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Alarming Rise in Anti-Semitism Grips France’s Jewish Community

November 2, 2023







Witnessing the explosion of acts of anti-Semitism in France since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas, many members of France’s Jewish community are struggling to adapt to their new reality.

On a recent Friday night at the Vauquelin Synagogue in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a dozen worshippers gather in a dimly lit hallway after the Shabbat prayers. With its mellow atmosphere, the synagogue seems far removed from the Middle East, where Israeli troops are battling Hamas militants following the latter’s bloody October 7 rampage.

Yet French Jews have reason to worry. Since the Hamas attacks on October 7 and the subsequent war launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip, 819 acts of anti-Semitism have been reported in France: more incidents in three weeks than over the past year. The offenses range from verbal abuse and anti-Semitic graffiti to physical assaults and death threats.

When asked how their daily lives have changed since October 7, the circle of believers pushes forward. Everyone has a story to tell. David, 20, says he knows of a group of Jewish friends who were followed and threatened by another group of young people.

“They weren’t even wearing anything that could identify them as Jewish!”, he said. “There used to be a consensus that you keep your religion at home, but even if people respect this rule [laïcité], they are pursued by ani-Semitism today.” Laïcité, France’s brand of secularism, means that religion is banned from state matters and public schools.

Hiding one’s religion isn’t “a factor which protects” anymore, David said.

“This is why [Jewish] people are withdrawing into their communities. It makes you want to get together with people who are facing the same problems,” he said.

A week after the evening at the synagogue, which was protected by armed members of the French military for the occasion, David shared a number of messages from members of the Jewish community on their experiences since October 7 on Whatsapp. Here are several of them:

A comic book designer, 36, who wishes to remain anonymous 

“On a personal note, since October 7, I’ve been scared to go to Muslim/Arab neighborhoods or Muslim/Arab markets. It wasn’t the case before.

I often speak in Hebrew on the phone, I listen to Hebrew music, my phone is in Hebrew; I’m scared that this can be seen or heard while I’m not paying attention and that I could be the victim of a verbal or physical assault. Let’s just say that now I’m conscious of an increased danger and I’m not at ease.”

A classical music professor, 69, who wishes to remain anonymous 

“I have Muslim friends, including one of Moroccan origin, with whom I have an especially strong relationship. She is a doctor, and she saved my mother, and accompanied me hour by hour with her advice, encouragement and messages.

I have never resorted to using stereotypes by saying, ‘Muslims are like this or like that’ … because like everywhere, there are good people, and abject people.

[…] I feel resentful towards the Muslim community which one, ignores the historic realities of our presence in the land of Israel, two, which refuses the proposition made to the Arab inhabitants by David Ben Gurion (in his proclamation of the independence of the state of Israel in 1948) to ‘participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions’, and three, which wants to ignore that 20 percent of the elected representatives of the Knesset are Arab and 30 percent of the students in the universities are Arab.”

(France 24 Editor’s note: There are in fact 10 Arab lawmakers among the 120 members who hold seats in the Knesset – fewer than 10 percent. Arab students accounted for less than 20 percent of the total number of undergraduate students in Israeli universities, according to a survey by Israel’s Council for Higher Education).

Caroline, 47, a self-employed professional

“In my professional and social milieu, in the centre of Paris, there is no visible tension. It’s simple, we don’t talk. None of my friends and none of my Muslim acquaintances reacts to what I post on social networks, and they don’t publish anything. [The same] for my leftist comrades. The only one of my posts which got a reaction, was a photo from the show Friends when Matthew Perry died! Last Saturday night, during a dinner with them, you could say the subject [of the war] didn’t exist. Even though they talk about politics, and all the time. It’s something that almost scared me. I was invited into an alternative reality.”

Stars of David around Paris

Fresh Stars of David were painted overnight on the façades of several buildings in a southern district of Paris and a number of the city’s suburbs last Tuesday, increasing the feeling of fear and incomprehension among French Jews.

In the town of Creil, north of Paris, Jews and Muslims used to live in close proximity. Joelle Lezmi, 70, the former president of WIZO, an international women’s Zionist organisation and a former elected official at the City Hall, remembers how after the Second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising between 2000 and 2005), there was an uptick of anti-Semitism in France that pushed many Jews to leave her neighbourhood.

“There used to be 400 Jewish families, now there are only 35 families,” she said. “The others immigrated to other places in France.”

The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 elicited a strong emotion for the mother of three and grandmother of two.

“When I saw Israel penetrated from all directions, I felt like a stateless person,” she said. “I’m not scared about being tortured but I’m scared for Israel to no longer exist.”

Despite the situation, Lezmi, who has lived in Creil since 1978, continues to live there with her husband. She is friends with her Turkish neighbour and enjoys chatting with the neighbourhood gardener, a Muslim of Cameroonian origin, who “gives her a blessing every three minutes”. She regrets how the Jewish community “is closed within itself”. A lot of things would be easier if we talked to the others, she said.

Yet, Lezmi who considers herself as, “French, Jewish and Zionist”, says she doesn’t understand why Jews are used as “scapegoats” for the conflict in the Middle East.

“I refuse to be scared, and I will keep living in Creil,” she said.


Culled from France 24 News

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