French government doing its utmost to protect Jews, says leader
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Community has been on alert all year, says CRIF head, but had no specific warnings

French government doing its utmost to protect Jews, says leader

In France’s war against terror, the Jewish community works closely with authorities to secure its institutions, says Roger Cukierman

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

French righ-wing party UMP national delegate Pierre Lelouche (right) and French Jewish Institutions Representative Council (Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France - CRIF) President Roger Cukierman (2nd from right) and French junior minister for Parliamentary Relations Jean-Marie Le Guen (2nd from left) attend a ceremony for the victims of a series of deadly attacks at the Grande synagogue de la Victoire on November 15, 2015. (AFP / Loic Venance)
French righ-wing party UMP national delegate Pierre Lelouche (right) and French Jewish Institutions Representative Council (Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France - CRIF) President Roger Cukierman (2nd from right) and French junior minister for Parliamentary Relations Jean-Marie Le Guen (2nd from left) attend a ceremony for the victims of a series of deadly attacks at the Grande synagogue de la Victoire on November 15, 2015. (AFP / Loic Venance)

With some 10,000 police and soldiers guarding France’s Jewish community since the murderous January 2015 terrorist attack on Paris’s kosher Hyper Cacher market, the head of a French Jewish organization says the government is protecting French Jewry as fully as possible.

Speaking with The Times of Israel on Tuesday, in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in central Paris, the head of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF) Roger Cukierman said the Jewish community “cannot ask for more than what the government is already doing.”

Cukierman, who along with other French Jewish leaders is accompanied by bodyguards and rides in an armored vehicle, said the Jewish community has been on high alert since January.

According to Cukierman, “everybody knows that France has for years been the target of terrorist attacks.”

Roger Cukierman, president of the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organizations (photo credit: courtesy World Jewish Congress/JTA)
Roger Cukierman, president of the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organizations (photo credit: courtesy World Jewish Congress/JTA)

He said that the French media had for months reported a wide swath of statements by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Prime Minister Manuel Valls alluding to the real possibility of an organized multi-pronged attack.

‘Everybody knows that for years France has been the target of terrorist attacks’

Founded in 1944, CRIF is an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups, and a member of the World Jewish Congress.

It has a close historical connection to the French authorities, particularly in combating anti-Semitism in France.

Cukierman clarified that the community had not received any specific warning ahead of Friday’s attacks, stressing that Jewish leaders do not receive regular security briefings from the government.

A man wearing a skullcap looks on as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014 in front of Lyon's synagogue (photo credit: AFP/ROMAIN LAFABREGUE)
A man wearing a skullcap looks on as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014 in front of Lyon’s synagogue (photo credit: AFP/ROMAIN LAFABREGUE)

CRIF and the Jewish community’s security wing, the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive (SPCJ), work in close contact with the French security officials in cases in which the French intelligence is tipped off with threats perceived as specific for the Jewish community.

However, with the planned incoming visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week, the Jewish community was already on edge this weekend, with private individuals warning each other on social media to be alert.

‘The intelligence services told us [the Jewish community] that there will be attacks. But again we don’t know where or when’

Now residing in Netanya, retired Paris-area police commissioner Sammy Ghozlan told The Times of Israel on Monday that “The intelligence services told us [the Jewish community] that there will be attacks. But again we don’t know where or when.”

Ghozlan, whose personal car was torched outside of his home in 2011, established a liaison organization between French police and the Jewish community 15 years ago called the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

The BNVCA was established to alert both French authorities and the Jewish communities of attacks and threats against Jews. Its purview includes sending updates about anti-Semitic attacks to reporters, the police, and its large mailing list.

Sammy Ghozlan at his home in Netanya (Ricky Ben-David / Times of Israel)
Sammy Ghozlan at his home in Netanya (Ricky Ben-David / Times of Israel)

The Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, also works to secure French Jews. Protection of Jews around the world is part of its mandate and while it does not engage in perimeter security on foreign soil, it collects intelligence and passes it on to the relevant authorities.

It is perhaps the Israeli intelligence agency’s mystique and reputation that feeds viral conspiracy theories of its involvement in anything from the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, to the official Palestinian Authority daily al-Hayat al-Jadida, which blamed the Mossad for Friday’s deadly terror attacks in Paris.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, plumes of smoke rise from the World Trade Center buildings in New York. The Empire State building is seen in the foreground. (photo credit: AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)
In this September 11, 2001 file photo, plumes of smoke rise from the World Trade Center buildings in New York. The Empire State building is seen in the foreground. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

“The wise and correct thing is to look for who benefits,” an op-ed in Al-Hayat read this week. “In short: They need to search the last place reached by the octopus arms of the Mossad… It is clear that its ‘Mossad’ will burn Beirut and Paris in order to achieve [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s goals. He, who challenged the master of the White House, hides in his soul enough evil to burn the world.”

While there is no indication that the Mossad was informed of the recent attacks, there are various news reports that other international agencies were.

CIA director John Brennan is quoted in Politico after a Center for Strategic & International Studies forum this week, saying, “It’s not a surprise this attack was carried out, from the standpoint of we did have strategic warning.”

CIA Director John Brennan. (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
CIA Director John Brennan (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Additionally, the Associated Press reported that last week the Iraqi government warned France in an intelligence dispatch saying the Islamic State group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had ordered an attack on coalition countries fighting against them in Iraq and Syria through bombings or other attacks in the days ahead.

According to the AP report, the dispatch did not have specific details on when or where the attack would take place, and that a “senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets this kind of communication ‘all the time’ and ‘every day.'”

In a Bloomberg story this week, Louis Caprioli, the ex-head of DST, France’s former anti-terrorism unit, is concerned at the paucity of intelligence information regarding specific targets.

“With Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market, they had specific targets… Here it’s all of France that is under attack. I fear the worst is yet to come,” said Caprioli, currently an adviser to Paris-based security consultants Groupe GEOS.

A policeman stands guard, on January 21, 2015, in front the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket where jihadist gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jewish men on January 9, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)
A policeman stands guard, on January 21, 2015, in front the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket where jihadist gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jewish men on January 9, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)

In a conversation on Tuesday, Cukierman seemed perturbed by this lack of intelligence information.

Dispelling rumors that the Jewish community was alerted ahead of Friday’s attack, he said, “The government is unfortunately not informed enough on these matters [to warn the Jewish community]. If they were, they would have prevented the attacks.”

“It is nonsense to believe that there was any specific information that was delivered this weekend” to the Jewish community. He emphasized that this kind of rumor “harms everybody and gives credit to conspiracy theories which are absolutely counter to the truth.”

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