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Jew-Hate in Paris By: Jerusalem Post Editorial
Jerusalem Post | Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Though it boasts a popular science museum, a pleasant park and crisscrossing canals, relatively few casual tourists make it to the 19th arrondissement in northeast Paris.

This mostly working-class district of 180,000 has seen an influx of North African and sub-Saharan Africans who now live alongside a community of roughly 15,000 Jews.

In the past 10 years, petty harassment has become so frequent as to be almost unremarkable. Jewish schoolchildren have learned which streets - dominated by Muslim anti-Semites - to avoid.

But when the hooligans go on the prowl, trouble is unavoidable. Toward the end of this past Shabbat, three kippa-wearing boys 17 or 18 years old, Dan Nebet, Kevin Bitan and David Boaziz, were attacked by one such group of mostly Muslim Africans. Four or five assailants threw walnuts at Kevin. When he asked why they were hassling him, he was knocked down. The Jewish youths were then surrounded by a larger group of 10 to 12 louts and beaten with fists, chains and brass knuckles.

One of the boys suffered a broken nose and injured jaw. All were left bruised and traumatized.

In June, another kippa-wearing 17-year-old was attacked nearby by another mob of African youths. And recently a neighborhood store drew attention for selling T-shirts with the slogan "Jews are forbidden to enter the park" in German and Polish.

The revolting reference was to a prohibition imposed on Jews in Lodz, Poland, in the early 1940s against visiting a public park. Young Jews in the arrondissement got the hint: Muslim and African gangs were warning them to stay away from the neighborhood's Belleville Park.

WHAT ARE those of us outside France to make of this latest incident?

Not that life for the 350,000 Jews of metropolitan Paris - and, indeed, for the 600,000 Jews of France as a whole - is becoming increasingly untenable, says Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions known as CRIF. He and others familiar with the French Jewish predicament describe a "complicated" situation in which, for example, sections of the 19th and 10th arrondissements, as well certain suburbs, have become places where it is unpleasant to be a Jew.

The brutal killing of young Ilan Halimi outside Paris in 2006 comes to mind.

The tough areas, not all of them slums, are where Arab and African gangs are active, unemployment is high, and social and economic problems are endemic. Working-class Jews forced to share this turf all too often make convenient scapegoats for the youthful bigots.

Prasquier does not want Saturday's patently anti-Semitic incident to be swept under the rug, however. A number of Paris radio stations sought, absurdly, to portray it as an altercation between Jewish and Muslim gangs.

Prasquier's message is that violent anti-Semitism and ongoing harassment are all too real, but restricted to specific locales. The scourge, he says, does not typify Paris as a whole, let alone France.

As soon as the incident hit the news, high-level police and municipal officials contacted the French Jewish leadership to offer reassurances. Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie called Prasquier to discuss the attack and later issued a strong condemnation of "the anti-Semitic violence against young Jews going to the synagogue."

Police saturation of the area, especially during the High Holy Days, would bring a measure of comfort. But security is already high - a police cruiser was a block from the scene when the boys were set upon. They were not carrying mobile phones because of Shabbat; and passerby made no effort to alert police.

AFFLUENT, acculturated French Jews, those not easily marked by their ethnicity or religion, denizens of more upscale districts, have few personal fears. They neither want the impression to go out that France is seething with violent Jew-hatred, nor that they're unmoved by the plight of their co-religionists in the turbulent neighborhoods.

At a time like this, we in Israel should not be sowing panic. Instead, a fitting Zionist message to our French Jewish brethren is that they are not alone; that Israel was founded not only as a haven from anti-Semitism, but as a homeland where - when we Israelis are at our best - Jewish life can be lived to its fullest.

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