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May 17, 2013 9:22 am

An Iranian in Lyons and Paris

avatar by Paul Leslie

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Mohammed Merah, the man who confessed to police that he killed 7 people in France before being shot dead in an armed standoff. Photo: screenshot via France 2.

A “face-off” between the governments of Tunisia and France, which wished to retain and even expand the naval base it had kept at Bizerta, even after Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, became both the cause and the pretext for a crisis which escalated in July 1961 when Tunisia imposed a blockade, hoping to force its evacuation.   As the conflict developed (culminating in a three-day battle between French and Tunisian forces that left some 630 Tunisians and 24 French dead), there was a certain amount of anti-Jewish agitation which led to the exodus of a significant number of Tunisian Jews, some going to France and others to Israel.

Though the major exodus of Tunisian Jewry was to occur in the wake of the anti-Jewish rioting which coincided with the Six Day War, the influx of Tunisian Jews to Paris at the beginning of the 1960s was followed by the establishment of new communities, including the Synagogue Beth-El, which, after initially being allowed a room in the famous synagogue of the Rue Cadet, moved into premises at 10 rue Saulnier in 1962.  In 1981 the synagogue moved into its current premises at 3 rue Saulnier, greatly benefitting from the generosity of the late Edmond Safra.

This very special synagogue, which has become one of Paris Jewry’s institutions, has several morning, afternoon and evening services during the week.  Since the eighties it has often operated on the principle that if certain already established services – for whatever reason or reasons – were getting low on numbers for the necessary prayer quora (minyanim) additional ones should be set up.   It organizes Friday night dinners and Sabbath lunches on a regular basis – which are very popular with passing Israelis and Americans especially at the height of the tourist season. (See Serge Golan’s article, published on the 7th of March 2012 on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary.)

On the morning of the 23rd April an apparently deranged Iranian, who had been on the run for just over a week from the psychiatric hospital in Bron, arrived in a car and attacked a rabbi and his son with a box-cutter in front of this synagogue, attempting to cut the rabbi’s throat and also stabbing his son in the back.  He was heard to cry:  “Allahu Akhbar!”

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This Iranian had been interned in the above asylum because he had previously scaled the wall of a centuries-old cathedral in Lyons and seriously damaged its astronomical clock.  He had claimed that he could not concentrate on his prayers.   (If this was the case and he so lacked self-control, why had he not been unsettled by noisy traffic and attacked a passing motorist, for example?)

Whether or not he is mad, as well as bad, this Iranian seems to be violently intolerant of non-Muslims.  There are, moreover, some questions which need to be answered.

  • How was he able to stay on the loose for so long?  What was he doing during all this time?  How did he get the idea to turn up in front of the Saulnier synagogue at a time when it was particularly packed with worshippers?

  • Did he have some kind of support network, or was he acting alone?  If he has psychological problems, has he been manipulated?
  • If he was not acting alone, is there possibly a Hezbollah connection?

It took some time for the French government of the time to start taking energetic measures to protect the French Jewish community against the massive increase in serious attacks against them which accompanied the Second Intifada at the start of the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Because most of the assaults, death threats, attacks against synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions were committed then – as now – by members of France’s large Muslim minority (and of those attacking or threatening Jews most came originally from what was formerly French North Africa and then, to a lesser degree, from other Muslim-majority African counties), pressure was put on French Jewish representatives by the government of Lionel Jospin not to publicise this and thus supposedly “add fuel to the flames” (see the communiqué of the admirable Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisémitisme, dated the 19th April 2002, as published in Le Monde, – as well as “French Anti-Semitism: A Barometer for Gauging Society’s Perverseness.  An Interview with Shmuel Trigano“.)

Though determined though belated action by successive French governments and the police seemed gradually to be reversing the rise in serious anti-Semitic incidents mentioned above, these have massively increased once more since last year’s murders in Toulouse.  It has been convincingly argued that, since the propagation of lies about Israel and its defence forces have contributed to the growth in anti-Jewish hostility among France’s Muslim population  – and/or are found useful by the minority of French Muslims who commit such terrible crimes against their Jewish citizens to justify themselves, as well as by their apologists – the French government should be publicly condemning unfounded extreme accusations against Israelis – or at least not be implicitly endorsing them.

The French government’s decision in 2012 to honour the Alternative Information Centre, a veritable lie factory, and its founder and director, Michel Warshawsky – one of the worst anti-Zionist Israelis and a supporter of BDS who never ceases to give aid and comfort to anti-Semites everywhere – with the Prix des droits de l’homme de la République française (French Republic’s Human Rights Prize) sent completely the wrong message – to say the least.

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