Commentary Magazine


Topic: CRIF

After Toulouse, More Attacks on Jews

When four Jews were killed in an apparent terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, in March, interest in the story quickly evaporated when the shooter turned out to be a Muslim extremist rather than a neo-Nazi, as it was first believed. But though the international press hasn’t done much follow up about the connection between the current wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping over Europe and violence against Jews, it appears the problem continues to grow. As the Times of Israel reports today, attacks on French Jews are becoming more frequent.

The beating of three Jewish men in Villeurbanne, outside of Lyon, by ten assailants believed to be of North African extraction is just the latest incident alarming French Jews.

Joël Mergui, president of the Central Consistory, an umbrella organization working to coordinate local Jewish communities, said the country’s Jews were under constant attack. “Not a week passes without anti-Semitic assaults in France. I refuse to believe Jews will be forced to choose between security and their Jewish identity.”

The chief rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, called the atmosphere “unbearable.”

“These incidents are becoming more and more frequent, so much so, alas, as to make one take them for granted,” he said.

While French authorities talked about a crackdown on Muslim extremists after Toulouse, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) told Le Figaro that incidents such as the one in Villeurbanne are becoming commonplace, noting that in the month after the incident, more than 140 attacks on Jews were perpetrated. But the problem is not just the scale of these assaults but also the unwillingness of many to confront the source of the problem.

Though attacks against Jews in Western Europe seem to be the province of Muslim immigrants, it is a mistake to view this violence as solely the result of the importation of Middle Eastern attitudes.

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When four Jews were killed in an apparent terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, in March, interest in the story quickly evaporated when the shooter turned out to be a Muslim extremist rather than a neo-Nazi, as it was first believed. But though the international press hasn’t done much follow up about the connection between the current wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping over Europe and violence against Jews, it appears the problem continues to grow. As the Times of Israel reports today, attacks on French Jews are becoming more frequent.

The beating of three Jewish men in Villeurbanne, outside of Lyon, by ten assailants believed to be of North African extraction is just the latest incident alarming French Jews.

Joël Mergui, president of the Central Consistory, an umbrella organization working to coordinate local Jewish communities, said the country’s Jews were under constant attack. “Not a week passes without anti-Semitic assaults in France. I refuse to believe Jews will be forced to choose between security and their Jewish identity.”

The chief rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, called the atmosphere “unbearable.”

“These incidents are becoming more and more frequent, so much so, alas, as to make one take them for granted,” he said.

While French authorities talked about a crackdown on Muslim extremists after Toulouse, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) told Le Figaro that incidents such as the one in Villeurbanne are becoming commonplace, noting that in the month after the incident, more than 140 attacks on Jews were perpetrated. But the problem is not just the scale of these assaults but also the unwillingness of many to confront the source of the problem.

Though attacks against Jews in Western Europe seem to be the province of Muslim immigrants, it is a mistake to view this violence as solely the result of the importation of Middle Eastern attitudes.

The flow of raw hate speech against Jews from Cairo and Tehran and other Arab and Muslim capitals is not to be underestimated, but the willingness of European intellectuals to lend their support to the demonization of the Jewish state has given these sentiments a patina of undeserved legitimacy.

The notion that there is a clean distinction between street violence and the effort to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and defend itself cannot be sustained. European intellectuals may think they operate on a different level from street thugs. But the logical next step from the hounding of Jews on the editorial pages and in academia is clear. So long as Israel is singled out for unfair treatment and economic and academic boycotts of the Jewish state are treated as “human rights” causes, we should not be surprised that violence against Jews is on the upsurge.

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Hollande Win Will Boost Anti-Israel Left

The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

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The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

While Prasquier has landed in hot water for his candor, there’s little doubt he was telling the truth. Though there is probably little difference between the views of Sarkozy — who is well-known for his dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — about the moribund Middle East peace process, Sarkozy’s leadership on Iran will be missed if he loses. Without Sarkozy pushing the West to make good on its threat of an oil embargo of Iran, it is entirely possible that European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will have the leeway to make an unsatisfactory deal with the Iranians that will not resolve the problem but will spike plans for stepped up sanctions.

Just as telling is Prasquier’s description of France’s political alignment:

The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the president of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those Socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel’s policies. Beyond the Socialists, but still in Hollande’s camp, are the leftist parties and the Greens who express a deep hostility towards Israel and are at the forefront of every anti-Israel demonstration, declaration and petition. The fact that Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the renewed Communist party, only managed a disappointing 11 percent result, might well reduce its impact on French foreign policy, but I expect a surge in leftist and Communist manifestations of anti-Zionism.

Tellingly, Prasquier plays down the influence of Marine Le Pen’s far right party that did so well in the first round of the French elections. Though support for a grouping that has been a font of anti-Semitism isn’t good news, he rightly points out that it is not the National Front that is French Jewry’s biggest problem these days. As the recent terrorist attack in Toulouse illustrated, the Jews have more to fear from radical Islamists and Israel-haters than the traditional anti-Semitism of the old French right which has little influence on the government. But if the anti-Zionists of the left regain influence, prospects for good relations between France and Israel as well as for French support for stopping Iran will decrease. Given Hollande’s lead in the polls, it appears Prasquier’s fears will soon be put to the test.

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