French Jews Face Relentless Anti-Semitic Violence

The brutal March 23 stabbing of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll cast a dark pall over a Jewish season of festivity

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom

Just days ago, the world’s Jews celebrated at festal Seder tables, giving thanks for their deliverance from ancient Egypt’s many cruelties.

Gathered with family and friends, they gratefully reviewed the wonderful old story of Moses’ courageous leadership, the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, and the season’s other signs and wonders.

However, during the weeklong observance, The Algemeiner published a less-than-joyous report, “French Jews Spend Another Passover Under Anti-Semitism’s Shadow.”

“This year, as last,” writer Ben Cohen began, “the Jewish community in France will spend Passover in the shadow of the brutal murder of a vulnerable, elderly Jewish woman living on her own in public housing. She survived the Holocaust, but not a murderer in Paris.”

Certainly, the brutal March 23 stabbing of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll — whose body was set aflame by her murderers — cast a dark pall over a Jewish season of festivity, not only in France but well beyond.

One of the murder suspects, 28-year-old Yacine Mihoub, was the son of Ms. Knoll's neighbor and had known his victim since childhood. According to French sources, Mihoub and the other alleged killer, Alex Carrimbacus, became acquainted in prison.

Algemeiner’s headline, citing “another Passover,” referred to last year’s murder of Dr. Sarah Halimi. The 65-year-old retired Jewish physician, also living alone, was brutally beaten then thrown alive from her third-story apartment into the street below.

Her Islamist killer reportedly shouted “Satan!” and other Islamist epithets as he murdered her.

The agonizing deaths suffered by the two elderly French women, who died a year apart, seem to have finally alerted the people of France to a deadly epidemic of anti-Semitism that has increasingly sickened the country.

Haaretz reported on March 28, “…Philippe Braham, 45, Francois-Michel Saada, 64, Yoav Hattab, 21, and Yohan Cohen, 20, were shot to death in a kosher supermarket in Paris three years ago.

“Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, 30, and his children Aryeh, 6, and Gabriel, 3, along with Miriam Monsonego, 8, were shot to death at the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse six years ago.

“Ilan Halimi, 30, was held captive and brutally tortured to death in a Paris suburb in 2006.

“Eleven victims in a dozen years. All French citizens, all murdered on French soil, all, without exception, because they were Jews. All of the murderers (also French citizens, for the most part) acted in the name or under the sway of Islamist ideology.”

The world seemed rather oblivious to this French malaise in 2015 while shootings, hostage-takings, and terrorist assaults carried on, virtually non-stop, one month after another.

But gradually, as Jewish blood continued to flow, awareness to Europe’s resurgent anti-Semitism awakened.

Less than a century after Hitler’s diabolical effort to exterminate the entire Jewish race, a new version of his scheme surfaced among radical Islamists, many of whom live in Europe’s immigrant communities.

Particular attention has been paid to France, where a seemingly insatiable thirst for Jewish blood has been too frequently demonstrated.

Even the horrific 2015 attack on the Bataclan Theatre rock concert — in which 89 young music fans were shot dead and countless others wounded — was motivated, at least in part, by anti-Semitism.

Times of Israel reported just days afterwards,

“French magazine Le Point said … that Bataclan has for years been the target of anti-Zionist groups as the Jewish owners often put on pro-Israel events. The publication quoted a member of the extremist group Army of Islam, who told French security services in 2011 that, ‘We had planned an attack against the Bataclan because its owners are Jews.’”

The Jewish owners reportedly had sold Bataclan just two months before the killers attacked.

Today, French authorities have taken steps to publically acknowledge that the source of much of the country’s violence is, in fact, anti-Semitism.

Is it based on the heartless old Nazi belief that Jews are a cancer on society needing to be exterminated? Or an extremely violent, Islamist version that reflects precisely the same hatred? In some ways, the Islamists and the Nazis may seem to be strange bedfellows. But they certainly share a virulent anti-Semitism.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Mireille Knoll’s grave after her funeral. He acknowledged that she “was killed because she was Jewish.”

And, reportedly some ten thousand Parisians — Jews and non-Jews alike — marched despondently through Paris streets to Ms. Kroll’s neighborhood, paying their respects.

Perhaps these demonstrations have made it possible for French Jews to breathe a little easier. There is surely some comfort in seeing public recognition of their peril.

The German publication Deutsche Welle reports that those Muslim leaders in Europe who denounce anti-Semitic attacks “carry little credibility among angry and disenfranchised Muslim youth, considered to be among the key perpetrators.”

Despite the violence, thousands of Jews are determined to stay in France and weather the storm.

Others have chosen to relocate in the United States or in other countries where they and their children aren’t at risk.

In the New York Times, writer Bari Weiss pointed out that a few years ago, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was widely criticized when he announced, “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country. But we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.”

Some patriotic French citizens, Jewish activists, and commentators heard an undercurrent of defeat, or even a subtle insult, in the Israeli premier’s open invitation to immigrate.

Others quietly responded with gratitude. They began to pack their bags.

Every year French Jews continue to arrive in Israel with their household belongings, daring to start their lives over in an entirely different and somewhat daunting new world.

In 2017, Jerusalem Post reported that some 20,000 Jews, primarily from Paris, had successfully resettled in Israel over the past three years.

Weiss concludes, “…perhaps the better part of wisdom is with one of Mireille Knoll’s granddaughters, Noa Goldfarb.

“Following her grandmother’s murder, she wrote in a Facebook post from Israel: ‘Twenty years ago, I left Paris knowing that neither my future nor that of the Jewish People is to be found there.’”

Indeed, the final words of the Passover Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem!” express the cherished hope of more than a few French Jews.