The rise of anti-Semitism in France

Yesterday in a Parisian suburb, an 8-year-old Jewish boy was attacked by two teenagers in an anti-Semitic attack which has caused outrage across France. French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “an attack on the whole country.” It has been claimed that the boy was beaten up for wearing a kippah in the Northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles. Prosecutors said that the boy was walking to a tutoring lesson when two youths pushed him to the ground and began beating him.

The area of Sarcelles has been nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” due to the high number of Jewish residents. During the hostilities in the Gaza Strip back in 2014, the area was rocked by anti-Semitic attacks. Over recent years, anti-Semitism has skyrocketed in France. Earlier this month, a kosher supermarket was attacked in another Parisian suburb on the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Hypercacher supermarket back in 2015. The supermarket was completely gutted following an arson attack.

Europe has had a long history of anti-Semitism, most notably the rise of Nazism back in the 1930’s which culminated in the murder of 6 million Jews during the holocaust. Many races, creeds and beliefs have engaged in the despicable practice of anti-Semitism over the centuries. In France specifically, the Front National which was formerly headed by Jean Marie Le Pen espoused anti-Semitic views. There is another component to be taken into account when it comes to French anti-Semitism, that is Islamism.

France is home to one of the largest Jewish populations outside of Israel and The United States. Approximately 500,000 to 600,000 Jews live in France. The French cities with the highest population of Jews are Paris and Marseille. As I previously mentioned, the rise of French anti-Semitism cannot be solely attributed to Islamism. During the 60’s onwards, Jean Marie Le Pen’s Front National gained some electoral successes in the country. In the 1990’s it was found that anti-Semitism and holocaust denial had risen amongst the general French population.

There are other findings which paint a more complete picture of French anti-Semitism. World events are believed to have played a big part in spikes in anti-Semitism inside France. During the six-day war in 1967 anti-Semitism rose dramatically in France. France is home to many North African Muslims who immigrated to the country from former French colonies such as Algeria and many Muslims began to identify with the Palestinian cause.

This was only exacerbated by the Second Intifada in 2000. Back in 2002, a car attack on a synagogue in Lyon is believed to have been motivated by the Second Intifada. During this attack a group of masked men rammed a car through the gates of the synagogue and began setting fire to cars in the facility, causing serious damage to the building. From 2002 onwards many high profile attacks on Jews have taken place across France.

On January 21st, 2006, a young French Jewish man of Moroccan descent, Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and tortured by a group which called themselves “The Gang of Barbarians.” Youssouf Fofana, born in France to immigrant parents from Cote d’Ivoire led the gang. The justification for the attack was that the gang believed all Jews to be rich.

Halimi, a phone salesman from Paris was duped in what is known as a “honey trap” by a girl named Emma or Yalda of French-Iranian descent. The girl asked Hamimi for his number and then lured him to an apartment block in the Parisian banlieues. There he was kidnapped by the gang and tortured. Phone messages were sent to Halimi’s family demanding money. Halimi’s family were only from a modest background so had no option but to call the police when they couldn’t pay the gratuitous amount that the gang was demanding.

After 3 weeks, the messages from the gang stopped. Halimi was eventually found dumped next to a road at Sainte-Geneviève-Des-Bois on 13 February 2006. He was unclothed and had 80 percent burns over his body. He died on his way to hospital. Over the proceeding years, more dreadful anti-Semitic incidents would take place in France.

In March 2012, Mohammed Merah, a French man of Algerian descent carried out a series of shootings in Toulouse and Montauban. During the attacks, Merah attacked French soldiers and civilians. 3 French soldiers were killed by Merah and in the final attack he targeted a Jewish school, killing a teacher and wounding a teenager. Merah was eventually killed after a 30-hour siege by a police sniper.

Since 2015, attacks committed by Islamists seem to be occurring with greater frequency. These attacks seem to have begun with the attack on the Hypercacher supermarket in January 2015. The attack which took place in the Porte de Vincennes (20th arrondissement of Paris) immediately followed the Charlie Hebdo attack which saw 12 people shot dead at the offices of the satirical magazine. The man who carried out the attack, Amedy Coulibaly had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and was known associates of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists. During the siege, Coulibaly murdered 4 Jewish hostages. The police ended the siege by storming the supermarket and shooting Coulibaly.

In February 2015, soldiers who were guarding a Jewish community centre were attacked by a knife-wielding terrorist who had pledged allegiance to ISIS. On 24 October 2015, 3 Jewish men outside a synagogue in Marseille were stabbed by a man shouting anti-Jewish slogans. Then on 18 November 2015 a teacher in Marseille walking on the street was stabbed by three men who shouted anti-Jewish slogans; one of the men wore an ISIS T-shirt. The attacks would continue into 2016.

On January 12, 2016, Benjamin Amsellem, a teacher was attacked by a Kurdish Muslim with a machete. Mr Amsellem managed to fend off blows from the teenage attacker using a leather-bound Bible he was carrying. The teenager who pledged his allegiance to ISIS was said to have come from a good background and was a model student. It is believed he was radicalized over the internet. On August 18th 2016 a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” attacked a 62-year-old Jewish man wearing a kippa on avenue des Vosges in Strasbourg. It was revealed that the man had previously attacked another Jewish man by stabbing him  in Kléber square in 2010. The man was charged with attempted murder following the 2016 attack.

In a strange and macabre coincidence, a distant relative of Ilan Halimi, kindergarten professor Dr Sarah Halimi was killed in an anti-Semitic attack by an Islamist. Mali-born Kobili Traoré shouted out “Allahu Akbar” as he beat her death and then threw her body from a balcony in Paris.

These are some of the most severe incidences of anti-Semitic violence across France, but there are also lower level incidents which add to the feeling of fear within the Jewish community within France. Records available from 2000-2011 show that attacks on Jews in France have indeed risen according to events which have happened in the Arab world. For example in 2008 there were 459 “anti-Semitic actions and threats” recorded in France, but in the following year, that number had almost doubled to 815. In 2009, Operation Cast Lead was undertaken by the Israeli military which led to a 3 week long conflict which saw as many as 1,430 die. Most of those killed during the conflict were Palestinians.

Since this rise of attacks on Jews, some French Jews have begun to emigrate back to Israel. The number of Jews that have been returning to Israel from France is believed to be higher than the numbers of American Jews making the trip which is known as Aliyah. When it comes to the lower level attacks on Jews, it would be irresponsible to blame this rise solely at the door of Islamism as it is well known that people from a wide spectrum of repugnant belief systems engage in anti-Semitism.

For instance in the kidnapping of Ilan Halimi, the old stereotype of Jews being rich is what seems to have motivated this gang to commit their awful deeds. Attitudes of anti-Semitism such as this have permeated into many cultures around the world.  But what cannot be escaped is the statistical evidence that many of the most violent attacks on Jews in recent years in France have been perpetrated by those who follow the Islamist ideology.

The attack of an 8-year-old boy signals a new low in anti-Semitic attacks in France and although we don’t know the motives of the people involved in yesterdays despicable attack on a defenceless 8-year-old boy, it is likely to add to the growing sense of fear in the French Jewish community.

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