Jews living in the town of Sarcelles, north of Paris, are afraid to leave their homes, soldiers guard the schools and parents do not let their children go outside. The Jews here, as elsewhere in France, were affected by the fear of increasing anti-Semitic attacks. The country, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, has seen more anti-Semitic incidents since the October attack on Israel by the Hamas movement than in the entire past year.
Over twelve thousand Jews live in one of the neighborhoods of Sarcelles, nicknamed Little Jerusalem. Together with the Muslim community, they lived there in peace until now. After the attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel on October 7, however, much has changed for the Jewish residents there. They are afraid to go out, restaurants and cafes lack customers, the neighborhood has become quiet.
“All it takes is a small spark and the hatred of the Jews will flare up again,” Alexis Timsit, a pizzeria manager living in Sarcelles, told Politico. His sales revenue fell by more than half in October. “People are afraid, they are in shock, they have lost the love of life. Every time the situation in the Middle East escalates, it is impossible to live here,” he confided to the website.
Politico reported in late October that police in France had recorded more anti-Semitic incidents in the past three weeks than in the entire past year. There were a total of 501 crimes, ranging from verbal abuse and anti-Semitic signs to death threats and physical assault.
The latest incident took place on Saturday in the third largest French city of Lyon. A masked assailant stabbed a 30-year-old Jewish woman here. According to the prosecutor’s office, the motive for the attack may have been anti-Semitic, as police found a swastika spray-painted on the door of the woman’s home. Police are also investigating cases where drawings of the Star of David have appeared on houses in France.
Concerns about sending children to schools
The French interior ministry has deployed police officers to Jewish schools, synagogues and community centers as a result of the increasing attacks. In Sarcelles, soldiers even patrol when Jewish parents pick up their children from school.
“The atmosphere is weighing on everyone. There is a lot of pain. I have four children and every day when I take them to school I am afraid. For the first time in my life I do not feel that my children are safe at school,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian thirty-three-year-old Jérémy of Sarcelles.
Anti-Semitic sentiment is indeed manifested in schools as well. French Education Minister Gabriel Attal reported several incidents in October. In one of the French schools, for example, a swastika appeared on the blackboard, there was also a case of a Jewish high school student whose clothes were torn.
Parents are also afraid of their adult offspring. “My children are 19 and 23 years old. I don’t let them out at night at the moment, and certainly not in Paris,” a 50-year-old store employee, who did not want to be named, told The Guardian.
People are threatening, insulting and sending rude letters to Jews in front of synagogues across France. “Killing Jews is a duty,” spray-painted an unknown vandal outside the stadium in Carcassonne, southwest France.
Another resident of Sarcelles, a 70-year-old man who also did not wish to publish his name, is reminded of the current situation during the pandemic. But with the difference that now he feels a kind of fear that he has never known before. “Everywhere is empty, people don’t go out. It’s like there’s a curfew. This type of fear is new. We just want peace,” he told the British daily.
The outflow of Jews from France
Over half a million Jews live in France. It is the third largest Jewish population in the world – after Israel and the United States. Already during last year, there were reports that Jewish families from the Western European country were fleeing to Israel due to growing anti-Semitism. A third of all French Jews who have immigrated to Israel since its creation in 1948 have done so in the past decade, according to the Middle Eastern state’s authorities.
The French government’s commissioner for anti-Semitism and racism, Olivier Klein, said last week that attacks against Jews may be related to current events, but in fact there has been a breeding ground for them in France for years. “Unfortunately, our country, like others, has the ability to awaken old demons,” Klein told France Inter radio station.
In the past, France was shaken, for example, by an attack in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse. In 2012, gunman Mohamed Merah, who claimed to be a member of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, shot and killed three Jewish children and a rabbi at point-blank range. A large minority was also targeted in 2015, two days after the attack on the editorial office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, when a terrorist murdered four Jews during the siege of the Hyper Cacher supermarket.
All of Western Europe is struggling with the rise of anti-Semitism. According to Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora and Combating Anti-Semitism, verbal attacks against Jews in the Western online space increased by 250 percent between September and October. Up to 530 percent in the first twenty-four hours after the terror of Hamas.
The number and intensity of attacks against Jews is increasing not only in countries with a large Jewish and Muslim minority, such as France or Germany, but also in the Czech Republic. According to the Federation of Jewish Communities, the number of recorded cases increased by roughly 400 percent over the past month.
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