Intifada spurs rash of anti-Jewish acts in France

Since the outbreak of the intifada, no stretch of time has gone by without the repercussions being felt by France's Jewish community. Arson has hit synagogues and Jewish institutions; pedestrians who look Jewish have been attacked. The French police field hundreds of complaints lodged by Jews about threats and abusive language used against them. Defamatory graffiti messages in Jewish neighborhoods speak for themselves: "Dirty Jews," "Jews to the gas chamber," "Jews! Prepare for an intifada in France," "Death to Jews."

Though French authorities have tracked down suspects in only a handful of cases, a clear pattern has been established: The vandalism, abuse and attacks have often been perpetrated by youths from Arab families that immigrated to France from North Africa. They consider attacks against French Jews an outlet for protests against Israel's policies toward Palestinians.
Arabs in France have mobilized in support of the Palestinians in the territories, and local Jews have rallied in support of Israel. During past conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, French citizens of Arab origin did not respond as they have throughout the Al Aqsa intifada; they did not attack Jews or Jewish institutions.
Since the outbreak of the current intifada, a wave of Jew hatred has swept through France, and stirred fear and concern among local Jews. Hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents have spurred responses among leaders of France's organized Jewish community. "This is worse than random acts of violence," says Haim Musicant, director of CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups. He views the acts as a sustained intimidation and incitement campaign aimed at frightening French Jews who support Israel.
"For the first time since the Holocaust, synagogues have been burned, and calls of 'death to the Jews' have been heard," he adds. "Thus, it is no wonder that members of Jewish communities around France were alarmed, and came to us for help. True, up to now there have been no fatalities, but Jews have been injured, as have their cultural symbols."
Two candidates for president in France have unfurled positions on a variety of domestic issues, while saying little about the attacks against Jews. The two, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, originally suggested to Jewish communal leaders that they show fortitude, and try to calm their memberships.
Both have been wary of alienating the "Arab vote," with presidential elections just three weeks away. Some 5 million persons of North African ancestry live in France, and their decisions in the voting booth could determine who becomes France's next president.
After attacks against Jews multiplied, the two candidates changed their approach, to some degree. They inserted statements in speeches that were designed to allay apprehensions, and they issued orders for stiff enforcement of the law against perpetrators of the attacks.
CRIF President Roger Cukierman has issued an urgent appeal to French authorities, calling on them to put an end to attacks against Jews and their institutions. "We want to prevent a situation from arising in which Muslim hatred joins forces with anti-Semitism of the extreme right," Cukierman declared in a speech delivered at CRIF's annual conference.
Public opinion polls indicate that sympathies in France tend to be in favor of the Palestinians. A majority of respondents in surveys express support for the Palestinian aspiration to establish a state, and say that they view the Palestinians' current struggle as a legitimate expression of the demand for national liberation. A year after Israel elected Ariel Sharon prime minister, many French people continue to harbor deep misgivings about him.
Some prominent French personalities have argued about the character of the attacks on Jews. "This is definitely a form of protest undertaken by Muslims against their way of life in France," explains Francois Bayrou, one of the candidates in the presidential elections, who visited Israel a month ago. He claims the attacks are not anti-Semitic; they lack anti-Semitic components that animated Christian attacks against Jews in Europe, Bayrou says.
"Without doubt, this is France's No. 1 problem," declares Denis Jeambar, chief editor of L'Express weekly. "It is connected to France's ability to absorb the Muslim immigration. I can understand the eruptions of rage displayed by North African immigrants, but in my opinion, they are directed against French society. I have no doubt that they strike Jews because they [Jews] are well-established, wealthy, integrated in the society and, in particular, because they support Israel and its policies."

By Daniel Ben Simon

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