Opinion

France’s Jewish Problem

The murder of a Holocaust survivor on the Sabbath eve is a reminder that, more than 70 years after the drama of the deportation and murder of its Jews, France still has not freed itself of festering anti-Semitism

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor found murdered in her Paris apartment on March 23, 2018.
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85-year-old Mireille Knoll was stabbed and burned to death in Paris last week. 65-year-old Sara Halimi was beaten and pushed out of her apartment window in Paris about a year ago. Philippe Braham, 45, Francois-Michel Saada, 64, Yoav Hattab, 21, and Yohan Cohen, 20, were shot to death in a kosher supermarket in Paris three years ago. Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, 30, and his children Aryeh, 6, and Gabriel, 3, along with Miriam Monsonego, 8, were shot to death at the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse six years ago. Ilan Halimi, 30, was held captive and brutally tortured to death in a Paris suburb in 2006.

Eleven victims in a dozen years. All French citizens, all murdered on French soil, all, without exception, because they were Jews. All of the murderers (also French citizens, for the most part) acted in the name or under the sway of Islamist ideology.

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France, unfortunately, is not the only country where Jews are being killed these days just for being Jews. It is also important to say that Jews have not been the only victims of Islamist terror in France in recent years. In the past three years alone, hundreds of French citizens have been killed in a number of terror attacks. From the Nice promenade to the Charlie Hebdo attack to the Bataclan Theater, France has been living in the shadow of mass terror attacks.

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But despite the similarities with these atrocities, the anti-Semitic attacks in France are different in two ways, at least. First, they are directed against the Jewish minority, which during World War II was systematically persecuted by the French authorities, who collaborated with the Nazis. The historical baggage of the Vichy era means the French government has a moral duty to safeguard the welfare of French Jews. Every murder is terrible, but it’s particularly terrible to contemplate the fate of Mireille Knoll who, as a child, fled with her mother to Portugal to escape deportation to the death camps, and ultimately was murdered savagely in Paris for being a Jew. This murder of a Jewish woman on the Sabbath eve is a reminder that, more than 70 years after the drama of the deportation and murder of its Jews, France still has not freed itself of festering anti-Semitism. Its appearance may have changed over the years, but it is still present and claiming victims.

Another point of difference is the French attitude toward the anti-Semitic attacks, compared to attacks that are not specifically directed against the Jewish community. No banners proclaiming “Je suis Juif” have been carried by huge crowds in the streets, like the signs that said “Je suis Paris” and “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with the victims of some of the attacks. The politicians issue strong condemnations, the media reports the story and expresses disgust, but still the story of a Jewish woman murdered for being a Jew is often pushed to the back pages of the paper, or requires a media-conscious campaign by the Jewish community for the anti-Semitic motive to merit public and legal recognition.

Even if no one can doubt President Emmanuel Macron and other French leaders’ total commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, many French Jews feel terribly alone. Some (a minority, for now) have chosen to emigrate to Israel or America. Others are staying put and fighting or keeping quiet and moving to a “safer” district where they can be more insulated in their community.

There are no easy solutions to the lethal violence against French Jews, and Israel ought not purport to offer a magic solution to such a complex and volatile situation. One thing is certain: If France does not urgently address the problem, it will have major implications for the whole French nation. A France that has had a “Jewish problem” for more than a decade is a France that is not living up to its proclaimed humanistic values of liberté, égalité, fraternité – liberty, equality and fraternity.