French deputy mayor says future of Jews in Europe is ‘hopeless’

After call for German Jews to stop wearing kippahs in cities, Aviv Zonabend, Jewish member of Toulouse council, says the advice should be followed throughout Europe

Aviv Zonabend, a Jewish deputy mayor of the French city of Toulouse, on March 26, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Aviv Zonabend, a Jewish deputy mayor of the French city of Toulouse, on March 26, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A Jewish deputy mayor of the French city of Toulouse said Wednesday that all European Jews should stop wearing yarmulkes in public, and asserted that “the future of the Jewish people in Europe is hopeless,” after a series of high-profile attacks on Jews.

Asked during an Israeli radio interview about a statement issued Tuesday by a prominent Jewish community leader in Germany advising people against wearing Jewish skullcaps in big cities, Aviv Zonabend said: “Only in Germany? I think we need to remove the kippahs in all of Europe.”

“My son wears a kippah, but I prefer that he wear a hat on top,” he said. While he himself isn’t religious and therefore doesn’t wear one, Zonabend said, he does wear a pendant bearing a Star of David but usually hides it under his shirt.

Zonabend, the only Jewish member of the Toulouse city council, also revealed during the Hebrew-language interview with Israel’s Army Radio that his office received an envelope with white powder several weeks ago, adding that “we still don’t know what the substance is.”

“The situation in Toulouse is quite difficult,” Zonabend lamented. He said there are “very many, too many” Arabs in the city, making up 11-12 percent of its population.

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 a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue)

On the other hand, there are “very few” Jews, he said, adding that about 600 families have left Toulouse and immigrated to Israel in the last five years.

“Anti-Semitism in Europe, in France, in Toulouse is no longer just by the far-right, but from political Islam,” Zonabend said, saying Muslims in France had “violently” opposed a public letter condemning anti-Semitism.

The open letter published Sunday in the Parisien newspaper blamed “Islamist radicalization” for what it said was “quiet ethnic purging” in the Paris region, with abuse forcing Jewish families to move out. It called for certain passages of the Quran to be removed on the grounds of rising anti-Semitism.

The manifesto sparked anger Monday from Muslims who said their religion was being unfairly “put on trial.”

Muslims pray in the street for Friday prayer in the Paris suburb of Clichy la Garenne, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Muslim leaders charged that the nearly 300 signatories, who included ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Manuel Valls, were blaming a whole religion for the actions of an extremist minority.

“The only thing we can agree on is that we must all unite against anti-Semitism,” said Ahmet Ogras, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith umbrella group.

Zonabend said many Muslims in the municipality were having “difficulty” accepting his outspoken Zionism. When he travels to Tel Aviv, a “sister city” of Toulouse, to promote joint projects, “it disturbs them. They say ‘why don’t you also go to Ramallah or Palestine to do the same?'”

But Zonabend also accused Israel of making it hard on French immigrants by not recognizing professional diplomas acquired in France and requiring them to take additional courses in Israel, saying this practice amounted to the country “not accepting” the French aliyah.

Flowers and placards are displayed outside Mireille Knoll’s apartment during a silent march in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The latest anti-Semitic attack rocked France last month when two perpetrators stabbed an 85-year-old Jewish woman 11 times before setting her body on fire.

Officially, the number of anti-Semitic crimes fell in France in 2017 for a third year running, according to the interior ministry, down seven percent.

But Jews are the target of about a third of France’s recorded hate crimes despite making up only about 0.7 percent of the population.

The half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has experienced a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to anti-Semitism in immigrant neighborhoods.

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