Tragedies in France

Happy new year to you and your family! I hope everyone had a chance to take some time with family and friends. I must be honest, it was relaxing not to write a Marc’s Remarks the past two weeks. Unfortunately, my remarks written this morning are very somber.

This is NOT the way to start the new year. On Wednesday we heard the terrible news from France about the 12 people murdered by Islamist terrorists (news reports state they are dead) at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper. Now, as we awoke in Portland, we learned of another hostage situation and four deaths at a kosher supermarket in the Paris neighborhood of Porte de Vincennes. The situation literally ended minutes ago with the terrorist killed and the hostages freed. French police have reported a “sure link” between Amedy Coulibaly, the suspect in the supermarket attack, and the Kouachi brothers, the suspects in the attack on Charlie Hebdo

Paris is a magnificent city and France is a beautiful country. Unfortunately, there continues to be a rise in anti-Semitism. It comes in the form of increasingly violent attacks on Jewish people, the emerging popularity of a growing right-wing political party, and converging ideologies that has distinguished France from its European counterparts.

Anti-Semitic incidents in France are growing exponentially, according to information provided by the American Jewish Committee in Paris. As recently as 1999 the number of recorded acts — ranging from graffiti to targeted arson and homicide — against Jews countrywide was, at just over 80, relatively small. Yet each of the last 15 years saw no fewer than 400 individual episodes.  But, just last year, there were some 1,500 anti-Semitic incidents in France. In fact, of all the crimes classified by French authorities as racist against minorities, Jewish victims represent 50 percent — even though Jews account for less than 1 percent of the country’s population.

As the Boston Globe reported, “The seriousness of these attacks can’t be downplayed. People have lost their lives. In 2006, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in Paris. A similar incident followed two years later — both motivated by anti-Semitism. In 2012, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen claiming ties to al Qaeda, killed four people — including three children, ages 3, 6, and 8 — in an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse. And in 2014, a young French jihadist murdered three people in a Jewish museum in nearby Brussels.” And, now we have today’s tragic incident.

All the more worrying is that, alongside this increase in violence, France’s National Front — a nationalistic, anti-immigration political party with a history of Jewish hatred — is at its peak. The party in 2014 received nearly 25 percent of the total vote in the election for European Parliament — more than any other political party. The party is now led by Marine Le Pen (her father founded and ran the party as an avowed anti-Semite). Some believe that the incidents of the past few days will increase the party’s popularity even more due to their anti-immigrant stance.

And then there are the jihadists. The New York Times reported that no European country has more recruits signing up with the Islamic State terrorist group than France, today estimated to be around 1,000. Once radicalized and trained, the danger that they pose upon their return to the country (or elsewhere) is very real.

All of the threats, taken together, bring real fear to France’s Jewish community, presently the largest in Europe. 

As Prof. Deborah Lipstadt wrote in the New York Times on August 20, 2014:

Seventy years after the Holocaust, many Jews in Europe no longer feel safe. Hiring an armed guard to protect people coming for weekly prayer is not the action of a secure people. In too many cities worldwide, directions to the local synagogue conclude with, ‘You will recognize it by the police car in front of the building.’ France has seen a sharp rise in the number of Jews who have decided to emigrate (the Jewish Agency for Israel, one of our partners overseas, enabled over 7,000 Jews to go to Israel in 2014, the largest group of immigrants from any country).

The telegram has arrived. Jews are worrying. It is time for those who value a free, democratic, open, multicultural and enlightened society to do so, too. This is not another Holocaust, but it’s bad enough.

(Thank you to a variety of new sources including the JTA, Algemeiner, New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.)

May the Jewish people find peace and we all have a Shabbat Shalom.


PS – On a much much much lighter note…Ever see those “house divided” vanity license plates? Here in Oregon, they will typically have half with the University of Oregon and the other half with Oregon State University. Well, next Monday night’s NCAA National Championship football game will like that in my household. Except, it is the (real) OSU playing the University of Oregon. You see, my wife graduated from The Ohio State University. So, we will be the loud and proud Buckeye fans in her honor, while at the same time thinking how great it would be if our adopted in-state team wins. Good luck to the Ducks and the Bucks – have a great game!


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