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'Ditching kippah puts our future in France in doubt'

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'Ditching kippah puts our future in France in doubt'
Photo: AFP
12:49 CET+01:00
A row over whether Jews in France should wear the kippah has divided community leaders, with politicians also weighing in on the issue in the aftermath of a violent anti-Semitic attack.

Jewish leaders have rejected the call made by one of the heads of Marseille's Jewish community to stop wearing the kippah after a teacher was targeted in an anti-Semitic knife attack.

The machete attack, in which the teacher (pictured below) escaped serious injury thanks in part to him using the Jewish religion's book the Torah to defend himself, has left the community in fear once again.

One Jewish leader in Marseille went so far as advising followers of the faith not to wear the traditional Jewish headwear in public, because it simply wasn't safe.

However that call, by the president of the Marseille Israelite Consistory, Zvi Ammar, has been opposed by other Jewish leaders who insist the community must remain defiant and not give in to fear.

The 35-year-old teacher, Benjamin Amsellem. Photo: AFP

France's chief rabbi Haim Korsia told AFP: "We should not give an inch, we should continue wearing the kippah."

Roger Cukierman, the head of the country's umbrella grouping of Jewish organisations, CRIF, agreed, saying the call reflected "a defeatist attitude".

"He (Ammar) knows as well as I do that wearing a kippah or not will not resolve the issue of terrorism," added Joel Mergui, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France.

"If we have to give up wearing any distinctive sign of our identity, it clearly would raise the question of our future in France."

Members of the Jewish community in the 19th arrondissement of Paris have also dismissed the call to ditch the kippah, insisting they can't give in to fear.

“It's true that people are worried in the community here about anti-Semitism and possible attacks, but it's nonsense to say don't wear the kippah,” Yoel Zaoui, who was wearing the headwear, told The Local.

“Just because I take off the kippah doesn't mean I suddenly don't become Jewish. If someone wants to attack us they will,” he said.

“Some men wear a baseball cap over the kippah, but to be honest they still know we are Jewish,” Zaoui added.

Yonathon Bencherit said there was danger of losing perspective as fears increase.

“It's a tiny minority of people who would want to attack a Jewish person, we have more chance of being killed in a road accident,” he said.

“We have the right to go out in the street and not feel pressure to take off the kippah. If we decide no one can wear the kippah, then we are accepting that people can be attacked on the basis of their religion.”

The question of whether Jews in France should try to hide their identity in public crops up every time there is a high profile anti-Semitic attack.

France's Jews live in fear despite all the soldiers

After last January's terror attack on the kosher store in Paris by jihadist gunman Amedy Coulibaly many Jews took to wearing baseball caps over their kippahs in an attempt to hide their religious identity.

As a result of that attack thousands of soldiers from the French army were taken out of their barracks and asked to patrol outside Jewish schools, synagogues and other sensitive sites.

However the move has failed to reassure many.

Jean-Jacques, who runs the Jewish bakery next door to the supermarket targeted by Coulibaly believes attacks by extremists are practically impossible to prevent.

"If someone wants to die they don't care if there are 50 soldiers in front of them," he told The Local

"All we can do is try not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that's hard."

That's why Zvi Ammar believes that followers would be advised to do what they can to protect themselves even if it means leaving the kippah at home.

"Life is more sacred than anything else. We are now forced to hide a little bit," he told the AFP, adding that the move made him "sick to the stomach". 

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