WASHINGTON -- In a modern synagogue in the capitol on Tuesday, alongside members of Congress, Obama administration officials and hundreds of deeply troubled Jewish Americans, France's ambassador to the United States apologized for his country's conduct last week.
"We failed," Ambassador Gérard Araud told the audience. "We have not done enough. It's obvious."
Araud, once France's envoy to Israel, said he was "ashamed" at the prospect of his Jewish compatriots fleeing France out of fear, after the latest anti-Semitic attack in his homeland on Friday claimed the lives of four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket.
"We have to consider that we are at war," he said, warning that the very soul of France is at stake. "The first line of democracy is the journalists and the Jews."
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday night, Araud expanded on the dimensions and targets of that war.
France's challenge, he said, is delineating between criticism of the Israeli government and a growing, radical opposition to the existence of Israel as a vehicle for hatred against the Jewish people.
"When does it become anti-Zionism and when does it become anti-Semitism? It's very difficult. That's for the judge to decide," Araud said. "The problem is that we have, in the Arab community, this sort of mixture between the two elements which is explosive."
Protests over Gaza last summer, for instance, were largely legitimate— and can be expected to continue, he says, as a majority in France remain opposed to a host of Israeli government policies.
But "in this case, what is happening right now, in a sense, has nothing to do with Israel and the Palestinians," Araud said. "It's a general trend within Islam toward radicalization that is not coming from the conflict. It's a long-term trend in Islam."
Only at that radical fringe
do protestors peel off from demonstration and begin firebombing Jewish shops and synagogues, he said. Asked whether he believes anti-Semitism in France is isolated to its Muslim community, Araud said, "yes, I think so."
On this point, the Jewish community is skeptical. Introducing the ambassador, one policy director from the American Jewish Committee lauded the French government's immediate response to the events in Paris, but questioned its reaction to a massacre of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse in 2012, to the summer's firebombings and to nearly three-dozen anti-Semitic attacks in between.
"The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon, as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Shabbat, was the latest in a series of very troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the crowd.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also delivered remarks at the AJC event, attended by Ira Forman, the Obama administration's special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, as well as Alan Gross, free from imprisonment in Cuba nearly four weeks to the day.
"At this point, it seems pretty clear that the ambassador and the leadership of France understand what they need to do and what's at stake," Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Florida) told the Post
after the conference. "When the French ambassador of the United States says the soul of France is at stake, it means they necessarily have to act to make absolutely sure they prevent future attacks."
To ensure the safety of France's Jewish community, and several other sites considered vulnerable to Islamic terror, Paris has mobilized an unprecedented 10,000 army troops on its own streets.
The move was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose visit to Paris over the weekend caused controversy separate and apart from the questions of the day— or perhaps not. Implying France is no longer safe for its Jews, Netanyahu reminded a packed Grand Synagogue of Paris that Israel was their home, too. "Am Yisrael chai," he chanted: The nation of Israel lives.
"It's normal for the prime minister of Israel, after all, to say to the Jews, 'come to Israel.' Immediately, the head of the state concerned says, 'wait a minute, wait a minute— they are my citizens,'" Araud responded the Post
. "It's a normal misunderstanding between Zionism and the states. It's nothing new and nothing dramatic."