Toulouse shooting exposes rift between French Jews and Muslims

The unease between communities is one of the reasons CRIF dropped out of Sunday’s planned march against intolerance.


Several Muslim and Jewish leaders appeared united on French television after the attack in Toulouse, but officials within the Jewish community have no illusions: French Jews and Muslims are deeply divided.

“Don’t tell me French Muslims appreciate Jews – 50 percent of them hate Jews,” Rabbi Michel Sarfati told Haaretz on Thursday. The rabbi created the Jewish-Muslim friendship group and has traveled across France for several years preaching moderation.

“Many hate Jews because extremist imams denigrate Jews in their sermons. They say we’re Israel’s puppets. Moderate Muslims try to fight this hatred, but they’re being threatened, and they get no support from the state.”

The killing in Toulouse has not improved relations between the communities.

One of the Muslim moderates is Dalil Boubakeur, mufti of the Great Mosque of Paris, who was received together with Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, and France’s chief rabbi at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday.

Boubaker promised Muslims would pray for all the killer’s victims, like the Jews did after the school massacre. Many Muslims, in the same spirit, showed solidarity with the Jewish community. But on the whole, there is a feeling the killings only worsened the gap between the communities.

“Look at the Internet forums – some extremist leaders criticize the Jews for getting sympathy after the killing,” said Sarfati.

Another member of the Jewish-Muslim friendship association was alarmed by Muslims who admire the killer. “To them Mohamed Merah is a hero. Unfortunately, that view isn’t as rare as you’d think,” he said.

The unease between communities is one of the reasons CRIF dropped out of Sunday’s planned march against intolerance.

The group said it would take part in it at first, but on Tuesday when it was revealed the killer was an Islamist all associations dropped out of the rally, for different reasons.

“The killer has been located – there’s no reason to march now,” Prasquier said on French television on Wednesday night.

But CRIF sources said the group fears clashes between “communities.” Some refer to frictions between young Jewish militants from the Jewish Defense League and Muslim militants from the northern suburbs around Paris.

The march will take place, notwithstanding. Anti-racist groups and the Jewish student organization, which pulled out of it first, have changed their mind.

“There are tensions, of course. People were murdered – it’s only natural that tensions arise,” Benjamin Abtan from the European anti-racist group and SOS Racisme told Haaretz, “but that’s precisely why we have to demonstrate against hatred. We have to show that we’re united.”

CRIF sources say they fear the march will be exploited politically. On one side anti-racist and left-wing groups will say the killing is the far-right’s fault.

“Instead of criticizing anti-Semitism and terror they will focus on racism and Le Pen,” said Sammy Gohzlan, who head the Jewish communities in suburbs north of Paris. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to criticize Le Pen, but they’re diverging from the real problem: anti-Semitism and terror.”

The far-right could also exploit the rally and criticize Islamism, Islam and immigration.

Rabbi Sarfati believes that’s precisely why CRIF won’t take part in the rally. “It’s all politics,” says the rabbi, who believes French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked CRIF to cancel the march. “Before they went into the Elysee on Tuesday they were for the demonstration, when they came out, it was canceled! Sarkozy probably told them to cancel because a march would be good for Le Pen and therefore bad for him.”

The rabbi says that if the rally is on he’ll take part in it, no matter what. “I’ll demonstrate against Islamism. French authorities have ignored the problem, which is threatening our society,” he said.


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By Shirli Sitbon