Protecting France’s Jews

The attack in Toulouse will undoubtedly add to European Jews’ feeling of vulnerability.

Toulouse France shooting police 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles )
Toulouse France shooting police 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles )
Though his precise motive might still be unknown, it is abundantly clear that the man who opened fire on schoolchildren and a teacher at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse early Monday was out to kill Jews. The results were tragic: Yonatan Sandler, a 30-year-old teacher from Jerusalem; his two children Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel, 3; and Miriam Monsonego, 8, the daughter of Ozar Hatorah’s principal, are dead, and several others are wounded, one critically.
“For someone to locate this school in a place like Toulouse means he knew what he was doing,” said Gil Taieb, a vice president of CRIF, France’s Jewish umbrella group. “He went there to kill Jews.”
Apparently, the killer hated not only Jews but also other ethnic and religious minorities. Three soldiers of North African origin and one black paratrooper were shot in two incidents in Toulouse and nearby Montauban in the past week. French authorities have linked the school shooting to these attacks since the weapon used – a 9mm. handgun – was identical, and in all the incidents, the killer made a getaway on a motorbike.
Since late 2000, the Jews of France – who number about 500,000 and make up the third-largest Jewish community after Israel and the US – have been exposed to the most extensive outbreak of anti-Semitic violence since the Holocaust. The vast majority of hate crimes have been perpetrated by Arab immigrants protesting against perceived Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.
Acts of violence against Jews in France peaked again during and after Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day military incursion into the Gaza Strip to stop Hamas rocket fire against southern towns that began at the end of 2008. But extreme xenophobia and far-right extremism are additional factors undermining French Jews’ security.
France’s presidential election campaign, which is heating up ahead of the April 22 vote, has been marred with xenophobic elements that have not helped create a particularly welcoming atmosphere for Jews or Muslims. Earlier this month, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for Popular Movement (UMP) party, publicly criticized ritual slaughter in an apparent attempt to curry favor among France’s right wing and take away votes from Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the anti-immigration National Front.
Fillon said that “religions should reflect on the maintenance of traditions that do not have much in common with the state of current science, the state of technology, and the problems of health.”
The Union of French Jewish Students rightly noted that the statement “created suspicion with regards to Frenchmen who observe these religious rules.” The UFJS’s statement was true both for Jewish and Muslim Frenchmen.
Unfortunately, the natural political alliance forged between Jewish and Muslim leaders against the National Front in the 1980s and 1990s broke down with the commencement of the second intifada.
Due to the rise of both Islamist and right-wing anti-Semitism, France’s Jews have grown increasingly uncomfortable. According to a survey by The Israel Project released in 2004, 26 percent of French Jews were contemplating emigration. In July 2004, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon urged French Jews to make aliya. (There are already an estimated 100,000 Jews of French origin in Israel.)
After Monday’s shooting at the Ozar Hatorah school, MK Yaakov Katz (National Union) reiterated calls for French Jews to come to Israel. France’s Jews, and the Jews of Europe in general, are acutely conscious of the threats they face. Jewish schools, synagogues and other easily identifiable Jewish institutions are under tight security. The attack in Toulouse will undoubtedly add to European Jews’ feeling of vulnerability.
But while aliya is an honorable and desirable act, it is not the only answer to European Jewry’s predicament. Inflammatory campaign rhetoric in France’s presidential elections must be toned down. The delegitimization of Israel should be aggressively combated. And above all, the security of Jews in France and elsewhere in Europe should be carefully guarded.