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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Anti-Semitism, suppression of freedom converged in horrific Charlie Hebdo, kosher market attacks

A two-year study concluded there is an acute threat to the 450,000 Jews in France, which is why so many are fleeing Author of the article: National Post & Avi Benlolo Publishing date: Sep 17, 2020  

One of the hostages of the kosher market attack in Paris came to my home in Canada for Shabbat dinner that year. Despite the assault having happened several months before, while strong, courageous and resolute, she was still emotionally shaken as she described that violent day to my guests around the table. How could she not be?

It was a Friday afternoon and she was picking up some groceries for her family for their own Shabbat dinner. She recounted how surreal it all was — like a movie, she said. She heard the shouts and shooting at the front of the store as the terrorist stormed in. She and a few other shoppers were fortunate enough to hide in the back and survive the nightmare. Like many other Jews following that attack, she and her husband decided to flee France along with their children. For the Jewish community, this has almost become a common story. In fact, while numbers are now levelling off to 2,500 per year, soon after the attack in 2015, some 9,000 Jews emigrated to Israel yearly. With the knowledge that their days are numbered in France, many Jews have now purchased apartments in Israel to be ready for the great escape.

The kosher market attack was a byproduct of the gruesome assault of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo — even while the Jewish community was not responsible for publishing caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Fourteen co-conspirators are now facing trial for aiding and abetting the three terrorists involved in the onslaught that killed a total of 17 people — 11 at the newspaper, including a police officer, a second police officer in the streets, a trainee policewoman the following day, and four at the market the day after that.

But depending on who you ask, and what newspaper you read, two storylines are emerging about the attack that may open old wounds in France. For some observers, this was an attack on the Republic itself — on its sacred right of freedom of expression. To accentuate this point, the paper reprinted the caricatures at the start of the trial. Even President Emmanuel Macron defended the paper by saying, “that to be French is to defend the right to laugh, jest, mock and caricature.” For the Jewish community, it’s obvious the terrorist picked the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket because he was targeting Jews. The resulting murder of four Jewish shoppers was born out of hatred — pure and simple. Let’s be honest, France has always had an anti-Semitism problem — it even helped the Nazis round them up for the gas chambers under the Vichy regime.

But that was then and this is now — right? Wrong. The community is once again living in the most dangerous place in Europe, according to a report by a former NYPD commissioner. According to The New York Post, the two-year study concluded there is an acute threat to the 450,000 Jews in France. Threats and attacks surged 74 per cent from 2017 to 2018, with 2019 data showing intensification at 75 per cent.

Attacks on French Jews are not rare. But the intersection of the attack on Charlie Hebdo with the assault on the kosher market is perplexing. In this rare instance, a violent attack on a newspaper was intertwined with an anti-Semitic-inspired assault on a Jewish grocery store. One attack was meant to restrict freedom of expression while the other was an affront to the freedom of religion. Even while this trial may motivate France to debate secularism, rights and freedoms, it’s critical that one other significant lesson is not lost on anyone: that the main objective of terrorism is to suppress freedom, sow fear, intimidate and coerce the population — and even force policy and political change for governments.

The terrorists failed in their attempt to force Charlie Hebdo and the French public to capitulate. On the other hand, the Jewish family that sat at my table fled and now enjoy a peaceful life — away from the threat of anti-Semitism — in their new country. French society may remain defiant on the matter of free expression, but for the Jewish community, the daily incidence of violence and harassment is simply too much to bear.

Perhaps things would be different if the French public was also this defiant about anti-Semitism.

Avi Benlolo is a human rights activist.

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