school.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied Hollande to the cemetery on Tuesday.  They were joined by members of the Sandler and Monsonego families, who recited Kaddish.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30; his children Gabriel, 6, and Aryeh,3; and Miriam Monsonego, 8, were killed in March 2012 when a radical Islamist, Mohammed Merah, entered the Ozar Hatorah school in the city in southwest France and shot at students and teachers.

The school slayings came a few days after Merah gunned down three French soldiers in two drive-by shootings from a scooter near Toulouse.

Merah was shot dead three days after the school shooting during a standoff with police. He admitted to the shootings, saying they were in retribution for Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

In November 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, joined Hollande and French Jewish community leaders at a memorial ceremony for the Toulouse school victims.

Threatening caller to Toulouse school gets jail term

A man who made death threats against the Jewish school in Toulouse where Mohammed Merah killed four people last year was ordered jailed for a year.

Lucien Abdelrhafor, 20, in an expedited court procedure Monday also received an additional year’s suspended jail term for phoning in the threats to the  Ohr Hatorah school, the French daily L’Express reported.

According to SPCJ, the French Jewish community’s security service, the man called the school on Sept. 16 and told a secretary, “I am Mohammed Merah’s cousin and I’m coming over tonight to kill you.”

Merah in March 2012 gunned down a rabbi and three children at the school, which changed its name from Ozar Hatorah after the attack.

Abdelrhafor in the call claimed to be a “cousin” of Merah — a false claim, according to SPCJ.

SPCJ said police have arrested several callers who threatened violence against the school following the shooting.

French police believe Merah planned the shooting with his older brother, Abelkader, who is in prison awaiting trial.

Suspected Merah accomplices arrested in Toulouse

Two men suspected of being accomplices of Islamist terrorist Mohammed Merah were arrested near Toulouse.

Investigators believe the men, arrested Tuesday morning, are believed by investigators to have helped plan a series of deadly attacks in March 2012. One of the suspects was released on Wednesday; the second remained in custody on Thursday.

Merah, a 23-year-old radical Muslim, killed a rabbi and three children in an attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school, now called 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.

Global anti-Semitism grew by 30 percent in 2012, report finds

Global anti-Semitism increased by 30 percent in 2012 over the previous year, an annual report found.

Following two years of decline, there was a “considerable escalation” in the level of violent acts and vandalism against Jews in 2012, according to the global anti-Semitism report for 2012 presented Sunday by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University.

The report, which was presented on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, showed there were 686 violent acts and vandalism, up from 526 in 2011. They include 273 attacks on people, including 50 with a weapon, 166 direct threats on lives, and the desecration of 190 synagogues, cemeteries and monuments.

France had the most attacks with 200, up from the 114 in 2011. Next was the United States with 99; the United Kingdom, 84; Canada, 74; and Australia, 53.

The report said the increase was due in part to the terror attack on the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse in March, which killed a rabbi and three children and led to a series of copycat incidents against the Jewish community in France. Also, Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, which led to a short-lived increase in anti-Semitic acts; and an escalation in the activities of the extreme right wing and the strengthening of parties with a clear anti-Semitic agenda, notably in Hungary and Greece, as well as in Ukraine.

During a news conference Sunday to release the report's results, Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, identified Hungary as experiencing the most worrying racist and anti-Semitic trends in Europe.

“There are extremely worrying signs emanating from Hungary at the moment where barely a week passes without an attack on minorities or outrageous comments from far-right politicians,” Kantor said. “Unfortunately, red lines keep being crossed and there needs to be an extremely strong reaction, both from the Hungarian government and the European Union to push back against these phenomena.

Kantor called for “a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for racism.”

“We are reaching out to the leaders in Hungary and the EU and calling for the initiation of hearings in relevant committees because this situation cannot continue,” he said.

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.

Film suggests Toulouse killer was disturbed, not hateful

Four weeks before he murdered seven people in Toulouse, a cheerful Mohammed Merah was filmed laughing and showing off his skiing skills to friends at a popular Alpine resort.

The footage, televised on March 6, formed the opening sequence in a controversial documentary about the 23-year-old, French-born jihadist who murdered three soldiers and four Jews last year in a rampage that shocked the country.

Aired by public broadcaster France 3 ahead of the anniversary of the killings, the 105-minute film, titled “The Merah Affair — The Itinerary of a Killer,” was billed as the definitive investigative work on Merah. More than 2 million viewers tuned in.

But the film also has exposed a rift between those who view Merah's actions as the product of deep anti-Semitic currents among jihadists and others who believe Merah was driven largely by emotional problems stemming from a difficult childhood and possible psychiatric illness.

