Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The significance of France's violently antisemitic "protests"

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While antisemitism has been rising in Europe for some time, it has been on full display at recent protests against Israel's military operation. France especially, has shown the extent to which these violent protests and other antisemitic actions - some of which resembled small pogroms directed at Jewish neighbourhoods - can make the lives of local Jewish communities deeply uncomfortable, perhaps untenable.

As Adam Sage of the Times reported:

"Diners were tucking into their falafels in Pitzman, a celebrated kosher restaurant in the Jewish district of Paris, when the owner got a call to say a mob of youths was heading his way. He just had time to pull down the metal shutters before 30 or so gathered outside, screaming ‘Hamas resistance', ‘Israel assas-sin,' ‘Death to Jews' and ‘We're going to slit your throats'. Inside, customers cowered in fear for 20 minutes before police intervened to break up the mob."

In Paris, over 15,000 people have marched to protest Israel's military operation in Gaza. Since Israel's operation began, at least eight synagogues have been attacked in France, and on July 13 hundreds of Jews were trapped inside a synagogue in central Paris, and police units were sent to rescue them. On July 20 protesters targeted the Jewish neighbourhood of the Val d'Oise in the Sarcelles district, known as "little Jerusalem", with violent displays as a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Paris synagogue, and protesters torched a Jewish-owned pharmacy, a kosher grocery and cars (see images). Then on July 26, a man threw two firebombs at the Jewish community centre of Tolouse. Fortunately the firebombs failed to ignite and the man responsible was arrested.

The Jewish community in France is extremely concerned, with Roger Cuikerman, head of French Jewish political group CRIF commenting, "They are not screaming 'death to the Israelis' on the streets of Paris... They are screaming ‘death to the Jews.'"

The protesters who sought out Jewish targets are reported to be a mix of Islamists, left wing radicals and right wing fascists. Their new alliance in France has been noted for some time, in particular due to the popular following of comedian and political activist Dieudonne M'bala M'bala who has been convicted several times for inciting antisemitism, and the widespread use of his signature ‘quenelle', an inverted Nazi salute (see previous blog post). Concerns were raised earlier this year when on January 26, protesters marched in Paris chanting: "Jews, France is not yours!" "Jews out of France" and "The story of the gas chambers is bull***!".

It appears that not only are Jewish people being targeted to vent frustration towards the Israel-Gaza conflict, but in some cases participants are using anti-Israel as a smokescreen for antisemitism. This sentiment was explained by French Rabbi Salomon Malka to the New York Times:

"In Rabbi Malka's view, the Israeli assault in Gaza, with its mounting toll of Palestinian civilian deaths, has given an anti-Zionist cover to attacks against Jews, spread on the streets and on the Internet by an angry fringe of France's Muslim population. ‘Why bring a war to a country that is not at war?' he asked. ‘This conflict has nothing to do with the Jews and Arabs of France.'

He noted that the most deadly attacks in the region - against a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and a Jewish museum this year in Brussels, both committed by French-born Muslims - came about when there was no shooting war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. ‘Anti-Semitism today is hiding behind anti-Zionism,' he said, ‘and hate speech has become uninhibited.'"

Also seared into the memory of French Jewry is the kidnapping and murder of 23 year-old Ilan Halimi in 2006. Halimi was held for three weeks in Bagneux, outside Paris, because he was a Jew, where he was tortured while his abductors telephoned his family, so they could hear his screams. Youssouf Fofana, the leader of the gang, was later sentenced to life imprisonment, and 28 people are believed to have been involved in the kidnapping.

French officials have condemned the recent violence and antisemitism, and have banned at least five protest marches. French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said, "What happened in Sarcelles is intolerable. An attack on a synagogue and on a kosher shop is simply anti-Semitism. Nothing in France can justify this violence". He also said, that the "fight against anti-Semitism is the problem of the Republic, of all of France".

Expanding on this point, Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee office in Paris, wrote in the Algemeiner:

"France has become a refuge for people with a deep aversion for democracy and Western values. This is not only a problem for the Jewish community but for France as a nation. Whether French-born or not, we are morally obligated to protect our core commitments: no toleration of hate speech, no leniency for extremists, no compromise with the decay and debasement of our public space. There must be zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. Every anti-Semitic act needs to be morally and criminally condemned."

France has around 500,000 Jews, the biggest Jewish population in Europe, and around five million Muslims. The Society for the Protection of the Jewish Community's figures suggest that anti-Jewish violence is today seven times higher than in the 1990s, and 40% of racist violence is against Jews, despite them making up just 1% of the population.

The wave of antisemitism has led some to question the future continuity of Jewish communities in France, as French Jews leave France in increasing numbers. More than a thousand Jews have decided to immigrate to Israel (aliyah) just this month, according to the Israeli government. Ynet reported that the Jewish Agency expects more than 5,000 French Jews to immigrate to Israel by the end of the year. In the past three years, French Jewish immigration has increased dramatically. In 2013, 3,289 French Jews immigrated to Israel compared to 1,917 immigrants in 2012 - a 60% increase. During the first six months of the year, 2,600 French Jews arrived in Israel in comparison to 812 during the equivalent period in 2012.

