Official: With others’ help, France’s Jews must make their own choices
While praising the government of France for its support, a top Jewish Agency for Israel official told local Jewish leaders that “French Jews have to protect themselves.”
“They need to educate themselves about dangers and have their volunteer guards reinforced and harden the targets,” said Misha Galperin, president and CEO of International Development at JAFI. “There needs to be education within the Jewish community about how to handle this situation.”
Galperin spoke via conference call to members of the Greater MetroWest community on Feb. 11 in the wake of the two Paris attacks by Islamists last month that left 17 dead, including four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket. (On Feb. 16, five French teens were detained in the vandalism of some 300 graves in a Jewish cemetery in northeastern France.)
The call-in discussion on “France and the rise of global anti-Semitism” was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and moderated by Maxine Murnick of Short Hills, chair of the federation’s UJA Campaign. Some 600 callers took part.
Two days earlier, Murnick returned from a fact-finding and solidarity mission to Paris sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America (see separate story). Galperin, based in New York, heads resource development, marketing, and communications for JAFI, a partnership between overseas Jewish philanthropies and the Israeli government.
Galperin told participants that France has had a 300 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts in the past year. He attributed their rise to “stepped-up attacks by radical Muslims and the radical Right…primarily in Western Europe against synagogues and Jewish schools.”
“The boundaries between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel and anti-Zionism have blurred,” he said. “The radical Right continues to be the primary source of hostility toward the Jewish community, but the greatest incidence of violence is of Muslim and Arabic origin. The war in Gaza was a trigger for extending the hatred of Israel.”
He said many anti-Semites make little or no distinction between Jews and Israelis, “and so what seems to be an anti-Israeli act becomes an anti-Jewish act.”
Even as he noted that thousands of Jews are leaving France, principally for Israel, Galperin said that “many of the 500,000 to 550,000 Jews in France will stay for a very long time, and we need to be able to help French Jewry to maintain its vitality and its faith.” That effort will include assistance in beefing up physical security and Jewish identity.
Questioned about anti-Semitism in Great Britain, Galperin said, “The incidents in England have also been dramatic over the last year. There is definitely an uptick in anti-Semitic acts and demonstrations, but there has not been very much in the way of violent terrorist attacks as in France and Belgium.”
He said unlike the French-Jewish community, its counterpart in Britain “has a centralized security organization that is actually a model for the Jewish world.” The Community Security Trust there provides guards and surveillance. “The British-Jewish institutions are much more secure than the French ones,” Galperin said.
Asked how non-Jews in France have responded to the anti-Semitic outbreaks, Galperin said, “There are different segments of the population with different reactions. What is clear is that the right-wing anti-Semites who are always there are cheering this on, and the same is true for the left. But it is also clear that the majority of what is going on is being instigated by the radical Muslims and this whole group of people that have gone to Syria and are coming back, and there is a backlash against that.”
He observed that “almost a quarter” of French voters cast ballots for its radical right-wing party. “Education is not going to do very much to change the hearts of those who have grown up on hatred,” he said.
Questioned about the reactions to anti-Semitism from the Muslim community in France, Galperin said, “The majority of Muslims I know are sane people…. Many mainstream leaders of the Muslim community have expressed their solidarity with and their outrage at the acts that have happened.
“We believe most Muslims are not radicals and not interested in violence, but unfortunately, there are enough elements in the community that are quite radicalized.”
Galperin was asked if he sees “any similarity between the rise of Hitler in World War II and what is going on today.”
“That is a frightening question,” he responded. But while the governments in Europe “are not in the same mind frame as they were in the 1930s,” he said, in the Muslim world “I think the situation is worse than it was in the 1930s. At least in those years the annihilation of Jews was not something that was advertised.”