Imams deny antisemitism at unity event

By Shirli Sitbon, September 6, 2012

As they arrived in Paris for the second gathering of European Jewish and Muslim leaders, Jewish officials seemed to have one thing on their mind: getting their counterparts to fight antisemitism in Muslim communities.
Antisemitism has been on the rise in France since the Toulouse shooting six months ago, and many of the attacks have been perpetrated by Muslims.

“I challenge the Muslim leaders to speak out for the other… particularly when attacks are perpetrated by members of your own community,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, told the assembly.

The Paris Great Mosque Rector Dalil Boubaker responded that “the message was heard loud and clear”, but other Muslim leaders appeared little concerned.

Imam Tareq Oubrou from Bordeaux said that while there is some extremism and antisemitism among young Muslims, it is exaggerated by the media and by some Jews.

“When some Jews accuse Muslims of attacking them, they only worsen antisemitism. It’s the same with Muslims: they can strengthen the anti-Islam feeling if they give a bad image of their community,” said Imam Oubrou.
“Extremist imams exist but they’re not the only ones responsible for the violence. Parents are also responsible.”

“Young Muslims are used as scapegoats. The media say they’re violent. Some accuse them of being anti-Jewish, but they’re not,” said Abdallah Zekri, who heads the Observatory against Islamophobia.

“Some Jews have said they’d been attacked by Muslims, but often the truth is that they were hurt in gang fights. It’s not antisemitism. These exaggerated accusations only make things worse for Muslims, who are constantly assaulted,” said Mr Zekri.

Few people at the symposium were as concerned as Rabbi Harold Weill, from Toulouse. Six months ago, Mohammed Merah killed four people at the city’s Ozar Hatorah Jewish school. The rabbi said that since then, the overall situation has only got worse.

“Jews are insulted and attacked every day and we’ve got no one to turn to,” said Rabbi Weill. “Right after the shooting authorities sent us police protection, but months later, they pulled most of it away and now we can only count on ourselves.”

After the attack, the rabbi hoped to get support from the Muslim community but he said that only two Muslims expressed solidarity, including Imam Hassen Chalghoumi from Drancy.

“Local imams showed up just once, when Morocco sent a delegation to Toulouse. I wondered whether they came to see the Moroccan consul or to express support,” said Rabbi Weill.

Some Jewish leaders said they were still optimistic, however.

“Ten years ago we didn’t even have these meetings. This is a huge step forward, and just the beginning of a long journey,” said Rabbi Schneier, who together with Rabbi Michel Serfaty, founded the French Judeo Muslim Friendship Association.

Last updated: 12:29pm, September 6 2012