Gavin Mortimer

France’s Jewish population has good reason to feel afraid

France's Jewish population has good reason to feel afraid
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In January 2016, Nicolas Sarkozy was honoured by British Jews at a ceremony in London. The former French president was thanked by Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldsmith for his support during a decade that had seen an upsurge in anti-Semitism across France. 'France right now is the main battleground between hope and fear for the future of Europe, especially for the Jewish community', said Goldsmith.

Two years on, and Britain has also become a battleground for Jews. Anti-Semitic attacks are now at record levels in the UK, according to a report released this week, with 2017 witnessing a 34 per cent rise in violent assaults against Jewish people. Holland and Belgium have also undergone similar dramatic surges in anti-Semitism in recent years. But it's France that remains the most dangerous European country for Jews. This week saw another violent attack, when an eight-year-old boy wearing a Jewish skullcap was beaten by two teenagers in a northern suburb of Paris, the same suburb that was ransacked during a pro-Palestine rally in 2014. In response to this latest outrage, president Emmanuel Macron tweeted that 'every time a citizen is attacked because of their age, appearance or religion, the whole republic is attacked'. It was a facile tweet, one that will do nothing to assuage the growing fear among France's diminishing Jewish population.

As I wrote after the Marseille attack, around 7,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel in 2014, while an estimated 8,000 took the same route in 2015, (more than four times the number who emigrated in 2011). That number had dropped to 5,000 in 2016, largely because of the reassuring security presence outside Jewish schools and synagogues following the Islamist terror attacks that included the killing of four people in a Kosher supermarket, but that still adds up to more than 20,000 Jews who fled France in three years.

It is a statistic that has drawn little honest analysis from politicians. A generation ago, anti-Semitism was almost exclusively the preserve of the far-right, egged on by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the then thuggish leader of the National Front who described the Nazi gas chambers as a 'detail' of history.

Now the Islamists are responsible for the majority of the attacks, often using the situation in Palestine as the pretext. There were 808 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in France in 2015, prompting Zvi Ammar, head of Marseille's Israelite consistory, to advise his community to 'remove the kippah during this troubled time until better days…as soon as we are identified as Jewish we can be assaulted and even risk death'.

Ammar's comments were criticised by some in France, who accused him of scaremongering, but the facts speak for themselves. In the last couple of years the number of attacks may have diminished slightly, but the level of violence is on the increase. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe admitted as much to parliament on Wednesday, although he couldn't bring himself to name those responsible, merely pointing to a 'new brutal form of anti-Semitism'.

One of the Islamists' most skilful manoeuvres in recent years has been to wage their war of anti-Semitism behind the armour-plating of 'Islamophobia', an impenetrable protection in today's Europe. And so it is the Jews who suffer because of the continent's moral cowardice.

In April last year, 65-year-old Sarah Halimi was allegedly beaten to death in her Parisian apartment by her Muslim neighbour. Coming as it did during the final weeks of presidential campaigning, most of the candidates avoided commenting on the subject, as did the majority of the media, who tried to pass it off as the act of a mentally ill individual. This despite the fact eye-witnesses testified they heard Traoré, the alleged killer, scream 'Allahu akbar' and recite verses from the Koran as he rained down blows on Madame Halimi.

In the face of a refusal on the part of the police and judiciary to classify the murder as a hate crime the victim's brother, William Attal, described the killing as 'a modern day Dreyfus affair', adding: 'There is a willing blindness on behalf of the French authorities to see and do justice'.

His words were echoed by CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish communities in France, which issued a statement, expressing their anger at what they called the official 'Omerta' over the killing. 'What is being hidden?' they asked. 'Why this denial of anti-Semitism?'.

The murder was finally declared an anti-Jewish attack in September and Traoré was last week declared mentally fit enough to stand trial. Indeed, his psychiatric report stated that since he beat Halimi to death he is 'more peaceful'.

The same cannot be said of France's Jewish population, or what remains of it, with William Attal and his family among the latest to emigrate to the safer environs of Israel.