Home inContext Rising Anti-Semitism in France

Rising Anti-Semitism in France

Jonathan Doc Habany

World Jewry was horrified this past March when four Jews were murdered in Toulouse, France, by Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin. Not much has been spoken, however, of last week’s attack on a 17-year-old Jewish student. On July 4, that student, who attends the Ozar HaTorah Jewish day school in Toulouse—the same school where the four were murdered—hopped a train traveling to Lyon. According to a statement from the French Ministry of the Interior, the teen wore distinctive religious symbols and was at first subjected to verbal insults, which then escalated into physical aggression.

The Ministry didn’t get the story straight, however. In an exclusive interview with the French website Le-Progrès, the Jewish teenager explains how and why the situation degenerated. According to the teen’s testimony, the two attackers noticed him after he loudly said his brother’s Jewish first name while talking on the phone. According to the victim, “They told me to shut up and started insulting me,” after which he was physically attacked while the assailants mentioned his Jewish faith. The violent aggression was halted by a passenger and a conductor who intervened. The two attackers, held for investigation, had both recently applied for military recruitment and did not have previous criminal records. They were later reported to be French citizens of North African origin.

French police guard Ozar HaTorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse, where four Jews were murdered in March. (Photo: Reuters)

The attack resulted in condemnations from a number of French and Jewish officials who have been following the increase of anti-Semitic incidents in France with concern. The French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, described the attack as “an insult to the values and the history of the republic” and declared, “[we should] fight the resurgence of this deeply evil anti-Semitism”. Arie Bensemhoun, the president of the Jewish Community of Toulouse, described the recent attacks against Jews in France as “a form of violence that is becoming intolerable,” adding that, “we are facing a new anti-Semitism that is absolutely ravaging France…” The umbrella organization of French Jewry, Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, stated that the latest attack on a young Jewish student “is another development in the worrying trend of anti-Semitism in our country.”

The July 4 incident is one event in a series of attacks committed against Jews and Jewish targets during the past year in Europe, particularly in France. France, home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, was called the most dangerous country for Jews in a January 2011 report by the Israel-based Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism. Despite the French government’s attempts to fight anti-Semitism, the rate of attacks against Jews remains high. According to a report published on June 27 by the research department of the Israeli parliament, in a hearing of the Immigration and Absorption Committee with the participation of the French ambassador in Israel, Christophe Bigot, an astounding 247 incidents were reported between the months of January and May 2012. This number is 53% higher than during the same period one year earlier.