Charlie Hebdo, Jewish Grocery Attacks Herald a Bleak New Era for France

Things will certainly not be the same for French Jews after this week's wave of terror - but they aren't alone in jihadists' firing line.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Police officers storm the kosher grocery store where a gunman held several hostages, in Paris, Fri. Jan. 9, 2015.
Police officers storm the kosher grocery store where a gunman held several hostages, in Paris, Fri. Jan. 9, 2015.Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The attacks against European synagogues in the 1980s which were carried out by Palestinian organizations and the Istanbul synagogue bombings in 2003 by Al-Qaida are different from what is happening now in Paris.

French police evacuate hostages after launching an assault at a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, Jan. 9, 2015.Credit: AFP

The significance of the ongoing events there – with the hostage-taking and murders at a Jewish-owned grocery store, likely by the gunman who murdered a police officer on Thursday and who appears coordinated with Cherif and Said Kouachi, the suspected murderers at the Charlie Hebdo offices, who were killed in a police raid on Friday – is that nowhere in Europe is safe anymore.

The targeting of the Jewish grocery, where four French Jews were killed, follows deadly attacks carried out by French jihadists at Jewish sites in Europe in the last three years. But the shooting last year at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and the 2012 attack outside the Otzar HaTorah school in Toulouse were carried out by "lone-wolf" attackers. This time, the level of organization, weapons, equipment and planning is of a different order.

The Charlie Hebdo attack, the killing of the policewoman and Friday's simultaneous hostage-takings, were all carried out professionally. According to one report, the client of the printing company in Dammartin-en-Goele, where the Kouachis were holed up, first thought they were security personnel, judging from the look of their weapons and clothing. Only after shaking their hands, did he realize that they were wanted killers and he was a hostage.

Amedy Coulibaly, suspected of killing the police officer, calmly told police by phone, after taking over the Hyper Cacher grocery, "You already know who I am" and that he was holding six hostages. The professionalism, along with the fact that these gunmen are all natives of France, operating in a familiar environment, transforms the series of events into the sum of all the nightmares of Europe's security forces. The nightmare for the French Jewish community, which suffered a number of attacks recently that did not receive much publicity because they did not result in casualties, is even greater.

The headlines over the last year about increasing French immigration to Israel are accurate, but obscured the fact that 98 percent of the French Jewish community remained at home, clinging to a life that was comfortable and relatively safe, or so they hoped. Until this week.

The order on Friday to shutter the dozens of Jewish shops and restaurants in Paris, the police surrounding Jewish schools and the recommendations of community leaders to be extremely cautious when arriving at synagogue for Shabbat prayers, and perhaps to consider staying home on Friday night, are the embodiment of a siege mentality that the Jews of Western Europe have not felt since the end of World War II. The sight of the Grand Synagogue of Paris closed on Shabbat eve, for the first time since the Holocaust, will have burned itself on the minds of the Jews and the children will never forget being under lockdown. The thought that even stopping on the way home for work on Friday afternoon to buy a challah could cost you your life will not be easily shaken off.

We must be careful not panic or draw populist conclusions right now. We still count among us thousands of grandparents who remember a time when things were immeasurably worse for Jews in Europe. And yet, what happened Friday seems like the start of new and bleak era.

It's important to remember, however, that this wave of terror began with an attack on a non-Jewish target, and that all the citizens of France face a new threat – and that includes millions of Muslim citizens who fear a backlash.

France has known terror and crises and returned to its peaceful and hedonistic way of life. But such a fast and furious series of attacks, which have paralyzed Paris now for a third day, and the variety of targets, journalists, police officers, Jews, along with the fear of another wave crashing down at any moment, raises the concern that things may not be the same again. Certainly not for the Jews, though they are not alone in the firing-line.

A reality in which an unknown number of French-born Jihadists are plotting beneath the surface and could burst out any moment necessitates a new security framework, one that may not suit many Jews. Beyond the security and intelligence challenges of facing jihadist terror in a Western nation that has forgotten the reality of war, this is a challenge for French society. Will it succeed in uniting to face this crisis together? Does it have the tools to prevent the budding vigilante reprisals against mosques and other Muslim targets and to restore a sense of security to its half a million Jewish citizens?

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