A Murder of a French Jew and an Assault on Another Spread New Fears

The killing of a Jewish politician and the stabbing of a religiously observant teacher raise questions about anti-Semitism and the challenge France faces in protecting its Jews.

French soldiers guard a Jewish school in Marseille, January 12, 2016.
AFP

The stabbing murder on Tuesday of a Jewish politician in a Parisian suburb, following Monday’s non-fatal stabbing of a religiously observant Jewish teacher in Marseille has struck fear into French Jewry, with some communal leaders calling for Jewish boys and men not to wear a kippa in public.

The timing of the attacks, just days after the anniversary of the terror murders at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, caused them to echo all the more loudly throughout France.

Alain Ghozland, a 73-year-old Jewish councilmember from the Parisian suburban community of Creteil was found dead on Tuesday in his mother’s apartment. Police sources said it was too soon to say whether the motive was anti-Semitic or criminal.

On Monday, Benjamin Amsalem, 35, a kippa-wearing resident of Marseille, was stabbed and a 16-year-old Muslim boy was arrested for the attack. Police said the boy, son of a Kurdish-Turkish family and an honor student in school, told them during questioning that “in the name of Islam and the name of the Islamic State, he had gone out to kill a Jew.”

Amsalem left the hospital on Tuesday afternoon wearing a baseball cap. “He is afraid now to wear a kippa,” his wife Mazal explained to reporters.

After the Marseille attack, local Jewish community leader Zvi Ammar called on Jewish men and boys not to wear a kippa outside their homes “for the sake of the sanctity of life.” The president of the Marseille Jewish community, Michel Touboul, spoke Tuesday of a “serious trauma,” and said that this was the third case of a knife attack on Jews in recent months.

“This is a copy of the wave of stabbing terror in Israel,” he maintained.

Police found Ghozland with stab wounds and other signs of severe violence. His brother, who found the body, said, “I was worried because the night before he came to pray at the synagogue.” Police found the apartment in disarray when they arrived. The victim’s car, which was parked near the apartment the day before, had disappeared. The case is being termed a “murder investigation” and handling of the case has been passed to the Paris Police investigations department. Ghozland’s body was transferred to the French police forensic institute for an autopsy.

The apartment in which Ghozland’s body was found belongs to his 102-year-old mother. The victim apparently went there to pick up mail and was then attacked. He was found clutching a piece of fabric.

Ghozland, of the opposition Republican party, was active in the Creteil Jewish community. His father, Haim Ghozland, was one of the community’s founders and once served as deputy mayor. The family immigrated to France from Algeria in the 1960s. In December 2014, this suburb was the scene of a brutal anti-Semitic crime – the rape of a woman and robbery of her and her husband, who was kept at bay during his wife’s assault. In that case, the police investigation found that the attackers selected their targets because they were Jewish.

At a memorial service for the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack over the weekend – before the stabbings – French Prime Minister Manuel Valls gave a vehement speech, saying, “The Jews of France are leaving their country more and more because they no longer feel safe. But also because they feel that they are not understood, that this is no longer their place. That thought should have long been intolerable to us, to all Frenchmen.”

The attacks raised anew the questions about how deep the roots of anti-Semitism in France go, and about the challenge before France to protect its Jews. “You can’t put a police officer on every Jew,” a disconsolate community leader in Marseille said.

On Tuesday morning, as details about Amsalem’s attacker emerged following his interrogation by police, it became clear the youth was not on any list of immediate suspects. He had no criminal record or background of psychological or family problems. Marseille General Prosecutor Brice Robin said the boy “was influenced by surfing extremist Islamic propaganda sites.” According to Robin, the assailant’s parents and other relatives were in shock when detectives came to search their house. The family said there had been no outward sign that the youth had turned to extremism.