Web Video: French Jewish community ‘shocked but not surprised’ by attacks on kosher market

Jan. 13, 2015 AT 11:26 a.m. EST

Even before last week's attack in Paris, attacks on the Jewish community in France have been on the rise, prompting many to flee the country. Gwen Ifill talks to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg about the growing threats facing Jews in France.

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GWEN IFILL: As we reported earlier, thousands of French police were dispatched today to secure Jewish sites throughout France.

Friday’s attack on the kosher grocery came as a shock to many around the world. But many French Jews were less surprised. Anti-Semitic attacks in the country, often violent, were on the rise in 2014. They included beatings, improvised grenade attacks and even rape.

The number of Jews fleeing France to make a new home in Israel more than doubled last year, growing from 3,400 in 2013 to 7,000.

“The Atlantic”‘s Jeffrey Goldberg is just back from a reporting trip to Paris, where he has been reporting on the growing threats to the country’s Jewish community.

Jeffrey, welcome.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “The Atlantic”: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Are these specific new threats or is this something that’s just been continuing?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: No, the French-Jewish community has been living a certain reality for quite a long time already. Two years ago, there was a horrific attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse. Three children murdered by a returning Syrian jihadist.

So, there is nothing — this is in the category of shocking, but not surprising, to I think much of the French Jewish community. The rest of France is sort of coming on board to the realization of what’s going on.

GWEN IFILL: But these attacks last week in Paris put it into a new light.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Definitely put it into a new light and definitely increased the urgency.

I think it was the amplification effect of having the horrific Charlie Hebdo attack, and then realizing that another type of first-tier target for these guys would be any kind of soft Jewish site. A supermarket is very easy to attack, obviously.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: One of the reasons a supermarket like that was attacked, of course, is that synagogues and schools are already protected. That’s why the step today to put soldiers in front of Jewish schools was so dramatic, because it was a recognition that, even with all that the police are doing, they haven’t been doing enough.

GWEN IFILL: There is — one way of looking at this was that these are extremists who are trying to make a point. But does it extend to the larger community as well?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: To the larger non-Jewish community?


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I think everybody in France — I was just there. I just got back.

I think everyone now feels that the country is under siege in — a little bit. I don’t want to overstate it, but there is a kind of a siege feeling. You feel it on the street. You see it in the metro. You see it on the trains, that they’re behind the eight ball a little bit, that these guys who — especially people who have been radicalized in Syria, Yemen or elsewhere, are coming back, are traveling back and forth.

And I think there’s also this overwhelming realization in France last week that it takes one or two or three people to completely turn upside down a country, and that’s why — that’s what everybody is scared about.

GWEN IFILL: But the difference between people in general who are scared, everybody being scared, and the Jewish community in particular is that some of them are getting on planes and flying to Israel.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Right. Right. No, that — I mean, the Jewish community both is targeted in a more intensive way, also has kind of a way out. It’s not only Israel. People are going to Canada. Some are coming to the U.S.

And it’s not an exodus yet, to borrow from an older Jewish story. It’s not an exodus yet. And what the French government is so worried about is that it will become an exodus. I talked recently to the prime minister of French, Manuel Valls, who is very, very strenuous on this point.

He said that if 100,000 Jews were to leave France or flee France, France would stop being France, in other words, that the idea of the French republic, one of the core ideas was the emancipation of the Jews back in the time of the French Revolution.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: If the Jews no longer feel it’s safe, then the whole idea of the republic kind of collapses on itself.

And also there’s one other point that the French prime minister and other French officials are making are, is that things that start with the Jews never end with the Jews. In other words, it’s that old formula. First, they came for the Jews, and I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t say anything. But, in this case, they came for the cartoonists in the middle of the week and by the end of the week they were coming back for the Jews.

And there is this feeling that, if this isn’t nipped in the bud, that soon churches, schools, shopping malls, all the sort of targets that we think about might be targeted.

GWEN IFILL: But is the prime minister an outlier or is he speaking generally for the entire French government? Because, as you know, there have been — there’s the right — rise of far-right parties who some believe have exacerbated this attitude or this problem, and I wonder whether he is speaking for everybody.


Well, he’s speaking for the president, I think. He’s the number two, and President Hollande is number one.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: And I think he’s speaking for certainly the sort of security infrastructure.

There’s a fascinating thing and a kind of troubling thing going on, is that, traditionally, before this new wave, anti-Semitism was mainly located in France in the extreme right.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Now the extreme right has turned more anti-Muslim than anti-Jewish. And so it’s trying to appeal to Jews and saying we — we’re the only ones who can stand up for your rights. So…

GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s kind of turned upside down.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Yes, that’s turned upside down.

And, of course, most of the Jewish leadership still understands that, you know, they might not like Muslims, but they also don’t like Jews. So you have a situation in which Muslim terrorist are attacking Jewish targets. Muslims themselves in France feel oppressed. The right wing doesn’t like anybody. It’s a difficult situation.

GWEN IFILL: Is any of this exacerbated or is the friction, was it ramped up this summer after the disputes in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-Palestinian…

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Whenever that subject is in the news, it intensifies reactions on the ground across Europe.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Now, obviously, what we’re talking about — when people are yelling “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” these are not people who are worried about Israeli settlement policy.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG: They have some deeper pathologies at work.

There is obviously legitimate criticism of Israel and there’s criticism of the French government for its policies in the Middle East and that sort of thing. And that’s one — that’s one basket of issues. What we saw in the summer with attacks on synagogues, I have been in a lot of these towns where these things take place, really horrifying attacks of people yelling “Death to the Jews” and attacking people physically.

That is, you could say, sparked by a certain understanding of the Middle East. It’s no excuse, of course, but it quickly spins out of control.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any government effort under way to curb this, to head this off?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Yes, look, the — the French government says they’re working hard on counter-radicalization, they’re working hard on the security front and tracking people who are coming back from the Syrian front, they’re working at radicalization — counter-radicalization in prisons, on education.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t meet anyone who felt like the situation was under control.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Goldberg with “The Atlantic,” thank you very much.



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