French Jewish leader Joel Mergui is extremely concerned that people expressing anti-Semitism in France are no longer ashamed or frightened to do so in public.
Speaking while on a solidarity trip to Israel, Mergui said on Wednesday that declarations and comments heard in France against the background of Israel’s military operation in Gaza had previously been uttered only in secret, but that hate speech against Jews in France has now spilled out into the open.
Mergui is the president of the Consistoire Central des Israelites de France, a representative organization of French Jewry, and he made his comments while visiting southern Israel with a delegation from the organization.
He condemned Islamic jihadists as “today’s Nazis,” and said that phenomenon needed to be fought not just by Israel but by all democratic countries. The hatred evinced by such people had crept into Europe and must be as vigorously combated there as in the conflict zones of the Middle East, he added.
On Wednesday, Mergui and the Consistoire Central delegation visited Ashdod, the Ashkelon region and Sderot in order to experience what life has been like for residents of southern Israel over the past few weeks.
“We came to support the residents of the South, they have stayed in their cities and communities and continued to live under fire and they are heroes,” Mergui told The Jerusalem Post.
“Children have been playing in shelters for two months and can’t leave, so we wanted to come here and see how they feel,” he continued.
Mergui said it was “moving” to see citizens living under rocket bombardment and praised the mayors of the region for doing everything possible to create a sense of normality for their citizens.
“Their tenacity in staying in their homes shows a strong belief in Zionism, in the Land of Israel and everything that they do here.
“In this way, the Jews in Israel are protecting the Jewish state,” he continued and emphasized the importance of the State of Israel for the global Jewish people.
“If a Jewish and democratic state had existed here 70 years ago, then there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust.
But the jihadism we are seeing today is the modern-day Nazism.
“Unfortunately, this same hatred has come to Toulouse, to Brussels and other places in Europe,” Mergui said.
French Islamist Mohammed Merah shot dead four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and Mehdi Nemmouche, also from France and suspected of having fought with the brutal Islamic State militia in the Syrian civil war, killed four people in a shooting attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels on May 24 this year.
“Jihadism is the Nazism of today and these people want to kill Jews and destroy the Jewish state,” Mergui said. “They are not succeeding, thank God, but we have a similar challenge in Diaspora.
“This hatred of Jews is a hatred of democracy, of the democratic, civilized world... It’s a war of ideologies, an ideology of death against freedom and democracy.”
Mergui described the rise in anti-Semitism in France as a serious problem, although he stopped short of saying there is a systemic threat to Jewish security in the country.
He said that anti-Zionist sentiment in the country was merely a pretext for anti-Semitism and that both extremist Muslim elements in the country and far-right nationalists were behind the rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
In what he described as the most concerning new development, Mergui said those expressing anti-Semitic hatred were no longer afraid to do so.
“We’ve reached a situation in which there are people who are not afraid or embarrassed to openly express their anti-Semitism,” he said, adding that they are not afraid of the police or prison either.
“All those who oppose the values of the republic and of democracy are no longer doing it hiding but are doing so without fear.
“They say death to the Jews, and we are all Mohammed Merah. These are things we’ve heard in Paris,” he exclaimed.
Mergui said the government was working hard to solve the problem but that he and other Jewish leaders would not relax or cease their efforts to combat anti-Semitism until there is evidence that it begins to decline.
“We have met with the minister of the interior and requested that he a find solution to the problem of anti-Semitism in France. It is the responsibility of all states to look after the security of all its citizens.
“The government is aware of the situation and is doing everything it can. We hope in the coming weeks to see a more precise explanation of a new program to reduce anti-Semitism,” he said.
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