June 10, 2004
Increase in Violence Worries French Jews
Some Jewish officials are worried that anti-Semites are ratcheting up violence against Jews in France and that French courts are tacitly giving them a pass with light sentences.
In the latest significant attack, community officials said an assailant tried to murder a yeshiva student, who was stabbed last week as he prepared for Shabbat at one of Europe's top talmudic academies.
Yisrael Yiftah, 17, was heading toward a local grocery store across from the Mekor Yisrael Yeshiva in Epinay-sur-Seine, a suburb north of Paris, last Friday when a large man described as of North African origin attacked him with a knife. The man screamed, "God is great" in Arabic and plunged the knife into Yiftah's chest.
Police believe the same man carried out additional knife attacks that night against non-Jewish targets, but Jewish groups are in no doubt as to the anti-Semitic nature of the initial incident.
"The yeshiva's in a closed alleyway," said Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism. "If you enter there with a knife in a bag, you're only going there for one purpose."
The attack represented a new level of anti-Semitic assault, the first with a deadly weapon, community leaders say. It came amid an alarming increase in the intensity of anti-Jewish attacks in recent weeks.
In the past month, rabbis in Marseille and in the Parisian suburb of Creteil were attacked. In addition, a rabbi's son was severely beaten near his home in Paris over Shavuot.
Government statistics show a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents since the beginning of 2004. The 67 incidents reported for the first quarter of the year contrast sharply with the 34 incidents for the last quarter of 2003.
The figures also show that attacks against Jews make up the vast majority of racist crimes, despite the fact that the Jewish community is one of France's smallest minority groups. Paradoxically, the sharp rise has come at a time when Jewish groups acknowledge that the government has shown real willingness to tackle the problem of anti-Semitism.
The attacks have left Jewish community members wringing their hands.
"The government has taken all sorts of measures to deal with this, and our synagogues are like fortresses," Ghozlan said. "They've even put on extra buses from railway stations so people don't walk around at night. What more can we do?"
Ghozlan had sharp words for the courts, which, he said, haven't been tough enough with offenders.
"People have been arrested, but it's not going to do any good if sentencing is not exemplary," he said.
Similar views are being expressed in France's large Jewish communal organizations.
In a forceful statement following last week's knife attack, the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews said that "a new level had been breached" in anti-Semitic attacks in France, aided "by recent court decisions that give the feeling that one can attack Jews with total impunity."
Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin seemed to agree, telling French radio that the legislation was in place, "but it needs to be applied."
Events this week seemed to bear him out: When a group of youths pleaded guilty this week to the Shavuot attack on the rabbi's son, it became clear that one member had been involved in another attack on a Jewish youth earlier this year.
The court instructed the youth to write a project on anti-Semitism.