Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Antisemitism going up, not down, in France following Toulouse attack

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France's Jewish communities are deeply concerned by the rise in antisemitic incidents since last March's deadly shootings of a seven-year-old girl, and a Rabbi and his two children at the entrance to a Jewish school in Toulouse by radical Islamist Mohammed Merah. France is home to Europe's largest Jewish community, around 500,000 people - and it is also the third largest Jewish community in the world after Israel and the US.

One might expect that following the Toulouse attack, condemned by all political leaders and societal elites, it would inspire greater reflection and tolerance towards Jews. However the opposite appears to be occurring. Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris Shmuel Trigano said, "There is a before - and after-Merah... Despite the widespread condemnation of the killings, there was, among certain people in France, a desire to see this type of violence continue."

Jewish groups are speaking about the spike in antisemitic attacks. President of the Central Consistory Joël Mergui, an umbrella organisation working to coordinate local Jewish communities said, "Not a week passes without anti-Semitic assaults in France." The Chief Rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, called the atmosphere "unbearable" and noted that "These incidents are becoming more and more frequent, so much so, alas, as to make one take them for granted".

In addition, the Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ) published a report condemning "the explosion" of antisemitic acts in France since Merah's killings. According to statistics in the report, which were provided by the French Interior Ministry, 148 antisemitic incidents, of which 43 were violent, were reported between March 19 and April 30. Those figures are more than twice as many as the 68 recorded for the same period in 2011. SPCJ are also concerned that "some of the people committing the acts feel empathy for Mohammed Merah". Meanwhile, the French Union of Jewish Students has been warning French authorities of zones in which Jewish citizens are continually targets of antisemitic acts.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper in an article on FoxNews suggests that while antisemitism is not new to France, this current wave of antisemitism since Merah's shooting is a new trend, which was explained by Merah himself in taped conversations recently released by the French media. Rabbi Cooper wrote:

From the grave Merah can heard explaining in his own words what has changed: "...If I would have killed civilians, the French population would have called me another mad Al Qaeda terrorist..." Merah said, adding that "...killing military and Jews passed the message... But my message is different...I kill Jews in France as these are the same Jews who kill innocents in Palestine."

Merah and his ilk, have thrown down a new gauntlet to France. For them, French Jews are no longer considered civilian neighbors but soldiers in a war. For Merah, those who inspired him, who validated his hate, who trained with him in Afghanistan, who mourn his death on the Internet, who offer condolences in local Mosques, Jews are not neighbors but ‘legitimate' targets just like the French Muslim soldiers Merah also murdered days before the schoolyard massacre.

Rabbi Cooper calls on France's President Hollande to "take a leadership role in thwarting Merah's threat from the grave." He writes:

The president must send an unequivocal message that ‘wars' treating 3-year-olds, as combatants will not be tolerated on the streets of France... The fate of Europe's largest Jewish community and the fabric of France's democratic society hang in the balance.

Even outside of France, discussion of the Toulouse shooting at times suggests that targeting Jews - while wrong - is ‘understandable', in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or that the conflict "explains" such actions. For example, Australian academic Rachel Woodlock wrote on the ABC Religion and Ethics website, "it is telling that Merah claimed to be acting out of 'revenge for Palestinian children killing by Israel'. Antisemitism among Muslims does not exist in a vacuum ...".  The conflation of the Middle East conflict with Jewish targets who have nothing to do with the conflict is entirely unacceptable and dangerous - and indeed plays into the hands of terrorist extremists like Merah.

People who say that doing so is "understandable" or inevitable are arguably aiding Mohammed Merah in his goal of proselytising to radical Islamist extremists that any Jew should be considered a "Jew who kills innocents in Palestine" and thus a valid target for attack. Moreover, the evidence from France indicates that Merah's evil, racist and inhuman message is gaining traction there and hurting more and more innocent people.

Moreover, for those who insist that "understanding" such beliefs and behaviour, or treating them as an inevitable byproduct of the Arab-Israeli conflict does not mean condoning or encouraging them, but just recognising "reality", here's a simple test to apply.  What if someone were to write that "In the wake of al-Qaeda terror attacks, it is understandable and inevitable that individual Muslim and their houses of worship in Western countries were going to be targeted for violent revenge attacks, and that while of course such attacks are wrong, we should just accept they are going to happen and understand that much of the moral responsibility for such attacks lies with the terrorists who provoked the anger unleashed on innocent Muslims?" Would you be all right with that? I can't imagine you would - and neither would I. But the same logic applies to attacks on any or all Jews because of Israel.

Meanwhile, the radical Islamist ideology which calls for violent attacks on Jews and others is not confined to France or the Middle East, but is part of a larger global movement - including Australia's own neighbourhood. There are reports that a suspect connected with the Toulouse attack may have been connected with Al-Mukmin (Ngruki) Islamic boarding school in Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. The Jakarta Post reported:

"Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chairman Insp. Gen. (ret.) Ansyaad Mbai told The Jakarta Post yesterday that the French police had informed the agency that three French nationals, including fugitive militant Frederic C. Jean Salvi, were planning to take shelter in Ngruki after the planned attacks. Salvi, according to Mbai, spent several years studying with Islamic militants in Indonesia, and is among the country's most wanted fugitives.

‘We are watching the Ngruki boarding school closely and in constant touch with the French authorities. We are investigating how these three French citizens got in touch with the school and the purpose of their planned trips there,' Mbai said...

Salvi is suspected of links with the terrorist network responsible for the shooting that claimed seven lives in Toulouse, in March. Network member Mohamed Merah, 23, was shot dead by the French authorities during a raid. According to the BNPT, the group is involved in two separate incidents at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris..."

To read the complete report click here.

Sharyn Mittelman

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