Anti-Semitic acts in France increased drastically in the immediate aftermath of the Toulouse massacre in March, yet in recent weeks such incidents have decreased again, according to figures the Knesset released Wednesday.
And while there remains a certain disquiet among the local Jewish community, the numbers of French Jews immigrating to Israel has not increased since a terrorist shot four Jews in outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, officials said.
In the first five months of this year, 274 anti-Semitic acts occurred in France, compared to 179 such acts occurred in the same period last year, representing an increase of 53%. These figures were compiled by the Knesset Center of Research and Information, based on data gathered by the Paris-based Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ) and the French Interior Ministry.
“There was a surge of anti-Semitic acts in France. The figures are clear,” France’s ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, said at a session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, during which the research was presented.
According to SPCJ, 77 of the 274 anti-Semitic acts were violent in nature, including five homicide attempts and 37 violent attacks. The remaining 197 incidents included verbal threats, menacing gestures, hateful letters, pamphlets and graffiti.
“There were brutal attacks, and these acts revived a sentiment of anxiety within the Jewish community of France,” Bigot told the committee, which is headed by MK Danny Danon (Likud). “But the new government in France is determined to react to this phenomenon and has already increased protection of synagogues and Jewish schools.”
Since 2002, Paris has spent 15 million Euros protecting Jewish institutions, Bigot said, adding that incoming Interior Ministry Manuel Valls, after meeting with Jewish community officials, pledged an addition half million Euros for that cause.
On March 19, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian orgin, shot dead four Jews, three of them children, in front of the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse. In another high-profile event, in early June, a group of assailants wielding a hammer and iron an iron bar injured Jewish youths wearing skullcaps in Villeurbanne, near Lyon.
The vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents in France this year occurred in the days and weeks following the Toulouse massacre. While 37 violent acts were registered in March, the number decreased to 18 in April and 9 in March, the research shows.
“We have to look at the figures in the context of time,” Bigot said, adding that while in 2002, authorities counted 1,000 incidents with anti-Semitic background, that number shrunk to 389 in 2011. The ambassador quoted the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman as calling France a “success story” regarding its efforts to combat anti-Jewish incidents. “Every time I meet [Foxman] he tells me that France is a model in the fight against anti-Semitism. He still thinks so, even now,” Bigot said.
Bigot reiterated the French government’s absolute commitment to safeguarding the Jewish community. “We’re very proud of our Jewish identity and Jewish history and we do consider these anti-Semitic attacks are an attack on our history, our people, and our values, values we share with you.”
French community leader Pierre Besnainou concurred, saying that France“undoubtedly” makes the greatest efforts of all European countries to protect its Jewish citizens. “Nowhere is anti-Semitism fought as much as in France,” Besnainou told the Knesset committee.
He acknowledged that the Toulouse attack increased worries, saying that “our role now is to reassure that those who want to live in France as Jews can do so freely.” Better education for France’s immigrant youths and more efforts to integrate them into Western society are the key to achieving that, he said.
The Jewish Agency’s Arielle di Porto, who oversees Jewish immigration to Israel from Europe, said the numbers of French Jews planning to make aliyah have remained stable, despite the anxiety that followed the Toulouse attack.
“From January until April, we had about 500 immigrants, which is no change at all from last year’s figures,” she said. “The Jews of France did not hysterically call the Jewish Agency after Toulouse. Aliyah from France is not an an aliyah of rescue, but one of choice. People come here because they want to live in Israel.”