Little mention of Jewish victims at S.F. rally against Islamic terror attacks

Related Stories:

After the terror, the people marched.

Across France and around the world, they took to the streets by the millions. In San Francisco, hundreds gathered at a Jan. 11 rally at City Hall, waving French and American flags and carrying “Je suis Charlie” signs in memory of the journalists and police officers murdered by Islamist terrorists at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Rally at San Francisco’s City Hall on Jan. 11 photo/greta and manu schnetzler

But some participants wondered why so few at the San Francisco rally held signs reading “Je suis Juif” or anything else commemorating the four Jews gunned down by another terrorist at a Paris kosher supermarket.

“It’s a shame that none of the signs were about the supermarket victims,” said French native Brigitte Hayat of Foster City, who attended the rally with her husband and son. The three brandished signs reading “Je suis Charlie” as well as “Je suis Clarissa,” referring to the policewoman slain by one of the terrorists on Jan. 8, and “Je suis Hyper Cacher,” referring to the Jan. 9 kosher market attack.

With events moving rapidly, the leadership of local Jewish institutions, such as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, sent email blasts noting that in deference to the Civic Center rally already organized by the French Consulate, there would be no separate vigil to honor Jewish victims. The email urged Jews to attend the local rally.

Jewish participants told J. they agreed with the decision. Hayat’s husband, Michael, said it was appropriate that Bay Area Jews attended one, unified rally rather than a separate vigil organized by the Jewish community.

“It should be done together,” he said, adding that he and his family showed up to honor the Jewish victims in particular. “We are here to represent them.”

A day after the rally, French Consul General Pauline Carmona told J. that the gathering was intended to honor all 17 victims of last week’s terror attacks.

This “Je suis Hyper Casher” sign, marking solidarity with the victims of last week’s terror attack on a kosher supermarket in France, was one of the few Jewish signs at a Jan. 11 memorial rally at San Francisco City Hall. photo/sue fishkoff

“The other aim was to say no to terrorism, racism, anti-Semitism, and to stand up for the values of the French Republic: democracy, tolerance, freedom of the press and freedom of speech,” she said. “I think [the S.F. rally] was a great success, to show that so many people gathered, not only French people but friends of France.”

The Jan. 7 Charlie Hebdo massacre galvanized many in Europe and the West, who saw it as an especially egregious attack on free expression. But French Jews and their supporters asked the same question the Hayats did in San Francisco: Why didn’t the murders in the kosher market seem to provoke the same degree of outrage?

The French government response was swift and forthright: Authorities this week ordered 10,000 security personnel to guard “sensitive sites,” including Jewish day schools and institutions.

Still, many French Jews feel more uncertain about their future than ever.

Demonstrators in Marseilles, France, were among the millions who marched on Jan.10 to honor the 17 victims of the Islamic terror attacks in Paris. photo/ap-claude paris

In recent years, France has experienced a spike in anti-Jewish violence at the hands of jihadists, from the killings at a Toulouse Jewish day school in 2012 to mob intimidation at Paris synagogues last summer during the Gaza operation. Last week was, in many ways, more of the same.

“This is clearly part of a pattern of diffused, moderate-size acts of terror,” said Russell Berman, a Walter A. Haas humanities professor at Stanford University, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of its Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. “That is to say, not 9/11 size, but violent and hateful and ideological. We will see more of this, and threats of more.”

Mervyn Danker, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the American Jewish Committee, works closely with diplomats from Europe and elsewhere. He believes the French government sincerely cares about the welfare of French Jews.

He cites French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who not only condemned the attacks but also said in a widely reported statement that “France without Jews is not France.”

“We have a very good friend in Valls,” Danker said of the prime minister, who visited Israel in 2011 on an AJC-sponsored trip when he was a Socialist Party delegate. “The government of France cares very deeply and wants to protect its Jewish citizens.”

