Why the 'deafening silence' among French about anti-Semitism?


Francis Kalifat speaks in a quiet voice, yet his warning is an alarming one. "In our country we have reached the threshold of that which is bearable for the Jewish community," says
Kalifat, who is chairman of Crif, the umbrella organisation of Jewish groups in the country. "We must stop this wave of anti-Semitism that is poisoning our society."

His alarm comes after several sensational attacks that have triggered the debate about hatred of Jews in France. Premier Edouard Philippe speaks of a "new violent and brutal form of anti-Semitism" in the country. To which Kalifat responds: "A new form that we have known for a long time."

Three years after the Islamic terrorist attack on a supermarket for kosher products in the French capital, it remains a matter of debate as to whether Jews can feel safe in France, a country that has the largest Jewish community in Europe.

There was outrage when, at the end of January, an attacker kicked an 8-year-old boy wearing a kippa. Investigators see a possible anti-Semitic motive behind it, though the case is not yet cleared up.

President Emmanuel Macron was quick to condemn the act.

"Any time that a citizen is attacked because his age, appearance or religion, then it's an attack on the entire republic."

Macron evidently wanted to send a clear signal.

His fast response was strikingly different from what happened last April, when an older Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was brutally beaten by a neighbour and thrown from a balcony, killing her. The man called the woman a "sheitan" (devil) and shouted in Arabic, "God is great," reported lawyers for Halimi's family later on.

But French justice authorities initially treated the case as a killing without special circumstances. The media were accused of paying little attention to it at first. In the Jewish community, however, Sarah Halimi's fate stirred up new fears. In the meantime, French prosecutors want to expand the charges to take in the anti-Semitic aspect of the killing - but the investigating judge has so far not agreed to this.

Crif head Kalifat says Jews in France were caught in a "vice" of three kinds of anti-Jewish hatred: rightist extremism, leftist extremism and "Arabic-Muslim" anti-Semitism.

At the moment, the most recent official figures in France point to positive trends. The Interior Ministry reported 311 anti-Semitic threats and acts of violence last year, a drop of 7.2 percent from 2016. The year before that, there had been 808 anti-Jewish acts. By comparison, in Germany there were more than 1,400 anti-Jewish acts in 2017.

However, Jewish groups in France express caution about the figures, pointing out that many Jews do not even report smaller incidents against them.

According to the Jewish Agency, some 27,000 Jews emigrated from France to Israel over the past five years, compared with fewer than 10,000 in the previous five-year period. The numbers have been declining since peaking in 2015, but have remained at a high level.

Kalifat reports about another phenomenon: Jews feeling pressured to leave some suburban areas and move to other quarters. "We estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people have experienced what I call internal migration since the early 2000s," he said. In certain areas on the periphery of major cities there was the problem of "everyday
anti-Semitism," he said. "This means graffiti smeared on cars, mailboxes ripped off, intentional shoving in the lift," Kalifat said, all acts that created a climate of insecurity.

Le Monde newspaper reported recently about the case of a family from Noisy-le-Grand outside of Paris. There were threatening letters with bullet casings, and graffiti on their outside walls with slogans like "Death to the Jews." The family moved away.

The paper also reported on an incident from last September when youths in the courtyard of the synagogue of Garges-les-Gonesse were preparing the Feast of Tabernacles, they were set on by youths from the neighbourhood.

The French government has now promised a new plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. "What we really expect is action," says Kalifat. Above all he demands tougher measures by the justice authorities for better deterrence. And he wants French society to raise its voice.

"We have this deafening silence among our fellow citizens," Kalifat says. "For us it is a real problem to see that in the end they do not feel affected by the things that are happening nowadays to their Jewish compatriots."    (dpa)

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