The shooting spree against a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19 is the most serious anti-Semitic attack that has taken place in France since Paris' Jo Goldenberg restaurant was bombed in 1982, with the loss of six lives. While it is too early yet to identify the killer and his ideology, intelligence officials here have made a link between this cold-blooded murder, carried in a military style by a lone killer, and the assassination of three servicemen a couple of days ago from a paratroopers' unit who served in Afghanistan. Those shootings have taken place in the same region, they seem to have been carried out by the same man, with the same weapon. What has sparked suggestions of a common ideological cause for these killings is that all the victims are from minority groups, whether Jews in the case of the school, or Muslim north African or West Indian, in the case of the soldiers.
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Today investigators say that there are three possible motivations for the killer: he might be an Islamist; a former soldier suffering from battle trauma who has run amok; or a neo-Nazi walking in the steps of Anders Breivik. In the military unit whose members were killed, three soldiers were discharged in 2008 because they displayed a swastika flag in the barracks. The police take seriously the possibility of a link between all those cases.
But so far the most important fact to emerge for the Jewish community in France is that they will have to learn how to live under threat from an enemy that is not necessarily a terrorist network with a leadership and cells, but one which follows the pattern of "leaderless resistance," a concept believed to be on the rise within a range of radical movements, both Islamist and extreme-right.
Jewish communal institutions repeated on Monday that, although the Toulouse killings are the most dramatic and deadly anti-Jewish action for decades, they are only the most shocking among the 400 anti-Semitic incidents that are recorded every year by the community’s protection service, the SPCJ. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, the level of anti-Semitic attacks has been rising, with a peak of more than 900 in 2004. And regardless of the real efforts of the French government, police and justice authorities, the level of attacks remains much higher than in the 1990s.
The so-called "new" anti-Semitism of the post-Intifada era emanates mostly from radicalized (although not often observant) Muslim immigrants or long-standing citizens, and it is rooted both in religious prejudice and in anger emerging from support for the Palestinian cause. The Jewish community has come to believe that this is the only source of anti-Semitism in France, with some would-be scholars and experts even claiming that France has become part of "Eurabia," or a Europe colonized by Islam. This is dangerous nonsense. As shown in the Breivik case, sectarian hatred and bigotry, a bigotry that kills, can equally emanate from the other end of the political spectrum, for neo-Nazis may not scale intellectual heights, but they do have enough brains to hate Jews and Muslims at the same time, and for much of the same reasons. They also have the brawn to turn their ideology into real events.
Jean-Yves Camus is a Research Associate with the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRES), France