This week began with armed soldiers standing outside the Paris Ecole Sinai network of schools run by Rabbi Yosef Pevzner. The Rabbi said that he felt imprisoned by having the army’s deployment at not only his school, but at every Jewish educational institution across France, writes Sam Sokol for The Jerusalem Post.
Only days after Islamist gunmen attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher kosher market, killing 17, the French government mobilized its army. The attacks were the deadliest since the attack on London’s transport system in 2005, which killed 57.
Suddenly, it seems that the country’s leadership has had a shift in thinking after the French people’s reaction to the violence. A new proactive attitude has emerged and the country is showing radical Islam that much of the population of France is standing up. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said:
“Until now they thought the French accepted the judgment on themselves. Now even the government pays attention that it is impossible to make do with words.”
When the troops arrived, parents became calmer, but, of course, seeing a truckload of armed soldiers outside your child’s school is “not a good feeling”, says Cazeneuve, but he adds that the government was obligated to do so. In 2012, terrorist Mohammed Merah opened fire at Toulouse’s Otzar Hatorah school, killing four, three of whom were children. For the first time since World War II, Paris’ Grand Synagogue was closed over Shabbat. Many objected and said that the government should have done more to keep it open after the attack.
According to Griffe Witte and Anthony Faiola, writing for The Washington Post, the euphoria over the unity of millions marching in the streets to show their solidarity against terrorism turned to a different emotion when the nation awoke to the sight of 10,000 troops guarding sensitive sites, like synagogues, railway stations, schools, airports, and tourist locations. Almost half of the soldiers will be guarding France’s 717 Jewish schools, but some mosques will also be guarded following over 12 attacks on Islamic buildings since last Wednesday. This is the first time such a large military force in France has been used to protect civilians, and reminded many of the days after the 9/11 attack in the US and attacks after those in London and Madrid.
Israeli leaders have urged European Jews, especially in France, to flee the growing anti-Semitism and move to Israel. Nearly 7,000 Jews in France moved to Israel last year, and Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, predicts more than 10,000 French Jews will move to Israel this year.
“We live in the context of a French society where anti-Semitism is growing,” Yonathan Arfi, vice president of CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish institutions in France said. “We know that the biggest threat is jihadism, an ideology that puts attacking Jews at its core. And we have seen that ideology spread in the French suburbs, among young people of Arab and Muslim descent.”
Still, Arfi thinks French Jews should stay.
The increase in security will likely create questions about the government’s failure to prevent the killings, say Alan Cowell and Maïa de la Baume of The New York Times. Only weeks ago, the French were criticizing the US for its surveillance practices and the dramatic Senate report on the torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11.
“The very idea of a war on terrorism is worrisome,” the journalists Jacques Follorou and Franck Johannès wrote in Le Monde on Monday. “For the law, there is nothing worse than these moments of intense unanimity, this wave of emotion that submerges rationality.”
At the same time, there is concern that “the threat is still present”, as French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian militant, said that the attacks were justified based on Western aggression, which included French military action against Islamists in North Africa. Pope Francis’ remarks concerning the attack were centered on what he called a “culture of rejection”, which severs human bonds.
“Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads or to power, money or even deviant forms of religion,” he added. “Violence is always the product of a falsification of religion, its use as a pretext for ideological schemes whose only goal is power over others.”