A new outburst of anti-Semitism in Paris has brought violence out from the banlieues into the heart of Paris
Saturday night in spring 2009, in a quiet corner of the Marais. Sounds of tumult and smashing. A pause. An ominous silence. Then, the first explosion. Gunshots? Gas? It’s on the rue des Arquebusiers. A fire engine pulls up, the firefighters jump out, ready for action. They’re stymied. They run in circles, shouting to each other like helpless civilians. Cars are burning in the narrow side street and they can’t get near the roaring inferno. Seven cars in a row, popping like huge champagne corks. It takes an eternity before a bigger engine arrives. It has a huge hose but it’s hours before the last flames are extinguished.
Torched cars are a familiar sight on the French landscape. Tens of thousands are burnt out every year. But this isn’t video footage on the evening news. It’s not the banlieue in 2005. It’s very close and extremely scary.
By Sunday noon, municipal workers had towed away the ghostly skeletons and swept up the debris, baring deep scars in the asphalt. Three weeks later, the scene is a black gaping wound. The stone kerb is cracked and chipped, as if it were made of clay. Metal awnings are buckled and blistered, the wooden façades are burnt away, revealing melted wires and pipes. A period street lamp is gutted. A thick coat of black soot reaches up to the wrought-iron balconies.
Apart from one laconic article in the daily le Parisien, the incident was not considered newsworthy in France. The international readership of the atlasshrugs.com newsblog knew more from my on-the-spot coverage than people living nearby. I was tipped off about another big fire at the Résidence Madeleine Béjart, a city-owned retirement home on rue de la Perle, five minutes’ walk from Arquebusiers. That fire started in a decorative alcove on the façade and charred the ceiling of the wide portico. In some places, it’s completely burned away.
Who would be torching the Marais? Punk jihadis? Anarchists? Stupid kids? Is this a fluke or the beginning of a new phase? No one in the vicinity seems to care. They dismiss it with a Gallic shrug. “The insurance will pay for the damages.” Torching cars could become as commonplace as the graffiti that disfigures beautiful 18th-century mansions. The Marais is Paris’s old Jewish quarter, with emphasis on the old. Orthodox families go to synagogue. There’s a Jewish day school, some remnants of the declining garment business and the rue des Rosiers with its mix of kosher delicatessens, Judaica shops and encroaching upscale boutiques. But there are more Jews and more anti-Jewish violence in the 19th arrondissement, where Rudy Haddad was beaten into a coma last summer. I’m told the investigation is stalled because they are still trying to prove it was inter-communitarian strife-Jewish gangs fighting Arabs/Muslims/Blacks-instead of gratuitous, violent anti-Semitism.
On the other hand, we can’t be sure the Marais fire was aimed at Jews. I start my inquiry with the chief of the third arrondissement police station, who tells me to phone the press attaché at the Préfecture (police headquarters), who refers me to the Cabinet du Parquet (public prosecutor’s office), where I speak to a gracious but bemused spokeswoman. “Burned cars?” she asks. “There are so many…” The investigation is under way but if it turns out to be arson, she admits, it is unlikely the police will find the culprits. And the case will be closed. She is surprised that I think the two fires in the Marais might be related.
I had a scoop on the Marais fires, but didn’t even know about the “supermarket intifada”, in which French supermarkets, such as Carrefour, have been invaded and any produce suspected of originating from Israel is destroyed, until I was told about it by my friend and colleague, Tom Gross (www.tomgrossmedia.com). Except for a brief mention on the France 2 TV channel, the media have ignored that story.
Boycott Israel is a longstanding passion of Olivia Zemmour, a Tunisian Jew whose venomous hatred of Israel knows no bounds. Goons from her organisation, CAPJPO, now united with an outfit called EuroPalestine, beat up Jewish boys from the left-wing Zionist Hashomer Hazaïr youth movement during a 2003 “peace march”.
Look at the EuroPalestine website (www.europalestine.com) and you don’t need to understand French to get the flavour of their unabashed anti-Zionist operations. Islamists face the camera and spew out hate-filled talking points: Israel=Occupation, Genocide, Apartheid. A “commando” with a trademark beard and North African accent holds up an Israeli product, declaring: “We won’t allow this stuff chez nous. This is our country.” Then he sweeps up bottles of shampoo and threatens: “This is what will happen to anyone who supports Israel.”
If it were only a few thousand wackos here, a handful of delinquents there, a few pinpricks in a healthy society, but this is not the case. It is an onslaught and it’s moving fast. France-Info radio just reported a little sugar-coated item on the joyous Muslim converts attending the annual UOIF (French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) convention at Le Bourget.
