Thursday, July 17, 2014

A pro-Hamas march in Paris turns into an anti-semitic attack on a synagogue

Incidents like this, in Europe and elsewhere around the world, have become predictable and routine accompaniments to every widely-reported upsurge of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (The deaths of over 150,000 people in the Syrian civil war, on the other hand, don't generate very many demonstrations, attract nearly as much attention, or provoke nearly as much passion.) This time around, there haven't actually been as many incidents of this type as in previous episodes (some other examples over the past week are listed here) ... but things are just getting started. We should expect more of this if the latest Hamas-Israel war continues.

=> From the report by Agence France-Presse:
Paris (AFP) - Clashes erupted in Paris on Sunday as thousands of people protested against Israel and in support of residents in the Gaza Strip, where a six-day conflict has left 168 Palestinians dead.

Several thousand demonstrators walked calmly through the streets of Paris behind a large banner that read "Total Support for the Struggle of the Palestinian People".

But clashes erupted at the end of the march on Bastille Square, with people throwing projectiles onto a cordon of police who responded with tear gas. [....]

A small group tired to break into two synagogues in central Paris, a police source told AFP.

Riot police dispersed the group, with two members of the Jewish community and six officers slightly injured in the ensuing scuffle, the source said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the attempted synagogue stormings "in the strongest possible terms". [....]
=> And here's a more detailed report by Michel Gurfinkiel:
On July 13, Bernard Abouaf, a French Jewish journalist, posted on his Facebook wall: “I just passed through one of the truest moments in my life.” A bit earlier, he had been an eyewitness to a pogrom attempt.

About one hundred Muslim thugs had gathered in front of the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Central Paris, a few blocks away from Place de la Bastille (Bastille Circle), and threatened to storm it. Two to three hundred worshipers, who had gathered for a pro-Israel religious service, were locked inside. There were five police officers to protect them–and two dozen Jewish youths trained in martial arts who were members of the Jewish community sponsored Security Organization or of the more militant Jewish Defense League.

For Abouaf, whose family is of Tunisian Jewish descent, the whole scene looked like a reenactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.
[JW: To help understand the background here, it's worth noting that most of France's current Jewish population is composed of refugees who fled from Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s—mostly from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco—and their children and grandchildren. Since 1948 the Arab world has been ethnically cleansed of Jews almost 100%, as its historic Jewish communities fled or were expelled, with only tiny remnants remaining in a few countries like Morocco. Most of those Mizrahi Jewish refugees wound up in Israel or North America, but a significant number, including most of the Algerian and Tunisian Jews, went to France. For a powerful and moving statement by one one of those Tunisian Jewish emigrants, see Albert Memmi's "Who is an Arab Jew?".]
“What I have seen today,” he remarked, “is Arab hatred against Jews. Pure hatred. Right in the middle of Paris. Don’t try to ‘explain’ or ‘understand’, it was hatred, period.” [....]

The Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue was not stormed. Its bunker-like shape (it was built in 1962) and its strong, straight, iron gates were probably helpful. Even more effective were the young Jewish defenders, who did not shy away from confronting the Muslim rioters. [....]  At least two of the synagogue’s defenders–including a young Chabad chassid–were severely wounded and rushed to a nearby hospital.

The prime minister (and former interior minister) of France Manuel Valls called Serge Benhaim, the synagogue chairman, on his cell phone to assure him that more police forces, including CRS (anti-riot units) would soon be dispatched. It took some time before his orders were implemented; once deployed, even the heavily equipped CRS had to engage into hard fighting and some of them were wounded. Eventually, the worshipers were not just evacuated from the synagogue but escorted away to safer streets or a Metro station: “I will not forget the fear in their eyes as they went out,” wrote Abouaf.  [....]

Similar incidents occurred all over Greater Paris and France at about the same time. The morning before–that is to say, on the Sabbath–a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a synagogue at Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburb. At Asnieres, another suburb, the police said a Muslim mob of 300 gathered in front of the synagogue and shouted anti-Israel slogans for about half an hour. Smaller group of Muslim mobsters attempted to get into the Belleville synagogue, in northeastern Paris, and into the Tournelles synagogue, in the Marais district.

No less horrid were the many pro-Palestinian rallies, in Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, and other cities, complete with Palestinian and ISIS flags and proudly displayed fake Fajr rockets. The demonstrators–almost all of them of North African or Subsaharan African origin–shouted explicitly anti-Semitic slogans, notably “Itbah al-Yahud!” (Slaughter the Jews, in Arabic.) Any time they would spot Jewish-owned shops or professional offices they would cover the doors or windows with stickers urging, “to boycott the racist State of Israel.” On Sunday, several thousands pro-Palestinian and pro-jihadist demonstrators marched for miles across the city, from the heavily Muslim Barbes neighborhood to places with large Jewish populations and many synagogues like the Bastille area. [....]
Of course, we know that some people will try to argue that there's nothing anti-semitic about a mob attack on a synagogue filled with French (not Israeli) Jews, or demonstrations where people chant "Kill the Jews". That's also boringly predictable and routine. In case you want to see how it's done, Todd Gitlin tipped me off to one ingenious example at the pathologically obsessive anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss.

[Update: For two follow-up articles regarding the attack on the synagogue, one in English and one in French, see here & here. They add some significant detail and elaboration, but don't change the basic thrust of the story.]

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Also, last Sunday a Moroccan rabbi in Casablanca was beaten up on the street, badly enough to be hospitalized, as he was walking toward his synagogue. Before you conclude that this incident reflects badly on Morocco, consider that part of what it means is that there still is a Jewish community in Morocco with its own synagogues and rabbis. Granted, it numbers only a few thousand, as opposed to over a quarter-million Jews in Morocco at the end of the Second World War. But in a number of Arab countries there are just a few dozen Jews left, or less than a dozen (as in Iraq), or none at all.