A woman hangs signs reading (from L to R) "I am Charlie", "I am police officer", "I am mourning" and "I am Jewish" while paying tribute to victims of a kosher deli siege in Paris.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A leader of the French Jewish community said during a visit to Israel Tuesday that while in the past his community has supported Israel, now they are the ones in need of aid from the Jewish state.
Joël Mergui, president of the Consistoire, the umbrella organization of Jewish congregations in France, was part of a meeting of 20 European Jewish leaders at the Knesset Tuesday afternoon following the funeral of the four Jews killed during last week’s hostage crisis at Paris’ Hyper Cacher market.
Mergui told the group that the support from other Jewish communities gives French Jewry strength.
“We are in a difficult situation, and it is hard to describe how afraid our children are to go to Jewish schools in France,” he said.
“In the past, we said we don’t need Israel’s help. The opposite was true; we supported Israel. The situation changed and today the Jews of France need the State of Israel’s help.”
In response to Mergui’s remarks, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that Israel helps the Diaspora with great support from Israelis.
“This is a visit of solidarity,” Edelstein said, “that proves again, unfortunately under tragic circumstances, that ‘all of Israel is responsible for one another.’” The world must understand that terrorism is terrorism, no matter who perpetrates it, Edelstein added.
“We were all shocked by what happened and disturbed why what it means,” he said.
“I am happy that Jewish communities felt solidarity, which I know all citizens of Israel feel.”
Edelstein expressed hope that the world will better understand that “terror is terror; there is no difference between terrorism by the Islamic State or by Hamas.”
The Knesset Speaker clarified that the enemy is not Islam, but radical Islam, and as such, there must be a dialogue with those who are willing to listen. At the same time, he said, the world must fight uncompromisingly against terrorism.
Benjamin Albalas, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and president of the European Council of Jewish communities, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday: “I think every Jew believes and hopes that Israel will be in the forefront to combat and to fight anti-Semitism all over the world.”
“Anti-Semitism is rising very much everywhere in Europe and also in Australia and the United States,” he added. “We have had bad experiences in Greece with [the neo-Nazi] Golden Dawn [Party] and other extremists. Israel could guarantee a better future for the Jews in Europe or Israel.”
Not everyone present, however, agreed with Israel’s approach to the French community since last week’s tragic events.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for French Jews to immigrate to Israel has proved divisive among European Jewish leaders.
Eli Ringer, the immediate past president of Belgium’s Forum der Joodse Organisaties and a member of the European Jewish delegation organized by the Israeli Jewish Congress, said he believed statements describing France as dangerous to Jews and calls for mass immigration to Israel could have negative repercussions.
Speaking with the Post from the cemetery in Jerusalem following the funeral of Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, François-Michel Saada and Yoav Hattab, Ringer said he feared statements warning Jews to flee the Diaspora could conceivably embolden Islamic extremists and even lead to further violence.
“We are, of course, very thankful for Israel’s solidarity with all of the Jewish communities all over the world,” he said. “But I think if they would like to be more efficient they should change their message a little bit.”
Ringer said he believed “it’s very important that every Jew should make aliya,” but he thought such statements could create an impression that attacks are pushing the Jews out and that those who would engage in violence will say “lovely, great, we won” and redouble their efforts.
“Saying ‘you are in danger,’ this is a false message,” he said.
Ringer suggested establishing a pan-European Jewish body, divorced from day-today community politics, that would focus exclusively on anti-Semitism, explaining that the only hope for Jewish security lays in unity. He also reiterated the disappointment many of the continent’s Jews felt when the European Parliament failed to establish a task force on anti-Semitism despite initial support by a significant number of legislators. This showed a lack of understanding of the severity of the issue of anti-Semitism, many Jewish leaders said at the time.
While security will increase, Europeans still do not understand the importance of facing up to the threat of radical Islam as an ideology, Ringer said.
According to Albalas, Israel and Diaspora communities should cooperate on issues of security, but there remains a place for Jewish communities abroad.