Thursday, 13 September 2007

Letter from France

Battle against anti-Semitism enters new phase

By Shirli Sitbon

French Jews were relieved to learn of the arrest and conviction of Nizar Ouedrani, a man who assaulted a young Jew wearing a kippah in Paris last July, as the victim was walking toward a synagogue.

The incident is one among dozens, but for the first time, Jewish leaders noted, the court opted for a severe sentence.

On Saturday, July 21, two men and a boy were going to their synagogue on Petit Street when a man driving a truck honked at them and started shouting anti-Semitic slurs. When 24-year-old Yossef Zekri tried to calm the driver down, the latter jumped out of the car and started hitting him while shouting, "Dirty Jew, I'll finish you." Ouedrani hit Zekri on the head with a vacuum cleaner and ran away. He was caught the next day after police traced his license plate number.

In court, Ouedrani testified he didn't realize his victim was a Jew, but failed to convince the judge, who sentenced him to nine months in prison (of which six months are suspended).

"We believe that this ruling, the first to be as severe as we expected, is exemplary and will dissuade thugs from attacking our community," Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the Vigilance Bureau Against Anti-Semitism, said.

With the Ouedrani case, the battle against "new" anti-Semitism has entered a new phase.

Until 2002, the left-wing government led by Lionel Jospin refused to even recognize the spectacular increase of anti-Jewish attacks triggered by the second intifada.

Local Jewish organizations, strengthened by American Jewry, demanded President Jacques Chirac present a firm battle against anti-Semitic attacks.

The French president and his new center-right Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy -- now France's president -- launched a plan to fight anti-Semitism, including reinforced surveillance of synagogues and unprecedented efforts on behalf of police to hunt down the attackers. The next phase was to get offenders to court. The French Assembly approved the Lellouche legislation, doubling the sentences for anti-Semitic and racist assaults.

Jewish community leaders fought forcefully for serious sentences following dozens of symbolic rulings that failed to dissuade new aggressors.

The Ouedrani ruling, the first severe court decision after an anti-Semitic attack, opens the door to a new phase of the battle against anti-Semitism. Authorities appear to have taken every possible measure and precaution, yet anti-Jewish attacks continue as if nothing had been done.

"There are no new ideas on how to fight anti-Semitism, no new plan in the horizon," said policeman Michel Thooris, who follows anti-Semitism issues. "French Jews voted massively for Sarkozy hoping that he would put an end to hatred, but he has no new answers. It sometimes seems as though hearing about anti-Semitism is starting to annoy our leaders..." and the French in general, Thooris said.

Simone Veil -- former minister, European Parliament speaker and current president of the Shoah Remembrance Foundation -- told me, as we were visiting the Shoah memorial with President Sarkozy, that certain forms of anti-Semitism denounced by schoolteachers could easily be countered.

Since the beginning of the second intifada, French professors in troubled schools have complained that their Muslim pupils have been refusing to learn about the Shoah, claiming it was Zionist propaganda. The pupils have prevented professors from teaching the Shoah and the trend has extended to other lessons that involve Jews. Anti-Semitic assaults against Jewish pupils and teachers have also increased.

"I actually noticed that Arab pupils failed to appear in class for courses on the Shoah long before the second intifada, but at the time I didn't understand what motivated them," said Irene Saya, the head of the teachers association PEREC (For a Republican and Civil School).

In 2002, a dozen professors gathered their testimonies in a book called, "The Lost Territories of the Republic." Irene Saya said that nothing has changed in five years.

"Jewish professors and pupils are subject to anti-Semitic remarks and it feels like there isn't much to do. Anti-Semitism isn't just going to disappear," Saya said. "The ministry created a special department for these issues but there are no official figures and no real measures to battle anti-Semitism in school."

"The way I see it, the pupils who refuse to study are not at fault," Veil said. "The teachers are the ones who should find solutions to this problem and find ways to teach what happened in WWII. But I think some of these professors don't really want to make that effort."

Every year, the Shoah Memorial sends up to 10,000 adolescents from throughout France to Auschwitz. Troublemakers aren't invited. It also launched several projects commemorating the genocides perpetrated in Rwanda and against the Armenians.

"Today, we have to talk about Rwanda if we want schools to keep on teaching about the Shoah," sarcastically observed the leader of one European Jewish organization.

Obviously, most of those who combat genocide and fight racism do so genuinely, and their efforts often lead to positive results.

"We have to be irreproachable at a time when revisionists are still trying to distort history," Veil said.

Anti-Zionism and the boycott of Israeli products and skills are viewed by French Jews as another form of anti-Semitism. But, unlike other countries, France has successfully countered the phenomenon, launching the France-Israel Foundation in July 2005 to reinforce ties with the Israeli government and encourage collaboration in various fields, from literary exhibits to stem cell research.

The foundation has prevented boycotts that would have isolated Israel in the intellectual and commercial fields. It instigated French investments in the Israeli film industry, for example, leading to the success of the Israeli Film Festival of Paris and to numerous productions and prizes, the latest ones being the awards granted at the Cannes film festival to two Israeli films, "Jellyfish" and "The Band's Visit." Israeli movies, once rare in French theaters, have become common and, at times, even popular.

Those who supported the boycott against Israel, mainly within the pro-Palestinian association CAPJPO (Coordination of the Calls for a Fair Peace in the Middle East), are about to observe a new high in French-Israeli relations since the annual book fair -- the major cultural event of the year -- selected Israel to star the 2008 exhibit.

