President Barack Obama talks on the phone with French President Francois Hollande from aboard Air Force One, Jan. 7, 2015..
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
WASHINGTON – As fury gripped Europe over Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer, US officials expressed concern over inadequate security for its Jewish populations – particularly in France, where synagogues were firebombed, Jewish-owned shops were vandalized, and Jews themselves were targeted over the actions of the Jewish state.
“The security need is very clear – Jewish communities need, desperately, security,” Ira Forman, the Obama administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in November. “In terms of stability, we’re talking about the viability of Jewish communities.”
The position of the United States was clear: The targeting of a Jewish minority for the actions of a specific foreign government – any government – was anti-Semitic, the crossing of a line that democratic governments cannot tolerate.
Speaking by phone from a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin at the time, Forman said France’s president, Francois Hollande, had spoken up “consistently and strongly” on the urgent need to combat anti-Semitism on the streets of Paris.
“The Jewish community had total access” to Hollande, he said.
But “let’s also be honest,” Forman continued.
“As one French-Jewish leader said to me, ‘I don’t have any friend in the Jewish community who has not thought about emigrating.”’ Washington’s concerns proved prudent this week, as violence once again struck France’s Jewish community – an increasingly common occurrence since Jewish schoolchildren were summarily executed in Toulouse in 2012.
The targeting of a kosher supermarket where an Islamic extremist and French national killed four and threatened several others forced Paris law enforcement to shut down the city’s main Jewish thoroughfares. The city’s Grand Synagogue closed on Shabbat for the first time since the Nazi occupation , the Post reported on Friday.
Hollande was quick to call the attack on the Hyper Cacher market an “anti-Semitic attack” – obvious to the community, but a significant political acknowledgment from the president.
Speaking to the Post on Saturday, one US official said the Obama administration agreed with the assessment that the supermarket attack was anti-Semitic, praising Hollande’s response.
“We condemn in the strongest terms yesterday’s cowardly anti-Semitic assault against the innocent people in the kosher supermarket,” Chanan Weissman, a spokesman for the State Department, said by e-mail.
“France’s historic Jewish community has too often in the recent past been the target of extremist violence,” Weissman said. “We commend President Hollande and the French government’s firm response to the terror attacks and the tragic loss of life this past week.”
After rallying with hundreds of thousands through the streets of Paris on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the landmark Grand Synagogue with Hollande, whose government now acknowledges an urgent need to stem a flow of Jewish emigration.
“There are a lot of people who will stop being Jewish, essentially,” Forman said in November.
“When the Jewish community is threatened this way, it ultimately is not just about the Jewish community. This level of anti-Semitism we’re seeing is about the values in a liberal, democratic Europe.
“And that’s of value to the United States,” he added.