Muslim owner of torched Paris kosher shop: ‘I just feel sick’

Businessman, who was hospitalized due to arson attack, says there is no ‘incompatibility’ between his religion and owning a Jewish store

A partial view taken of the Promo & Destock store, a French kosher grocery store in Creteil, south of Paris, after it was destroyed in an arson attack on January 9, 2018 . (AFP Photo/Alain Jocard)
A partial view taken of the Promo & Destock store, a French kosher grocery store in Creteil, south of Paris, after it was destroyed in an arson attack on January 9, 2018 . (AFP Photo/Alain Jocard)

PARIS — The Muslim owner of a French grocery store said he was sickened by suspected arson attack on Tuesday that gutted his kosher business.

“I just feel sick,” said the store’s owner, a 44-year-old Muslim who asked to remain anonymous.

“I’m Muslim. I work in a Jewish shop. There is no incompatibility there,” said the businessman, who was briefly hospitalized with shock after seeing the extent of the damage.

The attack revived anti-Semitism fears, as it came three years to the day since a deadly terror attack on a Jewish supermarket by an Islamist terrorist that killed four Jews.

Prosecutors said the store in the southern Paris suburb of Creteil caught fire in the early hours, days after it was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Anti-semitism watchdog BNVCA said that the attack was intended to “punish” the Muslim owner for his links with the Jewish community.

A source close to the police probe said it was “too soon to discuss motives, ” though Creteil prosecutor Laure Beccuau said investigators do not believe the fire was an accident.

The Promo & Destock store was one of two neighboring kosher shops in working-class Creteil that were daubed with swastikas last Wednesday.

The second store was also slightly damaged in the fire.

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)

Israel’s Ambassador to France Aliza Bin Noun called the fire a “shameful provocation” on the third anniversary of the January 9, 2015, terrorist attack at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris.

Jihadist Amedy Coulibaly killed three customers and an employee in an attack that triggered deep concern over anti-Semitism.

That attack came two days after Coulibaly’s close friends Said and Cherif Kouachi gunned down 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the first of a wave of terror attacks in France.

‘Deep-rooted’ anti-Semitism

A record 7,900 French Jews emigrated to Israel the year of the Hyper Cacher attack, many of them citing fears over anti-Semitism.

Though the exodus has since slowed, a string of anti-Semitic crimes have continued to worry one of Europe’s biggest Jewish communities, numbering an estimated half a million.

In 2017, a Jewish woman was pushed to her death from a third-floor window by a Muslim neighbour, while a Jewish family was beaten, held hostage and robbed in what rights groups said was a hate crime.

The northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” due to its large Jewish population, was rocked by anti-Jewish violence during the 2014 war in Gaza.

Several shops were set on fire or vandalized, including a kosher grocery.

In the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, pro-Palestinian rioters broke shop windows and set fires, July 20, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Former prime minister Manuel Valls told Europe 1 radio that more needed to be done to tackle anti-Semitism, which he said had become “deeply rooted” in France.

“What has changed over the past three years is the awareness of this level of anti-Semitism,” he said.

Then-French prime minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech during the Interministerial committee of rural life on May 20, 2016, Privas, southeastern France. (AFP/Philippe Desmazes)

Valls said French society had failed to mobilize in support of Jews following attacks such as the 2012 Islamist shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, in which four people were killed, three of them children.

“These are crimes that must be prosecuted and condemned,” he said.

“We need to do more.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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