“Very early on after the killings, we saw an objectionable tendency to view Mohammed Merah as a victim,” Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF, France's main Jewish umbrella group, told JTA. “Regrettably, the film amplifies this view.”

Merah was a petty criminal from Toulouse who was jailed for theft in 2007. While in jail, the film reports, he was teased and seen as a buffoon. He tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell, according to a prison psychologist.

Merah seemingly took comfort in Islam, growing his beard long and immersing himself in religious texts. Following his release in 2009, he traveled to several Middle Eastern countries, including Pakistan, where he received weapons training at a terrorist encampment.

On March 11, 2012, Merah approached an off-duty French Moroccan paratrooper on a Toulouse street and shot him in the head. Four days later he killed two uniformed soldiers and injured a third at a shopping center in Montauban, about 45 minutes to the north.

Then, on the morning of March 19, Merah arrived at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse and opened fire, killing Miriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old daughter of the Jewish school's principal, along with Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two young sons, Arieh and Gavriel. According to a police officer interviewed in the film, Merah knelt beside one of the children and shot the victim in the head.

In the film, Merah is portrayed as a troubled and aggressive youth, the youngest of five siblings raised by a single mother. At 9 he was placed at a state-run institution for at-risk youths after a social worker determined he wasn't attending school regularly and lacked the necessary support at home. Five year later, a teacher wrote, “He is offensive to girls. Every day we intervene on a fresh aggression, theft, conflict or attack committed by Mohammed, who will not accept the authority.”

Merah's mother, Zoulikha Aziri, who in the film spoke to the French media for the first time, could provide no explanation for her son’s actions, but said he once told her, “There’s a man in my head and he keeps talking to me.”

“Our objective was to understand Mohammed Merah, to study the context in which he grew up,” Jean-Charles Doria, the film's director, said in an interview with the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. “We found a banal setting: a broken family, absent father, powerless mother, late religious discovery and a disturbed character.”

It is precisely this focus on Merah's psychological profile that critics charge grossly misrepresents not only the nature of Merah's crimes but the essence of jihadist hatred.

The filmmakers declined to include the testimony of Merah's brother, Abdelghani, who last year said Mohammed was “raised to be an anti-Semite because anti-Semitism was part of the atmosphere at home.” Nor did they note the 90 anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in the 10 days following the shootings — part of a 58 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2012.

The thought that a French Muslim “could go skiing and then murder soldiers and children is too frightening for France 3,” Veronique Chemla, a Jewish media analyst and investigative journalist, told JTA. “So instead of examining how Merah was ideologically transformed, the film speculates on Merah’s sanity.”

Pierre Besnainou, a former president of the European Jewish Congress and president of the FSJU social and cultural arm of the French Jewish community, said “the film demonstrates a total misconception of the true nature of jihadist indoctrination.” And the CRIF's Prasquier said the Jewish community must fight the tendency to portray Merah in a sympathetic light.

“The shootings were first and foremost part of radical Islam and its dangers,” Prasquier said.

The film's producers did not respond to JTA's request for comment. But in his Le Nouvel Observateur interview, Doria denied that the film portrayed Merah as schizophrenic, merely as “inept at social relations and mostly isolated.” He added that Merah had sought legitimacy from Islamic preachers for actions he already had planned.

“We see clearly in Merah a collection of naive religious sentiments, not real faith or ideology,” Doria said.

The film also devotes many minutes to reviewing the failures of French authorities, who had flagged Merah as a person of interest back in 2010, the year he traveled to the Middle East. It also revealed that after Merah had been identified as a suspect in the murders, he managed to shake off a police detail and slip undetected in and out of his apartment mere hours before a French SWAT team surrounded it and killed him.

While critics praised the film for exposing these failures, Besnainou said they are a red herring.

“The way to beat the Merahs of the world isn’t just more security, it’s education and social mobilization against their ideology,” he said. “This film makes this harder to achieve.”

Two arrested on suspicion they aided Toulouse killer Merah

French police arrested two men on suspicion that they helped Mohammed Merah in two killing sprees in the Toulouse area last year, including at a Jewish school.

The two were arrested separately on Tuesday in Toulouse, according to Le Monde.

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. 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.

The only person in custody besides the two men who were arrested Tuesday is Merah's brother, Abdelkader, who has denied having anything to do with the shootings. Police, however, believe he was with his brother when they stole a scooter that Mohammed Merah used to escape after the shootings.

Knife-wielding woman arrested outside Toulouse Jewish school

A knife-wielding woman was arrested after threatening a student of the Toulouse Jewish school where an Islamist radical murdered four people nearly a year ago.

