Pupils at French religious school removed over abuse claims

French social services have taken 42 pupils from an ultra-orthodox Jewish religious school near Paris into care, local authorities said on Tuesday, as the institution faced allegations of years of abuse.

Pupils at French religious school removed over abuse claims
Police are investigating the claims. Illustration photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

The Beth Yossef school in Bussieres, around 60 kilometres east of the capital, was hosting “many underage American and Israeli children who do not speak French in abusive conditions”, said Laureline Peyrefitte, prosecutor in nearby Meaux.

The children, aged 12 and above, allegedly suffered “being locked up, confiscation of their identity documents, poor conditions, acts of abuse, lack of access to education and healthcare, and no possibility of returning to their families,” she added.

Authorities in the Seine-et-Marne department said in a statement that the children were placed in temporary care after being removed from the school, set apart from the village on its own grounds.

Police are also holding 16 of the school’s staff.

An American boy escaped from the school in July and sought shelter at the US embassy in Paris.

Others followed, and Israeli public television has been investigating the school for months.

“We found ourselves with around 30 witness accounts dating back to the 2000s from former pupils saying they suffered violence,” documentary filmmaker Dubi Kroitoru told AFP.

The journalists sent all their information to French police in July.

To relatives, “it seemed like the Harry Potter school, out in the green spaces,” said Jerusalem resident Rivka Azoulay, 26, whose 13-year-old brother had started at Beth Yossef just last week.

In conversations from a payphone at the school, the boy had so far seemed “happy”, Azoulay added, complaining that the French authorities had not been in touch with families.

France’s chief rabbi Haim Korsia told AFP: “It’s unacceptable for children’s lives to be put in danger, the charges are terrible.”

“The conditions they were living in are unacceptable, full stop,” he added.

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.