Director Steven Spielberg talks at UN Holocaust conference Aug 19, 2014 0:14:41 GMT
Post by Admin on Aug 19, 2014 0:14:41 GMT
FRANCE’S leaders are increasingly worried about the apparent rise of anti-Semitism in their country. Yesterday afternoon François Hollande, the president, called an urgent meeting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist leaders to discuss the outbreak of anti-Jewish violence over the weekend when demonstrators against Israel’s actions in Gaza ran wild. On a hot Saturday in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Barbès, not far from the Gare du Nord, a big railway station in Paris, a crowd that swelled to around 3,000 ignored an official ban on demonstrating. They set fire to an Israeli flag, bashed in shops and threw stones at serried ranks of riot police, 15 of whom retired wounded.
On Sunday afternoon the violence spilled over into Sarcelles, a suburb with a large Sephardic Jewish population. A Molotov cocktail was launched at the main synagogue and a kosher shop was burnt down. Shop windows were smashed; several stores were looted; flames flared fitfully. Tear gas hung heavy in the air as riot police scattered the thugs, firing rubber bullets. Four policemen ended up in hospital. Permitted pro-Palestinian demonstrations elsewhere passed off peacefully, prompting some to say that banning the demonstrations in Paris was provocative as well as contravening the right to free speech. But a week earlier several Paris synagogues had been targeted by protesters shouting “Death to the Jews”.
After the meeting with the president yesterday, Joël Mergui, president of the Jewish Central Consistory of France, paused for a moment on the steps of the Elysée palace to shake hands with Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. But fixing the toxic mix of economic marginalisaton and growing radicalisation among many Muslims that provides the backdrop to such episodes will take more than a handshake.
In March 2012 a shooting spree in the south of France targeting French soldiers and Jewish students left seven people dead, including three schoolchildren and a young rabbi. The perpetrator, Mohammed Merah, a French criminal of Algerian descent, claimed connections with al-Qaeda. On May 24th of this year, four people were shot dead in the Jewish Museum of Belgium. Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman of Algerian origin who is believed to have fought with Islamist rebels in Syria, was arrested for the crime, which he denies committing. Later that evening, two Jews in traditional dress coming out of the synagogue in Créteil, near Paris, were attacked by thugs.
“Anti-Semitic acts and threats are getting worse every day,” said CRIF (the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) in a statement, calling it an offshoot of terrorism that should be treated as such. Though there were far fewer anti-Jewish acts and threats in 2013 than in 2012, according to the Society for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ), since 2000 anti-Jewish violence is running at an average annual rate seven times higher than in the 1990s. Two-fifths of racist violence in France in 2013 was focused on Jews, the SPCJ says, though they constitute less than 1% of the population.
The past weekend’s incidents come at a time when France is increasingly anguished over issues of national identity and values. Muslims, roughly estimated at 10% of the population, are more inclined to test the country’s determined secularism to its limits. A number of young jihadists are finding their way into conflict zones such as Syria, and helping others do the same. Trading partly on anti-immigrant sentiment, the far-right Front National received almost a quarter of all votes in the recent European elections in May.
France’s war-time history of occupation and collaboration with the Nazis remains a sensitive topic. Before the Molotov cocktails started flying in Sarcelles on Sunday, Manuel Valls, the prime minister, was speaking in commemoration of the Jewish victims of “Vel d’Hiv”, where French Jews were rounded up and sent off to concentration camps, calling complicity in it “le déshonneur de la France”. Earlier this year Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a notorious French Cameroonian comedian of pronounced anti-Semitic views who favours a reverse-Nazi salute, was forced to cancel a tour on the grounds that it would threaten public order.
Both Mr Hollande and Mr Valls have effectively called this weekend’s events “intolerable”. Unexpectedly, it was Bernard Cazeneuve, Mr Valls’s uncharismatic successor as interior minister, who brought a hint of philosophy, even poetry, to the matter. Speaking on the radio yesterday, he said that France had chosen the path of reason to fight irrational passions such as racism, and that the same energy it puts into defending its Jews now it would put tomorrow into defending mosques, churches and temples—“C’est cela la République.”