The 51-year-old woman was arrested Tuesday outside the Ohr Hatorah school (formerly Ozar Hatorah) after she brandished the knife in a threatening manner in front of a 16-year-old boy exiting the institution, according to Le Depeche, a French news site. The teen returned to the school and told authorities about the women, who was arrested shortly thereafter.

According to Direct Matin, a news website and daily newspaper, the woman shouted anti-Semitic slogans and “appeared mentally unstable.”

On March 19, 2012, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old jihadist fanatic, gunned down Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, along with his two young sons, Aryeh and Gavriel. He also killed Miriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old daughter of Yaacov Monsonego, the school's director.

Merah was killed two days later by French police while trying to escape a police raid on his home. Last week, French police arrested two of his acquaintances on suspicion that they were involved in the school shooting and Merah’s earlier slaying of three French soldiers, but they were released a few days later.

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.

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.”

Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah was raised to be anti-Semite, brother writes

Mohammed Merah was raised to be an anti-Semite long before he killed four Jews in Toulouse, Merah's brother wrote.

“My young brother was certainly a Salafist, but before he turned into one he grew up in this detestable atmosphere that accommodates anti-Semitism,” Abdelghani Merah reportedly wrote in a new book about his brother that is set to appear this week.

Mohammed Merah gunned down three children and a rabbi on March 19 at a Jewish school. Earlier in the same month he killed three French soldiers.

Merah was killed in a police raid on his home as he tried to jump out the bathroom window.

The Merahs grew up with a “cultural anti-Semitism” and “despised the Jews,” Abdelghani Merah wrote in his book, according to a report in the French magazine Le Point.

Souad and Kader Merah, two siblings of Mohammed and Abdelghani Merah, “hated the infidels and particularly the Jews, without any distinctions,” Abdelghani Merah reportedly wrote.

Merah and his brother spent their summer vacations in Algeria, their parents’ land of origin.

“The vast majority of our paternal family were supporters of FIs and GIA,” two militant Islamist groups, Abdelghani Merah wrote.

France’s Hollande ripped Netanyahu, French satirical weekly reports

French President Francois Hollande said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “turned a memorial service in Toulouse into an election rally,” a French satirical newspaper reported.

The weekly Le Canard Enchaine published an unsigned article that said Hollande made the comment last week while flying to Beirut. The item was referring to a visit that Netanyahu made with Hollande to the Jewish school in Toulouse where Mohammed Merah, a radical French Islamist, killed three children and a rabbi in March.

The report was not corroborated in other French media outlets that had correspondents on Hollande's plane as part of his entourage on his state visit to Lebanon.

Canard had reported in its previous edition that ordinary Frenchmen were unhappy about Netanyahu’s visit.

The paper also reported that Hollande said that Netanyahu was “obsessed with Iran.” During his speech, the Israeli prime minister called Hollande a “friend” and thanked him for his “determination” in fighting anti-Semitism. 

Canard offers fake interviews regularly alongside investigative journalism features and leaked reports.

According to TF1, a French television network,  Hollande’s decision to join Netanyahu in Toulouse was made at the last minute and unplanned.

At Toulouse, French president vows to fight anti-Semitism

France will clamp down on anti-Semitic hate speech online and elsewhere, French President Francois Hollande said at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We will relentlessly combat anti-Semitism, also on social networks where haters may have anonymity,” Hollande said at a press conference that he held on Thursday with Netanyahu at the Jewish school in Toulouse where three children and a rabbi were murdered in March.

In his speech, which followed a commemorative ceremony dedicated to the attack's victims, Hollande said that he would promote new legislation against hate speech.

The legislation was inspired by the findings from a report on French security authorities’ failures in handling surveillance of Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old Muslim radical who killed the four Jews on March 19 at Toulouse's Otzar Hatorah school, days after he gunned down French soldiers at a nearby town.

“We will tear off all the masks, all the pretexts, to anti-Semitic hate,” Hollande said. Addressing Netanyahu, he added: “I would like to remind you of the determination with which the French Republic has confronted anti-Semitism, not only wth words but with actions.”

“Every time a Jew is targeted because he or she is Jewish, it concerns Israel. That is the meaning of your presence here, which I understand,” Hollande told Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister was making his first visit to France since Hollande was elected president.

Netanyahu said that Hollande's presence expresses “the spirit of resistance to evil and tyranny.” Netanyahu said that “anybody who doesn’t respect the human rights of Jews will not respect the human rights of other peoples.” He added: “It was not accident that the killer of Toulouse killed not only Jews but also French soldiers, Christian and Muslim alike.”

