France's new Chief Rabbi has warned that since a deadly attack on a Jewish school two years ago — which he says has sparked the current exodus of Jews — there has been a rising tide of anti-Semitism that is a danger to all of French society.
But Haim Korsia insisted that the Jewish community in France — which at over half a million is the largest in western Europe — can trust in the institutions of the French state to protect it.
"The risk (of more attacks on Jews) is not theoretical, it is unfortunately real," in particular due to the hundreds of French youths radicalised by Islamists when they travelled to engage in jihad, or holy war, in Syria, said Korsia, who took up his current job after his predecessor Gilles Bernheim resigned last year over a plagiarism scandal.
He said he was shocked to hear of people chanting "Death to Jews" during demonstrations this summer over the Gaza conflict that saw looters destroying Jewish businesses in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles and other protestors trying to attack a local synagogue.
"The government has understood that when, for example in Sarcelles this summer, when the synagogue was attacked, the same people attacked the police station. So there is a convergence of the enemies of France," the rabbi told a meeting of the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris.
"The Jewish community is targeted more directly but this is a risk for all of society," said Korsia, who was formerly the French army’s Jewish chaplain.
He said he believed the government "has taken the measure of the catastrophic rise in anti-Semitic acts in France this year" and was doing all it can to ensure the safety of the Jewish community.
Anti-Semitic attacks nearly doubled in France in the first seven months of the year, according to the country's main Jewish group. A total of 529 anti-Semitic actions or threats were registered up to the end of July, against 276 for the same period last year, the Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) said, citing figures from the interior ministry.
They included violence against individuals, arson and vandalism.
Four months ago, a Frenchman who had fought in Syria alongside Islamist rebels was arrested on suspicion that he was the gunman who attacked the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man.
The French office of the Jewish Agency for Israel says that the rise in anti-Semitism has led to more Jews leaving France for Israel so far this year than from any other country.
Rabbi Korsia said that the current exodus was a result of the murders of a rabbi and three Jewish children by an Al-Qaeda inspired gunman in the southern city of Toulouse.
"That happened in March 2012. There was a shock. But nobody was ready to leave at the start of following school year. So they waited and are leaving now," he sad.
The Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave, sparked tensions between local Muslim and Jewish populations across Europe.
Anti-Semitic chants and threats were heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations this summer in Germany, Italy and in France, which is home to Europe's biggest Muslim community, estimated at more than five million.
"The war between Israel and Hamas was merely a pretext for this anti-Semitism to come out," said Korsia.
He insisted however that despite skirmishes this summer between Jewish and Muslim youths in France, there was no evidence of a wider "inter-community conflict".
By : Rory Mulholland