French members of parliament, Meir Habib and Claude Goasguen, joined the movement to show solidarity with the Jews of France by wearing kippahs (skullcaps) on Wednesday to the National Assembly in a display that is usually not allowed in the French parliament given the country’s principle of “secularism” and prohibition against wearing religious articles in official or state locations, such as schools.
Habib is Jewish, though does not normally wear the head covering in public. He explained his action by saying that, “freedom of religion is a central value in France” and that removing kippahs would deliver a “dangerous message we are surrendering to terrorism. We will not accept a situation where people are afraid to express their Jewish identity,” he continued. “What will haredi (Orthodox) Jews do? Shave their beards? The problem is more general and concerns all of France.”
“Unfortunately, just as Israel is the first goal of jihad, so is it with the Jewish community in France,” Habib warned. “It begins with the Jews and then quickly impairs all of France. We must be careful but to stop wearing religious symbols is not an answer to terror.”
Goasguen, who is not Jewish, was quoted as saying, “I cannot understand or accept that a country like France, a state of human rights, people are killing or trying to kill citizens because of their religion.”
Their actions came as part of a nationwide social media campaign launched under the hashtag #TousAvecUneKippa–#EverybodyWithAKippa, which called for all of France to wear kippahs at 10 am, Friday morning.
This came in reaction to an announcement by the President of the Jewish Community in Marseilles, Zvi Amar, saying that Jews should avoid wearing kippahs in public. “Not wearing the kippah can save lives and nothing is more important,” Ammar told the French newspaper La Provence. This came after a wave of violent anti-Semitic attacks in the city which is host to the second largest Jewish population in France, numbering about 80,000. France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia called for the Jews to continue wearing their kippahs in public in order to form a “united front.” Similarly, Roger Cukierman, the chairman of CRIF, an umbrella organization representing French Jewry, said that not to wear a kippah would convey a “defeatist attitude.”
On Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande expressed dismay that French Jews feel the need to “hide.”
“It is intolerable that in our country citizens should feel so upset and under assault because of their religious choice that they would conclude that they have to hide,” he said.
A 35 year-old Jewish Teacher was attacked last Monday by a Kurdish youth with a machete who claimed affiliation with the Islamic State (ISIS). The teacher used a holy book he was carrying to fend off the attack, escaping with minor injuries.
In November, a Jewish teacher was attacked in the city by three men with knives, shouting anti-Semitic remarks and claiming association with ISIS. In October, a rabbi and two Jews were attacked outside a synagogue by a drunk man with a knife. One of the victims was injured seriously.
Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in France, with 164 violent attacks last year, more than any other European nation, leading to a record amount of French Jews immigrating to Israel.