Netanyahu ended his speech with nine seconds of vigorous singing of “Am Yisrael Chai,” or “the people of Israel live on,” in response to “all of Israel’s haters, be they in France or at the Dolphinarium or Itamar,” the scenes of past attacks by Palestinian terrorists.

The chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, accompanied Netanyahu to Toulouse, where he announced the establishment of a fund to help upgrade security in Jewish communities. The fund will support infrastructure upgrades and other security measures for communal institutions in small Jewish communities, including schools and synagogues.

Yaacov Monsonego, director of the Otzar Hatorah school and the father of one of the victims, told Hollande that his presence at the school shoulder to shoulder with the Israeli premier attested to the French president’s devotion to confronting anti-Semitism.

“I let go of Miriam’s hand and two minutes later she was executed just because she was Jewish,” Monsonego said, his voice choking with emotion. Merah gunned down his daughter along with two other boys and their father, Rabbi Jonathan Sandler.

“Hatred ruined my life and that of my wife, the tragedy plunged us into darkness. We felt alone,” Monsonego said. The empathy of the French people, Israelis and Jews and non-Jews from all over the word helped the community return to normal, he said, “but the pain continue to dwell in us.”

Victims’ families demand inquiry into Toulouse murders

The families of the victims of Mohammed Merah have called for a parliamentary inquiry into failures that allowed him to murder four Jews and three French soldiers in the Toulouse area.

The families’ attorney, Patrick Klugman, said the parliament should set up a committee of inquiry in light of the findings of a recent report, which named “objective failures” in the authorities’ handling of Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical whom police killed in a gun fight after the murders.

The report by France’s police comptroller unit said the failures meant that French authorities miscalculated the threat posed by Merah.

Klugman made the statement Wednesday to France Inter, a radio broadcaster, on the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to the school where on March 19 Merah gunned down his Jewish victims, a rabbi and three children. Netanyahu announced that he would visit the site with French President Francois Hollande.

At the moment, “there is no official instance represented in the investigation that can clear the barriers and evaluate all the conflicting accounts,” said Klugman, a former president of the Union of French Jewish Students and well-known campaigner against anti-Semitism.

Merah, who had made several trips to trouble spots in the Middle East and thousands of telephone calls all over the world, had been under some form of surveillance for approximately two years before he struck, but only in November 2011 did his file reach the French domestic intelligence agency DCRI.

Liberation, a French daily, revealed on Oct. 31 that two police officers from Toulouse, Christian Ballé-Andui and an agent identified only as “Hassan,” recommended that their superior consider arresting the already radicalized Merah as early as June 2011 for conspiring to commit a crime. Their warnings went unheeded.

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.

Jewish life in France: Progress amid ongoing concerns

On March 19, Mohamed Merah, 23, attacked the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse in southern France, killing three students and a rabbi.

The young Muslim subsequently died in a shootout with police, but within 10 days of the killing spree there were 90 anti-Semitic incidents throughout France.

In contrast, in early July, French government officials signed an agreement to mobilize their diplomatic, cultural and educational channels “to raise awareness [of the Holocaust] among the new generations, in France and abroad, of the duty and actions of remembrance.”

To outside observers, the signals are mixed. Is France, with its history of anti-Semitism, finally confronting its record of collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II? Do French Jews feel secure or are they packing to leave the country?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean and international relations director respectively, spent four intensive days in France recently to see for themselves.

In a packed schedule of meetings in Marseilles, Toulouse, Lyons and Paris, the two men met with high government officials, police commanders, Jewish and Muslim community leaders and Chabad students. Their itinerary was facilitated by David Martinon, France’s consul general in Los Angeles.

Cooper summed up his reactions during an interview.

He was deeply affected, as were the French media and public, by eyewitness reports of the Toulouse school shooting, during which the killer grabbed a fleeing 8-year-old girl by the hair and shot her execution style.

“That act was a game-changer,” Cooper said, as was this statement by the killer during negotiations with police: “I used an Uzi, an Israeli pistol, to kill Israelis. … I killed Jews in France as these are the same Jews who kill innocents in Palestine.”

Cooper observed that Merah, a self-described al-Qaeda militant, “is challenging France from his grave that he is justified in killing French Jewish school kids, since they will grow up to become Israeli soldiers. So, in effect, every Jew anywhere is a target.”

Against this somber background, Cooper found some encouraging signs that top Interior Ministry and police officials of the new French government of President Francois Hollande “are getting it.”

The question now is whether the country’s leadership will summon the will and the public support to respond to this challenge to the government’s authority by Muslim and other domestic extremists, Cooper noted.

