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As Muslim rioters continue to rage across France forcing the French government to authorize curfews under the state of emergency law, the Jewish community has watched as the fears it once trumpeted to French authorities have become reality. Still, Jewish leaders have breathed a sigh of relief that so far their community hasn't been targeted.
Since 2000 "the Muslim people attacked the Jewish community and the Jewish community said to the government, 'Help us, help us. It's very important you help us because after us it's going to be you.' And the government said, 'It's not a real problem. It's a little problem and you're paranoid.' And today I think all the French are paranoid," said Paule H. Levy of France's Radio Communite Juive. "The Jewish people are not surprised [by the riots], because the Jewish people said, 'Pay attention [to Islamicism]. It's dangerous.'"
After a half-decade surge in anti-Semitic attacks and a long history of troubled treatment of Jews, Levy added that the recent violence is "the first time in French history that it's not a Jewish problem." She continued, "In the mind of the French people, it's not a Jewish problem. The Jewish community is not in this story, and that's a very good thing."
"Thank God it is a phenomenon that has roots in the lack of integration of the the population," said European Jewish Congress secretary-general Serge Cwajgenbaum, himself French. "It's societal, it's economical, it's educational. It has nothing to do with any other subject or matter. It's a social phenomenon and the government must take the necessary measures to bring peace back and take the necessary steps to integrate the population. I really hope this will not affect any particular group of citizens in France, and hopefully not the Jews."
Though last Friday a projectile was flung at a synagogue outside Paris, causing some minor damage but no injuries, Jewish officials stressed that the Jewish community has not been targeted and is only nominally more concerned than others.
Security at Jewish institutions, for instance, has not been beefed up more than at non-Jewish places, according to David Roche, general manager of the Jewish Agency in France and Europe. But he said he was surprised that Jews aren't expressing more concern about the implications of the lawlessness that has prevailed in France for almost two weeks.
"I think they are worried a little bit, but I'm not sure that they give it the import that I think they should," he said. "The Jews have an alternative and they know that there is no future for the Jewish people here in France."
Roche noted that there had been a slight increase in the number of calls he received Monday from families considering making aliya, but said it was too soon to tell if there was a new trend or whether it was connected to the riots.
So far there haven't been any official conversations between French Jews and Muslims over the issue of the riots, according to Edith Lenczner, media coordinator of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF). But she added that the two communities are in "constant dialogue."
Lenczner said that most Jews don't live near the poor areas where the bulk of the rioting has happened, but that those who do live close by are the most frightened members of the community.
"I guess they are also afraid as French citizens and as Jews because they've already experienced the problem of being a Jew in a suburb with a high Muslim population, and today they have a double fear that they can be a target," she said. "But until today, the Jews haven't been a target."
She cautioned, though, "We're still afraid that it might touch the Jews." The community is "on alert. They have been on alert since 2000," she said.
After so much experience with violence since then, Levy said, "the Jewish community knows exactly the heart of the problem. But I think the national community doesn't know exactly the nature of the problem. The nature of the problem is Islamicism."
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