Wednesday 22 May 2019

'We all have to be careful now – and there are areas we simply can’t go any more'

An armed guard outside a Jewish school in Paris
An armed guard outside a Jewish school in Paris

Kim Sengupta

Rue des Rosiers was quiet, the mood of the people on this historic Jewish street sombre and apprehensive, as it has been ever since last week's days of terror.

There was sudden commotion as a convoy of black official limousines, escorted by police cars with flashing lights, arrived bearing the Minister of the Interior and the Mayor of Paris.

The government will put 10,000 troops on the streets, a deployment unprecedented in size in recent French history; and no fewer than 5,000 of them will guard the country's 717 Jewish schools. "The threat we face as a country is very real and we will not allow one section of our population to be targeted by terrorists," he promised, as soldiers and armed detectives kept watch.

The Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, went on a walkabout to reassure local shopkeepers and their customers. The situation is being brought under control, she wanted to tell clusters of people; they will get full protection.

Rebecca Bloch was not convinced. "How long will this last? Maybe it will stop the attacks for a while, then they will start saying how much all this is costing, how this can't be afforded when the economy is so bad, and things will go back to being dangerous again," was her view. "We all have to be careful, our friends' sons had been insulted and chased by Muslim boys because they wear the yarmulkes (skull caps). There are areas we simply can't go to."

Mrs Bloch (42), and her 51-year-old husband Davide are thinking of moving to Israel, a trend which started before Islamist Amedy Coulibaly took hostages in a kosher grocery, four of whom were killed. There has been an increase in the number of attacks on French Jews by Muslim extremists and also the extreme right in recent years. Seven thousand people migrated to Israel last year, more than doubling from 3,400 in 2013. The Israeli government expected a rise to 10,000 this year, but there may be an increase on that number after the murders.

"We are in a situation of war; of course people are concerned," said Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Associations. "We have set out a number of urgent measures and it is good that the schools are being protected by the police and the army as well. But we have our sadness and our rage." Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, arriving in Paris for the solidarity rally with international leaders, offered: "To all the Jews of France I wish to say: the state of Israel is not only the place to which you pray; the state of Israel is also your home. Any Jew who wants to emigrate to Israel will be received with open arms."

Mr Netanyahu's invitation has not exactly been welcomed by the French government. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, whose wife, the violinist Anne Gravoin, is Jewish, said: "France without its Jews is not France." Earlier, he had stated: "To understand what the idea of the Republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews. If 100,000 Jews leave, the Republic will be judged a failure."

It is unclear whether Mr Netanyahu - who visited the attacked kosher shop in Porte de Vincennes yesterday - will hasten the exodus of the community. Before the march he went to Paris's Grand Synagogue with French President François Hollande and received a warmer welcome than Mr Hollande.

But when the Israeli Prime Minister finished his speech, the congregation sang the national anthem, 'La Marseillaise' rather than Israel's 'Hatikvah'. "Of course, we're French and so we sang our anthem, and it's a wonderful song isn't it? Hatikvah means 'the Hope'. Our anthem is also about hope and also equality and liberty," said Daniel Lallouche.

He had no intention of emigrating to Israel: "The only reason to do so would be ideological. Also to leave now would mean that you are being defeated by the terrorists, and we need to stand up to them."

But the 29-year-old graphic designer also felt the French government has failed fully to live up to sentiments of 'La Marseillaise'. "It's not just the assaults. It is the way that really vicious anti-Semitism has been allowed to be expressed, the way it is poisoning our society," he said. (© Independent News Service).

Irish Independent

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