He gives high grades to the French Jewish community of some 600,000 for its self-defense organization and general attitude.

“They are not in denial of the threats facing them, but they worry not so much about their own survival but whether their children and grandchildren will be able to thrive in France,” Cooper said.

One positive sign is the agreement signed earlier this month at the French Foreign Affairs ministry between one arm of the French government and a Jewish organization to raise awareness of the Holocaust at home and abroad.

According to a lengthy memorandum transmitted to The Journal by the French consulate in Los Angeles, the joint campaign will employ exhibits, conferences, and translations and distribution of books by Primo Levi, Anne Frank and others, particularly in Arab-speaking countries.

Basically, the agreement forms a partnership between the French Institute (Institut Francais), equivalent to the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and the Shoah Memorial, France’s version of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

As their first joint venture, the two organizations invited 120 young people from around the world to participate in a series of meetings and tours focusing on human rights and the Holocaust.

A key facilitator in these efforts is Francois Zimeray, who bears the lengthy title of ambassador for human rights and the international dimensions of the Holocaust.

During a visit to Los Angeles last February, Zimeray, in an interview, asserted that while France has its anti-Semites, it is not an anti-Semitic country.

At the signing ceremony launching the new partnership, Zimeray joined Eric de Rothschild, president of the Shoah Memorial, and Xavier Darcos, president of the French Institute.

The Shoah Memorial opened in 2005 in Paris at the site of the Memorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu (Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr).

While the Shoah Memorial contains mainly archives and exhibits of the Holocaust, it also serves as a “museum of vigilance … a rampart against oblivion, against a rekindling of hatred and contempt for man,” de Rothschild said.

According to Zimeray’s office, France’s Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation has paid a total of 470 million euros to 40,000 persons deprived of their property under the anti-Semitic laws in force during the Nazi occupation of France.

For more information, in French, about the Shoah Memorial in Paris, visit

Families of Toulouse victims seek gag order on leaked recordings

Relatives of the victims of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah will seek to prevent the media from broadcasting recordings of the late French Muslim gunman.

Attorneys for the bereaved relatives said Monday that they are seeking a gag order on the recordings after negotiations between Merah and French police were aired by the French television channel TF1. Merah murdered three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19.

The conversations took place as police lay siege to Merah’s home in Toulouse. He was killed in a shootout on March 23.

“You are facing a man who does not fear death,” a masculine voice believed to belong to Merah is heard saying in the recordings, which were aired June 8. “I love death as much as you love life.”

Samia Maktouf, an attorney for one of the families, said that “The victims of this attack are outraged.” The families’ main concern is that Merah’s words will inspire copycats.

“Next, videos of Merah will be disseminated,” Maktouf said. “This will cause irrevocable damage.”

Merah made a video recording of his attack on the Otzar Hatorah school. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network obtained the footage but decided not to air it.

French police are investigating how TF1 obtained the recordings, which may have been leaked by the police.

The umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, CRIF, expressed its “shock and outrage” at the airing of the recordings. The Council for Audiovisual Communication, a French professional union, advised other media not to air them.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned the decision to run extracts of the negotiations. He also said Monday that he is concerned about a “new breed of anti-Semitism” in France. His comments came the day after the two suspects in the July 5 attack on a Jewish teenager traveling on a train between Toulouse and Lyon were detained by police.

“There is anti-Semitism that exists in our neighbourhoods, in our suburbs,” said Valls, according to the European Jewish Press and the French news agency AFP. “There are in our neighborhoods youths or younger persons who in the name of a collective identity they feel is under attack decide on the most ignorant course, the most dangerous to our values, to perpetuate attacks on Jews. They consider Jews to be the enemy.”

The 17-year-old victim of the train attack reportedly is a student at the Ozar Hatorah school. The teen, who reportedly was wearing a kippah and tzitzit, was accosted verbally before he was beaten by two assailants.

“Today, [people] don’t think twice about insulting or hitting a fellow citizen because he is identifiably Jewish in his appearance,” Valls added in an interview with a Jewish radio station.

According to the French Jewish Protection Service, there were more than 90 anti-Semitic incidents in France in the 10 days following the school shooting.

Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah’s father suing police

The father of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah reportedly is suing police for allegedly murdering his son.

Mohamed Benalel Merah filed a lawsuit against the RAID elite police who shot his son, the French news agency AFP reported Monday.

“This is a suit against unnamed persons for murder with aggravating circumstances concerning those who gave the orders at the top of the police,” Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, a member of the legal team representing Mohamed Benalel Merah, told AFP.

