Europe: The Politics of Hate: Jews and Muslims Have Been the Victims of Racist Attacks in France. (Current Affairs)

By Williamson, John | The Middle East, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Europe: The Politics of Hate: Jews and Muslims Have Been the Victims of Racist Attacks in France. (Current Affairs)


Williamson, John, The Middle East


France's internal race relations have come under the spotlight recently following a series of well-publicised anti-Semitic attacks at the beginning of the year. Both the Jewish and North African Muslim communities of France have been targeted recently, causing widespread debate about racism within French society.

On 3 January, Rabbi Gabriel Farhi, son of the founder of the Jewish Liberal Movement of France (JLMF), was wounded in a knife attack at his Reform synagogue on Paris's Rue Petion, by a man wearing a crash helmet screaming "God is great" in Arabic. The following Monday, the Rabbi's car was set alight in the parking lot of his home. Eight months prior to these incidents the Rabbi's synagogue was set alight. Although the police at the time declared that the fire was caused by an ageing electrical circuit, the incidents in January--as well as threatening messages received before both the synagogue fire and the stabbing--have forced the police to renew their investigations.

Politicians were quick to denounce the attacks. Jacques Chirac, the French President, described the stabbing as an `odious act' and sent a letter to Rabbi Gabriel Farhi in which he assured him of his government's determination to fight against `unacceptable behaviours'. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Interior Minister who is popular in France, and with Jews in particular, for his tough anti-crime rhetoric, received a delegation of liberal Jews in January to provide an update on the ongoing investigation.

The turnout was equally impressive at an ecumenical prayer service held in support of Farhi at his Paris synagogue following the stabbing. Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders attended, along with many political leaders. Four former prime ministers--Lionel Jospin, Alain Juppe, Edouard Balladur and Laurent Fabius--sat alongside each other wearing yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish skullcap.

To compound the problem, France has seen a dramatic increase in the popularity of the far right National Front party headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen. During the first round of last year's French presidential election, Le Pen came a close second to Jacques Chirac (19.88%) with 16.86% of the votes. This was an improvement on Le Pen's first round result in the 1995 election when he collected 4.5m votes. With his dire warnings of the threat to French life from North African immigration, Le Pen increased his share of the presidential vote from 0.74% in 1974, to 14% in 1988 and then to 15% in 1995.

Prior to the stabbing incident, the main synagogue of the JLMF received an anonymous letter warning that the rabbi would pay in person for the fate of the Palestinians. The letter mentioned the rabbi's home address and referred to the synagogue fire last year. The note added: "We will skin Rabbi Farhi alive and avenge the blood of our Palestinian brothers. After setting fire to the synagogue, we will take vengeance directly against him."

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. …

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Europe: The Politics of Hate: Jews and Muslims Have Been the Victims of Racist Attacks in France. (Current Affairs)
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