Stephen Brown: France’s Anti-Semitic Nightmare

The Land of Enlightenment is fast becoming the land of darkness for France’s Jewish citizens.

And many in the French Jewish community have been aware of this sad situation for some time, a realization that was reinforced by the attack on two synagogues by Muslim rioters in Paris last summer during the Gaza conflict. But the latest shocking, anti-Semitic crime that occurred early in December in the same city has deepened the community’s feeling that the possibility of living peaceful lives with a Jewish identity in France is rapidly disappearing.

The latest outrage produced by France’s growing anti-Semitic climate, found especially in its Muslim community, concerns the brutal and horrifying robbery of a Jewish family in their home in Creteil, a Parisian suburb. Three gloved and masked men, armed with pistols and a sawed-off shotgun, gained entrance to the family’s apartment after ringing the doorbell. Present in the apartment were a young man, 21, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, who answered the door. Both were immediately tied up and robbed of jewellery, cellphones, computers and bank cards.

“They said they knew we had cash in the flat ‘because Jews have money and they never keep it in the bank’,” the young man, identified only as Jonathan, said in an interview on French radio.

But the worst was yet to come. While one of the robbers left to use the bank cards, the man and his girlfriend were placed in different rooms, and the young woman was then raped.

Police arrested the suspects soon after the robbery, while a fourth accomplice is being sought. French law does not allow the immediate publication of their identities; but a German newspaper reported their first names as Ladji, Yazine and Omar, while a British publication stated two were “of African and North African origin.”

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated the “anti-Semitic character” of the attack “appeared confirmed.” Unsurprisingly, the savagery perpetrated on the young Jewish couple also may not have been the gang’s first violent, anti-Semitic crime. Police suspect the criminals of having beaten a man in his seventies in Creteil in November because he was Jewish. Two young Jews, aged 18 and 23, were also viciously assaulted last May in the same suburb, which is home to many Parisian Jews. The two victims had just left their synagogue on a Saturday evening. Their assailants are unknown.

Regarding the home invasion, it was reported the gang had been monitoring their target for some time. It was reported that a couple of days before the robbery, one of the criminals had even gone to the apartment under a phony pretext to check whether Jews really lived there. The gang verified the family’s religious identity when the father appeared wearing a kippa.

“The horrible side of this aggression is its premeditation,” Haim Korsia, the grand rabbi of France, told Le Figaro newspaper. “It is not a crime of opportunity. It was thought through and reflected on. This act was ripened through a deeply rooted hatred over a length of time. It is therefore a very serious act that poses the question about the cohabitation of different persons in a same space.”

Some French Jews, however, have been answering with their feet the “cohabitation” question Korsia brings up. According to the German newspaper, Die Welt, immigration of French Jews to Israel is set to almost double over last year, when 3,280 left for the Jewish state, an increase of 70 percent over 2012. French Jews also formed the largest group of new immigrants to Israel this year. France has the largest Jewish community in Europe with an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 members.

According to Le Figaro, young, French Jewish families are also leaving France for Israel both because of the country’s increasing anti-Semitism, which, they believe, endangers their children, and the French economy’s poor performance. Parents fear putting their children into Jewish schools and summer camps because of anti-Semitic attacks. And who can blame them when one recalls French jihadist Mohammed Merah, who murdered four people, three of them children, at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. Muslim rioters yelling “Death to Jews” in Paris during last summer’s anti-Israeli demonstrations have probably spurred others to head for France’s exits.

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky is the director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the country’s official immigration organization. In an interview with Die Welt, he related a telling incident concerning anti-Semitism in France and the fear it has engendered.  Accompanying a plane full of French Jews immigrating to Israel last summer, he said he asked the passengers, after they had received instructions concerning how they should react to rocket attacks in their new country, whether they had any fear?

“And they answered me: ‘No, in France we had fear. That’s over with here; we don’t have to hide’,” recalled Sharansky.

Sharansky also stated in the interview that anti-Semitism in parts of Paris has become so prevalent, it is dangerous even to go for a walk wearing a kippa.

“The threat here in Israel is different. Here, one can fight for his home,” he said. “In Europe, on the other hand, especially in France, the feeling is becoming stronger and stronger among Jews that they don’t have a home there anymore.”

And they most likely won’t, at least in France, if the political reaction to the anti-Semitic outrage in Creteil is anything to go by. The right words of condolence and outrage were said afterwards by all officials about the tragedy, but solutions to counter France’s growing Jew hatred were noticeably lacking.

President Francois Hollande serves as a good example of this phenomenon. He called the rape and robbery “unbearable violence” and “an assault on all France holds dear,” adding it proves the “fight against anti-Semitism must be carried out every day.” However, what Hollande left unsaid was how this fight was to be conducted and how it could be won.

Moreover, while Hollande says anti-Semitism must be fought, his Socialist Party (SP) supports a pro-Muslim immigration policy, since the SP views France’s six million strong Muslim community as its voting and ideological constituency. An increase in Muslim immigration, however, is a disaster for any struggle against anti-Semitism, as Jew hatred is highest among French Muslims. Many arrive in France from North African and other Islamic countries already possessing a strong hatred for Jews.

Korsia found it encouraging that “the social body” in France felt revulsion over the crime in Corteil, which, to him, was a “note of hope.” France’s Grand Rabbi would now like to see both Muslims and Jews approach each other and “encourage dialogue between the religions …especially, to reinvest in the national community.”

“It is necessary to work ceaselessly to make France a place of intelligence, of sharing, of respect, and to fight against those who do not want this,” he said.

Despite Korsia’s excellent, humanitarian intentions, however, the cards appear to be stacked against him. It is difficult to see how civilised dialogue will ever stop Islamist brown shirts, steeped in a deep, SS-like Jew hatred, from committing future barbarisms similar to that in Creteil, if not worse.

But France’s people should take note. A similar, virulent and violent anti-Semitism destroyed another leading European state 70 years ago. And if Jew hatred in France is left unchecked, their country appears destined for a similar, tragic fate.

“The hate against Jews in France is only the beginning,” warns Sharansky. “History shows that there, where Jews are being excluded, other people later become victims of the same ideology.”