Mohammed Merah, who murdered four at a Jewish school in Toulouse in a drive-by shooting on his motorbike, was killed last March by police after a 32-hour siege at his house in the southern France city. Merah was fatally shot while jumping from his window during a daylong siege on his apartment in Toulouse.

“You’ve got 300 to 400 heavily armed people and a guy shut up all alone in his apartment. That alone is enough to raise questions,” Coutant-Peyre said.

Merah had confessed to the school killings, which included a rabbi and his two of his young sons, and the daughter of the school’s headmaster. He filmed himself carrying out the attacks.

AFP reported that the head of the legal team, Algerian attorney Zahia Mokhtari, said he has evidence that Merah was “liquidated,” including videos that Merah filmed himself during the siege.

Toulouse massacre encouraged more French anti-Semitic attacks, report says

The recent massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse “triggered an explosion” in anti-Semitic attacks across France, according to the French Jewish community’s protection service.

The Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive, or SPCJ, made the observation in a statement about its report released Monday, which documented more than 90 anti-Semitic incidents in the 10 days that followed the March shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse that left four dead.

In total, the ministry recorded 148 anti-Semitic incidents in March and April. Forty-three of those incidents are classified as violent.

The SPCJ report was released two days after the violent anti-Semitic attack on June 2 against three Jews at Villeurbanne near Lyon.

The report relies on data compiled by the French Interior Ministry since the March 19 Toulouse shooting, in which Muslim radical Mohamed Merah killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school.

In March and April, the French interior ministry listed 24 and 19 violent anti-Semitic attacks respectively, compared with four and 10 incidents in the corresponding months of the previous year.

Authorities also recorded 69 instances of anti-Semitic intimidation and threats in March and 36 such incidents in April, compared with 17 and 37 in March and April 2011.

The last violent incident recorded in the interim report occurred April 30 in Marseille.

A Jewish man and his friend were assaulted by people who self-identified to the victims as Palestinians and promised to “exterminate” the Jews, according to the report.

The perpetrators assaulted the man, causing him internal bleeding.

SPCJ called the situation “deeply worrisome” and added that it reflected “empathy” on the part of some attackers toward the actions of Toulouse shooter Merah.

Opinion: When killers target kids

On July 22, 2011, 33-year-old Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 people, most of them teenagers, on the island of Utøya in Norway. On March 19, 2012, 23-year-old Mohammed Merah shot and killed a teacher and three young children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

Both killers targeted children, which makes the crimes especially shocking. Breivik arrived at a summer camp on Utøya dressed as a policeman so that the children would approach him before he opened fire. Merah shot 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan Sandler while Sandler was trying to shield his children, 4-year-old Gabriel and 5-year-old Arieh. As the father and one son lay dying, the other son crawled away but was shot trying to escape. Inside the school, Merah grabbed 7-year-old Myriam Monsonego, the daughter of the head teacher, and shot her in the head point-blank. Days earlier, Merah had killed three French Muslim soldiers, just as Breivik had bombed and killed innocent civilians hours before the Utøya massacre. Breivik was arrested and is currently on trial. Merah, after a 30-hour siege of his barricaded apartment, was killed by French police.

The crimes left people in France and Norway in a state of extreme fear and unimaginable grief. For most people there was one fundamental question: How could anyone commit such acts? French President Nicolas Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe used the word “monster” to describe Merah, and this word has also been used to describe Breivik. It implies that Breivik and Merah are alien, or not human. But this label is unhelpful and out of place in an age of science and rationalism. We need a proper explanation, and it centers on psychological and neuroscientific research into empathy.

We all know what empathy is. Seeing an old man stumble across the street, we not only read the situation but also feel impelled to rush over and help him. Lacking empathy would mean we could just walk by. Empathy is normative: Most of us have enough empathy to know which of our words or deeds would upset others, so we can bite our lip, or sit on our hands, when we sense it is prudent or kind to do so. Empathy provides the brakes on our behavior.

Those brakes were nonexistent in Breivik and Merah. The two killers were able to stop seeing their victims as people with thoughts, feelings, rights — people with families and friends who loved them and with dreams and hopes for a future. They instead came to see them as objects that could be discarded. How?

Looking at these two awful cases, we can see some common factors that give us a clue as to what happened.

First, both young men had extreme ideological beliefs. We don’t yet know if extremist ideology is a risk factor for cruelty, but it seems plausible that ideology can lead people to “switch off” their empathy. Breivik says the reason he murdered children and adolescents was to draw attention to his manifesto aimed at preventing Europe from being multicultural and from “Islamification.” Merah said he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinians and take revenge on French Muslim soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both men were convinced by the rightness of their political beliefs, and both were willing to sacrifice and dehumanize people to achieve their ends.

