Rallies were held across France to mark the tragic events of two years ago in Toulouse, in memory of seven persons who were murdered, among them four Jews, by Islamist Mohammed Merah.
In Paris on Wednesday, Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, called anti-Zionism “an invitation to anti-Semitism.” The old anti-Semitism of the French extreme Right is renewed: It feeds off hatred of Israel. It feeds off anti-Zionism, because anti-Zionism is an invitation to anti-Semitism,” he said.
Valls was speaking at a rally organized by the umbrella group for French Jewish communities, the CRIF, held in Trocadero Square near the Eiffel Tower, where more than 1,000 people gathered.
“Criticism of Israel that is based on anti-Zionism – that’s anti-Semitism today – is the refuge of those who do not accept the State of Israel,” he continued.
In France, with its strong tradition of egalitarianism, it is more usual for politicians to speak of their commitment to fight anti-Semitism in connection with other forms of racism; such a specific official statement was unusual.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that his attendance was “paying homage in the name of the government and the entire republic, a call to action against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.”
In the morning, a closed ceremony was held at the school where the four Jews were killed in Toulouse, in the presence of the pupils and Mayor Pierre Cohen.
In the evening, another public ceremony was held at the Halle au Grain concert hall in Toulouse, organized by the CRIF. Ayrault and European Parliament President Martin Schulz were the guests of honor.
In Bordeaux, CRIF organized another rally attended by, among others, the city’s mayor, former foreign minister Alain Juppé.
Ari Bensemhoun, the president of Toulouse’s Jewish community, has gone so far as to encourage young Jews to leave France. They should leave as it was no longer possible to practice Judaism openly and without fear in Toulouse, he told i24news TV on Monday.
“I won’t deny that. Yes, I encourage the younger people to make aliya to Israel or go elsewhere, where they can thrive in open Judaism.
Emancipated and without constantly fearing over what tomorrow will bring.”
There has been a marked increase in the number of French Jews who have moved to Israel since the killings two years ago, from fewer than 2,000 in 2012 to more than 3,000 last year.
President Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress, in a statement on Wednesday, commended the French authorities for their efforts to curb anti-Semitism and urged officials to “preempt the next murders by continuing to invest in education, law enforcement against those who preach hate and incitement, and to combat the extremists.”
The SPCJ, the security unit of the French Jewish community, says the murders triggered a wave of 90 anti-Semitic incidents in the subsequent 10 days.
Two years after the most traumatic Islamic terrorist attack on its territory, France continues to remember the killings in Toulouse. French websites and France 2 television reported Wednesday’s two ceremonies.
On March 19, 2012 the French-Algerian Merah shot and killed three Jewish children and the father of two of them at the entrance to the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse.
He had previously gunned down three French soldiers in the nearby town of Montauban. The police’s anti-terrorist unit eventually shot Merah dead.
On the first anniversary of the killing last year, French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended the commemoration.
In 2012, just after the attack, then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy came to the ceremony.