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Responses to antisemitic attacks in France

A recent article in the Financial Times revealed that many French Jews were moving to London:

Exact figures on how many Jews are leaving France and where they are going are hard to find because it is illegal to carry out a census according to ethnic or religious affiliation there. But there is little doubt many have decided it is time to leave, and after Israel — about 8,000 French citizens moved there last year, a record — the UK is an obvious destination.

A few days after the FT piece appeared, a well known French Jewish politician, Alain Ghozland, was found stabbed in his apartment. The public prosecutor’s office considers the crime may have been motivated by money – the apartment was robbed.Whatever the background to Ghozland’s killing, it is incontrovertible that there has been a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in France.

One recent shocking example was a machete attack on a teacher in Marseille.   Benjamin Amsellem was assaulted by a fifteen year old boy ‘in the name of ISIS’ at the Franco-Hebraic Institute.  He was wearing a kippah at the time of the attack, and his assailant’s made his motives quite clear following his arrest:

Upon being detained, the boy praised Allah and Isis and told officers: “The Muslims of France dishonour Islam and the French army protects Jews,” according to Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin.

Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, offered a passionate and robust denunciation of antisemitism after the hypercacher murders last January, engaging bluntly with Islamist antisemitism in particular:

“If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”

But even the most rigorous and well funded security measures cannot prevent all crime, and controversy has broken out over the steps French Jews should take to ward off attacks.  The head of Marseille’s Jewish community, Zvi Ammar, has advised that people avoid wearing the kippah in public.

“Not wearing the kippa can save lives and nothing is more important,” Zvi Ammar told La Provence daily. “It really hurts to reach that point but I don’t want anyone to die in Marseille because they have a kippa on their head.”

Ammar said Marseille had the third largest Jewish community in France, adding: “On Saturday, for the first time in my life, I will not be wearing the kippa to the synagogue.”

Some have reacted strongly against this advice.  The French Chief Rabbi has encouraged Jews to continue wearing their kippot, and the President of Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France has also spoken out against Ammar’s proposal, saying she:

“could not support a measure which dials back hundreds of years during which Jews were able to practice their faiths and live freely as citizens of the French Republic.” However she did concede that Jewish men might want to “wear a hat on top of their kippah, depending on the situation”.

Although it’s understandable that people might indeed want to respond by taking Ammar’s advice, it’s intolerable that they (and he) have been put in this position.  Some have mounted a campaign to demonstrate solidarity with France’s Jews – #tousavecunekippah.

Many of the tweets specifically called on members of the general public to wear a kippa on Friday at 10 A.M. in solidarity with the Jewish community in light of recent attacks that have unnerved local Jews and spurred calls from a few community leaders to leave the skull cap at home as a matter of safety.