Solidarity with Marseille

Marseille’s Jews are under attack.

A man wears a kippa.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man wears a kippa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a letter to the president of the Jewish community in France, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to calm French Jews’ worries over plans to close the Israeli Consulate in Marseille.
“My government remains fully committed to the Jews of France,” Netanyahu wrote in response to a letter sent to him by Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities.
“This decision does not diminish the strength of ties and solidarity of Israel with the Jewish community of Marseilles,” Netanyahu wrote.
We beg to differ with the prime minister.
Closing Israel’s diplomatic mission in Marseille now, at a time when the community’s Jews are facing a wave of Islamist-motivated violence, would inevitably weaken the strength of the ties and the sense of solidarity the Jews of Marseille feel with Israel. It would also convey a message of defeatism and retreat. If anything, now is the time not to just talk about ties and solidarity, but to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to provide diplomatic services to Marseille’s Jews by strengthening the Israeli diplomatic presence in the city.
With 60,000 Jews, Marseille is home to Europe’s second largest Jewish community. It has also suffered a wave of anti-Semitic violence. In recent months there have been three stabbings of Jews, perhaps inspired by the knifings on the streets of Israel perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists.
Marseille’s Jews are under attack.
In January, Jewish teacher Benjamin Amsellem was attacked by a 15-year-old boy of Turkish-Kurdish descent with a butcher knife. Amsellem managed to defend himself with a religious book until police apprehended the boy.
In November of last year, history teacher Zion Saadon was stabbed by three people shouting anti-Semitic obscenities who belonged to an IS-supporting gang.
In October, a rabbi and two Jewish worshipers were stabbed by an assailant shouting anti-Semitic slurs outside a synagogue following Shabbat prayers.
Closing the consulate in Marseille now would be a blow to the morale of the Jews there. The unavoidable impression that would be made is that Israel is running away under pressure from violent terrorists.
It would not be the first time that Marseille’s Jews are exposed to a defeatist strategy for combating Islamist aggression.
In January, after the attack on Amsallem, Zvi Ammar, head of Marseille’s Jewish community, suggested it might be better if Jews in Marseille stopped wearing kippot in public.
“For the time being,” Ammar said, “at least until these barbarians calm down.”
True, the decision to close down the consulate in Marseille is part of a larger cutback in the Foreign Ministry that includes the closing of consulates in Philadelphia, El Salvador, Belarus and a “roving ambassador” to the Caribbean.
It has nothing to do with the tense security situation in Marseille – though security expenses have most likely risen there since the uptick in anti-Semitic violence.
Nevertheless, closing the consulate in Marseille will be perceived in a very different way. The Jews of Marseille – who will now be forced to travel hundreds of kilometers to Paris or to Brussels to take care of their consular issues – will feel abandoned.
Meanwhile, the “barbarians”, who show no signs of calming down, will most likely present the move as a victory for terrorism. Indeed, if intimidation works why calm down? Just this week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that extreme expressions of Islam were winning the propaganda war for hearts and minds and “winning the ideological and cultural battle” in France. Closing the consulate in Marseille would be yet another victory for the extremists.
It is very possible that should Israel decide to leave Marseille, other countries might follow in Israel’s footsteps and decide to close down their consulates as well. The feeling of alienation among Marseille’s Jews would deepen.
We respect the need for fiscal discipline. But if cutbacks in the Foreign Ministry are necessary and the only way to cut is by closing consulates, the prime minister should consider closing a consulate elsewhere. Marseille’s Jews need Israel’s presence.