"I came because of anti-Semitism," said Veronique Rivka Buzaglo, a new French immigrant to Israel. "You see it in the eyes of people. I see it in everything," she told the Huffington Post.

However, overt antisemitism by anti-Israel protesters has not been confined to France, and there have been concerning reports in numerous European countries including Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Norway.

Germany:

German TV reportedly showed anti-Israel protesters threatening violence against Jews at a demonstration in Berlin. Antisemitic slogans and chants at protests included ‘gas the Jews'. Similar scenes occurred at protests in Frankfurt and Essen (see video), according to reports.

Arrests were made on July 18 in Essen as authorities investigated a possible planned attack on the city's Old Synagogue, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. Authorities in Germany are also investigating a suspected antisemitic sermon at a mosque, following a video posted on YouTube that showed an unidentified imam condemning Israel, using language that accused "Zionist Jews" of being "slayers of prophets" and calling for the destruction of Jews.

Dieter Graumann, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said criticism of Israel had given way to open racist hatred against Jews. He said:

"We are currently experiencing an explosion of potentially violent hatred against Jews that is shocking and appalling to all of us... We would never have expected in our lifetime that such antisemitic rallying cries of the most vicious and primitive variety could take place on German streets."

Similarly, Micha Brumlik, senior adviser at the Berlin-Brandenburg Center of Jewish Studies, commented that such chants on the street "haven't been seen since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany" in 1949.

German officials have condemned the outbreak of hate speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel "sharply condemns the flare-up of violence and the antisemitic utterances," said Georg Streiter, a government spokesman. It's "an attack on freedom and tolerance and an attempt to undermine our free democratic order. This is something we can't and won't accept," he added.

Some in the German media have also condemned antisemitism, for example "Stop the Hate!" was a headline of Die Welt national daily, while tabloid Bild-Zeitung devoted its front page to statements from public figures denouncing antisemitism, with the headline: "Never Again Hatred Towards Jews!"

Britain:

In Britain, police recorded more than 100 anti-Jewish hate crimes since the Gaza conflict began, including an attack on a Rabbi by four Muslim youths in Gateshead, and bricks thrown through the windows of a Belfast synagogue on two successive nights. There has been also been a tide of antisemitic abuse on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. One man called for a Jewish neighbourhood in London to be bombed so ‘Jews feel the pain' of the Palestinians.

Norway:

Police advised Jewish museums to close amid reports that jihadists with fighting experience in Syria were planning an imminent terrorist attack on Norwegian soil. Extra security was posted at other potential targets, including Oslo's main airport.

The Netherlands:

Unidentified assailants attacked the home of Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, the Dutch Chief Rabbi, twice in one week. The first attack caused no damage, but in the second, several thrown stones shattered windows.

The rise in antisemitism led foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy to issue a joint statement that said, "Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies," and it urged a fight against "acts and statements that cross the line to anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia."

Meanwhile, Israel is also concerned, and on July 28 Israel's Knesset convened an emergency meeting to discuss the rise of antisemitism Europe, with MKs and Diaspora Jewish leaders offering testimony and issuing condemnations.

In May, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a worldwide survey of antisemitic attitudes. The survey found that antisemitic attitudes are persistent and pervasive around the world, with one-in-four adults, 26 percent of those surveyed, deeply infected with antisemitic attitudes. According to the poll, in Western Europe, antisemitism was highest in Greece (69%) and France (37%).

Some pro-Palestinian activists have spoken out against antisemitism at protests, while some commentators have served as apologists for expressions of hatred toward Jews generally, blaming it on rage felt towards the Israel-Gaza conflict. However, whatever one may feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it surely be obvious that the targeting of Jews and Jewish neighbourhoods should never be acceptable way to express one's feelings or views. In this light, an Australian editorial making this point is to be welcomed:

"THE tragic events in Gaza are no excuse for the anti-Semitism unfolding across Europe as well as closer to home. Provocation is coming from some of our media and from pro-Palestinian speakers and demonstrators in anti-Israel protests in Sydney and elsewhere.

Swastikas, superimposed on Israel's Star of David flags, have become a feature of the local protests. They are supposedly trying to convey a parallel between the Nazis and Israel's military campaign to stop Hamas firing rockets from Gaza. Tellingly, many of the demonstrations include black banners favoured by extreme jihadist movements and the yellow banners of terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah, which has propped up the murderous Assad dictatorship in Syria.

Local social media has also been redolent with incendiary, anti-Semitic provocations of the calibre of: 'Our compensation (in the battle over Gaza) will be the extinction of the Jews.' Such extremism has not deterred some commentators. Fairfax Media's Mike Carlton, for example, has taken a febrile, one-eyed view of the conflict, writing of the 'breathtaking irony that these atrocities (in Gaza) can be committed by a people ... who hold the Warsaw Ghetto and the six million dead of the Holocaust at the centre of their race memory.'

However offensive the anti-Israel sentiment has been locally, it has not come close to what is being seen in Europe... Jewish leader Natan Sharansky has spoken grimly of ‘the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe'. Hopefully, that is an exaggeration. But Gaza is raising the spectre of intensified anti-Semitism in a way that should have no place in modern society."

Sharyn Mittelman

 

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