France's Jewish community faces another attack


There was no shortage of up-to-the-minute - and sometimes incorrect - information circulating about the Toulouse killing as events unfolded.

However what was often missing from TV, web and radio reports was the history of antisemitic attacks in France - and even in Toulouse itself.

In 2009, a burning car was driven into the gates of a synagogue in the same city in which four Jews - including three children - were gunned down this week. Around 23,000 Jews live in Toulouse, and there are 12 synagogues.

It was the first school shooting incident in France but the country's Jewish community has faced more than its fair share of attacks from both left and right.

Thirty years ago, Palestinian terrorists burst into Jo Goldenberg's restaurant in Paris's Rue des Rosiers, killing six and injuring 22 more. In 1990, when 35 graves were desecrated in the southern French town of Carpentras, skinheads were found to be responsible.

During the Gaza war, there were 66 antisemitic incidents in France, ranging from the firebombing of Jewish buildings to defacement and daubings.

Possibly the most horrific antisemitic incident of recent years anywhere in Europe took place in Paris in January 2006. Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old mobile phone salesman, was kidnapped by a Muslim group calling themselves the "Gang of Barbarians" and tortured to death over three weeks as the gang asked for ransom money. Halimi's naked, bound body was discovered covered in burns. Twenty seven people were tried in a case that sent shockwaves across Europe.

On Monday, when news broke of the Toulouse attack, there was speculation that the killing had been carried out by far-right extremists.

The shooting took place in the middle of a fiercely fought presidential election campaign in which President Nicolas Sarkozy had already drawn criticism from Jewish leaders for hijacking the agenda of far-right leader Marine Le Pen's Front National party.

Two weeks earlier, Mr Sarkozy had declared that kosher and halal meat should be labelled as such. His comments followed remarks by Ms Le Pen that non-Muslims in Paris were unwittingly eating halal meat. When the shooting happened, many commentators blamed Mr Sarkozy for creating an atmosphere in which extremism could flourish. And in the aftermath of the tragedy, the President suspended the election campaign.

However, when it became clear that the killer was a French Algerian Muslim who claimed to represent al-Qaeda and invoked revenge for the Palestinians for shooting the children, the mood changed.

It was not long before Marine Le Pen reignited the election battle and began to attack Islam - and the French right looks set to capitalise on events at the Ozar Hatorah school.

Meanwhile, four people were buried in Jerusalem.

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