Antisemitism in France has reach an all time high, with several frightening incidents taking place over the past few weeks. Home to both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe, the country has become a powderkeg of incitement and violence.
Since the start of Operation Protective Edge just over two weeks ago, France has seen several pro-Palestinian rallies turn violently ugly. Just over a week ago, Jewish worshippers were trapped inside a Paris synagogue as demonstrators hurled projectiles and invectives at them. In all, nine synagogues have been targeted in France over the course of the conflict.
The most recent attack took place in Sarcelles, a Paris neighborhood with significant Jewish and Muslim populations, also known as “little Jerusalem”. When the rioters were unable to reach the Grand Synagogue in the neighborhood, they turned their rage on local shops and establishments known to be owned by Jews, including a kosher grocery and a pharmacy. Groups of youth lit smoke bombs and firecrackers. They also burned two cars and threw a firebomb at a smaller synagogue nearby.
Note that this violence was planned; Britain’s Daily Mail reported that organizers called on supporters to join “a raid on the Jewish district”, saying: “Come equipped with hammers, fire extinguishers and batons.” The events unfolding and methods used by the anti-Semitic protesters are horrifyingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
Anti-Semitic violence has reached a point where French officials have banned protests in certain neighborhoods, citing security concerns. The ban did not stop protesters from gathering in Barbes, in northern Paris, where they threw stones at police who tried to contain them. 17 officers were injured in the melee. Israeli flags were burned by the demonstrators, who also carried a banner which read “Isra-hell”.
French leaders have roundly condemned the violence and hatred spreading through the streets. French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called antisemitism “our common enemy” in a recent op-ed for The New York Times.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke of a “new form of antisemitism spreading on the Internet, on social media, in our working-class areas, among young people who are often directionless, who have no awareness of history, who hide their hatred of the Jews behind a mask of anti-Zionism and behind the hatred of the Israeli state.”
He was speaking at an event commemorating the 1942 round-up of Jews in Paris by the Nazis. On Sunday, Valls defended the ban on anti-Israel demonstrations, saying, “What happened again yesterday in Paris — unacceptable unrest — justifies all the more the brave choice by the Interior Ministry to ban a demonstration.”
More and more, local Jews are relying on France’s Jewish Defense League (LDJ). As one Jewish barber told JTA, “The Arabs own the streets now. We need make them lose the appetite for messing with us if we’re to survive here. LDJ is our Iron Dome.” Serge Najar, a local Jewish community leader, concurred. “The cops are here now, but it’ll be just us and the Arabs tomorrow.”
Roger Cukierman, of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, pointed out that we are dealing with classic anti-Semitism, not the more politically correct anti-Zionism, as is often claimed. “They are not shouting ‘Death to the Israelis’ on the streets of Paris. They are screaming ‘Death to the Jews’.”
In the face of such animosity, many French Jews are choosing to leave. Aliyah rates from France in 2014 are higher than they have been since 1948, according to the Jewish Agency. In fact, ‘’If aliyah predictions for 2014 are met,1 percent of French Jews will have moved to Israel this year,’’ said Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive for the organization. “Within a single year, and for the first time in history, a Jewish community in the West is sending a full percent of its Jews to build their lives in the State of Israel. We await you in Israel with open arms.”