But, Danker continued, “I fear for French Jews. If the terrorists had gone into the market, killed four Jews and that was it, with no attack on Charlie Hebdo, I don’t think you would have had the enormous outpouring, when 3.5 million marched in solidarity and unity [for the slain journalists].”

John Efron, Koret professor of Jewish history at U.C. Berkeley, shares some of Danker’s skepticism. He readily acknowledges that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was horrific and “sui generis” compared with previous attacks and threats on cartoonists and journalists.

But the kosher market murders were, he said, sadly not without precedent. They were only the latest in a long list of brutal assaults on French Jews.

“There was an element of inevitability about it,” Efron said. “This is part of a long-term, ongoing, escalating expression of violence toward Jews.

“We’re not talking about a government that’s anti-Semitic. There are no laws against Jews. [France] affords Jews all the rights and privileges that come with French citizenship. But they can’t seem to protect them.”

In the Bay Area, there have been no new threats specific to the Jewish community, but local leaders urge caution. Allan Lavigne, Bay Area director of security for the S.F.-based federation and JCRC, reported that federal and local law enforcement have stepped up patrols of Jewish institutions since the Paris violence. He also offered his assistance in security training to handle “active shooter response” and “bomb threats.”

Though heartened by the worldwide messages of sympathy to Jews in the wake of the Paris murders, S.F.-based JCRC associate director Abby Michelson Porth is still on edge.

Pamela DiGiovanni of Daly City at the Jan. 11 rally in San Francisco photo/sue fishkoff

“The virulent radical Islamism we see sweeping across the world leaves many of us feeling fearful and hopeless,” Porth said. “The recognition that anti-Semitism can be a harbinger of other forms of extremism was illustrated in last week’s terror attacks.”

Porth said she had been conferring with JCRC’s interfaith partners in recent days, including members of the local Muslim community. She has observed “extremely diverse” views on Islamic terrorism among Muslims, and said the community “is very hesitant to air its communal dirty laundry.”

“There is divergent thinking among Muslims ahout how it feels to hear there is a war between civilizations,” she added, “or that the West represents the civilized world and Islamic countries do not.”

Carmona, the French consul general, said Bay Area Jews should not hesitate to visit France; her government is determined to fight terrorism and anti-Semitism, she said. But she added that any new steps the government takes must be carefully considered.

“The prime minister has been very clear that some new measures may be needed to enhance our arsenal to fight against terrorism,” Carmona said. “But he was also clear that there is no reason to hurry on this issue, that we have to find the right balance between fighting terror and preserving the freedom and liberties in [France].”

That fight will have to take on entrenched elements within France’s Muslim community of 5 million, according to Efron, elements that harbor what he calls “a very virulent strain of anti-Semitism that is central, not peripheral” to the core of radical jihadist philosophy.

“This is definitely not the 1930s,” he said, referring to the early years of Nazi Germany. “But French Jews are scared, and they have a right to be scared.”

He noted that 7,000 French Jews made aliyah last year, twice as many as the previous year. That would be equivalent to 84,000 American Jews leaving for Israel.

As horrible as they were, last week’s events sparked a crisis that may become an opportunity in the fight against anti-Jewish violence.

That’s the view of Seth Brysk, director of ADL’s S.F.-based Central Pacific Region. He applauded the quick reaction and strong statements of French authorities. More than that, he hopes the people of France, Europe and the West will finally get the message.

“One of the overriding messages is that Islamic extremism is a common enemy not only of the Jewish community, but all democratic societies,” he said. “As [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Samantha Power mentioned recently, anti-Semitism and the way Jews are treated are often the canaries in the coal mine.

“As it treats the Jewish community, so goes the health of a civil society.” 


French emergency fund established

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has set up the France Emergency Fund. Fully 100 percent of donations “will go toward providing security for the French Jewish community and to aid the victims’ families as they recover from this tragedy,” according to a statement by the JCF.

To donate, go to https://my.jewishfed.org/france-emergency-page.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.