July 16, 2003

ANTISEMITIC VIOLENCE IN FRANCE -- some pretty awful stories:

The violence in France parallels incidents throughout Europe, where attacks on Jewish institutions and other expressions of anti-Semitism have risen over the past few years, as has strong criticism of Israel. But in many ways, France -- with 6 million Muslims and 600,000 Jews, the largest population of each group in Western Europe -- is unique.

For Jews here, many of whom had thought of themselves as French first and foremost, the violence and the initial tepid response of government officials have led to a crisis of identity.

"At first, neither the politicians, nor the courts, nor the intellectuals, nor the media, nor public opinion, nor civil society -- none of them said anything," said Simon Kouhama, president of the Jewish Citizens Forum. . .

The alarm bells first started ringing for Zenouda in October 2000, as he watched television coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Place de la Republique shouting "Death to the Jews" and other anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans. That month, five synagogues were firebombed and there were attempts against 19 other synagogues, homes and businesses.

The official response, he says, was "glacial silence," followed by rationalizations. Many officials denied there was any pattern or meaning to the unrest. Others portrayed the violence as either the isolated acts of troubled Arab youths or street brawls in which both sides were equally to blame. And in his view, everyone appeared to hold Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hard-line policies ultimately responsible. A controversial letter by Socialist Party adviser Pascal Boniface suggested that politicians concerned with reelection ought to pay more attention to Muslims, who outnumber the Jews by 10 to 1.