'Inexplicable antisemitism' still a worldwide problem - Herzog in France

"It is truly heartbreaking to see so much human suffering and to witness the destruction of flourishing cities as they are transformed into battlefields," President Isaac Herzog said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Ohr Torah Jewish school in Toulouse, France. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Ohr Torah Jewish school in Toulouse, France.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

At the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal joined Macron and his wife Brigitte in marking the 10th anniversary of the murder of four Jews on Sunday — three of them children, in a terrorist attack on the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse.

Soon after arriving in Toulouse, and following a wreath-laying ceremony,  the Herzogs and the Macrons, together with former presidents of France Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, visited the Ohr Torah School, and met with the families of the victims, after having previously met with teachers and students who had been at the school at the time of the attack.

At the school itself, they spent time with school principal Yaacov Monsonego and his wife Yaffa who had lost their daughter Myriam in the attack, and they also learned of how the incident had strengthened the Jewish community of Toulouse in their resolve to remain united.

At the memorial ceremony for the victims that was also attended by leaders of the Jewish community, Herzog emphasized that there is no justification for the murder of innocent children or any act of terror anywhere.

He described terrorism as a means of distilled hatred which is found among the extremist elements of Islam, who use this bitter hatred as a reason for attacking Jews, as well as other Moslems and Christians.

 Israeli President Isaac Herzog and French President Emmanuel Macron meeting, March 20, 2022.  (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) Israeli President Isaac Herzog and French President Emmanuel Macron meeting, March 20, 2022. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Even today, he said, there are incidents of inexplicable antisemitism throughout the world, based on irrational hatred.

This is most evident in social media, Herzog noted and urged that it be fought at state, legal, and educational levels. Antisemitism includes acts and deeds against the Jewish state and attempts to annihilate it, he said. In reference to the ongoing Iranian threat. Herzog stressed that Iran is the central source of international terror. The family of nations must stand together against Iran, he insisted.

Herzog reminded his audience that they were assembled at a time when the skies of Europe are black with the smoke of cannon fire and the lives of millions are under threat as they flee from their homes.

"It is truly heartbreaking to see so much human suffering and to witness the destruction of flourishing cities as they are transformed into battlefields," he said, as he praised the efforts of European nations to help the refugees and to try and influence a speedy end to the hostilities.

Prior to his arrival in France, Herzog wrote a column for Le Monde in which he stated that he had been unable to get the names of the four victims of the terrorist shooting in Toulouse ten years ago out of his head.

All four — eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego, Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two sons Arie, 6, and Gabriel, 3, whom he had tried to shield, were buried in Jerusalem.

Herzog, who attended the funeral and had stood by the open graves, kept asking himself in astonishment how such a horror could unfold on the soil of modern France, one of Israel's closest allies and which has been a warm and wonderful home for Jews.

Although France has committed itself to tolerance and fighting antisemitism, Herzog also recalled that unfortunately, the Toulouse massacre was not an isolated incident of radical violence committed by fundamentalist fringe elements.

He cited the cases of Ilan Halimi who, in 2006, had been abducted in Paris and brutally tortured to death; Sarah Halimi, a doctor and school teacher who in April 2017 had been beaten by an intruder in her Paris apartment and thrown out the window; and Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who, in March 2018, was stabbed to death in her home in the 11th arrondissement.

In the article, Herzog also related to the murders of four Jewish hostages Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, and  Francois-Michel Saada in the Hypercasher supermarket in Port de Vincennes.

"Antisemitism in all its forms and from all its sources is the ultimate expression of irrationality," wrote Herzog. "No good can ever come from blind hatred – none at all." Hatred never stops at one group, he warned. "Ultimately, hatred destroys us all."

Last Friday, presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse, while visiting Toulouse declared that France will never allow antisemitism to be ignored.  "When you kill a French Jew,  a Jewish child, it's France that is attacked," said Pecresse.

Details of Herzog's meetings with Macron in Paris before and after the Toulouse memorial ceremony were not made public, but in all probability, Herzog tried to impress on his host just how dangerous a new deal with Iran would be not only for Israel but for the whole world. It also stands to reason that the war in Ukraine was included in their discussions.

In his address, Macron said that he and Herzog came to support the people of Toulouse and "to remind everyone that France and Israel are determined together to defeat terrorism in all its forms and on every front; and that together, we are determined to eliminate antisemitism, including when it hides behind the mask of anti-Zionism."

Before leaving Paris on Monday to return to Jerusalem, Herzog met with Jewish community leaders, tweeting afterward: "Meeting the leadership of the warm and important historic French Jewish community which loves Israel and faces many challenges, including many cases of antisemitism. Glad to hear from Israeli reps and MKs joining us about efforts to improve educational ties and Aliyah absorption."

Prior to his election as President, Herzog was chairman of the Jewish Agency, and as such was active in promoting Jewish education and Aliyah.

In fact at his farewell ceremony when leaving the Jewish Agency, he was presented with a wedding invitation by a French immigrant couple who met at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem. One of Herzog's early engagements as president,was to attend the wedding.