Islamist movements are emboldened because the authorities, the media and secular society have failed to react properly to their show of force in January. Using the Israeli operation in Gaza as a pretext, the French-Arab street swung into action with a vengeance. I watched angry Muslims pouring from all directions into Place de la République on 3 January, hastily donning their keffiehs, marching as to war. While the
media (with the notable exception of an unsigned article in Le Figaro) painted this explosion of organised rage in the soft colours of anti-war protest, Islamist websites proudly displayed their true face: blood-curdling shouts of “Death to Israel, Death to the Jews”; Hamas and Hizbollah flags, slogans; violent attacks on the police; and the destruction of public and private property. Those were not demonstrations, they were acts of conquest by jihad foot soldiers claiming our streets, in our society, for the free expression of hate speech, death threats and genocidal promises.
As anti-Jewish attacks reached a new high, President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to punish anti-Semitism and Islamophobia with equal severity, reinforcing the myth of reciprocal inter-communitarian violence. When two naïve, Jewish 15-year-olds handing out pro-Israel leaflets in front of Lycée Jeansson-Sailly, in the affluent 16th arrondissement, got into a fight with some Muslim kids and won, Le Monde turned the Jewish kids into extremists from the Jewish Defence League. They were detained by the police and the incident was repeatedly cited to balance out real attacks against Jews.
Michaël Benamou, 29, was attacked by three Arab-looking men on the busy platform of the Auber suburban railway station. He told YNet, an Israeli news website: “They called me a ‘f***ing Jew’ and said they would kill me. They broke my nose and beat me all over.” He has decided to emigrate to Israel. Désiré Amsellem, a 70-year-old Jewish family doctor devoted to his patients of all faiths and origins, was shot in the back as he left his office in Valenton, 10 miles south-east of Paris. Investigators have no clue as to the motive or identity of the killer. On 15 January, after a pro-Hamas demonstration in Strasbourg, 50 men travelled to Metz with the intention of breaking into a synagogue during a service. They were held off by the police. On 24 January, the 1,500 square-metre warehouse of a major distributor of kosher foods burned down in Montreuil, a rough eastern Paris suburb. Obviously arson but, with no graffiti, authorities hesitate to classify it as anti-Semitic.
The attack on 24-year-old Jonathan Guez began as an ordinary carjacking in Fontenay-sous-Bois, a Paris banlieue. “I came out with my car keys in my hand. A masked man stepped up and asked me to hand over the keys. A second man grabbed me from behind. The first man saw the Hebrew letters on my pendant. He asked me if it was Hebrew, and I said, ‘Yes.’ He asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Yes.’ He pulled out a butcher’s knife, said Israel was drinking the blood of Palestinians. They spoke to each other in Arabic, they insulted me in Arabic and in French. The one with the knife said, ‘I am going to cut you until you bleed.’ He slashed once. He said: ‘I am going to cut you until you die,’ and drew the knife across my skin a second time, a third time. I fell to my hands and knees. The fourth time, the blood started to flow. Then he kicked me in the head with all his might.
“This shouldn’t happen in France. I am French and Jewish and for that I was almost killed. The doctor said the last slash was two millimetres from the carotid.”
He is physically and psychologically devastated. His ordeal is among the more than 350 anti-Semitic incidents, from insults to savage beatings, reported for the month of January alone as compared to 460 for the whole of 2008. This has been going on, with ups and downs, since the outbreak of the “al-Aqsa intifada” in September 2000. It has reached proportions that should be unacceptable to any self-respecting person, Jewish or not. We should be aware of the growing danger, not only for Jews but for everyone.
I am American, but I have lived in Paris for more than 35 years. Thousands of Jews have left France, many thousands think that they will have to leave, but hope they won’t. Sephardi Jews who fled North Africa in the 1950s and ’60s are now hounded and harassed by Muslim immigrants. The energy expended by the Jewish community since 2000 to defend itself and its honour has been weakened by endless insults,
repeated setbacks and the feeling that there is no collective heart in this society that can be truly reached. An “enough is enough” ad published by Jews in Le Figaro in April is more despondent than determined.
And yet, life can be so sweet on a balmy springtime evening in the Marais. How can such grace and charm be sacrificed to hostile forces whose strength is drawn from our weakness? Two years ago this month, Nicolas Sarkozy was triumphantly elected by citizens determined to stem the tide of reckless violence and reassert secular values. What went wrong? Could it be that the surrender to obsessive anti-Zionism is
disabling French society, turning it away from its true purpose, delivering it into the hands of its enemies?
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