France Not Doing Enough to Stop Terrorism, Jewish Leaders Warn

Following the deadly attack on a church, Jewish leaders call on the French government to step up measures, saying the latest attack marks 'a new phase of terrorist expansion.'

Religious leaders speak to journalists after a meeting with the French President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 27, 2016.
Benoit Tessier, Reuters

PARIS — Jewish leaders in France called on the French government to step up measures to protect citizens from terror, following an attack by two men on a church in northern France on Tuesday.

“We are urging the government to take the necessary measures to provide citizens protection and security,” said a joint statement issued by France’s chief rabbi Rabbi Korsia and Joel Mergui, president of the Consistoire, the organization that administers most synagogues and Jewish schools in France. 

The call to action marks a change in tone of Jewish leaders in France, who typically issue statements following terror attacks praising the government for its efforts to fight terrorism and anti-Semitism.

“We may not have the authority to say which forces should go where, but we’re not blind,” said the chief rabbi’s adviser Yael Hirschhorn. “Attacks have been multiplying and like every citizen we believe there must be a way to do a better job on security.”

The Jewish umbrella group Crif said on Tuesday the attack showed terrorists are multiplying their targets. “This attack is a new phase of terrorist expansion,” the group said. 

Jewish leaders, along with much of the rest of the country, increasingly say the government is not doing enough to stop terrorism. A poll conducted by IFOP, the French Insitute of Public Opinion, after the brutal Bastille Day attack in Nice earlier this month, shows a majority of the population, 67%, thinks the government is incapable of fighting terrorism.

In the past two weeks France has faced two major assaults, the dealiest of which was the truck ramming in Nice that killed 84 people who were watching Bastille Day fireworks. Neighboring Germany has witnessed four violent attacks, including the shooting at a Munich shopping mall, an assault with an ax and another with a machete

Since the first recognized terrorist attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 the numbers of violent assaults  in France have multiplied and their death tolls have kept growing. Over the past two years Jewish sites, Paris cafés, a concert hall, a stadium, police, journalists and Bastille Day revelers have been targeted by terrorists. 

The church of the Saint-Etienne-Du Rouvreay village, near Rouen, is the first Christian place of worship to be attacked in France. A previous terrorist plot against a church in the Paris area was foiled.

The two assailants stormed the Catholic church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, during mass on Tuesday and took five people hostage. They cut father Jacques Hamel’s throat and tried to kill a member of his congregation. A nun who saw one the attackers’ knives fled the church, alerted authorities and special police forces shot dead the terrorists.

“The threat has never been greater,” said French President François Hollande in an address to the nation. “The State of emergency will be reinforced. But we have to maintain a balance and not apply rules that violate personal freedoms. We will win the war against terrorism.”

Hollande met at the Elysee Palace with religious leaders on Wednesday morning, including Chief Rabbi Korsia, who was one of the first to express his condolences to the Catholic community.

Korsia and other Jewish leaders of the umbrella group Crif and the Consistoire, which manages synagogues and Jewish schools across the country, have paid a visit to Catholic officials hours after the attack. 

“We had to show them our solidarity. We’re with them. In these difficult times, no one should be alone. The Catholic Church was always there for us after anti-Semitic attacks,” said the chief rabbi’s adviser Hirschhorn.

The attack at the church and the president’s promise to protect all of France’s churches may lead to redeployments of French security forces. Currently police and army forces are massively stationed outside synagogues and Jewish schools but Jewish defense association SPCJ fears authorities may redeploy those men elsewhere because Jews are no longer the terrorists’ main target. 

“We’re waiting on the interior minister to keep us up to speed,” said Laura Nhari, from Crif.

Some in France believe the terror wave will boost the far right’s support ratings less than a year before the next presidential election. The party has vowed to stop immigration and take measures against Islamists. On Tuesday one of its forefront figure Marion Marechal Le Pen said she would join the National Guard.