Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday participated in a memorial ceremony for the Jews who were murdered in March in a school in Toulouse, France, and sang “Am Yisrael Hai,” “Israel is alive.”
“I have come here from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, to tell you — in the face of all anti-Semites — that the nation of Israel is alive,” Netanyahu said, before launching into song.
Tears flowed and both pain and hope were palpable at the ceremony in Toulouse, where a radical Islamist Frenchman targeted the school in March, shooting an 8-year-old girl in the head and spreading blood on the schoolyard before getting on his motorbike and driving away. Among the dead were a rabbi and his two young sons and, in an earlier shooting, three French paratroopers, two of North African descent and one from the Antilles.
“Anti-Semitism turns into a fire that quickly engulfs all in its path. It was no coincidence that the murderer of Toulouse killed not only Jews but also French soldiers, Christian and Muslim, with no distinction,” Netanyahu said. “This murderer would have killed each Jewish child who crossed his path, exactly like the Nazis. But there are immense differences between the murder of Jews in the past century and those of today.”
“In the dark days of the Nazis and the pogroms that preceded them, most European governments didn’t lift a finger to fight the murderous anti-Semitism, and some even cooperated with it,” Netanyahu said. “Today, however, I am joined by a French president who speaks out firmly against anti-Semitism.”
Speaking ahead of Netanyahu, French President Francois Hollande said fighting anti-Semitism was “a national cause” for France, which would show “no weakness” in its fight against terrorism. Anti-Semitism “will be chased out everywhere … in particular on social networks where anonymity is granted to hatred,” he said.
Earlier, the two leaders met with the families of the victims of the March attack in Toulouse, France’s worst terrorist violence since the 1990s.
Netanyahu and Hollande visited the school, where three children and a young rabbi were shot to death by 23-year-old Frenchman Mohamed Merah.
France has struggled with anti-Semitic attacks in the months since.
Hollande, after meeting Netanyahu in Paris on Wednesday, said the visit to the site was a way to demonstrate France’s determination to fight hatred toward Jews.
“There is anti-Semitism, we must chase it down, pursue it, eradicate it,” Hollande said. “When a citizen, because he is Jewish, sees his security threatened, it is the whole nation that is attacked.”
Netanyahu, while expressing horror at the Toulouse attacks, said Wednesday, “It goes without saying that successive French governments have fought very clearly against anti-Semitism.”
The March 19 attack on the Toulouse school, then called Ozar Hatorah but since renamed Ohr Tora, stunned France with its calculated brutality against unsuspecting schoolchildren heading to class on a Monday morning.
Merah entered the school and fired directly at children. He chased down 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, grabbed her and shot her in the head.
A father and two of his children were also killed: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons 4-year-old Gabriel and 5-year-old Arieh.
The victims had joint French and Israeli citizenship, and were buried in Israel.
The attacks raised questions about France’s counterterrorism efforts, after authorities acknowledged that Merah had been under surveillance and traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for apparent militant training.
The families of the victims of Merah have called for a parliamentary inquiry into failures that allowed him to carry out his attack.
JTA contributed to this report.