The White House voiced alarm Tuesday at a surge in anti-Semitism in Europe and in France, after last week’s attack in Paris on a kosher supermarket which killed four Jewish people.
“The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon was the latest in a series of very troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said at an American Jewish committee event in a Washington synagogue.
“On behalf of the president (Barack Obama) I am here to affirm our nations’ solidarity to the French people and the Jewish community in France, and around the world, to condemn in the strongest possible terms the violent attacks of last week,” McDonough said.
“We will not waver in our commitment to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism,” McDonough stressed, adding that: “from the president on down, you have my commitment that we will wage this fight tirelessly, and together.”
Recalling Obama’s mentioning this week that France is the United States’ oldest ally, McDonough said “we stand in solidarity with the French people and share this steadfast commitment to the values of liberty, free expression, coexistence and religious freedom that were so cruelly and violently assaulted in Paris last week.”
The kosher market attack, carried out by jihadist Amedy Coulibaly, followed a shooting days earlier at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were killed by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi. Seventeen people lost their lives in the three-day killing spree all told.
But the market attack was just the latest to raise fears among European Jews. It followed killings at a Belgian Jewish Museum and a Jewish school in southwestern France in recent years. France particularly has seen numerous incidents of hate crimes, harassment of Jews and the common use of anti-Semitic slogans in anti-Israel demonstrations.
In an emotional speech to the French parliament Tuesday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke out against what he called “the new anti-Semitism,” which was being spread via the Internet.
“How can we accept that in France, we still hear about the death of Jews? How can we accept that people are killed because they are Jewish,” he asked. “When the Jews of France are attacked, all of France is attacked.”
The UN is planning to hold an informal meeting on the growth of anti-Semitism on January 22 in response to a request from dozens of nations, including Israel, the United States and all European Union members.
The 37 countries sent a letter to General Assembly President Sam Kutesa on October 1 calling for a meeting in response to “an alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide.” That was well before last week’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
The letter, whose signatories also included Rwanda, Uruguay, Canada and Australia, noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement last August expressing concern at the spike in anti-Semitic attacks.
“At rallies, crowds have chanted ‘Gas the Jews” and ‘Death to the Jews,'” the letter said. “Firebombs have been thrown at synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses have been vandalized.”
The countries said they were requesting a meeting of the 193-member world body because “a clear message from the General Assembly is a critical component of combatting the sudden rise of violence and hatred directed at Jews.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said Monday: “We have a great deal of work to do to move this issue from the headlines to the history books.”
The January 22 meeting will feature a keynote address by French philosopher and author Bernard Henri Levy and speeches by representatives from several countries.
France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, with a population of some half a million. Around 7,000 Jews from the country moved to Israel in 2014, a record number that officials expect to be topped in coming years. Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky recently said he sees over 100,000 Jews moving to Israel from France in the next two decades.
In wake of the killings, Israeli leaders have stepped up a drive for French Jews to move to Israel in the face of increasing anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of those who urged emigration, telling the French Jewishj community that “Israel is your home.”
Such remarks have been said to anger the French government, which has vowed to combat anti-Semitism and defend its Jewish citizens.
French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, who attended the Jerusalem funeral of the four Jewish victims on Tuesday, reassured the victims’ families and all those gathered of the French government’s commitment to to preserve and protect the Jewish community, which she called “a source of pride” for France.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in France. That is the message given by the millions who marched,” she said. “The messages ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) and ‘Je Suis Juif’ (I am Jewish) resonated throughout the streets.”
At the funeral, President Reuven Rivlin also called on the world to fight “rabid anti-Semitic incitement,” but stressed his desire to see French Jews move to Israel by positive choice, rather than under duress.
“Much has been said since the murders, on the issue of the immigration to Israel of French Jewry. My dear brothers and sisters, Jewish citizens of France, you are welcome. Our land is your land, our home is your home, and we yearn to see you settle in Zion,” he said.
“However, returning to your ancestral home need not be due to distress, out of desperation, because of destruction, or in the throes of terror and fear. Terror has never kept us down, and we do not want terror to subdue you. The Land of Israel is the land of choice. We want you to choose Israel, because of a love for Israel.”
AP contributed to this report.
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