Paris attacks: Jews 'thinking of leaving' as fears of growing anti-Semitism are exacerbated following atrocities

A gunman's targeting of a kosher store is considered part of a worrying trend

Cahal Milmo
Sunday 11 January 2015 01:00
A message reading "I am Jewish, Charlie and French" taped to a security barrier near the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes (AFP/Getty)
A message reading "I am Jewish, Charlie and French" taped to a security barrier near the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes (AFP/Getty)

The two Jewish men emerging from the synagogue on rue Pavée in central Paris yesterday under the watchful eye of two rifle-wielding gendarmes were clear about the implications of the murderous attack on a kosher supermarket in their home city 24 hours earlier.

Itzhak, 24, who has lived in the Jewish quarter of the Marais in the 3rd arrondissement all his life, said he knew "many" fellow Jews who were considering leaving France for Israel because of what they see as a deepening seam of anti-Semitism in the country – a sentiment that the bloody events at the Hyper Cacher grocery store on the edge of Paris has exacerbated.

Armed police yesterday remained outside many synagogues and community centres in the French capital after nearly all shut their doors on Friday following a request from the authorities within minutes of the attack on Hyper Cacher. The Grande Synagogue of Paris, close to the Gare du Nord, shut its doors for the first time since the Second World War.

The closures and the ongoing security operation were far from an over-reaction. Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who reportedly shot dead four people inside Hyper Cacher in Vincennes on the south-eastern edge of Paris on Friday afternoon, told a French television station shortly before he was killed in a police raid that he had targeted the shop because of Palestine and "les Juifs" – the Jews. His partner, Hayat Boumeddiene, remains at large and is described as "armed and dangerous".

With his friend nodding his head in agreement, Itzhak said: "Who has been attacked these last few days? It's cartoonists, it's journalists and it's Jews. Again the Jews have been targeted for nothing more than their name. It makes people concerned that perhaps this will never end. We are seeing a new persecution, perhaps. Many Jews are wondering whether to stay in France."

Nearby, Rachel Bachman, leaving a kosher delicatessen in the rue des Rosiers, where French police on Friday forced the temporary closure of all Jewish shops following the Vincennes attack, said: "There is a new kind of fascism that we are seeing. This is my home and I will stay here. But this man yesterday attacked not Israelis but Jews. It doesn't matter if you abhor what happens in Gaza – these people will kill you for being a Jew. Nothing more."

Marchers hold up Charlie Hebdo covers in Toulouse on Saturday

An uneasy calm returned to the Marais yesterday. But the attack on Hyper Cacher, part of a chain serving France's 500,000 Jews, is part of what most see as a heightened atmosphere of anti-Semitism, enhanced by anti-Jewish statements from controversial comedian Dieudonné M'Bala.

Mohammed Merah, a former French soldier, murdered four people, including three children, outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012 during an 11-day rampage. He said he had been motivated because "the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine".

The number of anti-Semitic attacks during the first 10 months of 2014 doubled compared with the previous year, largely fuelled by a backlash to the Israeli offensive in Gaza last summer.

Mohammed Merah, who killed seven in front of a Jewish school in southern France in 2012

The Israeli Defense Force operation triggered a sharp rise in attacks on synagogues in France and shouts of "Death to Jews" on the margins of protests.

Some assaults have been bestial.A Jewish couple living in the south-eastern Paris suburb of Créteil suffered a horrific attack last month when robbers burst into their home and held them captive while looking for money. One of the attackers later told police they had targeted the couple because "Jews, they've got cash". After stealing whatever they could find, the two young men raped the woman.

Amid such corrosive incidents, the number of departures to Israel doubled last year to 7,000 – making France the largest contributor to migration of Jews to the country.

The Michkenot Israel synagogue

Leaders of the Jewish community said the assault at Vincennes had deepened anxiety that Jews in France were under attack.

Roger Cukierman, president of the French national Jewish association Crif, told Le Monde: "The Jewish community, which was already anxious, now has additional reasons to be worried. The situation is becoming deeply serious – my sense is that the jihadist war against the West has certain targets, namely journalists, freedom of expression and the Jews."

Haim Korsia, the Grand Rabbi of France, added: "This succession of tragic events has shown once more that the threat hanging over the Jewish community – and identified by many our of leaders – was real."

President François Hollande, went out of his way in an address to the nation on Friday to underline the anti-Semitic nature of the Vincennes attack, adding that France must remain "implacable in the face of racism and anti-Semitism".

In the rue des Rosiers, an elderly lady carrying her shopping home yesterday morning said: "I'm going nowhere. But we have always been attacked – the more things change, the more they stay the same."