'French Jewish community must not bow to fear'

CRIF president praises response by authorites, says security has tightened at Jewish sites across France.

March 20, 2012 19:46
2 minute read.
Moment of silence observed in Toulouse

Moment of silence observed in Toulouse 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

French Jews on Tuesday remained fearful of another deadly attack the day after an unknown assailant killed four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the head of the Jewish community’s umbrella group told The Jerusalem Post. Yet he urged French Jews “not to surrender to fear.”

Richard Prasquier, the president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, better known by its acronym CRIF, said security at Jewish sites around the nation has been tightened in light of the threat that the killer, who is still at large, poses.

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“We’ve been talking to the government about protecting Jewish institutions and Jewish schools and they’ve increased protection in the south-west area,” he said, where Toulouse is located.

“There is a lot of extra police and personnel. How long will it stay this way, we don’t know.”

Prasquier said he understood Jewish parents in France who felt uncomfortable sending their children to school – especially after footage revealed the gunman may have filmed himself shooting his victims – but urged a return to normalcy.

“There is fear today at school with the video released,” he said. “But we have to tell them we should not surrender to fear.”

Prasquier, who has been the president of CRIF since 2007, praised authorities saying their response so far has been appropriate.

The killer, who has been described by eyewitnesses as short and stocky, is believed to have killed seven people in three separate incidents in and around Toulouse over the past two weeks.

The motivation for the killings is still unclear, yet Prasquier said whatever it is, be it racism, religious extremism or some other rationale, the person’s choice to target Jews on Monday was not accidental.

“He killed Jewish children in an identified Jewish school and a largely Jewish area,” he said. “So he made a specific choice of killing Jewish children.”

The events of the past week may have a profound effect on the outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections taking place in France later this year. Both President Nicolas Sarkozy and his main political rival Francois Hollande have suspended campaigning and traveled to Toulouse to express solidarity.

Prasquier said politics has been pushed aside at a time like this but speculated that the slayings might give rise to a “law and order” agenda.

“Whether it will increase the number of people who think we need to increase the level of punishment I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”

Meanwhile, French Ambassador to Israel Francois Bigot told the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee in Jerusalem on Tuesday that his country would not rest until the perpetrator of the atrocity in Toulouse is found.

“This horrific event is not only a crime against those killed, but against democracy and the shared values of France and Israel,” he said.

Bigot added that the apparent hate crime went against the larger trend in France, which has seen a drop in local anti-Semitism over the past couple of years. He said in 2011 there were 380 anti- Semitic incidents as opposed to 900 in 2001.

MK Danny Danon (Likud), who chairs the committee, said sentences for those who commit anti-Semitic murders should be more severe and punishable by death.

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