On October 3 1980, erev Succot, I was delivering festive greetings at the home of the Paris Ma’ariv correspondent, Tamar Golan. Her weekend houseguest, Aliza – wife of prominent Jerusalem film-maker, Micha Shagrir – asked Tamar if she needed anything for dinner. Tamar replied: “Perhaps a few figs.” Aliza and I took the lift down and walked together to the corner. I continued along the street, while Aliza turned into rue Copernic, towards the fruit shop opposite the synagogue. A few seconds later, she met her death.
The following morning, Prime Minister Raymond Barre publicly declared: “A bomb set for Jews killed four innocent Frenchmen.”
In fact, one was a Chinese waiter, another a Portuguese postman, the third was Aliza, and the fourth an “innocent” Frenchman. Forty-two worshippers were wounded inside the synagogue.
The motorbike bomb outside exploded at 6:38 pm. Thirty minutes later would have resulted in a massacre as over 200 congregants left at the end of the service.
President Giscard d’Estaing, who refused to return to Paris from a hunting weekend, was to lament in May 1981: “I lost my re-election at Copernic.”
The 1980 synagogue bombing launched two years of violence which I called “the antisemitism-terrorism nexus”, tabulating a list of 73 shootings and bombings of Jewish targets across western Europe, of which 29 were in France. It began with four dead at Copernic and ended with nine machine-gunned in the rue des Rosiers Jewish quarter in August 1982.
It stopped as a by-product of Israel’s incursion into southern Lebanon to curb a wave of PLO terrorism. European terrorists at PLO training bases in the line of fire, fled home. Once repatriated, they used their expertise against banks, embassies and other targets. Jews were no longer their priority victims. Governments now cracked down. France’s VIGIPIRATE anti-terror agency crushed the extreme-left Action Directe, as was the fate of their German Bader-Meinhof/RAF and Italian Red Brigade ideological allies.
As Simon Wiesenthal would say: “What starts with the Jews never ends with them.”
For over 20 years many believed that Copernic was the work of neo-Nazis, but French intelligence long knew it as the Palestinian transplantation of the Middle East conflict to Europe and, in alliance with Europe’s extreme-left terror network, a war on Jewish targets.
In November 2010, while attending the Ottawa Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, I learned that in the federal court a few blocks away, a French extradition request had opened against Carleton University sociology professor, Hassan Diab – identified as a former PFLP-associate and prime suspect in the Copernic bombing.
A simple procedure that normally, between two friendly democracies, should have taken a few days,turned into a trial of the state of Israel.
Last week, three and a half years later, an appeal court ruled in favour of the judge’s decision and the Justice Minister’s endorsement for extradition, but Diab¹s legal team plan further delaying tactics through the Supreme Court. The Wiesenthal Centre has urged the French justice minister to impress on Canadian authorities the urgency of sending Diab for trial in Paris.
For 34 years, the survivors and the families of the victims have been awaiting justice. A Paris tribunal will finally bring them closure and draw the lessons of that dark period of terror for a new generation at a time of resurgent antisemitism and racist violence.
France once again confronts an “antisemitism-terrorism nexus”. Due to demographics, this is no longer a Middle East import, but based on a homegrown hatred.
When young European-born Muslim youth, recruited to jihad in Syria or in training camps in Pakistan, return home, western Europe will, again, learn that “what started with the Jews never ends with them”.