Jewish community draws solace from France's response to killings
Since a gunman killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, French Jews have been bolstered by the universal national revulsion over the attacks.
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Toulouse is home to the largest Jewish community in France. The Ozar Hatorah school complex was established in 1983 and means “treasure of Torah” in Hebrew. The school is distinguished for a 100 percent graduation rate and is part of a network of 13 orthodox Jewish schools in France, stemming from educational institutions founded in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, in 1945, in what is modern Israel, partly with US Jewish contributions.Skip to next paragraph
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The slain north African French paratroopers spurred the Muslim community to swing into action with plans for special prayers on Friday, and calls for an end to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Muslim Council, admonished political candidates not to use the tragedy for electoral gain: "Although we are in an election campaign where some may be tempted to exploit," he said, "I think it would be a shame for those who travel this path to do so."
The issue of Islam and Muslims had already been raised in recent weeks via a debate on halal meat, which meets Islamic rules. How the issue will now play, with a serial killer claiming jihadi credentials, is unknown.
According to Claude Gueant, France's Interior minister, the three French paratroopers shot by Mohammed Merah, identified as the killer, were attacks on the French Army, and not motivated by the soldiers' North African heritage.
Over the years, there have been Paris neighborhood clashes between Jewish and Arab youths, with offensive graffiti and bullying, and a constant sense among Jews of often anti-Semitic persecution. But, says Messa, “Jews have a good life in France, overall. You can’t say the life of a Jewish person is difficult here. A taxi driver today told me, ‘The Jews have many enemies,’ but I said to him that this has always been true. But the Jews remain strong after all their enemies for centuries have passed. If we have enemies, it is because we have strong values, and our future is strong.”
Unlike the US, France has a traditionally intimate relationship with Arab states, and public sympathy had long leaned in an Arab direction in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, though in recent years France and Europe have closed something of a gap with Israel. However, some fundamental differences remain. For example, European leaders were far less accepting of the Israeli military action in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in 2008 and 2009, than the United States.
This view surfaced and reflected a European perspective in comments made by Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief this week. Speaking about “what happened … in Toulouse,” Ms. Ashton said, “when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria when we see what is happening in Gaza and parts of the world, we think about young people and children who lose their lives."
The statement was dismissed by Israeli president Binyamin Netanyahu and Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who called it “not appropriate," with Netanyahu noting that Gaza was a defensive military operation.
Mr. Merah said he was "avenging the deaths of Palestinian children" in his murderous rampage, according to Interior Minister Gueant.
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