Second, these two murderers shared something else: Breivik’s parents divorced when he was a year old, and Breivik had had no contact with his father since 1995. Merah, too, was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was young. Psychological research from psychiatrist John Bowlby tells us that one route to low empathy is an absence of important parental affection in early childhood. So is growing up with a sense of distrust and feeling uncared for.

Third, research by personality psychologist Avshalom Caspi shows that certain genes, if present in a person who has experienced emotional neglect, can determine how much empathy a person ends up with. In other words, childhood neglect is one risk factor, but in combination with the “wrong” genes, the risk increases still further. Identifying if murderers like Breivik and Merah share these genes will be important for future research to establish.

Finally, both Breivik and Merah have been given a psychiatric diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. MRI scanning shows that a fully functioning “empathy circuit” involves at least 10 different brain regions. Some of these are in the cortex, while others are deep in the limbic system of the brain. Most of us have an empathy circuit that develops and functions naturally, but some people have an empathy circuit that malfunctions. In individuals with narcissistic or psychopathic personality disorder, parts of the empathy circuit are less well-developed or less active.

So at least four factors can cause the empathy circuit to malfunction: extremist beliefs, adverse social experience, genetic makeup and personality disorder. These can in combination tip a person to act in cruel ways. How this neural circuit functions determines whether we act with cruelty or kindness.

Given the biological dimension to many of these factors, however, we face the uncomfortable question of whether those who suffer from low levels of empathy long-term can be considered to have a neurological disability. Clearly, we need to impose sanctions on those who hurt others or commit murder, and we need to protect our communities from their dangerousness. But the view that some murderers may have an “empathy disorder” could make the line between the prison system and the health system increasingly hard to draw.

We are also left to wonder whether it is possible to intervene in order to remedy severe malfunctions of the empathy circuit. This requires more research. We know that some aspects of empathy (such as emotion-recognition skills) can be taught, and some therapies aimed at fostering empathy (such as mentalization-based therapy) are being explored for people with personality disorders. But these are fledgling efforts. Whether any interventions would be effective in preventing murder is completely unknown.

Nothing can undo the awful, terrible loss of the families of the victims, to whom we send our deepest sympathy. But if we are to prevent tragedies such as those in Utøya and Toulouse, we must learn how to diagnose the absence of empathy — and intervene before it becomes fatal.

This article was originally published at Zócalo Public Square (

Simon Baron-Cohen is professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and author of “The Science of Evil” (Basic Books), published in the UK as “Zero Degrees of Empathy” (Penguin).

French voters moving on from Toulouse, but Jews can’t let it go

If Isaac Sitrin is worried about being targeted by Jew-hating thugs, then he is hiding it well.

After determining that a fellow train passenger is Jewish and willing to lay tefillin, he ushers the passenger to the center of Gare du Nord train station. Praying aloud, Sitrin performs the ritual ceremony as his wife and daughters wait nearby.

“We feel safer now. [President] Nicolas Sarkozy put cops everywhere and got the killer right away. Many Jews will vote for him after Toulouse,” Sitrin says in reference to the slaying of a rabbi and three children last month by a Muslim radical at a Jewish school.

Police killed the suspected murderer, Mohammad Merah, two days later in a gunfight. And authorities upped security around Jewish institutions, banned some radicals from entering France and made dozens of arrests.

The Toulouse attack will have a “decisive effect” on how Jews vote in France’s presidential election, says Michel Zerbib, news director at Radio J, the French Jewish station. “We can expect even greater Jewish support for Sarkozy than in 2007.”

Meanwhile, Zerbib says, the non-Jewish electorate has shifted its attention to the central issue of the race: the French economy. “But Jews see what happened as an existential threat,” he says. “They cannot let go.”

Influential members of the French Jewish community praise Sarkozy, leader of the center-right UMP party, for his performance. Yet many feel let down by Sarkozy, once their undisputed favorite. Influential French Jews balk at the Socialist attitude to “new anti-Semitism” and harsh criticism of Israel, and say they have few alternatives to Sarkozy.

That’s good news for the extreme right, now under softer leadership and hungry for Jewish approval to upgrade its public image.

On April 2, the Jewish umbrella group CRIF organized a meeting in Paris for the community with Pierre Moscovici, national secretary of the Socialist Party and a campaign manager for Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande.  Moscovici, a Pris-born Jew, says Hollande is “friendly to Israel and strict but fair with its government—out of commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.”

