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January 22, 2016 4:52 am

Fig Leaves Won’t Protect French Jews

avatar by Judith Bergman

Email a copy of "Fig Leaves Won’t Protect French Jews" to a friend
The French Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket chain was targeted in January 2015 by an Islamic extremist, who killed four people. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The French Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket chain was targeted in January 2015 by an Islamic extremist, who killed four people. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

When a teenager claiming to act for Islamic State attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in Marseille ‎on January 11, Zvi Ammar, president of the Consistoire religious association in Marseilles, advised the ‎city’s Jews to stop wearing kippot in public in order to avoid similar attacks in the future. “Given the ‎gravity of the events, we must take exceptional decisions, and for me, life is more sacred than any other ‎criteria,” Ammar said.‎

This advice sparked a furious debate. French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said that calling on Jews ‎to remove their kippot was “not very dignified” and “tantamount to admitting that wearing a kippah is a ‎provocation,” and such thinking will “require rabbis to shave off their beards tomorrow.”‎

Official France also came out against the advice. President Francois Hollande called the idea that ‎Jewish people should need to hide their identity “intolerable.” Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, ‎Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Marseilles Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin and Xavier Bertrand, ‎regional president of the center-right Les Republicains party, all spoke out against it.‎

‎”It is surely not the advice that I personally would have given [not to wear kippot],” Vallaud-Belkacem ‎said, adding that although Ammar obviously “intended to protect his people,” “this is not the message ‎that should be expressed.”‎

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Bertrand said, “Everybody understands why the president of the Jewish community in Marseilles made ‎that decision; he is afraid, he fears for the Jews, he fears an attack. … But if we bow our heads, if the Jews ‎of Marseilles give up on wearing the kippah, then France will not be France any more. …Tomorrow we will ‎have the same question facing Muslims, facing Catholics.” ‎

A social media campaign was also launched on Twitter, posting photoshopped pictures of celebrities — ‎and cats — wearing kippot. The campaign was started by two French women, Sophie Taieb, who is Jewish, ‎and Kerima Mendes, who is not. “There was black everywhere, so we wanted to do something funny,” ‎Taieb told the BBC. “The idea is that everybody — Jewish or not — should wear a kippah, because if ‎everybody wears one, nobody is a target anymore.”‎

The debate is a curious one, particularly because its ferocity and its extreme belatedness reflect a denial ‎of an already long existing reality on the part of those who claim outrage in the face of Ammar’s well-‎meant advice; French Jews and European Jews have been hiding their Jewish identity not for days, weeks ‎or years but for decades. Anyone pretending that Ammar’s advice represented a new and radical ‎departure from what most Jews already do is simply denying the reality as it has been unfolding for ‎European Jews for decades. ‎

In Europe, it is practically the norm for Jews to either remove their kippot as soon as they leave ‎synagogue or to wear a cap on their heads to hide them from view. According to The Jerusalem Post, in a ‎‎2013 study by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, a third of Jews polled said they ‎refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23% avoided attending ‎Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.‎

There is something rather tasteless in the way that official France has now come out against the ‎advice of this Jewish communal leader, who was simply acting out of concern for his fellow Jews and as a ‎response to the reality he lives every day in Marseilles. Not only because official France is light years away ‎from that reality and has no concept of what it means to be a Jew in Europe today, but because ‎it is official France that is responsible for the predicament that France’s Jews find themselves in. They fail, ‎repeatedly, to protect the Jews, as is their state duty. No other group in France experiences the troubles ‎that the Jews do. France’s Jews represent less than 1% of the country’s population. Yet in ‎‎2014, according to the French Interior Ministry, 51% of all racist attacks targeted Jews. The statistics ‎are similar in other European countries.‎

It is hypocritical for official France to blame a man for voicing his concern in the form of this advice when ‎in fact French authorities have looked the other way, belittled and avoided taking responsibility for the Jews’ ‎plight, as previously described in this column.‎

One particularly nasty example: In 2006, a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi, was held prisoner and ‎tortured for 24 days by a gang of Muslims, then dumped, naked and handcuffed, in a field to die, French ‎police were not even treating the incident as an anti-Semitic crime and surely no French people thought of ‎donning a kippah in solidarity. In Europe this story was barely even reported and indeed the BBC still ‎reports anti-Semitism in France as something that is only just now “rising.”

When in the summer of 2014 Jews had to barricade themselves in a Parisian synagogue because ‎an anti-Semitic mob wanted to descend upon them as part of their “march for Gaza,” official France was ‎silent. When another mob marched though the streets of France, yelling for Jews to get out, official ‎France was silent. But when all these events finally accumulate and make a Jewish communal leader ‎voice his most natural fear in public — then official France finds it opportune to chime in and voice how it finds the reality, which its actions and inactions helped create, to be “intolerable.”

According to a poll from the European Jewish Congress, a third of all European Jews — that is, 700,000 Jews — are considering ‎leaving Europe. In France, 75% of Jews are considering leaving and 15,000 ‎French Jews have already left in the past two years alone. Official France should have voiced its concerns ‎about the ability of its citizens to be Jewish in public two decades ago. Today, in the face of this ‎mass emigration and the nearly constant verbal and physical attacks on its Jewish citizens, such ‎statements are utterly meaningless and serve only as fig leaves for the French ‎establishment’s failure to protect the Jews of France.

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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