Near Elections, France Finally Guards Jewish Sites

As the French presidential election campaign peaked, a spate of serious arson attacks on Jewish synagogues forced reluctant French leaders to address the country’s long-running and fast-spreading anti-Semitic campaign with action.
Candidate and prime minister Lionel Jospin announced Monday, April 1, that, within 48 hours, 1,100 riot police would fan out through Lyon, Marseille and 10 other cities to guard Jewish religious and cultural centers and schools.
In the last three days, a synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground with scrolls and books, arsonists tried and failed to ignite a synagogue in Strasbourg, masked ram-raiders slammed two stolen cars into a synagogue in Lyon, then set it ablaze, a synagogue across the border in Brussels was firebombed, and a gunman opened fire on a kosher butcher in Toulouse. In the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, a Jewish couple was attacked. Sunday, Jewish places of worship in the suburbs of Nice, on the French Riviera, were stoned.
“It is the first time in French Jewish history that a synagogue has been wiped off the map in this way,” said a Jewish spokesman in Marseille.
Monday, April 1, 4,000 people spontaneously took to the streets of Marseille to show solidarity with the city’s Jewish community. In Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg, 15,000 marched in support of the Palestinians.
Calling the assaults an organized commando operation, Jospin refused to connect them to the upsurge of violence in the Middle East. “That would not justify acts of aggression against our Jewish or any other compatriots,” he said. The prime minister was referring to claims that France’s four million Arabs have been stirred to anger against its 700,000 Jews by Israel’s siege of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
President Jacques Chirac, who is running for re-election, condemned the incidents as “intolerable, unimaginable and unpardonable.” He promised a probe into the assaults. Next day, he balanced his statement with remarks criticizingIsrael’s counter-terror campaign against Palestinians and urging Israel’s speedy withdrawal from Palestinian-ruled areas.
This latest wave of attacks in France – compared by Jewish leaders to pre-war Nazi atrocities against the Jews of Germany – has pushed anti-Semitic violence onto both leading presidential candidates’ agendas, three weeks before the first round of the election on April 21. It has cast a shadow over the tense law and order debate and embarrassed the French government, which has long been trying to play down accusations that it is an increasingly anti-Semitic country.
The Union of Jewish Students and six other Jewish bodies have called a demonstration for April 7 to decry “anti-Semitic terrorism in France” and voice support for Israel.

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