“In addition, the Socialist Party has other rigorous men and women of principle who are both friendly and demanding when it comes to Israel. They firmly oppose anti-Semitism,” he says.

CRIF President Richard Prasquier believes “many Jews will vote for the Socialists.” But opinion shapers and Jewish community leaders also judge Hollande on the actions of some of his party members before and after the Toulouse shooting.

“Hollande is seen as responsible for the left’s unwillingness to face the new Muslim anti-Semitism in France,” Zerbib says—anti-Semitism that leads extremists to stage reprisals on French Jews for Israeli actions.

Professor Shmuel Trigano, an expert in French Jewry and lecturer at Paris-Nanterre University, speaks of “a near total silence of the Socialist Party on hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks” and complains of “disproportionate criticism of Israel.”

In January, Socialist parliament member Jean Glavany wrote a parliamentary report accusing Israel of “water apartheid” and theft in the Palestinian territories. CRIF called the document biased.

Regardless of their misgivings about the Socialist Party, many Jews are displeased with Sarkozy. The Cevipof study of Jewish voters shows they are more disappointed in the president than is the general electorate.

In the past two years, Sarkozy’s approval rating has dropped 19 percentage points among Jews—from 62 percent in 2007-09 to 43 percent in 2009-11. Among non-Jews, Sarkozy’s popularity fell 14 points, to 32 percent in January. The study was based on a questionnaire filled out by 173,000 French voters, including 1,000 who identified themselves as Jews.

“There isn’t a single candidate the Jews can wholly welcome,” says Philippe Karsenty, a Jewish-French politician and media analyst. “Sarkozy has some responsibility for what happened in Toulouse because he let anti-Zionist propaganda of the French public media outlets grow.”

Karsenty, who has long claimed that a France 2 television report on the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, in Gaza in 2000 was doctored to blame his death on Israel, accuses Sarkozy of “helping Al Jazeera spread the kind of radicalism that caused the Toulouse massacre.”

Last year, the Al Jazeera network bought media rights from the Union of European Football Associations to screen most championship soccer matches in France. The deal came at the expense of the previous rights owner, the French pay-television channel Canal+. The French government has considerable clout over UEFA.

“The same imams Sarkozy banned deliver their message to France through Al Jazeera in Arabic,” Karsenty says. “The French government should not be encouraging that.”

Sarkozy has disappointed the French Jewish community in other ways, too: the French vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, condemnations of Israeli settlements and when he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar.”

That disappointment may partly explain an apparent shift in how some Jews view the National Front, France’s largest right-wing party. The anti-Muslim party with a history of anti-Semitism is led by Marine Le Pen.

On March 27, the French branch of the Jewish Defense League publicly expressed support for the National Front for the first time.

“An important National Front delegation visited the Grande Synagogue de la Victoire in Toulouse,” the branch’s website said. “Bickering” among Jewish institutions will “surely ensue.”

Founded in the 1970s by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, JDL is considered a terrorist group in the U.S. but is legal in France. Amnon Cohen, JDL’s Paris spokesman, says it has dozens of activists.
Cohen says the National Front “isn’t perfect but isn’t dangerous. We’ll work with those willing to fight the Islamic threat.”

Since assuming the leadership of the National Front last year, Le Pen has distanced herself from the anti-Semitic rhetoric of her father and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has called the Holocaust a “detail in history” and been convicted several times in France for Holocaust denial. He also said the German occupation of France was “not particularly inhumane.”

Marine Le Pen, by contrast, has reached out to French Jews and Israelis, describing them as “natural allies.” Even before that, in 2007, the National Front received nealy 5 percent of the Jewish vote.

Zerbib, the Jewish radio journalist, says the Toulouse shooting could bring more Jews to vote Le Pen.

“They would be protest votes by Jews who feel abandoned,” he says. “More Jews feel like that after Toulouse and they are seriously thinking about emigrating to Israel.”

France arrests more suspected Islamic militants

Ten suspected Islamic militants were arrested in France in the second mass arrest there in recent days.

The suspects are alleged to have ties to radical Islamist websites and had similar profiles to Mohammed Merah, the gunman who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, Reuters reported, citing a police source.

Some 19 suspected Islamic militants were arrested last week, including who are members of the extremist group Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride. They are under investigation for alleged terrorist activities, Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters Tuesday, including planning the abduction of a Jewish judge.

French officials have said the arrests are not related to the recent attack on the Toulouse Jewish school.

The latest arrests occurred in the southern French cities of Marseille and Valence, two towns in the southwest, and in the northeastern town of Roubaix, according to Reuters.

The suspects were discovered on Islamist websites expressing extreme views.