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Why have anti-Semitic attacks on French Jews doubled in a year?

February 8, 2015 at 12:54 PM EDT
Last month's terror attack at a Kosher supermarket in Paris called attention to rising anti-Semitism in France. This week, attackers slashed three soldiers guarding a Jewish community center in Nice. French authorities believe a small number of radicalized young men from North Africa are responsible for a disproportionate share of these anti-Semitic incidents in France. Special correspondent Martin Himel reports.
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MARTIN HIMEL: This is Garges-Lès-Gonesse, a partisan suburb, where the synagogue Shaare Rahamim was built more than 60 years ago. It’s now smack in the middle of what has become a mostly Muslim immigrant community. Jews here say they have been regularly subjected to anti-Semitic attacks.

ALAIN BEN SIMON: It’s a real bunker, but this is the only way to reassure the congregants. Otherwise we’d have to move out of the synagogue.

MARTIN HIMEL: This apartment block is really on the frontline of a conflict between this immigrant community and the Jews that worship in the synagogue to my right. It’s from this apartment block that a Molotov cocktail has been thrown at the Synagogue, rocks have been thrown at the Synagogue, even a bullet has been fired from this direction.

Jews at the synagogue told us they typically summon the police a few times a week. And when the police come, they document the new graffiti: swastikas, ‘sale Juif’ which means dirty Jew.

ALAIN BEN SIMON: It’s true that it’s not the best place for a Jewish community. But we’re here, so we have to get on with it.

MARTIN HIMEL: Even before the recent attack on the kosher market in Paris, anti-Semitic protests were intensifying. There were a number of Jewish store owners who were forced to lock themselves in during one protest, after Israel’s war with Hamas last summer in Gaza.

Between January and July 2014, according to data gathered by Jewish groups and the French government, the number of anti-Semitic acts in France nearly doubled compared to the same period in 2013. The same figures show half of all racist attacks in France target Jews, even though they number less than one percent of the population.

And years ago at another protest in Paris, Muslims demonstrated, chanting “Khaybar ya-Yahud,” which means that Mohammed’s army will crush the Jews as they did in Khaybar in the seventh century.

Radical Islamic activists had attacked Jews years before the recent kosher market kidnappings and murders. In 2012, that buildup of hatred against Jews led to a bloody onslaught perpetrated by a radical Islamic terrorist.

Mohammed Merah, a French radical Muslim shot and killed a Rabbi, his two small sons, and an eight year old girl at the entrance of a Jewish school in Toulouse, a city about 420 miles south of Paris. It was one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in Europe since World War II.

RICHARD PRASQUIER: If you come to a Jewish school and you shoot a Jewish children on her head- you cannot be something else than an extraordinary anti-Semite. And the question of anti-Semitism was somehow blurred by the idea that we should not stigmatize any population.

MARTIN HIMEL: Jewish leaders point out the French Muslim community is not at war with French Jewry and they note Muslim leaders condemned the attacks.

RICHARD PRASQUIER: Muslim religion is not responsible for this murder but radical Islam is responsible for this murder and this murder is an anti-Semitic murder.

MARTIN HIMEL: Seventeen-year-old Tomas was at the school during the attack and is now too afraid to wear his Jewish prayer cap, his yarmulke, outside of the house. He vividly recalls the day of the attack.

TOMAS FRIEDMAN: Tomas Friedman: I see people bleeding, people crying, screaming, but I’m still shocked. It’s the worst day of my life.

MARTIN HIMEL: Though he and his family still observe the Sabbath every weekend inside their home, his father, Marc, fears it may be too dangerous for his family to remain in France.

More than seventy years ago, Marc Friedman’s grandmother was taken from this home by Nazis and sent to a concentration camp.

MARC FRIEDMAN: She had been deported to Bergen Belsen, and she survive and she came back. I buy this house. To be in the same house, you know? Because it’s important.

MARTIN HIMEL: Now Friedman fears he will be forced to leave his home, because of resurgent anti-Semitism.

Marc Friedman: We think we are French people before to be Jewish. But no, we are Jewish.

MARTIN HIMEL: Friedman and many Jews are convinced the source of this anti-Semitism comes from anger, partially from economic hardships and social exclusion. But they are also worried that it is being generated by a militant Islamic ideology.

According to police reports, Mohammed Merah, the assailant in the school attack, studied Salafism, an ultra conservative form of Islam which has a wide following in Egypt.

Sheik Mohammed Ali Suleiman is an Egyptian Salafist and scholar whom we interviewed in Cairo. According to the Sheik, there will be an inevitable apocalyptic showdown.

SHEIK MOHAMMED ALI SULEIMAN: Muslims and Jews will fight until the Day of Judgment. It is a religious war between Muslims and Jews.

MARTIN HIMEL: The Sheik tells us a Hadith, a saying that comes from the prophet Mohammed. Sayings are interpreted one way or another by various Muslim groups.

SHEIK MOHAMMED ALI SULEIMAN: The Jew will hide behind the stone and the tree, so the stone and the tree will call out: “Oh Muslim, servant of God, a Jew is behind me, so come and kill him.”

MARTIN HIMEL: It’s this radical militant Islamic ideology, professing a genocide of Jews, that inspired Mohammed Merah, the assailant in the school attack, and the assailant who struck at the kosher supermarket in Paris.

Rabbi Shaar Kesselman’s father-in-law established the school attacked in Toulouse. Kesselman is now the Rabbi of the Jewish community in Malmö, Sweden. He says there has been a number of anti-Semitic acts near his synagogue.

That’s why the Rabbi calls the road in front of his Synagogue the “Street of Hate.”

RABBI SHNEUR KESSELMAN: Cars driving by, people rolling down the window, shouting anti- Semitic remarks. There have been incidents of people throwing things at me. And I had a car try to run me and my wife over once, which was quite a traumatic incident.

The vast majority of those which stand behind these incidents are immigrants, or people with immigrant backgrounds.

I believe that the trauma which Europe has experienced after the Holocaust, is starting to fade out. I don’t think this is any new form of anti-Semitism, I think it’s a different face, a different cover, but it is the same old Jew hatred.

If a person’s hate could take them so far to start cursing and throwing things at a total stranger just because he is Jewish, for me that says that all the normal boundaries and limitations, of what’s accepted in a civilized society, have fallen.

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