Sarkozy is apparently looking for global answers, fighting boycotts with reinforced collaboration and battling racist extremists by offering new alternatives. In theory, every issue can fall into place.

Since recent anti-Semitic attacks are perpetrated mainly by young Muslims, Sarkozy's plan to annihilate anti-Semitism consists of putting all his energy into solving the conflicts in the Middle East in order to avoid new tensions between communities.

When inviting Hezbollah representatives to Paris in July, only a few months after he compared them to Nazis, Sarkozy hoped to get things moving, but assured the public he would not invite Hamas.

Sarkozy, a great admirer of George Bush, has multiple initiatives in the Middle East.

The man, who a few months ago was criticized for his Jewish descent by extremist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, has already managed to reduce the National Front Party to nothing, attracting most of its voters and leaving it penniless after two major electoral defeats.

Maybe the French president's plan to annihilate anti-Semitism isn't all that impossible. The Jewish community voted massively for that plan. Now, it is holding its breath.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Secular Crusade

France refuses ID cards unless Jews 'prove' faith

by Shirli Sitbon Paris

An Algerian-born Jewish woman has become a symbol of the French battle to secularise public affairs after refusing to provide authorities with proof of her religion in order to have her national ID renewed.

In June, a clerk in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, asked Brigitte Abitbol, 57, to provide several documents, including a certificate to prove she was Jewish.

Ms Abitbol’s previous French ID document and her birth certificate were deemed insufficient, and the clerk said that since Jews in Algeria were granted French nationality in 1870 with the Cremieux decree, proving she was Jewish would be helpful.

After Ms Abitbol refused to provide it, court workers told her she would not get her documents.

"We’re in 2007, in a secular state and I am never going to provide a religion certificate,” said Ms Abitbol.

Ms Abitbol’s case has encouraged others to go public. On August 21, dozens of French citizens of Jewish or foreign descent testified in the Libération newspaper of similar treatment.

“My mother was born in 1919 in Poland and became a French citizen in 1921, after her family fled the pogroms,” wrote one reader. “When renewing her ID in 2001, she was asked to provide a nationality certificate. After she explained that she couldn’t get one because her family’s documents were destroyed when her village burnt down, my mother was told she would be ‘deported back to her country’. My mother showed the state worker her French ID from 1943, with the word ‘Jew’ labelled on it and she called me, crying.”

Others brought war medals and photos of family in French military uniforms to court. Even a deputy-mayor of Paris, Nathalie Kaufman, had to provide special documents.

“The case is upsetting, but we cannot consider it as antisemitism,” Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the Vigilance Bureau Against Anti-Semitism, told the JC. “This is a new trend of zeal within French bureaucracy towards all of those who renew their ID documents.”

The mediator of the republic office, handling the Abitbol case and several others, told the JC that it was perfectly legal to require religion certificates.

“We need to be certain of the person’s French identity and a certificate of religion is one way to get that confirmation regarding Jews who immigrated from North African countries,” a spokesman told the JC.

But describing this as “unthinkable”, Irit Spiro, a programme director at French Jewish Radio, told the JC: “We were shocked when Mrs Abitbol informed us of her case, and our station will broadcast a special programme in September with dozens of testimonies to denounce this measure.”

Monday, 3 September 2007

Quand c'est fini, ça recommence...

La Chronique de Jean-Michel Rosenfeld
mercredi 7h05 sur Radio J

« Quand c’est fini ahi nini ça recommence » c’est ce que chantait Léo Ferré.
C’est ce que l’on peut dire du grand rabbin sépharade d’Israël qui voici quelques années avait transformé les 6 millions de victimes de la Shoah en coupables, prétextant que l’assimilation fut la raison de leur extermination, faisant des bourreaux nazis le bras qui frappait, qui punissait.
Samedi dernier, ce même triste personnage déclara, je cite : "qu’au cours des guerres du Liban, les soldats d’Israël qui sont tombés le furent car ils ne mettaient pas de téfilimes tous les jours, ils ne respectaient pas le shabbat et ne priaient pas suffisamment."
De tels propos sont synonymes d’un esprit sectaire et dénués de toute humanité.
Que peuvent penser les familles de ces soldats d’apprendre que leur fils peut être victime par la faute du non respect d’une pratique religieuse, qui est en fait le choix de chacun et non une loi.
De tels propos sont dignes de l’inquisition du moyen âge.
Il n’y a pas que les chevaux qui portent des œillères.
De telles phrases irresponsables et assassines sortent de la bouche d’un soi-disant sage, je dirais même d’un faux sage.
Pour seules réponses aux critiques, pas assez nombreuses selon moi, le fils de ce pseudo rabbin répond qu’il prie tous les jours pour les soldats de Tsahal.
Selon Yossi Beilin, le leader du Meretz, il ferait mieux d’inciter ses groupies à s’enrôler dans l’armée.
Il est vrai, je m’en souviens, qu’au cours d’une journée marquant l’anniversaire de la réunification de Jérusalem, le grand rabbin de France avait dit que alors que dans les rues de la ville les soldats se battaient et tombaient des hommes dans les yeshivot EUX priaient. Comme si on pouvait mettre sur le même plan ceux qui bien à l’abri marmonnaient des phrases et ceux qui exposaient leur vie pour que ce réalise ce que les juifs du monde entier disent à chaque Pessah : « l’an prochain à Jérusalem ».
Ovadia Yossef devrait de temps en temps se remémorer le message d’humanisme du judaïsme universel.